Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anbe Sivam Review

I noticed recently that I hardly ever write about Tamil movies on this blog. For one they're so damn expensive, and when buying blind that can become quite risky. Plus, of the ones I've watched, not many gave me that "I need to write about this movie this very second or I will die" feeling. Not many at all. I haven't spent many sleepless nights thinking about them either.

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!


june said...

One of my all time favorite movies. There was a time when I would watch a bit of it everyday over dinner. EVERYDAY!
And Kamal Hassan - drool! Wait! Madhavan - Double drool.

Dolce and Namak said...

Oh Lordy!! I will not join in on the drool part, but I can totally see how this gets better with rewatches. The visuals alone are worth a rewatch! It does feel like more people should know about it. It's the type of film that really makes you think, I love those :D

Nice to see you again, June! :)

Radical said...

will watch this film sometime.
[the bangles look LOVELY!:D!]

Shazia said...

AmbeSivam is on my must watch list. After reading your take on it, I will definitely see it now. Also recommended to me was Pitamagan and Kannathil muthhamitai. See if you find any of these.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Vistrit, it's a good one to have on your list, in my opinion. It's got a bit of everything and a dollop of life philosophy :)

And I'm glad you like the new banner (it was high time for a new one, eh?), I was very excited about it too, a friend of mine took a good 30 pics of my bangle stand for this purpose :D

@ Shazia - heya! I liked Anbe Sivam much much better than KM. But then I didn't care much for Kannathil Muthamittal for many reasons, so it's not difficult for another film to be better than it ;). But I am probably the only person in the world to not rave about KM, so do watch it, I'm sure you'll love it, everyone else does.

Pithamagan is one I sort of had my eye on (because of Surya :D), but I am so prejudiced against Bala's films. Not that I think they're bad, because I have yet to muster up the courage to watch one, but I'm a little afraid of them :) When I do work up the courage, this one and Naan Kaduvul are at the top of my Bala list.

Thanks for the visit guys! :)

Anonymous said...

Great review. "Galatea of the Spheres" is a very interesting observation. You have a keen eye.


Dolce and Namak said...

:) Thank you! A keen eye not so much. But I did have an obsession with Salvador Dali in high school and that is one of my favourite paintings. ;) I'll recognize his stuff anywhere.

Mukundh B said...

great that you followed up my suggestion.. ;)waiting to see more tamil reviews... And add Adadukalam to ur list if poss. Not a masterpiece, but am sure foreign audience will love it...

Dolce and Namak said...

Heeey Mukundh, you're still around! I tried going to your blog to link to that post where you wrote somewhat about Anbe Sivam and it was saying the blog is gone... :-/ Weird! Nice to see that it's not, and I will now link as initially planned :) I really liked this one, thanks for the recco. Would not mind watching more Kamal in the future.

Btw, this other movie you recommend does not pop up in imdb. Perhaps a different transliteration? I found one that's close: Aadukalam with Dhanush. Is that it?

Mukundh B said...

I have been always ard stalking u :P Jus didn't comment as most of ur posts were abt boring Hindi movies :)
Had some major changes in life, accordingly made some changes in virtual life too. Moved the blog to a new domain. That is the reason u couldn't find anything :)
Sry didn't include imdb link of it. stupid of me not to. Ya, that is the one..
And talking about Kamal, tried Hey Ram! ?

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL "Boring Hindi movies", well, clearly your opinion on films was NOT one of the the major changes in your life :P

Hey Ram! was coincidentally already on my list. I found a lot of references to it when I was looking for adaptations of the Ramayan, so I will be watching that soon. Was surprised that SRK was in it??? I can so not see SRK and Kamal in the same film, but guess I'll see that soon enough :)

I keep hearing that Kamal is a wonderful dancer, any suggestions of good films where he dances too?

Mukundh B said...

Hey Ram doesn't have anything common with Ramayanam. The title of the film refers to the last words uttered by Gandhi. The film is about one man's desire to kill Gandhi for causing the communal violence during Independence. And his change of mind. Kamal is a big fan of Gandhi (am not) and intended this to be a homage to him. Ironically enf. the film was accused of being anti-gandhian!! Thou it is no where near anti-gandhism.
Am u will see a v v diff SRK here. And the film is bit disturbing, esp the first half. I suggest u move this one up the queue & c is ASAP.
Kamal is indeed a bloody good dancer. Salangai Oli - Sound of bangles. A total film based on dance. A film i have been wanting to write abt.
the imdb link is for the telugu version of it.unable to find the link for tamil one. i thk it was shot simultaneously in tamil n telugu..

Dolce and Namak said...

Really? That's so weird... I wonder why it kept popping up when I was googling Ramayan adaptations... :-/ Granted, I didn't read any of the reviews because most people can't keep spoilers to themselves, but I was convinced of it... Well, either way, I'm intrigued enough to watch it now.

And thank you for the other one, I actually prefer the Telugu versions, not to piss you off, but because they're so much cheaper. :D And if you write about it, post a link here please!

Oh, and about your other question, keep scrolling down :)

Anonymous said...

Sagara Sangamam is made in Telugu originally and later dubbed into tamil. But so far I have not found a subbed version of DVD anywhere. If there is one telugu movie that you can't miss, then it would be Sagara Sangamam. But I am not certain how outsiders will take this movie. Watch it and review it. This movie needs more love.

This movie is full of wonderful songs.


Dolce and Namak said...

It was already in my basket, Tolly! ;) But sadly, no subs in the version that Bhavani has either :(

Nice song, if I wasn't already sold this would have done the trick! And hey, Kamal garu was sooo young :) But on a totally frivolous note: can I have ALL her bangles??? :D

ashok said...

hey D & N,
I appreciate u for liking this film to this level, this shows what philosophy u have in ur life! I have watched this film number of times and observed many things, be it communism or interpreting communism, stupidity of communism, love, god etc,etc. and have interpreted many theories... But, I have missed what u have said.

//what if you met God on a train? And what if God didn't have anything interesting to say? ....

... In that case, maybe you would not meet God, don't you think?... //

Wonderful. Wonderful... Great Thinking!!!
Thanks. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Ashok! I'm so happy I managed to bring up something new even for someone like you who has seen it several times.
And I totally agree there: so many interpretations for it, so many things to think about! That's what makes AS so good. It can only get better with rewatches, I'll have to make time and see it again! :)

Thanks again for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for your 'PITHAMAGAN' and 'NAAN KADAVUL' reviews :).

Dolce and Namak said...

Haha! That's because I am still waiting to watch them. :D If you could see my pile of movies waiting to be watched, you'd understand why it's taking me so long. But patience my friend, all in due time, all in due time. :)

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