Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why should I talk?

நபர்1: கிழவி பேசாது..
கவுண்டமணி: பாடுமா?

In my long history of forming and expressing opinions about storytelling, the most frequent complaint has been: "why does he talk?"

Why should I talk? Why should I tell you my story? For you it is another story. For your amusement good sirs, I should reveal my triumphs and tribulations, my nadirs and insecurities? To what end? It is not that I do not want to. Everyone wants to. Only to very few and in very few occasions when one is convinced it makes sense to.

How can a writer quickly plunge us into the heart of a 'life-moment', a crux conversation believably ? Worse still are characters who have no shared history and are meeting for the first time in the story we are reading. Wouldn't they take forever to open up? For them to really have a conversation of substance (as the story demands) and not to compromise the reality of their characters, is a challenge nearly noone seems to be up to. I am atrociously snooty here (to my own loss, modesty compels me to add).

Aren’t all our first meetings with most people awkward and aren’t we invariably quite out of character? Even the most gregarious of us isn’t into character confessions and elaborations. Moreover, all revelations, unless character quirks justify otherwise, usually come up on a need-to-know basis.
‘Sometimes, people do random shit without motive’ எல்லாம் எங்களுக்கும் தெரியின். But far from that deflecting responsibility away from the writer, it burdens him with the additional responsibility of deftly showing that the instance depicted is one such. So, it is my default assumption that there is nothing in the work unless proven otherwise.

And for the moment I am leaving aside the point that trying to develop an understanding of someone through his own confessions, is itself farcical. It takes a genius like Woody Allen to delve into such things. Let us keep it basic.

Words and Film: Words on paper are ‘brought to life’ in our own voices and imagination. So it is my uneducated speculation that we set our bar a little lower. (‘Huh…would anyone say such a thing? Hmm..well I kind of heard myself say it now’) But in film the ‘reality’ is already constructed. We play no part in the creation of the environment, and set a high bar on verisimilitude. So a sentence that begins “இருவத்தஞ்சு வருஷம் முன்னாடி…” snaps us out of the trance in a moment.

I have always felt – and repeated ad nauseum – that ‘we like/dislike first and find reasons for that later’. W
hen we try to write about our likings we are riddled with commitment to consistency, ordering our opinions and aspiring for some kind of universal framework to establish the validity of our preferences. However, the identification of this phenomenon does not preclude one from yielding to a review now and then. This post seeks to demonstrate the validity of my opinion that Kamal is the greatest Tamil screenwriter who ever breathed air.

That VirumANdi is the Tamil best film of the 2000s is simply beyond argument in this author’s considered opinion. And if you do not recall the interview scene the rest of this post will unfortunately be out-of-syllabus for you, so here you go: (thanks to eelavetham50)

Angela didn’t even consider the possibility that she would not want to be spoken to!

The jump from உள்பாடி அளவு என்ன to சொல்லவேண்டியதெல்லாம் கோர்ட்ல சொல்லியாச்சு, கேமராவைத் தூக்குட்டு வர்ற கண்ட பொட்டக்கழுதைட்டையும் சொல்ல வேண்டிய அவசியமில்லை is a mouth-gaping leap in character establishment.

The scene itself is a second introduction. This is a man we have heard and seen, albeit in the reported speech of another. Yet, when he makes his appearance, fidgeting with his ear fuzz, it still feels like introduction all over again. The change in looks and manner make a headstart before the first lines are mumbled: நான் உங்களைய ஒரு கேள்வி கேக்கலாமா? is a counterquestion to Angela who plunges into business without as much as an icebreaker minute.

You cringe at the question asked. It seems to be in line with the crassness of his character as painted by his opposite number. You are inclined to agree with his removal from society. A beast that cannot be contained in the framework of reason we assume to be universal (and must thus be put away? A beast who cannot be reasoned with). And then he grasps Angela's logical rebuttal by the horns and flings it back at us, shuffling our judgement.

Angela, taken aback by the strength of his logic (the beast speaks our tongue!) appeals to larger social interests only to bump into “ஏய் பொட்டியத் தூக்கிட்டு போடீ”. The distress call to the wardens is met with scorn as VirumANdi himself calls them in (ஏய் வார்டைஞளா) and Angela is trying to reason out why he should talk.

And what gets him started? A suggestion that he is scared: something that rubs the saNdiyar the wrong way.
சாகும்போதும் ஏன் இவ்வளவு கோபம்? சாகற பயத்தை கோவமா காட்டுறீங்களா?
And then the tablethump and simple encapsulation of himself: பயம்னா என்னன்னு உங்க எல்லாருக்கும் தெரியும்னு தெரியுது, அது எனக்குத் தெரியாது அது தான் என் குத்தம். Fantastic as it is, it already borders on being wiser than is the character is shown to be capable of. But the master doesn’t let you dwell on a stream of ‘great lines’. VirumaaNdi’s offhanded dismissal of Angela (புத்தகத்துல படிச்சா புரியாது தெரியாது) takes him safely back to the heartspeaking simplicity that is line with his ‘character’.Angela encapsulates herself succinctly and earns his ‘respect’ enough to get him to relate his tale.

And relate he does. In this author’s நுனிப்புல் understanding of the concept of method acting, the actors are encouraged to recall past personal experiences to channel into their emotions as required for a scene. VirumaaNdi’s recalling starts off from his childhood, a personal loss he observes, an embarrassing phase he wants to gloss over, and his extended youth (கோயில் காளையாட்டம்) spent with his grandmother. And as he recollects, the emotions touched by his memory dictate the emotions at the time of his recollection and expression. The jubilant mood in the scene the film is going to cut away into is already there in the memory of jubilation in his expression. Thus the move from word to visual happens with marvellous smoothness and élan.

"Please report with your popcorns and ‘suspensions of disbelief" says the mediocre aspirant.
"Oh please do come with your scarcely concealed cynical guffaw, it’s up to me to win you over", says the artist.

So if I am impatient with most films and fiction, can’t help it, I’ve been pampered.


  1. Fantastic as it is, it already borders on being wiser than is the character is shown to be capable of. Idhu konjam over apparentaa irukku, esp. in the last decade, when he has gained more and more control and become the 'real' director of the movies. Can even recall a few instances experiencing of ideology/thathuvam fatigue. Agree with your objurvasuns though. I only hope at some point he at least does a tip of the hat to Life of David Gale - LODG was dignified, Virumandi was raw in a tasteful way that lots of wannabe Madurai-themed movies can't seem to accomplish.

  2. LTNS bnb, eppidi irukkeenga?

    //I only hope at some point he at least does a tip of the hat to Life of David Gale// Actually, in the list of films we wish he makes an acknowledgement, LODG is way way at the bottom ;-)

    //wannabe Madurai-themed movies //
    romba kaduppEthuRainga. We should all register protest.

    Here's a funny take on the phenomenon.

  3. dagalti:
    Thanks. Hope things are under kundrol at your end. Moved to Bengloor in mid-2010 and still not recovered yet. More than the movies some real-life stuff is causing daemaej in our home town - like Golf carts to take tourists around the temple. Who would have thought ?