Dolce: Of course, we are not talking about Arya's bewitching eyes here, are we?
Namak: What? No! Stop it! I mean it!
So I was recommended Anbe Sivam a while ago by Mukundh on this blog and decided to risk buying it despite not knowing what to expect (thanks, M!). For the first hour I can't say I was impressed, it felt like a story I had seen before, just told slightly differently. It turns out I never did see the Hollywood movie that Anbe Sivam resembles in parts, which is Trains, Planes and Automobiles but nonetheless it sort of felt familiar. I did like the cinematography (always a sucker for films with a lot of rain and water) so I kept watching for that.
The film starts with Anbarasu (Madhavan) and Nallasivam (Kamal Hassan) who meet in a busy airport in Orissa and after a few frictions and a plane delay, they end up sharing a room at a two star hotel. Anbarasu is a bit of a know-it-all, always in a rush, always plugged in, he doesn't have time for chatty old men. But Sivam just doesn't care and he goes on yapping and being friendly despite Aras's visible efforts to get him off his back. This was supposed to be the light side of the movie, the "comedy" plot, but since physical comedy was never my thing, I was just waiting for it to be over and for Sivam's story to begin unfolding. After a few more adventures and mishaps, it does.
Sivam, who now looks like this:
used to be a passionate fighter for union rights, a self-titled supporter of communism.
Heh... Only in an Indian film would you have Communism, Christianity and Lord Shiva in the same person.
Dolce: Oh no, are we going to get all prickly now because here they go again using communism in Indian films as if it's some great system that will change the world?
Namak: Ha! I guess normally we would, but I found they used it rather well here. I appreciated that Sivam fully acknowledges in an episode later in the film that it did not work. But he still stands by the philosophical part of it, which obviously I have nothing against. Even Plato was a communist in that sense, when did I ever complain about that?
Dolce: So all the hammers and sickles and all the red didn't bother you this time?
Namak: It's an exaggeration to say that they bother me at any time, it bothers me when they are used with blatant ignorance, but in this particular case, while retaining my personal opinion on its virtues and flaws, I did not find anything to criticize in Sivam's belief system.
Dolce: Oh good, because I wasn't in the mood to argue about that.
Namak: But while on the topic, you know what did bother me?
Dolce: Damn, I left my guard down too soon... What?
Namak: What bugged me was that the only female character other than the heroine was a communist only to get Sivam to notice her! So much for girl power, you know, so much for women thinking with their own head. I found that bit particularly odd especially in the context of equality and fraternity. Really? The rest of the film talks about rights for everyone and about supporting home-grown talent, but meanwhile the only female character that's given some depth turns out to only be interested in politics and equality because of love? I found that somewhat degrading.
Dolce: Well, there's no clear dialogue that shows she was not interested in politics, maybe it was both. Maybe it was the subtitles...
Namak: The subtitles? Yeah, that's a good point. Fine... we'll give her the benefit of the doubt on this one. But I am not happy with how it was presented.
Dolce: All right, duly noted.
|She's not as badass as she seems|
Well then... To clear the air a bit, let's talk about something else. South Indian film makers seem to have a thing for Salvador Dali. I noticed a lot of Dali prints in Prasthanam, and in this one I could swear the logo (of the Production House maybe?) at the beginning of the film was Galatea of the Spheres.
At a closer look: it is!! But it gets even more interesting. The episode with Sivam painting a mural for Bala's father immediately reminded me of an episode in Diego Rivera's life, and sure enough after some research I found that it was indeed inspired by it. Not only that, but even the mural in the film is a cross between Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads and the same Galatea of the Spheres. With Marx in it too! Fascinating!
Anyway, that's not necessarily relevant for the film, that was more of a trivia moment, and also an opportunity for me to rejoice at being able to fill in the blanks of symbolism without external help. Which of course doesn't happen often with Indian films, so I have to brag about it on the rare occasions when pop/art culture I am familiar with gets referenced.
As the story goes on about Sivam's past life, we find many themes dear to South indian films: corrupt businessmen, greed, globalization vs protectivism, rich girl loves poor boy, love triangles, machetes, social justice, falling in love songs, and while some are more interesting than others (I for one did not care for the non-existing chemistry between Sivam and Bala, the heroine), they make for an engaging watch. Which is just as well because really, the most important part of the film is the last half hour.
Now maybe because I am coming off reading Jose Saramago's last novel: Cain... An author that has a knack for placing divinity on a human level and who toys with representations of God that are far from reverent. An author who was also, incidentally, an ardent fan of communism. Or maybe because the film itself is ambiguous that way, what with Sivam's uncanny ability to reappear every time we think him left behind for good, and what with his name being one of the names of Shiva. Or maybe because I was wondering while reading the Ramayan how did everyone know without ever being told that Rama was Vishnu himself in human form, which prompted the question: in a modern context, would they still know this?
I don't know why, but seeing this film with all these other ideas running in my head, I couldn't help but wonder: who was this Sivam? And if the message of the film is that God is everyone who feels love and compassion, why does he still strike me as surreal in his patience and his grace towards Anbarasu? And why is the sister nurse so close to an angel?
Namak: Taking that a little bit further, the real question for me is: what if you met God on a train? And what if God didn't have anything interesting to say? What if you had to listen to hours of yapping and snoring before even getting the message he's trying to give you?
Dolce: Yes, what if?
Namak: Well, how many people would have the patience for it? How many people would even make it to the part with the message instead of successfully shaking the pesky traveling companion by starting their iPods? Most people these days are exactly like Anbarasu.
Dolce: No way, he's a prick. I would not mind making conversation with a pleasant old man.
Namak: You may not, but I for example am not interested in a conversation that gives me nothing in return.
Dolce: But... what can a conversation ever give you in return?
Namak: It doesn't matter: knowledge, information, entertainment, closeness, an emotion. Anything. Even anger if it's a debate. But a character who has nothing interesting to say, I would not waste time with them.
Dolce: In that case, maybe you would not meet God, don't you think?
I know I could stick to the film's original message, because there are so many sides to the events in the film (so many of which I have not even touched), but I blame it on Saramago, and I can't help but think of a more mystical way of interpreting Sivam's character.
But... even without my ramblings, and despite its slow pace, I really enjoyed Anbe Sivam, and it was one of the few Tamil films that made me rush to the laptop and start writing! Nice feeling!
It seems a little wrong to give this a cheese rating, after all it's a film whose title translates as Love is God, but I will anyway. Anbe Sivam was a surprising delicacy for me. It's like fried Camembert: creamy, cheesy and warm on the inside, crunchy on the outside and the last bite is always the very best one!