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!!

123/5 for “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind”

Have you ever heard of someone taking a tag after 10 months? Well, that’s exactly what I’m out to do right now. Its been 10 months since Ooomz has tagged me with his 123/5 post, and here I am responding to it now! (In my defense, I’ve got the time only now you see ;)).

A brief repeat of the rules of the tag – its all about writing what’s written in the 5th paragraph of the page 123 of the book I’m reading right now. In my case, the book is ”Ageless Body, Timeless Mind” by Deepak Chopra. Here goes (the 4th paragraph of the page, since there is no 5th para, and my move is as per the rules):

There is no denying that free-radical damage occurs and is suspiciously linked with aging, along with cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death. Yet it has not been shown that older people necessarily have higher levels of free-radicals in their cells, or lower levels of antioxidants. What I’d like to suggest is that free-radical damage is but one type of imbalance that can occur at the level of cellular intelligence when the balance tips towards entropy. If the body’s intelligence is at full strength, disorder and chaos do not attack a cell. The basic tenet of life extension – preventing free-radical damage before it occurs – is sound. To do that, however, we need to understand a cell’s intelligence directly.

Profound, eh? :). Well, this is the first book I’m reading, authored by Deepak Chopra – a pioneer in mind-body medicine, and holistic healing. Before reading this book, I was acquainted with metaphysics, healing and a bit of quantum physics (Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Paramahamsa Yogananda comes to mind). But this book has introduced to me some mind-boggling concepts, especially in Part One “The Land Where No One is Old”. Referring to the body as a storehouse of energy and information, Deepak analyses its biochemistry and drives home the importance of awareness in definining its intelligence, processes and existence in this dimension. Part Two speaks about Aging and Awareness, and with it the plot thickens – merging theory with case studies and exercises. With “Defeating Entropy”, “The Science of Longevity” and “Breaking the Spell of Mortality” – the other three remaining parts, the mind-body can no longer be relegated to being an incomprehensible, indisciplined instrument. Deepak tries to bring to light our unconscious programming that’s the root cause of sickness, deterioration, and also seeks to break moulds of how we’ve perceived growth and aging. Deepak’s writing is not for the faint hearted 😉 – some lines/paras would need two to three reads for the full breadth of its significance to sink inside you. Interpretations could vary and even change the whole dimension of your thought – especially since concepts of time, space and reality, all fade into oblivion.

The above paragraph is an excerpt, and concludes a chapter titled as “The Free-Radical Theory” in Part Three. The chapter tries to expose the paradoxical nature of free-radicals, once thought of as the enemy because of its contribution to cellular damage, till it was proved that they are beneficial also in maintaining the body’s balance and protecting it. The chapter and the paragraph seek to show a bigger picture to the Free-Radical debate, by encouraging us to see beyond the damage, examine and solve the original cause. What I also found relevant in the chapter is the mention of how people are (even today!!) always so ready to consume antioxidants, vitamins and other drugs (beta carotenes, vitamin B, C, E, zinc etc), in the belief that they’re contributing to their personal health and life extension, when in reality these may end up doing more damage than good.

Coming back to the purposes of this post – apart from my need to take up the tag in the first place :), it also lets me tell you that if you have the time and interest in all of the above, pick up this book, or atleast read up on material in this line of thought – be aware of your body, and know that the way you perceive, understand and choose to change will make all the difference. There’s a lot out there that you probably don’t know, yet!

P.S. Ideally I’m supposed to tag 5 people. But then, I choose to just throw open this tag to anyone else who thinks they’re reading an interesting book and would like to talk about it.

Sillunu (Jillunu) Oru Kaadhal

Thought I’d break the prolonged silence on my blog with a music review :).

SOK Music Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5.

I had heard the music of SOK some time ago, because there were a lot of people talking about it, and I was getting requests to post a review. After three weeks of intense personal activities, here is my take on the album (whew…finally :)):

What can I say about AR Rahman, that hasn’t been said before. It can only be a man of pure genius (like him) who can come up with a number like Munbe Vaa En Anbe Vaa. Each time I hear the song, I feel my senses melting – suddenly, nothing else matters in the world and the song takes my body and soul into another dimension altogether. The song starts with a piano interlude (don’t I love songs that start like that :)) and the combination of Shreya Ghosal and Naresh Iyer, that follows, is sheer magic. While her sweet honey-like voice wafts into your ears and fills your being, his husky, silvery tones gently brush alongside hers and sweeps into prominence almost at the end of the song (I would have liked more of Naresh in the song though 😦 )… Rahman blends multiple layers of both the voices to create a masterpiece that only the maestro is capable of. I also love the lyrics (and will be posting it on my song lyrics page soon) – here is the extract that I like the most, because I think it has this spark of naughtiness 😉

Nilavidam vaadagai vaangi
Vizhi veetinil kudi vaikkalaama
Naan vaazhum veettukul verarum vanthaley

Thenmalai thekkukku nee thaan
Unthan thoLgalil idam tharalaama
Naan saayum thOlmel verorum saainthaley…

Neerum sengula chErum
Kalanthathu poley kalanthavar yaar…

The next song that I liked in the album is the other popular number Machakari. I first saw the song on TV before I heard it, and what struck me initially was that it  is almost a continuation of Rahman’s experiments with western music. Its a dance number with catchy beats, and will  get you to shake your head, tap your feet in tune with it. Shanker and Vasundhara are complete rock stars in this song, and Rahman succeeds in tapping the raw-ness potential in both the voices thereby giving us facets which we haven’t heard earlier; Also another surprising element in the song is that both loud and soft sounds intermingle and there are instruments (that I cannot recognize) playing softly in the background contributing to the multi-layers.

NewYork Nagaram was the surprise piece for me, because I never really expected it to be so addictive. Rahman is in superb form (his voice tugs on my heart); the guitar strings and the hollow chorus in the background is haunting. The perfect song for solitude :), and for commemorating long-distance love, and longing… [Infact, the song is so perfect that I found the visuals in the movie lacking – it was looking like a Tanha Dil (DCH) copy :(]

Jillendru Oru Kaadhal is the opening song of the movie. Very stylishly packaged song – reminds me of the English Broadway musicals in the 60’s, of jazz, the movie Chicago, and Rahman’s own number “Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi” in Iruvar. The voices (Tanvi, and ?) are very cute, I loved the indulgence :).. there is also a stray alley-cat somewhere there. Leave it to Rahman to add a bit like that 😉

Majja Majja: SPB Saran in yet-another-sensual number, with Shreya accompanying him. Reminded me of kaadhal sadugudu… but please don’t compare the visual presentation of the song. Kaadhal sadugudu is a treat for the eyes – sensual and subtle whereas even though Majja Majja is interesting and catchy, the visual in the movie is in-your-face, and there are too many jatkas-matkas that destroy the subtle nuances of play in the song. I was disappointed because this was the song where Surya’s and Jyothika’s chemistry should have set the screens ablaze, but it did nothing of the sort. The song is  beautiful – please listen to it while banishing all thoughts of the actual visuals – you’ll enjoy it then.

Maricham: Techno-indulgence. Rahman displays the finesse that he showed in “Dol Dol” in Ayudha Ezhutha, here also. I love what he is doing to Indian contemporary music – we get to hear so many world influences in his pieces nowadays… we’re coming of age :). Some parts of the song have an Enigma hangover, and then some parts of the background that remind me of the Nightrider theme music. I didn’t understand much of the lyrics – I think if I do, I will appreciate this piece more. The “Tejomayam” echo lingers on…

Kummi Adi:  This is a track set in the tamil village – exulting over a marriage with elements of the Iyer culture thrown in generous doses within the lyrics. Kummi Adi is the perfect icing on the SOK cake that blends such diametrically different music in the same album. I wish I could understand the lyrics a little bit more – for now, my appreciation of the song is limited to its native flavoring, and of course Naresh’s presence in it 🙂 – Rahman surely knows how to tap the vocal dimensions of this guy – what a contrast Kummi Adi is to Munbe Vaa, Roobaroo and Tu bin bataye.

Summing up, this is one album every Rahman fan needs to have with them. However, when I watched the movie, I did secretly wish that it had been Mani Ratnam instead, to give the perfect visual interpretation to the maestro’s magic… anyway, I guess the effort was good enough. I’d give the movie a rating of 2 and 3/4 (because it wasn’t good enough for a 3)… oh, but then that’s content for a whole new post isn’t it ;).