The biggest sector in Tamil Nadu right now is the film review industry. Any one with an Aadhaar card is probably a reviewer now. From reviews longer and denser than The Brothers Karamazov to ones made of just emojis are craving for our attention on the various social media platforms.
But how do you ensure that your reviews catch the eye in this crowded marketplace and are discussed by others with authoritative gusto?
Fret not. Here is a primer form Crank’s Corner, with its over two decades of professional journalistic experience in being irresponsible, that tells you how to look for nuances that will make people drop their jaws in astonishment, and how to mine the ‘material’ for sub-texts that will make you look like a true movie connoisseur.
We have taken Mani Ratnam’s latest release Chekka Chivandha Vaanam for practical demonstration.
Talk of other films: One of the mistakes that rookie reviewers commit is to talk of the film that they see on the screen. Whereas your professional film analysts expound in detail about films that is not the subject of their review.
For instance, in Chekka Chivandha Vaanam, the film sets off with an attempt on the life of a don, mostly referred to as ‘Periyavar‘.
Your greenhorn reviewers will begin their narrative on him. The cineaste reviewer would also start with Periyavar. But not in the manner you think.
“When they refer to Prakashraj as Periyavar, you immediately perk up at the name. Hah! What a deliciously devious conceit. Periyavar is after all the name of the don (played by Sathyaraj) in Mani’s first mainstream Tamil film Pagal Nilavu. That day moon is probably the one verily blazing a ruddy trail on the horizon now. Chekka Chivandha Vaanam is, in my mind at least, Mani asking, and answering, the question: What if the Periyavar and his sons had ran away from Kanniyakumari to Chennai and set up their underworld empire all across?”
Let us illustrate this point with one more similar example. In CCV, the opponent to Periyavar is another don, Chinnappadas (a name that is mostly well-known in Tamil cinema as that of the character played by Sathyaraj in Kadolara Kavidaigal.)
“Periyavar’s arch rival is Chinnappadas. Is he from Muttam? Why not? He, of course, speaks a dialect that is decidedly Tirunelveli and Nagercoil. Sathyaraj’s Periyavar vs Sathyaraj’s Chinnappadas in a city setting. It is a mouth-watering prospect. But Mani does not cook up a smorgasbord with their clash. Instead, he just dishes out a crumb or two that barely whets our appetite.”
Shoe-horn an epic: Critics have brought in — while reviewing Chekka Chivandha Vaanam —- Kurosawa, The Departed, Ponniyin Selvan, King Lear, etc. You must also invoke such weighty stuff. But don’t kid yourselves, because we know that your film watching experience in your formative years was mostly confined to the releases at Parangimalai Jyothi theatre. So the Kurosawas and Goddards are ruled out for you. But luck is with you when it comes to Mani’s movies. You can safely fall back on any one of the famous epics that he seems to inevitably take inspiration from. Thalapathy was from Mahabharatham. Ravanan was from Iliad. Just kidding. It was indeed from Ramayanam. So if you look deeply, you can somehow make a connection somewhere.
In CCV, the strong friend of the warring brothers is Rasool, a character played by Vijay Sethupathi.
“Is Rasool the Karnan to the warring brothers, who though are not Kauravas in numbers, but sure are in spirit with their fratricidal tendencies? Rasool in himself is the son of the sun. After all, ‘Ra’, not surprisingly, is the Egyptian sun God.”
Or you can talk of the uncle of the brothers, who does all the dirty jobs for them, to be based on the character of Shakuni.
You might think such connections to be tenuous and silly. Actually, the more outlandish your reasoning is the more it will establish you as an intellectual.
Think abstract and, if possible, illogically: In Chekka Chivandha Vaanam, the songs from A R Rahman, don’t figure in the movie as proper songs. Mostly because, we suspect, that he had not delivered them till the films’ release. (As a matter of fact, two songs were released after the film hit the theatres.)
Never mind. You must find a virtue amidst this contingency.
“One of the remarkable aspects of Chekka Chivandha Vaanam is the use of Rahman’s corruscatingly orchestrated songs in the movie. Mani does not put them to use. You hear a few snatches of them in the background. A musical bar or two here and there. But they are, for all practical purposes, absent. Because these gangsters at war, with bullets and grenades flying all around, have no space in their lives for dulcet notes. Music is literally and figuratively a descant in their lives. Implicit in all this blood and gore is the larger thought that the best songs are the ones that are still waiting to be sung.”