Just watched the malayalam movie Arike (So Close) by Shyamaprasad.

Now I’ve not been a fan of Shyamaprasad’s previous endeavours. I’ve always felt that while he does have his heart in the right place and knows how to weave in humor in unexpected ways, his movies often skim the surface of what he really wants the viewer to feel – thereby missing the point completely.

Arike however, is good. Languid and unhurried, a summer afternoon movie that let’s you soak in lives that could be just about anywhere in the world, and yet resonate with you. There’s no overt attempt to benefit from the Kerala/Malayalee background (script is based on a bengali short story) and that’s (for me) a huge plus.

There are subtle hints about relationships that are mostly just a scene and a few words: a father whose expectations from his daughter and obsession with fatality narrows down to a man who lives with the fear of having almost lost his raison d’etre: his wife; a guruji who’s compassion towards a beautiful child reflects in his outpouring of joy in her presence – there’s a message there – true spirituality is unconditional love; an indulgent mother who hasn’t been able to make her daughter grow beyond frivolousness perhaps because she is guilty of the same; a boy who feeds on perceived weakness of those around him using them as a channel for his anger at being deprived…

In most movies, not devoting enough time and space to develop the ethos of the characters often makes them seem hollow and unnecessary in the script. In Arike, Shyamaprasad manages to avert the danger smartly, without spending reel and air-time. I would put it to his skill as a director in extracting unspoken words out of the actors and using their body language to the maximum – works beautifully here.

This is not a review btw, and is just my appreciation of the movie, so I won’t belabor on the plot per se. Mamta Mohandas stands tall in her role – strength in softness devoid of feminity. It’s something I didn’t think could be shown on screen, but she does it and how. Muted and yet intense without needing either dialogue or action. There are scenes where she could just merge into the background and yet, the story flows through her. I’ll probably have to watch this movie again to see how that’s done.

There’s Dileep and he proves my belief yet again that he’s an actor who can rise above the crass and comic when he needs to. He’s almost feminine energy in this movie – in movement, words and emotions. The scene where he realizes that the woman he loved chose not to be with him – there’s denial, trauma, a hint of anger, helplessness, and finally a revelation w.r.t what she & her friend meant to him – all in a few minutes. I watched that scene closely because that is something that could easily suffer from a casual treatment and emerge dramatic or worse insensitive – no dialogue can really convey the intensity of the loss if the character was really in love. But here again, the cleverness of the director and the actor scores.

Samvritha: in this movie she’s like little silver bells; pretty, enamored by herself and the state of being in love, and obtuse about everyone else. As a character, there is intentionally nothing that draws you to her – she’s eye candy and that’s it. Maybe there would have been merit in exploring just why she changes her mind at the end, but I don’t grudge Shyamaprasad for his slightly meager treatment of this considering the rest.

Having spoken about everyone else and everything else in the movie, I come to the one reason why I’m writing this post first of all. Vineeth and his cameo. The cameo is crucial only to divulge why Mamta’s character is what she is and even with the first hint of his presence, one could easily guess what follows. But Vineeth bursts through the screen with a presence that is at once magnetic and repelling, and is riveting in the process.

I’m just marveling at how he managed to nail it like this with the brief that he got. Here emerges a man for whom no one else exists in the world but he. And yet, he manages to reach out and make the person next to him feel glorified. You know exactly what he is upto and Mamta’s character, sitting next to him – you know she knows to say no if she wants to, but she doesn’t. His occasional sighs, the shower of abrupt laughter, the inappropriate casualness, breaching personal boundaries without a flicker of worry, and throughout it all, conveying that his lust is the most natural thing in the world. There’s a dialogue that, when loosely translated, is him telling her “I want to make love to you”. It’s said with so much ease that the implication doesn’t even register in the consciousness. Because it just seems right that a man would want to appreciate a woman of beauty and flawlessness with all the love in the world!

Gautham Menon needs to take a page out of Shyamaprasad’s diary on how it’s not enough to have these words in the script for the shock-value but to express it’s real worth 🙂 (remember Vinnaithandi Varuvaya?)

For me, Vineeth is really the pick of the movie. And as a movie that explores with honesty several facets of love and lust, and makes no attempt to be complicated in the process – I really enjoyed Arike.

Kudos, Shyamaprasad!

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya

Prologue: A while ago, Visitor asked me if I could post my take on VTV. Given that Visitor is extremely hard to refuse ;-), this is the fulfillment of my solemn promise –  a review of the Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya album, the latter, crafted ever so carefully by the wizard of Indian music – A R Rahman.  @Visitor, this one’s for you! 🙂

I want to buy a guitar.
Drive down to the shores of a beach, somewhere far, far away.
Strum the guitar, till the sun sets.
Watch the moonlight making silver patterns on the dark sea.
All the while, singing “Aaromaleee…”

These were probably the first clear thoughts that I got, after listening to this song. Someone told me “Aaromale” was close to Led Zeppelin-from-Kerala. Well, I’m not an expert on Led (and core fans would probably consider this comparison a sacrilege?!)… however, “Aaromale” is different, and really good at being so.

The song is a rocksy-bluesy alternative to Malayalees who’ve wanted to find a new-age soul in music. And that soul hits you, around 2 minutes 5 seconds into the song, when Alphonse’s husky crooning of Aaromale leads you into a venerable chorus of “Swasthi, swasthi, sumuhoortham, sumangali bhava manavaatti“. Within seconds, the chant transports you into the hallowed portals of a church, and the song becomes a tormented, rebellious soul’s prayer of love.

I won’t say the song is a classic. It is a daring, different attempt, and as a musician, ARR pulls a rabbit out of his hat. I’m not certain how many non-Malayalees will embrace it completely – the lyrics are integral to the song, and not understanding it may dilute the impression on the listener.

There is another (strange) aspect to Aaromale. Typically ARR’s songs take much listening to, for a true discovery of the song’s potential. I liked Aaromale in the 2nd and 3rd hearing, which is too soon by the usual standard. It changed to intense obsession in even a shorter while, as I had it on loop for 2-3 days.

And then I moved on to the other songs. I even went to the extent of wondering if Aaromale was just a phase.

But then, when I came back to it, the visuals did too and the crooning was back in my head. I realized that I may not always have an Aaromale frame of mind, but when I do want to listen to it, it would be to experience that feeling of pathos mixed with heady exhilaration.

The second surprise of the album is Mannipaaya. It’s the quintessential ARR romantic song ;). You never get to know what the song is when you hear it for the first time. Infact, it just appears deceivingly lowkey, esp. because it is difficult to hum the first few times. You wonder what’s so great about a romantic number that Shreya Ghoshal is singing. But wait, ARR sings it too, right?

So you listen to it a couple of times (after all, he’d have some reason for singing just that one song, right?!). And then… the brilliance of the maestro finally dawns on you, and you’re left with a side-sloped grin, grudgingly admitting to yourself that you underestimated, and he tricked you into it again.

For many people, Mannipaaya is the pick of the album. For me, it rates next to “Munbe Vaa” from SOK, and “Tu Bin Bataye” from RDB – even though the emotion of love explored in the song, is vastly different from these two.

Music-wise, ARR breaks the traditional charanam-pallavi mode, and creates a rhapsody of instruments and vocals, and your keen ear is left wondering what started when and how it all fits together, so deceptively! Sheer brilliance.

I found the lyrics of the song, a little too blasé – they were intended to convey the poetry of romance, but do it overtly, if you know what I mean. Somehow the phrases lack that heart-tugging quality in the Munbe Vaa and Tu Bin Bataye (or even Yakkai Thiri) – and that is the only aspect of the whole song that I felt cheated about.

Talking about the two songs above, reminds me, that my favorite Naresh Iyer features in the album. Kannukkul Kannai is a short racy number (3 min 53 sec), and just for featuring Naresh, a big yay to ARR. This is one guy I’ve really wanted to hear much more of, but somehow, nothing much has graced my ears post his Munbe Vaa, Innisai, and Roobaroos. It would have been nice to hear another version of Mannipaaya with Naresh and Shreya, but what the hell – since ARR does it himself, I forgive him ;).

What about the KK track? It gives me the kind of urgency that some of the tracks in Boys did. Pulsating (techno) beats, and a quality of “there’s something to be done very soon”. It is again, a different attempt – but probably the lesser known ones out of the album. And is that a violin or a cello belting out staccato sounds? *Eyes widen as the significance of this sinks in*.


Yeah, I’m switching tracks to another song with a rather obvious Church influence. This song could easily have been done in the “Ale Ale” setting from Boys: dreamy sequence, flowers, girl dressed in a pretty-fairy like dress. Add a nice group of fairies to do the background dance to the tune of the chorus. And then put in Siddharth. *Swoons and goes off into a reverie*….

….Okay, back to acting my age.

Hosanna is a good song and achieves an unexpected marriage of two entirely different experiences – the sanctity of the church and the purity of love.  The last (and only) time I felt this was possible was when I heard “Jaana suno, hum tumpe marte he” from Khamoshi.

But, but wait. Have you been misled into thinking that you’ve already heard about my favorite from the VTV album?
If so, you’re SO WRONG!
*Waits for the initial shock to subside* …
… (*chuckles* :D)

Yes. Swallow this: Despite Aaromale, despite Mannipaaya, despite Hosanna, I’ve still gone and fallen in love with an unexpected song from the lot of VTV. Well, perhaps the drama I’m trying to create is unnecessary, but atleast I for one, was surprised by my choice.

The pick of the album for me is “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya” by Karthik.

Starting off with a strum, and almost a wispy, recital of words “Oone, uyire, unakkaaka thudithen, vinmeeney“, Karthik breathes an ethereal quality into this piece that’s almost impossible to place. The song is just out-of-this-world.

Close your eyes and listen to ARR developing the layers that bubble in the background with Karthik’s voice till they melt with his, and you know why. The notes go up and down in waves, and just when you’re thinking it’s reached a place from where it cannot return, out comes an unpredictable twist, and you’re left with your eyebrows an inch higher than usual.

Karthik, the singer, is one of ARR’s BEST finds – and another favorite of mine. Incredibly diverse and rich vocals, he’s shown himself as capable of a wide spectrum, from the “Enakku Oru Girlfriend” to “Oru Maalai” to “Ale Ale” to “Unpaarvayil/Niluvadhamu”. And now this. Top Class!

The VTV album has two other tracks – Anbil and Omana Penne. Both are pretty popular, and interesting in their own way, but for me, they come below the 5 above, and so I don’t attempt anything beyond a mention.

My rating for the album overall? Given that I feel extremely satiated (and have Visitor to thank for!! *beeg smiles* :D), I would give this a 4.25. (Warning: Rating is calculated after extensive research, regression and quantitative arithmetic jugglery, so don’t dare question me !!… ;))

What a delightful experience!!