Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Fantastic Tales of S. Shankar

Today's post is about the Tamil movie director Shankar and the fantastic tales he has told us over the past 12 years. I never liked Shankar's movies a lot, even though I watched every one of them. But recently I had a revelation. I realized that my suspension of disbelief while watching his movies was not sufficient. I like fantasy movies, I am a huge Star Wars fan. More recently, I enjoyed the speals coming out of the X-Men franchise. And the Matrix trilogy is among my all time favourites. Wait a minute...why am I talking about these Sci-fi movies now? It is because Shankar's movies belong to this genre, not sci-fi exactly, let us call it Genre Fantastic Fiction. We must watch his movies as if we were watching Ramayana or Mahabharatha or something. "Such a thing will never happen in reality" is not a valid objection because his movies are not about reality, at least not all the way through. Now, suppose you accept the above and then go and watch his movies again then you realize the chap is a very good film maker and his movies are totally worth a watch. All one needs to do is re categorize the genre in which we think the movie belongs.

A couple of other things come to mind when we talk about his movies. The first is that all his movies start out very genuinely, well grounded in reality and the main characters sketched out nicely. It takes a while before the movie descends (or ascends depending on your point of view) into fantasy. The only problem is that this descent or ascent or whatever is not smooth, but rather abrupt and if you are not expecting it, you don't like the sensation. It is kind of like roller coasters. If one anticipates being dizzy and nauseated and looks forward to it, one likes it! The other thing is that his songs stand out by themselves. If for some reason it is not sufficient for you to hear the great A. R. Rahman, you also want to see the songs visualized in as fantastic a context as possible, Shankar is your man.

Find below a chronological list of his movies to date and my take on them. All of them are pretty good representatives of Fantastic Fiction!

Gentleman (1993) : This was his first movie. The social atrocity being fought by the protagonist is corruption in the field of higher education (asking for donations for seats in medical colleges and such). You don't really want to know much more about the story.
High points : Very tight screenplay. Picturization of songs Chikku Bukku (not the first time somebody tried to integrate animation in a tamil movie song, for example recall superstar's Raja Chinna Roja, but nobody did it this well before or since for that matter) and Paakkaathe.
Low points : Shankar had not yet figured out how to integrate the comedy track into his main script yet.

Kadhalan (1995): A rather simple love story embedded in some intrigue associated with political corruption and terrorism.
High points : The fathers of the protagonists played by S. P. Balasubramanium and Girish Karnad. Both were fantastic. Picturization of the song Kadhalikkum Pennin. The simple love story part of the movie.
Low points: Screenplay gets confusing in the fantasy part of the movie. Shankar goes slightly overboard with the special effects, a trend that just heads downhill with all his subsequent movies.

Indian (1996): One old man's fight against corruption of all kinds in modern India. Everybody knows the high points of this movie, Kamal, Kamal and Kamal. He is fantastic as both the old man and the young man. Very nice screen play. And everybody knows the low point of this movie too, Shankar going Oh so overboard with his special effects gimmicks.

Jeans (1998): I think the only reason that Shankar made this movie is for him to explore for himself how to make a technically superior double action movie. The story is simple, boy meets girl kind of thing with a few twins thrown into the fray. The movie is pretty funny, especially when S. Ve. Shekar is on screen. It would have been an out and out fun good movie but for Aishwarya Rai and her inability to act and the painful dubbing of whoever spoke for her in the movie.
Muthalvan (1999): This is by far my favourite Shankar movie. Racy script. Real depth to most of the scenes. No excessive display of gimmicks. Arjun is fantastic. The only minus point in my view is that Manisha Koirala was too old to carry off the village belle role she was cast for. Don't you worry about the story and such. Just watch it!

Boys (2003): This is the one Shankar movie that did not work at the Tamil box office. The reason according to my wise opinion is that the real part of the movie is too real and the fantastic part of the movie is not fantastic enough. I liked the movie. It is a simple tale of young boys and their libidos. All the boys are really good. Genelia does not know how to act or dance or anything, but she is the only casting glitch. I heard that the movie worked very well in Telugu, indicative of the fact that Telugu audiences are less hypocritical than the tamil ones? BTW, this was the first Shankar movie I did not see in the Movie theater and I like the songs of the movie too much to endure their picturization so I skipped through them with the heavenly invention called the DVD remote. So, I cannot tell you if they were good or bad (bad would be my guess from what I hear).
Anniyan (2005): Multiple personality disorder Shankar style! Vikram was fantastic. I did not buy his personalities Remo and Anniyan (what is with the voice of Anniyan?), but I so bought Ambi! He had it down pat right down to keeping his mouth prim and proper at all times! And Prakash Raj was fun as well. Apart from that, not all that good for a Shankar film, narrative not tight enough. And of course this was the first Shankar film without A. R Rahman and I missed him in the BGM of the movie, which was rather run of the mill.

Well, so much for that. Waiting with bated breath for Sivaji, what with superstar and all, A. R. Rahman is back and so is Balaji Shakthivel...a lot to look forward to.

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