Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mozhi Review... or an attempt at it

There are movies that I can go on talking about for days. And then there are movies that I can only say one word about: squeeee! I generally choose to not write about the latter category since you know... it would be embarrassing. But, in the case of Mozhi, an exception must be made because the Internet is outrageously barren when it comes to reviews of this wonderful little gem. And that just doesn't seem fair.

Don't worry, it's not as cheesy as the poster makes it seem!

Mozhi is the story of two musicians and best friends, Karthik (Prithviraj) and Viji (Prakash Raj), who move in together in an apartment building. It's the strangest apartment building, with extremely modern, spacious living rooms,

but the bedrooms are so tiny that the two friends have to sleep together in the same bed, poor souls.

Perhaps also the reason why they are not too keen on having bachelors living there? No matter, the apartment plays host to the rest of their story as Karthik falls in love with deaf-mute neighbour Archana and thus our journey into the lives of the apartment building dwellers begins.

Archana (Jyothika) is a one-of-a-kind character. The movie gives her a unique treatment from the very start, and in fact she does fulfil the role of the strong, silent (no pun intended) and emotionally challenged hero, as opposed to the teary eyed heroine that usually embellishes the man's arm. She gets a hero-like introduction (the first time we see her she is kicking a drunkard's ass), and her intro song is a cross between your typical Mahesh Babu "I'm so badass" (TM) song and the sweet "She makes my heart go dhadak dhadak" heroine intro.

It's no surprise then that she is not only the central character of the film, but also its main hero.

Archana is deaf-mute from birth and she has seen her father abandon her mother because of that, which caused her to be extremely introverted, stubborn, and determined to stand on her own two feet. It also caused her to be apprehensive about men, particularly if they come with marriage proposals. This situation is, evidently, far from ideal for Karthik's budding love story.

Enter Sheela (Swarnamalya), Archana's best friend, who will not only act as a mediator between them, but she will also teach him sign language and a little bit about Archana's heart language. Aaaand she will have her own adorable story, but can't say too much about that because it will spoil the surprise.

On the surface this is a simple love story: boy meets girl, girl is not interested in boy, boy must work hard to woo girl, girl finally falls for him. But in a movie where everything goes against the norm, that's not even the beginning of it. One aspect that really interested me has to do with another role reversal: typically in a love story we see  the girl being fascinated by everything that the hero says and does, while his interest in her "personality" is more of the physical/superficial variety. In Mozhi, Karthik doesn't fall for her looks or her femininity, he falls for her... well, badassness. As the story progresses, the more he discovers about her, the more he admires her for her strength, her pride and her self-respect.

This get mirrored on the heroine's side with a bit of a gender reversal as well. I particularly enjoyed the way Archana starts to take interest in music and rhythms as she gets to know Karthik, a very subtle but certain sign that she is becoming interested in him.

But underneath this, by starting to get in touch with a form of art that she never understood before, she is learning to understand him emotionally, something that, again, is behaviour usually reserved for the hero. It's not that the typical love story doesn't have a hero with emotions, but it's usually him that has to learn to understand her delicate feelings, him trying to learn the language of her soul, a language that he initially doesn't understand, not the other way around. We're used to the girls being the delicate flowers and the boys being the elephants in a china store. Mozhi does things just a little bit differently.

There are many little details like this that I really enjoyed in this movie, all having to do with modified mirror images. At one point Archana gifts Karthik a violin made of soap. It's a musical instrument, but it doesn't make any sounds. Later on, Karthik gifts her a pocket watch that plays a tune when opened. It's not a musical instrument, but it plays music. Through these gifts, she can now share his music, and he can share her silence.

I always said I appreciate love stories that change a character, that make them see the world in a different way, and this is one of the reasons why I am so in love with these characters: they don't come into each other's world just to live in it, they come to enrich it. By making an effort to learn each other's languages, both characters discover a side of their personality they never even knew they had. This is probably why the scene that touched me the most was Karthik's encounter towards the end with a little deaf-mute girl who is trying to sell him flowers. As empathic and kind as Karthik is from the very beginning, that entire conversation would have never taken place without Archana's presence in his life.

Now I realize that I have been talking incessantly about the main love story, but funnily enough, that's not even my favourite part of the film. My favourite part is the relationship between the two friends, Karthik and Viji. In fact Mozhi for me is as much a romance as it is a bromance, and the chemistry that Prithviraj and Prakash Raj share here is truly special. It's like watching two friends on candid camera, there is nothing forced in the way they laugh together, the way they poke fun at each other, the way they talk and learn from each other, and most of all the way they're always there for each other. I don't think I have ever seen either of the two actors in such jolly roles, and at such level of comfort, it really is like peeking through a hole into the real life of two roommates. They play off each so other brilliantly for comedy, that it's impossible not to grin happily during their scenes together.

Ah! Gold! Each and every one of their scenes! Such goofs!

Which actually brings me to a little something I wanted to say about Prakash Raj. Now I know he's been in some hundred of films, but why is it that there are only a handful where he plays a character different from Prakash-Bad and Prakash-Dad? If there was any doubt, Mozhi proves that he can do it and well, so I confess to being a little disappointed with him for not doing more with this talent. Not that I don't appreciate Prakash-Dad and Prakash-Bad, God knows I will watch a bad movie if he is the villain any day, but films like Mozhi and Iruvar make me sad to see him typecast so much.

Speaking of wasted potential, I am not Jyothika's biggest fan, but she truly made this role one of her best performances. Such a shame that she gave up acting after this film. She seems to have trouble emoting sometimes (and a few times in this film), but the fact that she made the sign language work so fluently for her character and pulling off a role where she has no lines, is indeed commendable. I quite enjoyed her in this film, as I enjoyed her sidekick, Swarnamalya.

It would not be a complete review if I didn't mention all the secondary characters, neighbours from the apartment complex, but then, this was never meant to be a proper review, nor do I want to spoil some of the surprises by bringing them up here. Suffice to say, it's a pleasure to see some well-developed secondary characters who are not there to move the plot forward necessarily, but rather to populate and enrich a world that becomes more real with each of them.

Now that Mozhi is available on DVD with subtitles, there is no excuse for not watching it. Besides, how often do you hear me rave so much about a love story, huh?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anandabhadram Review

While I am sure everyone reading this blog knows about my undying love for cinematographer/director Santosh Sivan, who can do no wrong as far as this blogger is concerned, I need to also make sure everyone is aware of my newest crush, Malayalam actor Prithviraj. Because you know, this review may be (read: IS) partially (read: completely) influenced by this little detail. But I promise to try and keep it real. Emphasis on "try".

The film starts with a lovely scene where a mother tells her son about the legend of the Sivakkavu temple, an ancient place where the diamond containing the soul of the world is kept.

Evil sorcerers have tried to snatch it to obtain its power, but the little snake Kunjoottan protects it with the help of the locals. However, the temple has fallen in ruin and is now host to Digambaram's blood sacrifices. The powerful sorcerer is, as his predecessors, in search of a way to obtain the diamond hidden in the temple.

Anandabhadram belongs to the fantasy genre of Indian cinema. You know, the genre based on local legends, with black magic priests, guardian snakes, temple goddesses and power rings. Yeah, the genre that usually goes all kinds of wrong in the hands of other directors. Thankfully, Santosh Sivan manages to do it justice, despite a rocky beginning.

Namak: Oh God, those white people on the train in the beginning were just awful. What was the point of that anyway?
Dolce: To introduce Anandan as the son and the other villager, I suppose, but yes, pretty awful stuff.
Namak: You know, why is it that in Indian movies everyone who comes from "foreign" (be they Indian born or not) has to appear slightly retarded? There have been a few instances just in the past 6 months where that really bugged me: Delhi Belly, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, The Householder and now this one. Really guys, not every pardesi/firangi is a caricature! Prithviraj took a good half of the movie to start acting like a normal person instead of the hyper doofus he appears to be in the beginning.
Dolce: It may be some sort of subliminal patriotic message. But either way, I was too busy making fun of the goofy moustache to notice. At least until this moment, when it really stopped being goofy.

Namak: Right, well, there goes that intelligent conversation...

The film gets better once Anandan gets to his mother's village and the pace is very well maintained throughout. Even the suspense, which most Indian films have trouble with, is kept up well. And the tale takes some interesting turns as more pieces get added to the puzzle. It may not be a terribly layered story, but it's definitely a well told one, which is more than enough for me.

The fantasy premise of the film doesn't allow for too much social commentary, except for one moment towards the end, which I will discuss in the spoiler paragraph.

**SPOILER for the END**

So as it turns out, the only way to defeat the evil sorcerer is to rob him of his powers obtained through chastity. In other words, someone has to rape him. While I am not typically a violent or vengeful person, I did find this twist particularly delightful because this is the first time I am seeing a man losing everything along with his virginity, while we see women raped and their lives destroyed by this virtually all the time in movies. It felt rather satisfying, even if someone had to make a sacrifice in order for this to happen (which makes for a whole other discussion, but I suppose in Sivan's defense, we could claim that her life had already been compromised and revenge was the only possible solution).


This film is surprinsingly tame for a Santosh Sivan offering, not his usual visual extravaganza, and in a way it reminds me more of Mani Ratnam films. Granted, all Mani Ratnam films that Sivan did the art direction for, so I suppose it's all coming from the same source anyway. Just a few screencaps to illustrate:

A girl's innocent surprise in front of her own beauty, such a Mani Ratnam staple!

That last one reminds me a lot of Raavan/Raavanan, which also makes me wonder, after seeing Prithviraj in the second half of Anandabhadram when the evil forces take over: what would he have done with the role of Beera/Veera in Raavan instead of Abhishek/Vikram? Food for thought...

Despite some similarities to other film makers, Santosh Sivan still makes this movie all his by adding some of his favourite little quirks: those reverse spinning shots and the rivers of fabric in this song:

...mist-filled close-ups like this one:

...and I am pretty sure I saw Chemban training with an urumi for a brief 3 seconds!

Also, unlike many film makers, especially in this genre, Sivan knows how to keep his focus on the topic at hand and to not try to cram too many sidestories. Is it any wonder, with a name like Santosh, that I'm always ridiculously happy while watching his movies?

Apart from the visuals, which are exquisite, the other forte in a Sivan movie is also present: gorgeous songs. The concept of Pinakkamano in particular made me giggle with delight: it's a song set inside a series of paintings! Now what can I possibly want more?

Dolce: And a special shout out to the actresses in this film! 
Namak: Right, Kavya Madhavan, Riya Sen and Revathy all do a fantastic job, almost outshining the men.
Dolce: Ok, you need to get over this issue you have with Prithvi in the first half. He was great after he became normal and fell in love with the village girl. He even forgot to say "interesting" all the time.
Namak: Nope, not letting go, I will not have my boy overact just to show how dumb foreigners are. It was silly and I will not get over it.
Dolce: Suit yourself. I'll forgive him anything after that sexy chemistry with Kavya.

We wonder, as we always do, what will happen to these characters after the closing credits, as this is another one of those stories where things cannot possibly go smoothly what with the different backgrounds, and different views of the world that each half of the couple brings to the table, but I really don't think we are supposed to go this far. I did however appreciate that despite the strict parental control, some of the elders in this village were enlightened enough to root for the blooming romance with the "man from foreign", and the village belle herself was not exactly the sheltered type. There's no shying away from holding hands and sharing embraces, so Bhadra is definitely my kind of girl.

And one last random thought: Oh my, how gracefully Revathi has aged since Mouna Ragam! She still lights up the screen with that smile!

Aye haye, what a beauty!

Anadabhadram is like Provolone cheese: smooth, tender and buttery without too many strong notes. It leaves a sweet impression and you crave the texture of it often, despite it not being a strong cheese. It's easy on the taste buds just like Anandabhadram is easy on the eyes and light enough to not weigh you down at the end.