Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Theatre boom in Attingal

Attingal, a poor cousin of the capital city of Kerala, Trivandrum, has suddenly found itself as host of a theatre boom. So far Attingal’s only claim to fame has been a long forgotten Attingal mutiny (back in 1721), which local historians claim to be the first rebellion against the British in Kerala. In the eighties and nineties Attingal was also known as the Mecca of parallel education because of the large number of parallel colleges through which an unbelievably large number of students obtained degrees from University of Kerala.

At the beginning there was Meenambika. I mean a theatre called Meenambika, in which Sathyan and Ms. Kumari entertained the first generation film-goers in Attingal with their merry acting in black and white. Later in the eighties Meenambika would receive a facelift and would be renamed as SR. Two more theatres came in the seventies: Gowri and Hari in which Nazir, Jayan, Sheela, Jayabharathi and the likes splendidly displayed their emotions in Eastman colour much to the delight of the wide-eyed people of pre-television era. Only three theatres in Attingal survived the eighties: Gowri, SR, and a newly launched theatre called RNP. By this time Malayalam cinema field had been curiously watching a two horse race among Malayalam heroes. Mammootty and Mohanlal became heartthrobs of thousands of people in and around Attingal through their exploits on the screens of the above-mentioned theatres. But the crisis in Malayalam film industry during the late nineties badly hit these theatres. Unable to withstand the heat of mounting loss, the owners of SR and RNP fatally decided, like several other owners of B class theatres, to turn to Shakkila movies.

(Any of you who do not know Shakkila should consider yourself unlucky. She is one of the last queens among the endangered species called soft porn actresses. She is a massive collection of white flesh in the true tradition of Anuradha and Disco Shanthi. Nowadays it is hard to find actresses who do exclusively soft porn. Some do it as side business to modeling like Mallika Sherawat and Bipasha Basu, while some truly gifted ones manage to merge their soft porn acting with the acting in mainstream movies, for example Nayanthara.)

After some time Shakkila became too fat to fit into even a 70 mm screen and people who religiously watched her began to understand the virtues of dieting! Shakkila went out of favour with the audience, but the bad name her movies fetched to these theatres remained. Family audience revengefully ignored both these theatres. Slowly the functioning of these theatres reached a tragic climax.

All that seem to be matters of history now. SR has been revived and Baba Kalyani, a Mohanlal film, has been running there. The owners of Gowri theatre, who have a well-established theatre called Vasu in Varkkala, had already started a new theatre with a memorable name, Dreams, with really good facilities. (One can book movie tickets of this theatre online through the website www.ecityatl.com.) Add to that Thapasya and Paradise, a new generation theatre complex on the shore of Vamanapuram river, one might think this is more than enough for an emerging town. But encouraged both by the success of some recent movies and by the stringent measures from the part of the police to curb CD piracy, more people are coming into theatre business in Attingal. A theatre called Ganga (which is very near to Dreams theatre and to a well-known bar called Ganga) was inaugurated some days back by Varkkala Radhakrishnan MP.

A more spectacular inauguration is on cards for another theatre. Mr. Theepettiyil Rajan, a rich NRI who produced some films like Swapnkkoodu and Sathyam, has bought the old RNP theatre, renovated it, and given it a new name, Vysakh. It is going to be inaugurated on February 3. Mayavi, starring Mammootty, is scheduled to be the first film in Vysakh. The fact that Mr. Rajan himself is the producer of the movie gives credibility to this news. Also, both Mammootty and Mohanlal are rumoured to have agreed to participate in the inaugural ceremony.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ilaiyaraja to wield baton for Pazhassiraja

Ilaiyaraja, the Tamil maestro, is all set to enthrall the Malayalee audience once again after the recent super hit songs from films such as Rasathandram and Achuvinte Amma. Pazhassiraja, a film directed by Hariharan and scripted M.T. Vasudevan Nair, is a historical film based on the life of a warrior king of Vayanad, Pazhassiraja, who valiantly fought against the British rule. The film has already created huge expectations among people. Mammootty is going to play the lead role and Tamil action star Sarath Kumar is also tipped to play a crucial role in the film. The previous film of Hariharan-M.T. team starring Mammootty, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, was a runaway success both in box office and at award-distributing ceremonies.

This will be the second time that Ilaiyaraja scores music for a historical Malayalam movie, with Kalapani being the first. It seems nowadays that the maestro is selective while taking Tamil film assignments. Or it is also possible that he may not be as sought after as he once was. Anyway, Tamil’s loss has been Malayalam’s gain.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Closet tactics of Aussie cricket

It was the fifth game of Commonwealth Bank tri-series cricket match. Australia were chasing a seemingly easy target of 211 against their continental twin New Zealand. Gilchrist got out early without scoring much. We were all expecting the warrior-like brisk walk of Ricky Ponting to the crease. But in came Michael Clarke, with his cat-like timidity. Commentators of Channel couldn’t resist the temptation of praising the Aussie strategy of grooming Michael Clarke into a future Ricky Ponting by promoting him to one-down spot. Some even wondered whether this is going to be a part of the Aussie strategy for this year’s world cup. After all not for nothing Australia’s coach John Buchanan is nicknamed ‘Pluto’ – ostensibly for manufacturing out of the world ideas. Australia won the match narrowly by two wickets thanks to a patient innings by Mike Hussey. And it was Hussey who let the cat out of the bag regarding the strategy of promoting Michael Clarke. This is an excerpt from the report on The Hindu dated 23/01/07:

“ But team mate Mike Hussey said on Monday that Ponting was meant to bat in his normal spot at the fall of the wicket, but was caught with his pants down. ‘It was a quick toilet break and he couldn’t get his gear back on quickly enough,’ Hussey said.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Let there be hartal

In Kerala, hartal is a post-liberalization way of protest, usually initiated by political parties. All shops will be closed; all roads will be blocked; all that you need to do is sit in your room to watch TV or write blogs, like this. Keralites are so fond of hartalizing that they just need a short, one-sentence news item in a newspaper to self-declare a mental holiday. A month’s stay in Kerala is enough for a person to see a wonderful hartal. Hartal was initially intended to stop the normal functioning of the entire society. In Kerala, it has developed into a unique form of public art. Nowadays several variants of hartal are on display like medical hartal and educational hartal.

Last month, on the New Year ’s Eve, we had a lightening hartal, much like a twenty-twenty cricket match. It started at 3’o clock in the afternoon. It was in protest against the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

Some two years back, when Jayananda Saraswathy of Kanchi Kamakoty Mutt in Kanchipuram was arrested, life went normally in Kanchipuram and in Chennai, where I was working at that time, except for some peaceful protest marches. But Keralites couldn’t control the urge for having a hartal and promptly performed what can be called a ‘saffron’ hartal.

But the king of all hartals is the ones declared by CPM. It means H-A-R-T-A-L. You have to stay at home. When the art form of hartal was at its nascent state, it was CPM’s rank and file, braving both police and sleep in cold nights, who put immovable road blocks and placed threatening posters in front of shops. That hard work in the eighties and nineties is paying rich dividends now, for CPM can now act as the messiah of hartals and launch a hartal in Kerala by simply saying ‘let there be a hartal’.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

“Globalisation, You have made me a priest!”

As Kerala Police continues their war against CD piracy, new behind-the-scenes stories are emerging thick and fast. One such story is that Moser Baer, the flagship CD manufacturing company of India in this era of globalisation, is behind this entire hullabaloo. Moser Baer is about to launch a new initiative of marketing CDs and DVDs of all films in future just after 15 days of their release. The company will garner the rights of all films that are going to be released in Malayalam. They do this by investing in the production of the movies. (According to some sources the company will bear 15% of the production cost of each film.) The proposed price of two CDs is Rs. 30/-. The new scenario, if everything takes place as planned, will give Moser Baer a monopoly in the million-rupee CD market. Also it will virtually ensure the closure of thousands of CD shops and libraries in Kerala. It is rumoured that Moser Baer’s influence in the higher echelons of Kerala government is the real reason behind the newly found vigour of Kerala Police to launch a massive drive against pirated CDs.

Mr. M.S. Ajaya Ghosh, a native of Varkala and a dealer of Idea mobile recharge cards, is said to have signed a deal with Moser Baer for marketing film CDs and DVDs in Chirayinkizh taluk in Kerala. The company has promised him a virtual monopoly of the market and a margin of Rs. 7 per film. He is a happy man, dreaming about the profit that he is going to make. While at the other end of the spectrum, there is Mr. G. Satheesh, who runs a video and CD library called Vinayaka Videos in a prime location in Attingal town in Kerala. He is from Brahmin community, but because of his love for films and film songs that started from his school days he ventured to start a cassette shop and library which slowly has become the number-one CD shop in Attingal, while his brothers decided to embrace their family tradition of becoming priests in temples. Then suddenly one day, the threats of police raids came along. He says that it is impossible to make profit by buying only the master CDs, which are priced at Rs. 199/-. He argues that one has to rent the CD 20 times at least to cover the expense. By that time, the CD will most probably become damaged because of rough usage. He says that either the price of original CD should come lower or pirated CDs should be allowed.

So where does the future of our moviemakers hang? After all, they claim that CD piracy is one of the reasons of people not coming to the theatre. For that question Satheesh gave me a scornful look. “If they make good films people will go to theatres. Pirated CDs had been easily available for the film Classmates. Despite that the film became a big hit. Why?” For that I didn’t have an answer. Anyway, Satheesh has decided to become a priest in a nearby temple, which incidentally is a very profitable job these days. So he can now safely declare in a Thoppil Bhasi-like manner that “Globalisation! You have made me a priest!”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Songs that do matter

It was Adoor Gopalakrishnan who said songs are unnecessary ingredients in a good film. According to him songs break the flow of the story telling and serve only the purpose of allowing the distracted spectators to go out of the movie hall to have a smoke or to use the toilet. He definitely has a point; we will all agree seeing the ease and frequency at which heroes and heroines break into singing. However, there are some songs that have an umbilical chord relation to the movie. If you take out that song, the movie will look incomplete. Here is my top ten of such songs.

1. Oru Murai Vanthu Parthayaa (Film: Manichithrathazhu; Direction: Fazil; Music: M.G. Radhakrishnan; Lyrics: Bichu Thirumala and Vaali)

It is during this song that the dual personality of Ganga (played splendidly by Shobhana) burst upon the unsuspecting audience. Perhaps the most important scenes of the movie are during and after this song.

2. Ente Khalbile (Film: Classmates; Direction: Lal Jose; Music: Alex Paul; Lyrics: Vayalar Saratchandra Varma)

This song plays a big part in unfolding the mystery behind a murder and leaves the viewers thinking ‘how on earth did I fail to notice it’.

3. Thamasamenthe Varuvan (Film: Bhargavi Nilayam; Direction: Ramu Karyattu; Music: Baburaj; Lyrics: P. Bhaskaran)

I don’t have words to describe it. You need to watch the movie to feel how important that song is.

4. Dhum dhum dhum dhum Dhundhibhi naadam (Film: Vaisali; Direction: Bharathan; Music: Bombay Ravi; Lyrics: O.N.V.)

This song is a cinematic capsule of life. One can find how the joys and mirth of the celebration gradually fade into heart-breaking agony. This song provides a fitting climax to a rare technically world-class film in Malayalam.

5. Kanneerpoovinte Kavilil (Film: Kireedam; Direction: Sibi Malayil; Music: Johnson; Lyrics: Kaithapram)

Only one thing overshadows this song in the movie: the incredible performance by Mohanlal. Still, this melancholic song conveys the essence of the movie. I think no other song can take such a credit.

6. Karmukil Varnante (Film: Nandanam; Direction: Ranjith; Music: Raveendran; Lyrics: Gireesh Puthanchery)

This is a film-song version of a Krishna bhajan. The heroine sings her heart out for the mercy of Lord Krishna who plays a very important role in this film. For those who haven’t seen the movie, let me add that this is not a kind of devotional song that heroine or hero’s mother used to sing in the Hindi films of 1970s.

7. Indulekha Kanthurannu (Film: Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha; Direction: Hariharan; Music: Bombay Ravi; Lyrics: K. Jayakumar)

This song beautifully captures Chanthu’s (played brilliantly by Mammootty for which he won the Bharath award) self-defeating love towards Unniyarcha and how he was ready to do anything to attain his forbidden love for her.

8. Poikayil Kulirpoikayil (Film: Rajasilpi; Direction: R. Sukuamran Nair; Music: Raveendran; Lyrics: ONV)

This one is easily the sexiest song in Malayalam: in terms of both visuals and lyrics. A half-naked Bhanupriya, in the role of a woman who is the incarnation of Parvathi, virtually lures Mohanlal, playing the role of a man who is the incarnation of Lord Paramasivan, into loving her.

9. Ramakatha Gaanalayam (Film: Bharatham; Direction: Sibi Malayil; Music: Raveendran; Lyrics: Kaithapram)

No other stage performance in Malayalam films is loaded with such emotion. Mohanlal, after learning that his brother whom he loves and adores is dead, sings this song on the stage on behalf of his brother.

10. Pravachakanmare Parayoo (Film: Anubhavangal Palichakal; Direction: K.S. Sethumadhavan; Music: G. Devarajan; Lyrics; Vayalar Ramavarma)

I don’t remember much about the song and the movie right now. But still I remember the ‘how true’ feeling I had when I watched the movie through Doordarshan on one of the Saturdays during my adolescence.

Tail piece: I am not a fan any of the stars. I strongly believe in the message of the film Udayananu Tharam. That is, the director is the Hitler of the movie, as the late John Abraham loved to say. So the selection of four Mohanlal films against only one of Mammootty is a mere coincidence. I haven’t seen much films made earlier than 1980s. So forgive me if I missed something.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Beema Palli: A fortress of pirated CDs

Beema Palli is a mosque in a coastal hamlet near Trivandrum. The mosque holds a powerful image of worship in the hearts of Muslims. But if you take a statistics of the visitors to Beema Palli, it will become clear quite easily that non-Muslims outnumber Muslims. It is not a symbol of secularism for which Kerala is supposed to be famous. But people from all types of community throng here to get fake electronics goods and pirated CDs. Beema Palli is also known for its underworld culture. Its inhabitants are natural ruffians, mainly belong to Muslim community, who are notorious to do anything if they feel offended.

At a time when Kerala Police has declared a red-alert war led by the IG Rishiraj Singh against CD piracy, I was curious to know how things are going in Beema Palli. Rishiraj Singh has acquired a reputation as a stern taskmaster in Kerala Police. (He might have been inspired by the police officers in Malalyalam movies about which he writes reviews in The Hindu regularly) So I decided to check out how Rishiraj Singh’s war against CD piracy fares in Beema Palli.

I reached Beema Palli around 2’o clock in the afternoon. Nothing appeared to have changed. The noisy crowd, narrow and dusty pathways, a never-ending procession of auto rickshaws and motor bikes, and the high-pitched chatter of the shop keepers welcomed me. As a silent witness to everything around it, stood the monument from which the place got its name, the mosque Beema Palli. I walked through the road, watching the shops that sell virtually everything that has an IC inside it.

After sometime, I approached a CD shop. As usual they have the latest from every composer: from Ilaiyaraaja to Himesh Reshamiya. Same in the case of movies too. CDs and DVDs of almost all recent releases in Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and English are displayed prominently. It must be acknowledged that these guys have a great collection. In another part of the shop I saw a small crowd. Sensing something, I joined the gathering. There I saw a large collection of CDs and DVDs of blue films. Voluptuous naked ladies lustily look at you from the CD jackets. The accompanying captions make you laugh instantly. But I said no thanks. I asked the salesman whether Rishiraj Singh had come there for raids. He replied with a cool smile: “He comes occasionally, when he needs CDs”.