An ode to Muththazhagu – Paruthiveeran’s priceless asset!

An ode to Muththazhagu, the girl who nailed Ameer’s unapologetic visualization of a lovelorn and headstrong village-belle (two tricky traits that could go either ways in an atmosphere reeking of chauvinism), exactly a decade after the film’s release…

-Mani Prabhu

paru2

Muththazhagu, the female lead of Ameer’s second film, is so disturbingly real that she keeps unsettling you on many levels. And that unsettling gnaw is one of the reasons, Paruthiveeran continues to fascinate, after almost a decade.

Over the course of the film, you could see her childhood fascination for her cousin (Veeran) eventually metamorphose into mad love.

And into this one hell of an impetuous ride, Priyamani breathes so much mood and texture that many a time, it’s easy to forget that she is a mere work of fiction.

This particular sequence, where she challenges her casteist father, face-to-face, over her decision to live with Veeran, is one for the ages.

It is late evening. Muththazhagu returns home after a tryst with her lover to see things a little ruffled at home. She guesses the obvious. Her dad, who had always nurtured a deep-seated hatred for Veeran and his family, must have seen them together.

As she walks past the man leaning back on his chair, making sure not to let her eyes linger anywhere near him, she instantly knows what to expect. The silence, that shatters the house, seems strangely familiar.

Feigning all the obliviousness that she could muster, she struts inside with a smug indifference. The clearly-seething man immediately summons her, and confronts her with the truth.

Muththazhagu, having known her father and his sensibilities long enough to realize the futility of any sort of reasoning, instinctively retaliates with a “Yes, so what?”

A prompt queasiness fills the moment. We gulp, half puzzled and half terrified. Why not a measly excuse, escaping the wrath of the moment?

But Muththazhagu has other ideas. She stands her ground, staring into her father’s eyes.

Acting out our worst fears, the man pours out all his pent-up anger, every blow landing on her with brutal force. “How dare you?” He literally stomps on her in a fit of rage. It’s savage, to say the least.

Between the pain in her gut and her ribs, and the sudden onslaught of unimaginable slurs, the sight of her father going insane, isn’t something she had definitely wanted to see. But before she could even manage to defend, the blows keep descending on her.

“Leave me alone!” Somehow Muththazhagu manages to scurry back on her feet. Inhuman and almost murderous by now, the man pushes her back to the ground. As she attempts to sit up, a verbal blame game between the father and the mother ensues.

We expect a squeal for mercy. At least, a heart-breaking imploration. We get none. Not even a half whimper.

She looks ahead, unfazed. Her face burns of an inexplicable grit. Of a deafening determination. Of an inscrutable lucidity. It’s terrifying. You could almost make a horror movie out of it.

“What the hell!” The man, exasperated with the girl’s silent defiance, slams her against a wall, and starts attacking her with an umbrella. The ‘father’ almost disappears. All you could see is a wild brute that gets more barbaric by the minute.

“For Christ’s sake, just say it aloud. Just say something, girl! What would you lose?”

She doesn’t budge an inch. Can such skanky unruliness be met with such clear resilience? It would take a Muthu to know. “I am going to kill you now!” Its gets almost impossible to keep watching. Nothing from her side other than piercing looks and deepening breaths! At some moment, absorbing all the trauma, she manages to get a hold on the umbrella and throws it away.

He spits at her face. Wiping it away, she gives him that cold stare. It’s shuddering.

Unable to take in the speechless resistance any more, the man walks away with a irate slap. It speaks a thousand more abuses.

Simultaneously she gets up, walks up to the dining mat, sits on the floor and serves herself the dinner vociferously. “Why are all you staring at me like that? I am still alive, and I am hungry!” Her helplessness resonates around the room. One look at Priya Mani – badly bruised but resolutely holding on to scattered bits of self-respect – even as she hysterically makes her grandma serve the whole of the meat, and you would know why she took home the National Award that year!

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Nilavai Konduvaa: Some true-blue hormonal magic!

Random thoughts on one of the most tastefully done sensual songs of the nineties, Nilavai Konduvaa

– Mani Prabhu

sims

Now, this is a stunner that screams SJ Surya in every passing frame.

The girl holds the reigns throughout. And that’s the bloody beauty of it.

Vaali gets down to business right away. The lady, hopelessly drunk on love, suggests every possible way to stretch the night. She craves for the moments to freeze. Its the kind of sensual jabber that permeates steamy twilight hours. We feel the high.

Her bottled-up desires start exploding into assertive commands. The man simply concurs. At least to start with. The impish subversion catches on us, like a charm.

Deva is operating outside of his comfort zone here. But surprisingly, nails it with the right blend of western orchestration and our very own music.

One moment he is playing around with suggestive percussions and the next moment, he smoothly segues into classical Hindustani. If that isn’t enough to silence the doubters, he follows it up with a textured version of ‘Kaakai Siraginiley’ from nowhere. The man, for sure, lives the aura.

But then, eclipsing many of these vivid details, two women own the song completely, making it breathe the ‘mood’ like no other.

Just listen to Anuradha Sriram’s trippy responses to Unni Krishnan’s teasing propositions and you would know,

அவசரம் கூடாது அனுமதி தரும் வரையில்…

பொதுவா நான் சொன்னா, நீ சொன்னபடி கேட்கும் சாது!

Unni retorts with a wily “இது போன்ற விசயத்தில் உன் பேச்சி உதவாது!”

But, before you could snap out of this yummy repartee, Anuradha reclaims her dominance with a tone that reeks of intoxicated passion…

மெல்ல இடையினை தொடுவாயா
மெல்ல உடையினை களைவாயா
நான் துடிக்கையில் வெடிக்கையில் முத்தங்கள் தருவாயா!

And boy, Simran! The actress plays this moment with such a bullish, sensual grace that you almost forget to blink. The kind of hormonal magic that lives up to the involuntary gape.

 

Poonnkuyil Paadinaal: Celebrating the Music called ‘Life’

A heartfelt tribute to the insanely talented, late Mr. Mahesh Mahadevan…

I would urge you to watch the song first if you are totally unfamiliar with it. The write-up works best when it’s read with the song playing in the background. But do remember to revisit the song again, after you are done with this.

-Mani Prabhu

What happens when a couple of brilliant actors battle it out with their respective, legendary vocalists over an absolute peach of a lyrical sequence?

Poonnkuyil Paadinaal kind of magic unfolds.

Two very different persons, struggling to shroud their apparent attraction to each other, loosen up over an eventful night, moving from moments of awkward closeness to those of delightful intimacy.

The beauty of it all? They bond over music.

He invites her over for a stint at the key-board. The lady starts off with a simple jingle. He takes it further with a smug improvisation. A palpable gawkiness hangs in the air.

She proceeds for a charm of a tune. He sneaks in with a couple of complementary keys. They are almost rubbing shoulders now. She responds with a brilliant refrain. He bends over to nurture the spell.

You get the drift. It’s almost like a twin ballad, her chords beautifully segueing into his, setting up the stage for something magical. It rounds off into a bewitching melody. They can’t stop smiling. Neither can you.

You have to hand it over to Mahesh Mahadevan here.  What an unprecedented grip over the fabric of the synergy! Very rarely does a prelude to a song turn out so endearingly spontaneous that it pulls the actors into the moment and lets them steer the happenings by simply being themselves on-screen.

And Haasan and Gautami effortlessly make the most of the setting. It’s one thing to share a great relationship with a co-star. But bringing alive the tricky warmth of an evolving attraction, complete to the minutest detail, is beyond histrionics.

Believe me… it entails much more than mere competency of the craft. Combined with the music, the hint at the chemistry bomb that is about to explode has to be seen to be believed! The timer has been set with aplomb.

With one hell of an intrigue that Vairamuthu pitches in style. What makes music ‘music’ and not just a jumble of sounds or noises? The duo eases into a lovely jam over the apparently intangible conflict.

And Chitra and SPB smoothly take over the reins here.

From the organised rhythm of a birdsong to an infant’s cry, the extempore musings are plain irresistible. Why does this formless ‘thing’ — at its core, a mere figment of the senses — hold such unthinkable intrinsic value in controlling the human mind?

The actors, and the singers, are literally competing with each other now. Is music in the notes, or the lingering silence in between? If ‘sound’ is required for music to exist, what form did it take in Beethoven’s mind? The vibes are alarmingly infectious.

பூங்குயில் பாடினால் நல்ல சங்கீதம்
குழந்தையின் அழுகையும் நல்ல சங்கீதம்

ஓசை எல்லாம் தீர்ந்து போனால் ஏது சங்கீதம்?
சத்தங்கள் இல்லாத மௌனங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

Especially, when Gauthami times the pepper-spray retrieval from her pouch with “சண்டையும் சங்கீதம்!”, sporting a superbly feigned nonchalance, you can’t help but grin.

But, if you think you are sold, remember that the show has just started.

Mahesh stages a strategic power shut-down to unleash one of the most fascinating musical interludes in the history of Tamil cinema.

Kamal’s ripostes continue to draw out the character from his somber mask every passing second. There is a deceptive rustle, followed by a stretch of dramatic silence. Haasan now strolls into the frame holding a lighted candle and a guitar. The picture instantly imbues the moment with an abstract sort of charm. Dramatic shoe-stomps resonate with anticipatory excitement. As he walks towards the lady’s silhouette, the lingering darkness dissolves into a muted glimmer on Gauthami’s face. She breaks into a radiant beam.

A breath-taking pause. And the heavenly guitar makes a sensational debut. Haasan’s stringing beautifully segues into SPB’s mesmerizing whistle, as the couple walk to the lawns. Everything about the setting is so freaking trippy that you could be excused for letting the high in Gauthami’s eyes slide.

The ‘stoned’ feel is understandably too much to handle. But Mahesh is in no mood for mercy. Once in the backyard, Chitra breaks into this ravishing hum, which along with the wizardry of the lead-guitar, is your straight-ticket to nadaville. Dare you resist the offer?

And before you could make complete sense of the ongoing narcosis, Vairamuthu takes over. The lyrical jugalpandi starts writing itself by the second charanam.

If relating to sounds is music, isn’t the whole idea a subjective pleasure?  If music is about structured repetition of sounds, isn’t it all encompassing -always present with us – as life goes on in the background? Is ‘intention’ a criterion for distinguishing music from noise? But again, isn’t it all about perspective?

The singers are almost on autopilot now. Everything flows.

ஸ்ருதியில் சேரும் ராகம் என்றும் கற்கண்டு…

பூவில் பாடும் வண்டு என்ன ஸ்ருதி கொண்டு!

Between accepted forms of organised intonations and free-spirited interpretations like that pollination and rains, the poetic swing ride is a delight to the senses.

With the singers settling into a cosy groove, and the misty moonlit-night nailing the mood, it’s a field day for Kamal and Gautami at work. Watch the way the man, close on the heels of Gautami, acknowledges her with a wry salute when she goes “நாங்கள் போடும் சந்தம் இன்பம் ஆனந்தம்” and then counters her with “மழையின் சந்தம் ஒன்றே என்றும் சுய சந்தம்”, springing a modest hand-fold.

But the best is yet to come. When he follows it up with an emphatic crossing of the arms, the self-assured aura it evokes easily escapes the confines of our limited language-comprehension skills. The moment is aced, Haasan style.

நேசமாக நீங்கள் கேட்பதென்ன பாட்டு?
மூங்கில் மீது காற்று மோதிய பழ பாட்டு.

The electricity is back. They amble inside. The lady’s curiosity about this man is at its peak. And so is the brilliance of the bass guitar in the background. A bookshelf that spills over into the bed and the carpet. Randomly scattered underwear on the couch. What an compelling personality this guy is turning out to be!

Vairamuthu takes it upon himself to elevate the sequence to the next level here. As Gauthami instinctively touches Haasan’s feet for her footwear accidentally brushing on him, she has absolutely no clue what she has gotten herself into. The man chides back casually.

The interplay of ideologies quickly escalates to clash on the ‘divine’. The lady revels at the way a certain kind of ethereal music establishes the omnipresence of the Almighty. Gauthami is in her element here. The pride and assertion of a strong theist shimmers in her eyes.

எங்கும் கடவுள் தேடும் தேவ சங்கீதம்…

SPB, on his part, edges up the drama with a retort that if music could be seen as spiritual nirvana, why can’t it be a quest for the elusive humanity? If music is a science, why shouldn’t it have been a time-worn expression of rationalism?

One look at Haasan holding a book on Periyar in one hand, while he goes “எதிலும் மனிதன் தேடும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!” and you could instantly feel the shiver. The goosebumps are for real.

Doesn’t the music of all life flow from the earth to the heavens and back? She knows she can speak her mind. The intimacy – the growing conviction that you would be understood no matter what – shows. He retaliates pronto by calling music as the art-form of the ‘equals’, and not only the select privileged.

தேவலொகம் கேட்கும் ஜீவ சங்கீதம்…

ஏழை குடிசை கேட்கும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

The lady is not going down without a resilient brush. Picking up from where she left, she perseveres. At the end of the day, aren’t rewards the purpose of all art?

With a vehement nod, Haasan strikes back, almost nailing the true labour of love in a single line. The reflexive spurt of moisture in the beholder’s eyes! That’s the thing. It doesn’t come that easy. It needs to be earned. Every single speckle of it. And when it is, nothing in the world would come close to what the artist feels, that priceless moment. After all, it’s not without reason, this piece exists.

காசு மாலை தானே கலையின் சன்மானம்…

கண்ணின் துளிகள் தானே கலைகளின் வெகுமானம்!

FootnoteThe lyricist for this piece is Vairamuthu and not Pulamaipithan as mentioned earlier. The appropriate corrections have been made, and any inconveniences caused, regretted. 

Aasaiya Kaathula Thoothu Vittu: One Hell of a Sensual Trip

Do you know that you could go insane by continually pondering on the circumstances under which Raja comes up with tunes like Aasaiya Kaathula Thoodu Vittu

How does it work? Is it about a mysterious muse?

Is he truly and hopelessly inebriated on lust? Or is he just pretending to be?

Is he acing the moment by teleporting himself into the carnal nooks of the human psyche?

Or is he just playing God, by conjuring up emotions with a mere flutter of his fingers over the keys?

How can someone, in the real world, hit upon the idea of using this otherworldly ‘violin-bit’ for opening a supposed item-song, which in turn leads up to the such kinky percussions?

Even as you accede to Raja’s inborn knack of defying artistic rationale, Shailaja’s mesmerizing rendition builds up on a weird kind of erotic rhythm, which intertwines your reality with that of a raunchy dream.

You could almost sense the hedonic arousal now. Its a magician toying with your sensuality. As if that isn’t enough to detonate your already charged-up synapses, the simultaneous kindling of the soul and the hormones also makes you question your own amorous sensibilities. Its befuddling.

The scintillating flute, the provocative strings, and all the orgasmic-humming grace the magnificent interludes with an unparalleled fizz, further edging up the muddled libido.

It slowly starts to inch beyond the confines of ‘words’. Like being pulled into a lavish whorehouse and offered the option of bailing out, in return for a specific-something. Its a trap. An insanely brilliant one at that.

But two aspects underline the track’s uniqueness, even under the unapologetic shadow of Raja’s super-sensual orchestration. The first is the visuals that never at any moment, border on ribaldry. And the second is the delightfully minimalist choreography that lends a whole new dimension to eroticism.

When a gifted seductress like Subashini is involved, rhythmic heel-taps, subtle shoulder-jabs and piercing stares are all that are needed to bump the spectator’s hormone levels to hazardous heights

Lesson well learnt.

 

Kannum Kannum Kalandhu: The Tale of a Legendary Face Off

-Mani Prabhu

Can a ‘song-and-dance-sequence’ hold you in speechless raptures for a whole of eight minutes, forcing the casual blink to seem like the most arduous of efforts?

This delightful confrontation between two of the most exquisite danseuses of the era is one such sight to behold.

Padmini starts off with a stunning spree of Tavils and Naadhaswarams. The aura she evokes quickly transcends the tedium of technique. Nimble, graceful and fluid, she brings alive the character’s complicated romantic feelings by transfiguring every bit of the mundane into the sublime, with magnificent calm.  And suddenly, it all feels so transcendental.

கண்ணும் கண்ணும் கலந்து
சொந்தம் கொண்டாடுதே…
எண்ணும் போதே
உள்ளம் பந்தாடுதே!

Leela’s celestial voice, and the way Padmini carries it with the most mysterious of smiles, add an ineffable ‘something’ to the magic unfolding on screen.  The moment is almost impossible to capture in words, but in it, music and dance meet in blissful harmony.

கன்னி என்றேனடி கைகளை பிடித்தார்…
காதலி என்றென்னை கொஞ்சியே அழைத்தார்!

It’s a master dancer and a gifted vocalist nailing the portrayal of female agency like nothing the audience had seen before.

But then, in a moment of pure genius, the tables are flamboyantly turned on us.

As Vyjayanthimala joins the party, the track becomes insanely delicious with an unbelievable shift from poetic reverence to indulgent fun.  What started off as a classical purist melody suddenly explodes into this ravishing sensual delight! The audacity of the metamorphosis has to be seen to be believed.

PS Veerapa, in all excitement, goes “சபாஷ் சரியான போட்டி!” In fact he needn’t have. We instinctively hear it inside our heads.

Ramchandra’s orchestration is on a roll here. It’s almost like the song got doped on its way to the charanam. The unbolted vivacity is there to be felt.  In the foot-tapping beats. In the spirited rhythm. In every inch of the animated atmosphere.

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே…
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!
கல கல கல கல வென்று ஜோராய்…
கையில் வளை பேசும் பாராய்!

And Vyjayanthi, on her part, is on some serious payback mode. With each sway of her head, each twist of her torso, each semi-classical gesture, each movement of her eyes, she weaves a captivating picture of deserving envy. It’s not about unadulterated art anymore. With an unprecedented mastery over the tightrope walk between classical and cinematic facets of the dance form, an unbelievable plasticity, and a unique follow-up crackling with energy from head to toe, she makes sure that her dancing breathes as one with her singer (Jikki)’s exuberant rendering of the showdown.

ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… பாடுவேன் கேளடி…
ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… இனி அனைவரும் மயங்கிட

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!

The ‘nerve’ had been touched. The game is on.

Padmini gets back with a recital that spills of precision and elegance. Effortlessly combining art with its aesthetic articulation, she breathes, feels and walks the dance. And Leela, singing for her, continues to nail the character’s knack of feigning an air of unmistakable repose.

ஆறு பெருகி வரின் அணை கட்டலாகும்
அன்பின் பாதையில் அணை இடலாமா?

With refined gestures, ethereal foot-work and a dainty flitter of her fingers, Padmini now seems like Bharathanatyam personified. It can’t get any more monumental.

பேதமையாலே மாது இப்போதே
காதலை வென்றிட கனவு காணாதே!

Giving you no time to revel in the shrewd riposte, Vyjayanthimala stages a thandava that erupts out from somewhere deep within. Myriad emotions of prejudice, jealousy and malice reflect in her steps, as she flits across the stage. Its breathtaking, to say the least.

சாதுர்யம் பேசாதடி…
என் சலங்கைக்கு பதில் சொல்லடி!

The tasteful stomp of a heel, the charming shuttle of an eyelid, the way she stretches her arms into space… in Vyjayanthi’s every manoeuvre, a new vocabulary takes birth – a language of form that breaks every single rule of classical dance.

நடுவிலே வந்து நில்லடி…
நடையிலே சொல்லடி!

When you are competing with one of the Travancore sisters, you can never really boast of a sustained advantage. And as awaited, Padmini bounces back in her inimitable style that relentlessly bolsters the aesthetic grammar of Bharatanatyam. But mind you, the first signs of resentment now start creeping up on the lady’s hitherto composed demeanour.

ஆடும் மயில் எந்தன் முன்னே
எந்த ஆணவத்தில் வந்தாயோடி?
பாடும் குயில் கீதத்திலே…
பொறாமை கொண்டு ஆடாதேடி

Even as the bite in her retorts start to sink in, Vyjayanthi takes the game to the next level by bringing in an element of mime to it. The steps start breathing the burning conflict now. Has it become less of a battle of expertise than an unruly ego-trip now? Jikki’s rendering of her narcissistic lines reek of a confidence, almost bordering on arrogance.

இன்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ…
எனக்கின்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ
இடி இடித்தால் மழை ஆகுமோ!

What follows for the next 120 seconds is an unearthly face-off between one of the best-trained classical dancers of the time, and the one who introduced semi-classical dance to Indian cinema!

Battling out on a complex platform of dramatics and narratives, they enthrall the initiated and the uninitiated alike – by infusing art with their own unique magic – by giving the dance form a whole new delightful dimension.

It’s not without reason that it is regarded as the best dance sequence in Indian cinema, more than six decades hence. Some cite professional rivalry between the leads. I choose to go with sheer passion for the craft.

Here is the Hindi version:

Six Spectacular Frames. One Genius Cinematographer. The Name is Santosh Sivan.

Over a career spanning three decades, Santosh Sivan must have spear-headed myriad bursts of brilliance. Here, I pick out six breathtaking frames from his oeuvre that scream his name in every pixel…

Mani Prabhu

1. Thalapathi

thalapathi

In this debut film of Santosh in Tamil – his first ever association with Mani Ratnam – the man had to tackle the toughest challenge of all – to portray dark emotions in the backdrop of the blazing sun. The reason?

Mani was alluding to the epic friendship between Karna and Duryodhana, and Karna being the son of the solar deity, a conscious decision was taken at the script-level to synchronize most of Karna’s decisions with sun-rays. Its a tricky proposition as nuanced expressions get lost in silhouettes, when the sun is put as the back-light.

This particular sequence involves the stirring transformation of Surya into the ‘Thalapathi’, as he goes to war in a mystic silhouette against a scorching sun. Raja’s rousing theme plays in the background.

This frame speaks a lot about Santosh’s caliber as it is never easy to shoot against the sun because of dynamic limitations of film stock. A gooseflesh inciting high-contrast image is obtained, by keeping the key light low and allowing the all-commanding solar backlight to dictate the mood. Santosh actually goes on to use this ‘low-key-high-contrast’ style through out the film to get the magical Surya effect.

2. Roja

roja

In stark contrast with the mood of his previous association with the master, this sequence in Roja required Santosh to bring to screen a soulful romance blooming amidst the astounding beauty of nature.

After a hurtful misunderstanding, love gently blossoms between the unassuming Roja and the city-bred Rishi in the alluring backdrop of Kashmir. One fine day, Rishi blindfolds Roja and takes her for a sweet surprise. At a particular spot, when Roja opens her eyes, she is in for the moment of her lifetime. She stares on, dumbfounded, at the charm of the snow-capped mountains.

There’s a momentary hint of the blue sky and the peeking sun, but it’s enough for Santosh to capture a flash of diamonds across the wide landscape, in the form of dazzling snowflakes.

It’s all pre-planned. We, the audience, are supposed to see the snow only when Roja does. And what a spectacle it turns out to be! Everything glistens. Colours are brighter against the pure white blanket that spreads as far as the eye could see.

And this particular frame, where Roja revels in a warm hug with Rishi, speaks a million words. She would be there for Rishi, come what may, till the very end. She may not be actually telling it, but we can hear her voice. Almost.

3. Iruvar

iruvar

Yet another masterpiece from the ManiRatnam – Santosh Sivan duo, this time for the epic political drama Iruvar.

Thamizhselvan is married, but is irreversibly smitten with Senthamarai. The scene reflects the complicated emotions of the two, as they succumb to their lethal attraction, all the while silencing the howls of their conscience.

As the back ground score begins with an apparent hissing of bats, Tamizhselvan and Senthamarai are lying on the floor, having consummated their relationship, her hair in tangles and their clothing in a mess.

The camera slowly zooms in to capture the rapture in their eyes, spilling out through layers of fear and guilt.

As we look upon the couple from above, from a God-like position, the camera starts rotating, starting off in a gentle gyration.

This particular frame is a stunner, with Tamizhselvan’s face caught in a reflective sense of calm, while Senthamarai looks more disturbed. We could see through her gnawing  and deep-seated torment at the moment.

The frame starts spinning a bit faster, catching us off-guard at the amount of emotions, being thrown at us by the stunning lyrics. The sound of a ticking clock adds on.

As Tamizhsevan fondles Senthamarai’s cheek with his touch, Santhosh edges up the pace of the gyration, soulful humming with stunning percussions hitting on us in the background.

At one point, we are so poignantly muddled, that indecision takes over. The man truly starts playing God here. Is it the frame that is spinning? Or the ground? Or our thoughts? The questions get only stronger. Heights of emotional blurring!

4. Thuppaki

thuppaki

An age old action-masala motif was being staged. The sister had been kidnapped.

But wait, we aren’t that worried. At least, about the fate of the girl. Why would we be? We have seen too many of these to even manage a false-gasp. We are familiar with the ploy. And the fact that the hero would make a fitting appearance in the scene, any moment now.

If at all, the staging of this age-old action motif lacked something, it was the element of anticipatory surprise.

What fun is it then? What was the need to keep us in the loop all along? As we wait for the inevitable to pan out, we even start dwelling on the ifs and whys for a micro-moment.

But before we could exercise our sensibilities any further, there is a hushed silence. Everyone in the scene stops mid-action, with the man-in-charge trying to make sense of the disturbance.

We hear something like a distant canine sound. Is it? The camera slowly arcs around the room, taking note of the shocked expressions and pans further to reveal an empty hallway, half cloaked in some sort of factory vapours.

The aura of the frame is staggering. We get the first hint of the brilliance that is still kept in clever wraps. As we stare ahead forgetting to blink, a dog casually trots into the frame.

We know the inevitable, but yet, the setting almost grabs by the collar and refuses to let go.

A gun shot is heard. And the man holding the knife to the girl’s throat collapses simultaneously. The camera records this, and then instinctively pans to explore the sound source.

It sure seems like the edge of a wall at first sight. What next?

None at sight. Just a lone lantern, lighting up the corner.  Curls of vaporous smoke, lingering from the firearm shot. The vapours hang on for a split moment. We are pulled into the scene, all mouths gaping.

An illusory reverie. That’s what Santosh makes it look like. Somewhere, as the sumptuous, milky haze writhes around, the heart misses a beat.

And slowly, fingers of light poke through the misty mesh – filtering down the interstices of the clearing smoke – revealing what is probably one of the finest ‘mass’ moments in the history of star-vehicles.

The image of Jagadish, with that killer-stare, pointing the gun at our forehead emerges, constructing itself like a self-solving jigsaw puzzle.

The man had elevated yet another scene to a different level.

5. Raavanan

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Mani had set his eyes on the Ramayana next. The film-maker’s vision was singular – he was attempting to blur the thin line between – what is perceived by the world – as good and evil.

Veera plays Raavan – the demon – the unpolished and boorish tribal leader. Dev plays Ram – the privileged ‘all-powerful’ – the resolute encounter-specialist. Veera eyes Dev’s wife, Ragini aka Sita, and kidnaps her. The motive? Veera’s sister had been tortured and brutal raped by Dev’s men. So who is the demon again?

While holding Ragini captive in the forest, Veera subconsciously starts falling for the lady. Ragini is angry and hurting, but soon softens up a bit, as she starts seeing the real Veera camouflaged within layers of apparent barbarism.

This particular sequence happens in the backdrop of a spectacular waterway, when the love-torn Veera questions Ragini about her love for her husband. Mani here seeks the help of Santosh Sivan to showcase Veera’s rugged yet striking abode. A huge stone effigy of Lord Vishnu in the ‘lying-down’ posture breaks into the rivulet, fragmented at the hip.

Initially, when Ragini equates her husband to God and all things righteous, Veera is seated on the leg fragment of the Lord himself. The supposed monster realizing his stand at the feet of the supposed divine. Rains start lashing out.

“Is your God the embodiment of all things good? An archetype of the ideal husband? Is he the most virtuous? Does he err ever? Does he love you unconditionally” As Veera relentlessly picks on Ragini’s mind, she seems to nod in concurrence. But wait, as the focus shifts to her face, the torment of missing her husband muddled by a hint of growing affection for her captor, is readily evident.

This particular frame, where Santosh contrasts Veera’s painful envy for Dev – for the things he can only dream of – with the pervading beauty of picturesque goodness, will go down in his repertoire as one of the very best.

 6. Dil Se

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A lead character from the heart of India. Another one from a politically and socially-sidelined peripheral state. Bundles of contradiction in the eyes of the law and the society. In Dil Se, Mani Ratnam had ventured to take us through the leads’ tumultuous journey, as they pass through the seven stages of love – attraction, preoccupation, desire, worship, surrender, fatal obsession and immortality – as laid out in literature.

Amar irreversibly falls for the mysterious Meghna, the moment he sees her. Meghna’s obliviousness is obvious, but the more she starts brushing him away, the more he gets obsessed with her.

He relentlessly pursues Meghna and questions her coldness. In a fierce altercation, she reveals to Amar, that as a child, she had been raped by a few soldiers and that her soul seeks liberation through her suicide attack on the Indian army and the President of India. She insists on her duty to represent her people and their unheard voices.

This particular sequence, which represents the zenith of love, happens in a dilapidated fort, which Santosh brilliantly uses as a backdrop to depict emotional isolation, the dread of an impending disaster and a hint of patriotism.

Knowing Megha’s resilience, Amar realizes that it would be tough to make her abort the mission, but he can’t give up on his love yet… can he? As Meghna proceeds for the suicide attack, Amar confronts her midway and frantically attempts to hold her back.

Santosh here alternates between the master shot fixed at mid-range and stirring close-ups to bring the insane tension alive. The dripping love in Amar’s eyes cannot be missed, even though the glimmer of hope had vanished. He knows he is the only person in the world who can stop her. He forcibly embraces her and pleads her not to go away.

There must be a million thoughts running in Meghna’s mind that moment. And Santosh resorts to over-the-shoulder shots for capturing the conflicting emotions. Amar seems to be still deconstructing her mind, which seems to escape all definitions. But the blatant nervousness had given way to a calm resolve. Meghna struggles for a few minutes, torn between an unflinching love and an apparent existential crisis.

This particular frame, where she stops fighting back after a while, eventually giving in to the passionate cuddle, is so haunting that you just can’t look away. When was the last time a cinematographer thematized the entire movie in a single frame?

The explosives tied to Meghna’s chest go off, with the couple breathing into each other. Amar drowns his body in Meghna’s soul. The couple sleep in the lap of death.