The Rajini movie experience and a short spoiler-free review of Kabali

Thanks to the Bay Area Rajini Fans Facebook group, I got the opportunity to go see Superstar Rajinikanth’s latest blockbuster, Kabali at the premiere show in Towne 3 Cinemas in San Jose, CA. Here are my late night, sleep addled thoughts on it.

The Rajini movie experience is something unique that has to be experienced to be believed. It is unlike anything else. Across the world, I would argue that Rajinikanth is the only star who commands an almost religious following, especially on the eve of his movie releases. His movies are so few and far in-between that fans eagerly await every morsel of information from that rare original poster during the shooting of the movie to the launch of the soundtrack and then the trailer. Irrespective of how the movies fare, the experience itself is a celebration of the unabashed love the crores of fans have for their beloved superstar.

As a huge transplanted fan of the super star, I often long for the experience of watching a Rajini movie on the first day- something I had the luxury of growing up, year after year. The last time I watched a Rajini movie on the first day, it was the incredibly enjoyable Enthiran (Robot). I could not make it to Lingaa and wasn’t keen on watching Kochadaiyaan. Which brings me to Kabali.

kabali

Kabali got me excited from the get-go. I have not seen Pa.Ranjith’s movies. So I was unaware of what he brings to the table. But the prospect of Rajini playing his age alone is worth the price of admission ($25, no less). Leading up to today, the incredible fans have kept the expectation sky-high. A stylishly cut trailer with an excellent BGM also helped the cause. A few committed folks took great pains to organize the showing, printed unique commemorative tickets and had a streamlined process for fans to be part of the experience. Hats off to their organization. It was super well done.

Bay Area experienceI got to the theater, an hour or so before the show. There were a bunch of festivities planned and it was super fun watching folks just let it go! Never the one to dive in to a dance unfortunately, I was content being part of it and watching so many fans have the time of their lives. If you havent been part of a Rajini movie premiere show festivities, you truly have missed something. Endhiran 2.0 is on its way. That would be an excellent opportunity to make that happen. This one was fantastic and so much fun to watch in person and take in the thrill of the Rajini experience.

 

Kabali

I have penned down a short and simple spoiler-free review of the movie below if you are interested. I will tell you this- if you can watch it in the theater, just go for it. It is worth it. I am not sure how many more opportunities we will get to watch a new Rajini movie on the silver screen. While we have that privilege, I would encourage one and all to experience the Rajini magic on screen.

Kabali experience

Spoiler-free mini review of Kabali
Here is my super short, spoiler free review of the movie. Let us get the broad feedback out of the way.

The movie is pretty good. I enjoyed it and don’t regret one bit paying $25 and heading to the theater on a busy work weekday.  It is not what I expected and it is definitely not your classic Rajini movie in many ways. Yes, it has his signature style in old and new ways. And his charisma continues to thrill as it did, 30 years ago. But this is a movie driven by a lot of emotional underpinnings and Rajini emotes, more so that I have ever seen him do. And he does a fantastic job. He is ably supported by a bunch of character actors none of whom has a standout role but has something to contribute to the plot. Overall, it is a movie worth watching. I typically watch 1-2 Indian movies every year, if that. Using that slot for Kabali was a good decision. Rajini continues to appeal to the child in me.

The good stuff

  • Rajinikanth – this man can do it all and in a way that so many others try and fail miserably.
  • A bunch of supporting characters who move the story along.
  • An actual plot. Yes, it is not deep or complex but there is a story to keep things moving along.
  • Watching it in a theater filled with screaming fans.
  • Being part of the excitement leading up to the movie, thanks again to the BayArea Rajini Fans Facebook group.

The not-so-good stuff

  • The pacing sags for about 30 minutes midway through the movie- leading up to and during the India segment. This segment could have been trimmed by 20 or so minutes.
  • Every once in a while, the screenplay needs a little push to keep rolling. The director definitely should have tightened it.
  • The violence. It is the bloodiest movie of Rajini I have ever seen and that part disturbs me. As a parent in these dark times, I abhor violence, even in movies. Yes, I understand that a gangster movie leans towards gore as part of its realism pitch but still too much blood.
  • This is not a movie to take kids. Most certainly not. I have never recommended an Indian movie for kids and this movie will miss that bar by a large margin.

Rajinikanth matters. Here is why.

rajini
rajini

As many of my regular readers would have observed by now, some of my recent posts have taken on quite a bit of nostalgia. This is not a blatant attempt at capturing attention and thus page views. I do not make money when you click the link and see my post. As the world starts changing rapidly, nostalgia offers an umbrella of solace to those not completely at home with the new. Now I understand why my father and uncles live so much in the past when it comes to music and cinema. The cinema of our childhood offers an innocence that we believe is lost today. With every change of guard, a little bit of that innocence gets chipped away. It is with that perspective that I write about a very integral part of my childhood memories, Thalaivar and the only Superstar I will ever know, Rajinikanth. What better time than on the eve of his birthday (Dec 12).

So where do I start?. My earliest memory of Rajinikanth was “Podhuvaga en manasu” from Murattu Kalai. The song was a big hit and I was 3 at that time. An age when larger than life role models are easy to pick up. In hind sight, this was the beginning of Rajini the Superstar. Until then, he was supposedly a director’s actor. An infinitely moldable character who brought a searing intensity be it as a hero or as a villain.

Here is Rajini, the romantic hero.

And here he is, the consummate villain.

I was always a MGR kinda guy. Less drama. More action and fun. Rajini represented all that and more. After Murattu Kalai, Rajini the actor morphed into Rajini, the Star and soon to be Superstar. There are those who argue that a great actor’s skill was shoved to the background in this process of this transformation. But I disagree. For pure histrionics, we had and will always have the multifaceted and multitalented Kamalhassan. Kamal will always be the master of the art. Rajini will be remember as the one who took the art to the common man and made him believe he too could be a star.

Rajini offered the masses clean cinema with a strong sense of what was right. But he was careful not to cultivate MGR’s holier than thou image in cinema. Instead he was the original rebel. The dude who cared a damn but still mattered. His style will warrant its own post. And there are tons of Youtube videos dedicated to that. Ill point you to a three part collection in Youtube that captures some of Rajini’s best moments in cinema. Feel free to search for more.

Over the years, Rajini has excelled in delivering family friendly cinema with the right dose of humor, enough thrills and spills and more importantly, a treasure trove of punch dialogues that are enshrined in the annals of Tamil cinema. Every movie of Rajini is filled with its share of punch dialogues that at their time fueled the public imagination to dramatic heights. You have to have experienced it to believe it. Case to point, Alex Pandian in Moondru Mugam.

Rarely are Rajini’s movies boring or dull. Even some of his less popular ones are watchable because of his sense of comedic timing and dialogue delivery. He chooses his directors and scripts in a way that played to his strengths. He represents the essense of cinema as a medium of entertainment. And continues to do so. His most recent release Enthiran shattered box office records, all of 37 years after his first movie. And he plays the hero in Enthiran. In his 2007 release, Sivaji he enthralls as a bald headed alter ego for which he shaved completely- something most stars today would dare not do. And it all stems from his respect for the medium and what it has given him. Most stars today think of themselves as superstars before they are 10 movies old. Rajini after over 150 movies continues to be a director’s actor driven by his humility and respect for the art.


What Rajinikanth also gives me are milestones to my school and college life. His movies define major events in my life. Every Rajinikanth movie to me and to countless fans are associated with times in their life. And his movies make for great life bookmarks. I remember standing in a massive line to get tickets to Dalapathi at Archana-Darsana. I remember watching Veera multiple times because I fell in love with “Madathile“. One of those times was after lying through my teeth to family and heading to Jyothi in Mount Road, Chennai where a massive 30 feet billboard welcomed me to the movie. I remember howling in laughter for Mannan and screaming when Rajini says “Adhu seri, adhu seri” in “Adikudhu Kuliru“. And then there was Annamalai. Scene after scene filled with punch dialogues echoing in my head even today. Who can forget “Dey Ashok” or the auction scene or the unforgettable association election scene. The association election scene oozes style unparalleled that I feel like whistling as I watch it today on youtube.

And for most stars, Annamalai would be their ultimate style statement. In the case of Rajinikanth, he one upped it with Baasha in 1995. I was in my 11th standard and remember the hype and hysteria for the movie. And the experience is something remarkable in the theater. When the goons bash up Baasha’s family outside his house and the man reveals himself, the entire theater erupts. No actor can and will ever deliver that kind of feeling in a theater. Who can forget the scenes between Padayappa and Ramya Krishnan as a brilliant Neelambhari in Padayappa?


Even today, Enthiran and Sivaji pack more muscle and fun than any other offering from today’s crop of superstars. The Rajini aura continues unabated. And on his birthday, I am reminded of how much he matters to me and to millions of fans around the world. To all of us, he is the simple star. The one who can do no wrong and who makes the world easier to live in. And as long as he is around, things just seem perfect.

As a parting video, watch Rajini at his villainous best.

Happy Birthday Thalaiva.

 

The joy of movie trailers

Long long ago, so long ago, I have forgotten how long ago, it was just me and my wife. Before that it was just us, unmarried, but that was really long ago. Anyways, when we were married with no little guy to enchant us, all day, all night, my wife and I watched movies. Lots of them. Rom-coms for her. Sci-fi, fantasy and action adventure for me. Every Friday in the summer and winter. Every other weekend for the rest of the year. We saw good movies, bad movies. Smart movies, utterly stupid movies. And everything in between. So where am I going with this post. Its a Friday night. So give me a little leeway.

Anyways, once the little guy was born, the two of us kinda stopped watching movies. Initially it was that we never had time. Then, just no patience. We could think of a million things to do rather than watch a long movie. And if English movies felt long, what about Indian movies you ask?. Well, that part of me completely died. I cannot sit through a single Indian movie with the exception of anything with Rajinikanth in it. That last part is for the child in me who will never die. I stopped caring for Indian movies.

The last few months, I have slowly but steadily started ramping up my Hollywood movie quota. Thanks to wonder of Redbox and Amazon VOD, I catch one or two movies every weekend on my laptop. But in these four years, one thing has stayed constant. My appetite for movie trailers.Movie trailer

You see, I am hopelessly addicted to movie trailers. Not the movies themselves. But the trailers. Every weekend for as long as I have known they have existed on the Internet, I have watched movie trailers. These days, I get my fix on Apple Quicktime Trailers, Yahoo! Movies, ComingSoon.net or IMDB itself. I see corny trailers like The Vow or slick ones like The Avengers. I have seen John Carter’s trailer a dozen times just as I enjoyed the trailer for a documentary about a road trip to Ladakh. The explosion of colors in the trailer for The Lorax blew me away as if to tell me, Dr.Seuss was personally supervising the color selection. I could go on and on. You get the vibe. Trailers bring out the kid in me. Even the worst of movies carry cool trailers. It is almost as if they chose 2:31 of the best in the movie and put it in a trailer. In the rare occasions that I get to the movie theater, I make it a point to get there on time for the trailers. And yes, I have seen trailers of movies from the past, the ones that are rated as classic. Not the movies. Just the trailers.

Check this, this , this and of course, this. Now chances are you have seen some, most or all of these movies. But try to forget that. Imagine as if you have never seen the movie or the trailer, or for that matter, ever heard of these movies, ever. Now see the trailers. You’ll get it.

So if you are like me and love trailers, lets find some time for a cup of coffee, shall we?. Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to catch my week’s quota of trailers. Happy trailer watching!

Book Review: A.R.Rahman-Spirit of Music

Spirit of Music

I managed to get my hands on a copy of the recently released authorized biography of music maestro A.R.Rahman titled “A.R.Rahman- Spirit of Music”. Here is a short review of the same.

The book was extensively publicized and launched early this year by Mani Ratnam. NDTV had a nice launch interview with ARR that can be found here.

I finished the book in a few sittings with a toddler doing his best to disrupt my rhythm almost every time I sat down with the book. The primary reason was that the book is a short read which may or may not appeal to the audience. The book is a set of interviews between the author and the music maestro and feels like a single long interview. Credit to the author for keeping the flow consistent across multiple sittings with ARR. Nasreen Munni Kabir, the author comes to the book with impressive movie biography credentials and it shows in her knowledge of the domain and its current and past players. Her understanding of music across multiple Indian languages also lends credibility to the text.

Spirit of Music

The book has some interesting and rare photos of ARR with different collaborators and his family. The family shots are truly rare given the media shy personality that ARR is (the book has some interesting tidbits on why he chooses to be media shy). Also interesting is his thoughts and experiences collaborating with diverse masters ranging from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Manirathnam, from Gulzar to Danny Boyle and from Shankar to Ashutosh Gowariker.

The best part about the book in my opinion is ARR’s struggle to the top and how his family supported him through the process. It is a remarkable journey of a boy with the burden of his family at a young age but also their support through his lean years.

A bonus to the book is a CD that comes with some early and some experimental music from ARR’s vast archives.

CD

Other reviews of the book can be found here, here and here.

I liked the book and recommend it.

Spirit of Music

Mouna Ragam and Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya

Mouna RagamA well written and well composed song makes for not just wonderful listening but also a trip down memory lane when you first listened to the song. The song in question has the ability to make you want more from it- as if it has the ability to last a lifetime. Thanks to Ilayaraja and A.R.Rahman, I was brought up on a steady stream of such wonderful songs. Over time, preferences and choices mature leaning towards meaningful lyrics to complement a tune that connects.

One of such albums that has lasted in memory is Mouna Ragam. The Manirathnam masterpeice features brilliant lyrics by Vaali and tunes of gold by Isaignani Ilayaraja. The songs are available here for your listening pleasure. The pick of course is Mandram Vandha. Rarely has a piece conveyed so much in as little as 4 min 27 sec. SPB does wonders with Raaja’s tune and Valli’s words of such depth. The rest of the album overflows with music greatness that is at once simple and everlasting.

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised to hear and enjoy the music of Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya. ARR’s output has become more eclectic in recent times and lasting melodies are not quite as many as it used to be. There is a lot more experimentation as ARR, the genius is trying to expand his horizons. But VV as its popularly refered to hearkens back to simple tunes that get elevated by some wonderful lyrics. The album is available for your listening pleasure here.  Each song conveys a lot but nothing more so than Mannipaaya. All of us at some point or the other have had an argument or two that last much longer than it should with their better half. This song captures that mood with a tune that soars with every passing second.

It is also interesting to think of these sound tracks and movies in juxtaposition with their times. Mouna Ragam established Manirathnam as an auteur of the great potential, one that he would go on to live upto. Gautham Menon has been a tremendously succesful director- but one whose output has been patchy. VV (which I have not seen due to personal reasons) has been well respected and well appreciated by one and all. From a music standpoint, Ilayaraja was in an upswing when Mouna Ragam came out and it cemented his greatness. VV was ARR’s first album post his Oscar win and much was expected and all of it was delivered and more. VV stands out as one of the recent albums that actually lasts over time. A rare occurance indeed. Finally, Vaali’s words give the platform for Raaja’s music and SPB’s voice to soar much as Thamarai’s words give a solid footing for ARR’s tunes in VV.

I wouldnt go so far to compare the two movies as each viewer chooses to view them objectively but under the context of when and how the movie was experienced. For young college going kids of today, VV might mean a lot more than a more mature offering in Mouna Ragam. At the same time, folks of a generation past will definitely reminisce on what Mouna Ragam meant to them, then. I will leave people to their nostalgic thoughts then and just savor the wonderful songs for now…Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya