Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lingaa works, par dil maange more ...

Coming in the backdrop of ueber duds like Kocchhai-adiyaan and Kuselan, and unbelievables non-pareil such as Endhiran, Lingaa is a simple deja vu tale on many counts. And it works, for a Rajni fan, despite what the critiquing neanderthals and High Court paramatmas could say! That means, the box office is/will be a-ringing, and there ends the economics lesson.

But beneath that account book lies the why-s, what-s and wtf-s. Here is my take on some of these.

The good-old Rajnikanth movies of the early- to mid-90s (before Superstar became S-U-P-E-R-S-T-A-R) such as Rajaadhi Raaja, Adhisayapp piravi, Muthu, to name a few, used to be believable tales that took off on a tangent, with ample space for comedy (situational as well as contrived), new-age Thirukkurals (on everything from faith, politics, way-of-life, and love), detestable villains who played their role perfectly, beautiful heroines at their personal heights as a set-piece (all those Kuluvalilles, Adikkudhu Kulirus, Selai kattum pennukkorus were primarily a highlight on the music and the heroines rather than on Rajnikanth), followed by an unbelievably funny yet idiotic fight sequence that noone could have rationally cooked up except as the climax of a Superstar movie.

Lingaa is all that, and more. I wont regale you on the positives, as they need to be rewinded, many a time. I will bore you on "the cup is half-full" moments, for that is often missed out.

The side tale is believable, fantastically so that it could well be the main tale rather than a sidey one, and hemmed in perfectly given the eternally parched nature of much of Tamland. This is the second big water war movie in Tam this year, with Vijay's Kathhi capturing the urban-rural dichotomy on water issues nicely (within the caveats of Tamland's movie-making of course). Rajnikanth's role of the British-era 18-gun salute zamindar transforming himself into an ICS Collector is filled with historical inaccuracies, especially so for the pre-World War II stage in 1939, but not necessarily discernible to a Rajni fan and the historically inept hoi polloi Indian. The desi version of a John Pennycuick and Arthur Cotton rolled into one tries to leverage their ongoing valorization efforts in different parts of India. There is the usual Kallanai-Kodiveri argument on dam building in Tamland, yet there is no finger pointing elsewhere (thankfully!) except at nature's fury perhaps. Even the British have been treated relatively softly with positives highlighted as much as the humans come in different forms-type argument. While that soft tone is typical of Rajnikanth movies, it still leaves a jarring note to the absolute perfidy that was the British rule. Only ignoramuses can find positives (net or otherwise) in the British rule.

Like Thanneer Thanneer (that original water war movie that begins with a kid losing his balance and losing the water he has collected with some effort, after picking up -- funnily enough -- a Rajnikanth picture on the way-side), this is a movie with a politician tale in the background. Nevertheless, the politician-villain continues the transformation of the Rajnikanth villain club from the hallowed heights of Ekambaram (Senthamarai in Moondru Mugam), Mark Anthony (Raghuvaran in Baasha), Neelambhari (Ramya Krishnan in Padaiyappa), etc. to the dud level that it has become with characters such as Adi Seshan (Suman in Shivaji), somuchso that Rajnikanth had to cook himself up as the villain in his next tale in Endhiran. This villain is not even a caricature, he is beyond a damn dud who cannot even confront Rajni with one tale of intrigue/sophistry despite being an MP. Even a pale version of a Perumal Pichai or a Saniyan Sagadhi or a Muthupandi would have made a better villain any day.

The heroines are as expectedly under-used and showcased primarily because that is what they have signed up for. And like most of the heroines of Rajnikanth's movies, they will be quickly forgotten for they have better career highlights than this movie. It is clear that age has slowed down Rajnikanth and with all those attendant constraints, he cannot shake a leg, not even comparably with Sonakshi Sinha. Yet when he does, however limitedly, there is a deja vu moment. And of course, noisy requests for encore from the faithful. The unbelievable stuff is limited to one stupid fight sequence at the end. Impressive is KS Ravikumar in limiting the crapfest to the very end, and that is one sharp turn from Endhiran, thank god for small mercies.

Rajnikanth's earlier movies used to be known for a fantastical comedy line, with all those paa-paa-paambhu, jalaja jalsaa, saathvikam-prachodhakam-bayaanikham scenes, not necessarily out-of-sync with the main storyline. The comedian used to be a counterfoil (Goundamani in Uzhaippaali, Senthil in Padaiyappa, Vivek in Shivaji) or a challenger-of-sorts (Vadivelu in Muthu and Chandramukhi). While Santhanam tries to reprise the counterfoil role, the comedy in Lingaa is half-baked with Santhanam's presence guaranteed only because he is the numero uno comedy king of Tamland today. Most of the blase dialogues and the context of these comical interludes appear to be a grand misplacement and a waste of time for everyone including Santhanam. Even Vivek in Shivaji appears to have done a far better job than Santhanam's debut in Rajnikanth movies. At close to three hours, the movie is quite slow and boring in phases (especially the British India scenes) and could have helped with at least a 20 minute cut. AR Rahman continues his fare of dishing out somber bores* across the board -- a far cry from his shake-a-thons in Muthu or Padaiyappa or Shivaji or most of his numbers from the early- to mid-90s.

Despite all the negatives highlighted, Lingaa works because it is paisa vasool (despite being 20$ a pop) for a Rajni fan, as simple as that. It is a deja vu movie in how it smoothly ties a Maanik Baasha of days gone-by with a Kaasu-panam-duddu-money-money reality. From the word go, Lingaa Lingaa sounds like Baasha Baasha and that is not meant to be an accident. There are many such un-accidentally constructed parallels/reminiscences into different scenes to appeal to the deja vu generation. In general, it is deja vu for those good old KS Ravikumar and P Vasu days, which were suddenly interrupted by the need-to-be-pseud Shankar days. It is a simple lesson to Rajnikanth in what a post-Shivaji landscape should ideally have been. While those seven years cannot be gotten back, there is still space for a real blast from the past with the next Ravikumar feature that is to start filming soon. That hopefully means that Shivaji may not be the Himalayan peak of a Himalayan career and Lingaa may only be a small way-stop in that journey perhaps. And one also hopes that someone can convey the message to his daughter that she can find someone else for her boring farce. Sorry, business is business and a fraction of the Indian GDP is tied to this machinery!

But more than all that, the deja vu lies in the unabashed theism that used to be Tamland cinema and Tamland at large, before the need-to-be-in-sync-with-the-new-powers-that-be kicked in. The highlight of the movie to me is the slow but well-laid out connect from the credit reel of Rockline Entertainment to the Shiva Thandava Sthothram played playfully somewhere before the one-third stage. With a name like Lingaa, one could nt have gone too wrong in that messaging, I guess. Unlike the Mani-Raavanan combo (the movie I meant) that was straight from hell, this Shankar-Raavanan combo (the sthothram) will always remain an eternal powerful hit! Therein lies the simple lesson of Lingaa on the reality of life: dissing the gods is as much hard work as praising Him!!

* Ok, Mona Gasolina is fine after a few hears, especially nice to see someone like Mano reinvent himself after years. But one cannot ignore the closeness of this song with Nenjukkulle and therein lies the rub, southern style yodelling or chamber music, its all deja vu again.

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