Sunday, May 25, 2014

Revenge of Kochhai-adiyaan

I watched Kochhai-adiyaan (as it is supposed to be spelt in Tam instead of the more fancier but incorrect Kochadaiyaan) and had a lot of impressions on the latest Rajni movie.

The title itself could mean anything from "saint with the shaggy/mangled hair" or "man with the shaggy/mangled truss of hair" depending on how one parses the Tam. In any case, it is a pointer to Shiva just like some of his previous movies have been (Arunachalam, Annamalai, the yet-to-come Lingaa) or to the son of Shiva (Padaiyappa as in Aarupadaiyappan, Muthu), etc. It is an open secret that Rajni has embraced the quintessential Tam god in Murugan as is seen from the character names in most of his movies that are based on Murugan's 108 names. As for the main character's name in this movie, Ranadheeran, if one parses the Tam right, it means "the braveheart who won over pain and suffering."

Semi-spoiler alert!

As someone who grew up with such fare as Mandhirikumari (Linky), Aayiram Thalai Vaangiya Abhoorva Sindhaamani (Linky), Marmayogi (Linky) and as someone who digs into the historical Tamland filmi fare in Black-and-white as well as the later Eastman color, as much as the sociological fun- and farce-fest of the 50s through the 90s, it has been a sad tale that this genre has been essentially wiped out by the lack of imagination, lack of plotlines, lack of enthusiasm for a four-hour potboiler of intrigue, drama, vengeance, and twists and turns from the T20 generation, mismatch in investment between art direction and the grandeur of current day cinematography, etc. And even if dished out in some form these days, Tamland historical fare is an utterly casteist tripe a la Ponnar Shankar. In this midst comes Kochhai-adiyaan, which though it cannot hold a candle to some of the late 40s and 50s fare, is still brilliant in terms of intrigue and suspense in the storyline.

The movie starts a complete dud by insulting a Tamlander's sense of pride in the diction of the language with a rambunctious tripe that will make folks such as SS Rajendran and RS Manohar turn the other side in their graves with immense angst at the state-of-affairs, even in supposedly historical fare. While Rajni himself has no awesome command over the language, it has been his impeccable timing, stylish dialogue delivery, comic sense, and the dialogue construction that has set him apart from his peers. With essentially no comedy in the movie, even with the recreation of a Nagesh character (who sadly is drunk all the time, much like in his younger years in real-life), and with plasticene abundance that denies the possibility of timing and flow, it all looks downhill and hopeless from the beginning.

The dud continues with an introductory scene and song (typically setting a high bar for the Rajni show that follows for the next three hours) that fails to capture a hardcore Rajni fan's cochlear imagination. The sad death of AR Rahman's musical flourish and depth is probably noticeable to many, but every good thing has to come to an end, I guess. As someone who still digs for the underappreciated in Rahman's fare from the early- to mid-90s (Linky 1 and Linky 2, for example), the last few years have been a blur and this movie continues the trend. The height of introductory agony is to watch an abominable plastic Rajni's plastic horse leap over a plastic cliff that is unbelievable even for a Rajni fan who is willing to suspend reality for the sake of Rajni.

Slowly but steadily, the intrigues catch up and we are revealed the tale within a tale within a tale (as much as I could count). And then comes the father-Rajni, walking like we all wished a real Rajni would have done on the stage (and shaming the son-Rajni in the process who walks like an oaf, with no insult meant to to oafs), and setting the floor alight with his unabashed Shivathaandavam dance moves that would have put a Prabhudeva at his prime to shame. If only that plastic Rajni was substituted for a fraction of what we saw in Thillaana-Thillaana (Linky) with a beat like in Kuluvaallille (Linky), both from Muthu, we would have got our 20$ worth for the 3-D picturization that seemed short (two hours), needlessly extravagant and useless to tell the tale that it was.

Despite being simplistic, the Hobson's choice faced by the father-Rajni character is something that I have (surprisingly!) not seen in my as-many-years of watching pot-boiler historical fare. There are two not-so-smooth changes without much explanation in the son-Rajni's character in the movie: from one of a loyal soldier to a loyal soldier of the other party, and a loyal soldier to a man with a burning pain that can only be set right by providing a rightful ending for the villainous character(s). Having seen enough reruns of Murattukk Kaalai and Paayum Puli, I know the difference between the acceptable from the indigestable. When Rajni (the epitome of Tamland values that he has shaped over the last three decades) is made to dance to such abrupt dichotomies like ripping the jugular vein of certain characters and doing a Thevar Magan (even if only as revenge), it becomes too jarring to watch, appreciate, love and remember Rajni by. Any amount of wise Rajni-isms that come out as supposed punch dialogues cannot compensate for that loss in confidence and trust in the supposedly sensible hero who is anything but that. And the punch dialogues fail because they are neither punchy nor dialogue-y.

Many of the characters are hopelessly shoddy with it being difficult to recognize beyond a select few. If there was a Sarath Kumar and a Jackie Shroff, I did nt miss them a beat! A Yamunai aatrile eerakk kaatrile Shobana and her stickler father Chaaruhassan would have rotfl-ed at this current Dasavatharam version!! And a Nayanthara would have saved her blushes for it was Deepika who has to carry the ignominy of plastic degeneracy!!! The basic plotline for this story by KS Ravikumar would have seen far greater justice in his hands than in Rajni's daughter's hands. The KSR-Rajni combo came up with Muthu and Padaiyappa before this, both earth-shattering (at that point in time) revenge tales that had a certain political undertone after the excesses of the 1991-96 JJ regime that came to power in the sympathy wave after RG's assassination. Come 2014, and this movie's TV advertisement rights are with the incumbent party in power, ADMK -- a reflection of why Vishwaroopam went through such turmoil before its release.

Tamland is not yet ready for motion capture nor is the state-of-the-art in motion capture a substitute for real action with real people. As the movie progresses, one gets to understand much of the revenge talk in the movie. The movie's central theme is revenge: revenge of Kottaippattanam on Kalingapuri for its deceit instead of a straight and ethical battle, revenge of the son-Rajni against the father-Rajni's unseemly suffering at the hands of the Kottaippattanam king, unquenched revenge of the friend who pits statecraft over friendship, revenge of the friend who pits friendship over statecraft but only after taking what his due was (unfriendly though it was), revenge of the kings who care pretty much about their own reputation and sustenance over what is right, and so on.

When Sivaji was released in 2007, the heartland of IL was flooded with Rajni fans who all enjoyed themselves to what then was an epic! And not everyone was a Tam!! Fast forward seven years, I have seen a nearly empty Kuselan (again in IL), a nearly empty Robot/Enthiran (in the middle of a raucous Sri Lankan Tam community in Melbourne), and now a nearly empty Kochhai-adiyaan. This story is also a story of revenge that has been served raw and cold: revenge of time where even Rajni ages and cannot dish out his usual fare (dance, fights, style and all things that make Rajni Rajni), revenge of the other daughter (with supposedly good intentions) who ends up hurting the brand and fan-base more than helping it, and revenge of the gods who cannot allow for a Sivaji to be bested for after all, Rajni is Sivaji, Sivaji is MGR and MGR is Sivaji.

Even if I have to wait a la Vishwaroopam II for what the next two hours are supposed to fill in vis-a-vis the knots that have been left untied, it is a sad commentary that I am looking forward more to Vishwaroopam II than to Kochhai-adiyaan II. On to Lingaa, and just like with the hockey team that disappoints me over the years, I shall lose no hope.

To death with hope!
For man can die, but hope cannot,
For Rajni can blunder, but his legacy cannot,
For kamal can wonder, Rajni he is not!

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