Sunday, April 13, 2014

Getting rustic again...

Sometimes one has to take a break, sometimes one has to brake the break, sometimes one has to call it quits. Let us say that I am in the second stage. Getting to write again something seriously requires a silly one to begin with.

And since I have seen a few Tamland movies of late, why not do a semi-surgical examination of this type of claptrap? Why not? Also, this type of topic goes well with the coming Tamil new year.

I have seen two types ("types" would be a big word given that every movie is a type of its own, but I mean it in a half-silly way) of movies in Tamland these days: the village type theme or a retro theme as in the 70s and 80s, when things were more village-ish even in the Madras side. This type of movie is rife with caste, violence, luv, family H&D tales, people who use red hot chilli peppers for brushing their teeth and ergo get affronted at the drop of a hat, drip vengeance in every ounce of blood, and so on. The comedy is more typically rustic: there is the usual belly farting jokes, there is also the usual schaedenfreud-ish jokes where one guy gets hurt and everyone except that guy (and may be even that guy) laughs. There is the dripping sarcasm that typifies Tamland films and especially so certain pockets of Tamland where sarcasm is better than in Madras. Of course, comedy has to be situational, else it will stand out like a sore thumb. Then, there is the violence and gore as a recurring leitmotif. Overarching both comedy and violence, there is dirt and grime. There are things that are not so polished and is often uncouth, something that will put off the urban side or will be in sync with the rustic side of the urban polity. Since many of us grew up in dirt and grime (in my case, the late half of the 80s and the wrong half of the 90s in a typical non-agraharamish South Madras neighborhood), it is what is in sync with our growing-up days.

And then there are the polished movies, more urban tales, it-vity tales, Gen Y tales, college-goer setpieces, growing-up stories and other nutty pieces of crap. The pseud factor in most of these movies is high. One needs a typical Siddharth or an Arya or Vijay to fit into these movies. Here, the comedy is more of the typical Madrasi fare, often with a sidekick meant specifically to dish out comedy. While I do not discount the fact that a sidekick comedian's role is a tough one, they are just that, a sidekick. Like, for example, a "nanben da" Santhanam or a "Kaipulla" or a "theeppori thirumugam" Vadivelu or a "Chaari-Sorry saar" Vivek or sometimes even a Vijay. This comedy is typified by crap talk, petty talk, tall talk, and of course, the two distinguishing features: peter-talk and paruppu-talk (aka pseud-ish Madras-giri and its Tamland cousin). There is the usual dripping sarcasm + social message based comedy that has always found a refuge in Tamland films. There is also a tale, which is usually a masala, but sometimes really a tale. 

The first type of movie appeals to the rustic side of Tamlanders, who apparently seem to be more common than I expected them to be. It appeals to people who don't want to go back to rustic Tamland, but want to see it in the movie and reminisce the good old days. Those who want to bring out their inner rusticism to life, even if it is just for a three hour period. The second type of movie appeals to the urban side of Tamland. This set seems pretty small relatively, but that is pretty much what everyone wants to imitate. Newly minted Madras-bhashai becomes a massive hit overnight. Even jargon and pet-themes that were popular in certain colleges and in certain pockets become overnight famous everywhere. I mean such universal jargon/terms such as dhommai, dubooku, dokku, mokkai, koomuttai, devaangu, nngoyyale**, etc., have become the lingua franca of the angry and sometimes the happy-drunk Madrasi. And when the auto guy in Madras uses it, one knows that everyone uses it. Of course the auto guy uses it in anger or pain or for livelihood reasons, many use it for comic relief and because, sarcasm thy name is Tamland. 

And then there is an unsaid third type (you should have expected that by now, knowing me very well). In this type, there is a bridge between the first and the second type of movie. The amount of bridging makes the movie appeal to an even broader audience than normal. Some of the better hit movies have something appealing to everyone. There is a rustic element either in the form of the protagonist who acts punch-drunk (Soodhu kavvum, Rummy, Varuthapadaatha vaalibar sangham) or sidekicks who take you back to those parts of life that you never want to see again (Yuddham sei, Aadukalam). And then there is the pseud element (Theeya velai seyyanum kumaaru, Raja rani, Maattraan, Aarambham). Or often both.

There are people who seem to have type-casted themselves in one type of role. For example, it is hard to expect a Vijay Sethupathi or a Sivakarthikeyan to don a pseud role. Typical of the upward mobility that has been Tamland film-dom, it is still hard to expect either of them to land such a role given how status quo is loved in the film world in general. On the other hand, it is hard to expect an Ajith or a Siddharth or a Madhavan to do anything but pseud roles. Vijay of course is the eternal college-goer, much like how Vikram or Surya is the eternal cop and how Vijayakanth dons double duty as a cop and a Maxwell's equations-defying transformer-buster. Speaking of transformers, transformation in roles do happen... A Parattai could become a Paayum puli, a Sappaani could become a Sagalakala vallavan. Sometimes, they start off as a Sakthivel who becomes Chinna thevar by the middle of the movie. and Thevar magan by the end. Managing that transformation (both real as well as in the minds of people) is more of an art than a science. Now that folks like Sivakarthikeyan and Vijay Sethupathi have established themselves as bankable stars with serial hits and mega-hits, it is a 1001$ puzzle whether they can become versatile Rajnikanths, let alone a less overacting hundred-role-toting kamalahassans.. 

That transformation, if it does happen, will be a further commentary on the state-of-affairs as much is everything else that happens in Tamland filmdom. Till then, rejoice the fact that: The masala as we knew it is dead, Long live the masala.

** nngoyyale... I love that word because Tam grammar cannot take a word that starts with a half-sound and here we have a word that is so-unTamil and yet so popular. By its very existence, it has defied the Tamland grammarians who can all throw a sword at you with their half-aruvaal moustaches (Ma. po. si., anyone?!) and burn down the house if they so wish (Nakkeeran types, not the new one but the old one). In a way, this very "word" means nothing if you look at the sky and exclaim, something if you look askance and deliver, and everything if you look at someone and mutter it. It has become the quintessential onomatopoeia of new age-Tam. It is the alpha and omega of cusswords. You could start a sentence with nngoyyale as in "nngoyyale, sollittu vandhuttiya," or end a sentence with it as in "vandhuttaan da, nngoyyale," or just have that alone in a sentence "nngoyyale". It could be added as a prefix or a suffix to many things as in "adinngoyyale." It could be used by women in buses when oldies harass them with their age-defying stomach-churning kasamusa aka gilmaa aka jalpaans aka any series of finely-tuned sounds that is intended to mean that. It could be used by school kids playing cricket on the street against anyone who acts cocky with them including class teachers, but of course under the radar. It could be used by college kids on rival gangs or policekaarans (or policekaarars or policekars depending on who you are) who ask them to "take the 20" for going without license or RC book or insurance or road tax documents. It could be used to mean "teri maaki" without*** actually saying it in so many words. It could be a snide "I am pissed with you" type claptrap too. It could well be a filler. It could be whatever you want it to be... or whatever not... its dirty and beautiful.. its a sociologist's delight and a grammarian's kryptonite... its one man's tool and another man's cool...

*** Even though etymologically, nngoyyale comes from a Tamland version of teri maaki, it has now become a guruvai minjina sishyan. It is a word of its own, in a class of its own, with a purpose of its own. 

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At May 5, 2014 at 6:56 AM , Anonymous Shyam said...

I'm really happy to see you posting after a long gap.I don't think Siva Karthikeyan can do that transformation, but i really hope that Vijay sethupathi will do it.


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