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|January 25, 2001||
Pure unadulterated timepass!
Shaji Kailas would appear to have, judged by recent outings, perfected the art of populist filmmaking.
Thus, the Malayalam director in the early part of 2000 came up with Narasimham, with Mohanlal leading the starcast -- and the film duly became the biggest BO hit in the Malayalam film history. Later the same year, he helmed Valiyettan, this time with Mammootty playing lead. The result, another superhit.
And now, he kicks off the new year with Vanchinathan, the Pongal release that is sweeping the Tamil Nadu marquee and which promises to be just as big a hit as Kailas' two recent Malayalam films were.
So what lies behind the triple home-run at the BO? If you look at the three films, you find that they have one thing in common -- eschewing the contemporary tendency to give the hero an Achilles heel or two and make him vulnerable, Shaji Kailas reverts to an earlier age when the hero was unabashedly larger than life and twice as natural.
And the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, invulnerable superhero, much to our surprise, proves to be as big a draw as he ever was, in the days of Satyan and Prem Naseer, and of M G Ramachandran and more recently, Rajnikanth.
The tale of Vanchinathan -- at least, as much of it as can be told without spoiling the fun -- is easily narrated: There is an incorruptible cop, Vanchinathan (played by Vijaykanth) and an amoral, incorrigible newspaper magnate who uses his paper as a tool to make black appear white, wrong appear right, and to manipulate all people and events to his own ends.
The clash between the two, and its resolution, is what the film is all about.
If you examine it structurally, the strength of the film lies in the spark, the catalyst that prompts conflict. In the film under review, Shaji Kailas comes up with a killer of a catalyst, timed for the halfway mark of the film.
By that point in time, the cop's ruthless determination to weed out evil, irrespective of the means employed, has been etched. As has the magnate's manipulative ways. The two come together, head on, for the first time, and the magnate taunts the cop.
"Tomorrow," he says, "is the golden jubilee celebrations of my paper. All the ministers and other bigwigs will be there -- and so will you, as security-in-charge. And while you watch, I will, from the dais, commit a murder -- in full view of the entire audience. Stop me if you can, arrest me if you dare.'
And so it turns out. By a clever twist, the magnate carries out a killing that has the full sanction of the law -- while the hero can only look on.
And from there on, it is flat out war between the two.
What keeps this film from deteriorating into the usual cliched good-versus-evil slugfest is the thinking that has gone into the script and storyline. The incidents merge seamlessly, the dialogues (Liakat Ali Khan) have a harsh, cutting-edge quality to them, and every effort has been made to give the story a contemporary flavour.
Thus, for instance, the January release incorporates a hard-hitting reference to the Lashkar-e-taiba terrorits' infiltration of the Red Fort recently. Similarly, real-life instances of terrorists kidnapping political figures and holding them hostage have been studied and digested, and then refined into one incident that dramatically underscores the nexus between politicians and terrorists.
The fact that these, and other incidents in the film, draw their inspiration from real-life ensures that the audience identifies with the narrative, finds itself nodding in agreement as the events unfold to the accompaniment of excoriating lines of dialogue.
Further, a conscious effort has been made to ensure that the pace never flags -- thus, romance is disposed of early, and then does not intrude into the on-screen events at the expense of pacing. But the real credit for the gripping nature of the film should go to the director for his twin triumphs -- of putting the right man in the right role, etching each character to perfection, and getting brilliant performances from each member of the cast.
The film stars Vijaykant as the supercop, and Prakash Rai as the newspaper magnate, representing the forces of good and evil respectively. Nasser as Rai's lawyer, and Ramya Krishnan and Sakshi Sivanand as the two female leads, have little to do -- but on the positive side, the director refrains from using them as glorified props for the hero, bringing them into the frame only where absolutely required.
But what intrigues you about the cast are a couple of key characters. Kalabhavan Mani, who started off in Malayalam films as a comedian, has in time evolved into an outstanding character artiste. In fact, last year saw him make a strong bid for the national best actor award with an outstanding performance in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum, the story of a blind folk-singer. The national jury, seduced by Mohanlal's standout showing in the Shaji Karun-helmed Vaanaprastham, compromised by giving Mani the special jury award. In this film, Mani appears as a gangboss -- and turns in a very believable performance.
Similarly, 'Pyramid' Natrajan (so called, because he is the owner of the Pyramid audio label) has been well cast as a politician looking to cash in on the caste equation. Natrajan, who in his avatar of movie producer has had a few flops recently (the most recent being the Vasanth-helmed Rhythm) has of late taken to acting, having appeared as Madhavan's father in Mani Ratnam's recent Alai Paayuthey, to cite just one example.
Saravanan's camera teams up very well with stunt choreographer Rocky Rajesh -- thus, the well-orchestrated fight sequences have been enhanced by some crisp, clever filming. Karthik Raja, unfortunately, fails to match the rest of the backstage team -- his score, and songs, are decent-ish, without really soaring to the heights.
But above all, this is a director's film -- and thereby hangs a tale. Word in the industry is that Shaji Kailas was the man who provided, gratis, the story idea for Vijaykant's previous hit. He was then roped in to give the story and direct this one.
Some kind of falling out between producer and director, when the film was just about to go on the floors, led to a situation where Kailas was supposedly axed from the project. Vijaykant reportedly interfered to effect a patch-up, and Kailas was reinstated as director.
The story, too, is supposed to be his -- but the credits list Liakat Ali Khan, who in any case does screenplay and dialogues, as the originator of the story idea as well.
In any case, the controversy at the initial stage appears not to have hurt the film to any noticeable extent -- what you see on-screen is pure timepass, of the masala genre.
But the masala is appetising -- and in the final analysis, that is all that counts.
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