If you were to flip through the pages of my autograph book from my undergrad years(yeah, I had one because of general peer pressure), you would find countless copious descriptions of how we used to go to KG theater to watch the latest Tam flick and ended up having to scale the hostel walls or bribe the watchman on the way back. (Yes, in the olden days people used to write completely useless stuff on autograph books instead of on blogs.) Needless to say, it isn't like I used to like these movies but hey, once you are done with the lit season and been upto Ooty a couple of times, there's not much you can do in Coimbatore. Plus ofcourse I absolutely had to break every hostel rule just because it was a rule. The point being I have watched a lot of Tamil movies in my time. And its pretty fair to say that other than a handful of them, I loathed them all. The only flicks I hated more were the Bollywood ones but I didn't have to watch them through four years of undergrad. Man, I so have to thank the Dravidian movement for that, I guess. And no, please don't get me started on the regular Hollywood fare!
Anyways, so you can imagine my trepidation whenever my parents or friends tell me to watch this Tam movie or that one. Especially when they take advantange of the fact that I enjoy Mallu movies - "Hey, you should so see this movie. You will like it. Its a remake of such-and-such Mallu movie.". Thanks, but no thanks. For one, I hear Mallu movies are worse than Tam movies nowadays and two, any remake of a decent Mallu movie usually ends up as an insult to the original movie. Case in point - the latest Rajini flick Chandramukhi. If you want a lesson in how to murder a beautiful movie (Manichitrathazhu in this case) by remaking it, look no further. Those of you who will tell me how they are very different movies and comparing them is akin to comparing Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, just let me know the next time you are in Chicago, I need to talk to the "family" here. Did I ever mention I live on the same block where the St. Valentine's day massacre took place?
Getting back to movies, I saw a Tamil movie this week that I really liked. Its called Autograph and my parents have been raving about the movie for over a year now. I happened to come across the movie at a friend's place recently, so I picked it up and watched it yesternight. What I found most interesting about this movie is that it has no pretensions; it celebrates simplicity by being just that. There are no star actors/actresses, I believe the lead actor also happens to be the director of the movie and more importantly, no one looks like an actor/actress.
The premise of the movie is quite simple - the narrator is going to get married soon and he travels to the places of his childhood and youth to invite people to the wedding. The story then is flashback most of the way. First, he visits the village where he spent his childhood and this ofcourse brings back hazaar memories of schooldays and first love. I liked this part of the movie the best mostly because I felt like I got a vicarious insight into my parents' past. My parents are from two rural villages deep inside old Chola country, a world that's quite alien to this city-bred kid. My parents also had a movie-stlye love story going on right from their adolescent years and my Dad, under the influence of a little alocohol, usually has some neat stories to tell about his eventful younger days. So throughout the initial half of this movie, I could visualize my Dad taking circuitous routes on his bicycle so that he could meet my mom; I could see him getting beaten up by thatha all the time, his first swimming lesson, his fear of witchcraft, the death of his friend as all these are stories that I have heard growing up in a far away city. For the first time in a Tam movie I saw rural life potrayed realistically and I was quite impressed.
I really couldn't relate much to the rest of the movie but I do know quite a few people who easily would. I thought the puppy love in Alappuzha was quite stupid and hilarious at the same time but I am sure that's exactly my Dad would say if I make him watch a general flick like well, Before Sunrise. I can so see him telling me "its quite funny but really, do you think people really talk such nonsense walking around Vienna?" Will he really believe me if I tell him that's exactly what his daughter did walking around Vienna? That and an Equal Music and an interesting Brahms bar. Why can't they have a Brahms bar in Chicago? Not like they won't have enough patrons! Yeah, yeah I know. I like digressions if you haven't figured that out by now.
A word on Alappuzha here while I am digressing. It is not as people put it, the Venice of the East. For the simple reason that its much better than Venice. Its much cleaner, less crowded and much more beautiful with all the coconut trees and paddy fields around. I was so disgusted at Venice that the only city as of now that scores higher on that particular metric is Las Vegas - how more artificial can cities get?
Back to the movie. The movie has some beatiful shots of Alappuzha in the monsoon season. Definitely worth watching. Our boy falls in love in Alappuzha again but it doesn't work out. He leads the Devdas life for sometime and then gives it up when he realises that he's all grown-up now and that he needs to earn money. He meets this third woman now who's kind of his mentor cum best friend figure. And he does get married finally leaving behind all the women of his past like real-life men do. He doesn't go all theatrical and marry the widow. Neither does he discover that he had all along loved his best friend after seeing her sari ka pallu fly along with the breeze. The beauty of this movie is not that it makes any groundbreaking moral points or not even that its well-made(its actually not) but that it is breathtakingly simple and as realistic as you could get in a mainstream movie.
Apparently, this movie worked. It was a huge hit in Tamland and even picked up a National Award for popularity. People are going to remake this in Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, I believe. Now I don't know about Telugu and Kannada, but Hindi? You mean Bollywood is going to remake it? How exactly, I wonder? The minute you add in any of the regular Bollywood actors, the movie's lost half its charm. And when was the last time you had regular village folk in a Bollywood movie? Actually when was the last time you set atleast part of your story in a rural setting? A realistic movie in Bollywood? Since when? I don't know whether Bollywood underestimates its audience or if this is what the audience expect but conventional wisdom says that there are certain kinds of movies which will not work in Bollywood. Usually these are what you would classify as the 'good' variety. And this particular movie squarely falls into that category. So I am quite amused at the thought of this remake. Well, maybe it will end up in a film school someday as part of their "how not to remake a movie" class. One can only hope.