Middle Class Melodies

Enjoyed watching the Telugu film Middle Class Melodies, which tells a "feel good" story of a youngster living in a village, who is proud of his "Bombay Chutney" that he prepares at the food-stall run by his father, aspiring to set up a restaurant of his own in Guntur town. The gentle humor and the overall flow of narrative made this film a very engaging viewing.

Nedumudi Venu

Extremely saddened to hear about the demise of veteran actor Nedumudi Venu. Over last 40+ years, there were so many characters that were immortalized by this great actor with his versatile and wonderful performances and he would leave a major void in Malayalam Cinema.

Thampu

Aravindan's 1978 film Thampu shows a few days in the life of a roaming circus. In the beginning of the film, we see the "Grand Chitra Circus" team coming on a lorry with their various equipment to Thirunavaya, an idyllic village on the banks of river Nila. We see them unpacking, raising the center poles and building the circus tent around them, setting up the electricity connections, parading through the village to distribute the advertisement notices, etc. Then we see some of the circus events, practice sessions, some circus artists writing letters to their relatives, and so on. We also see a festival going on in the village, and some of the ritualistic art forms part of that too. After a few days, the circus folks pack their stuff and leave the village, looking for another stage, somewhere else.

Thampu follows a documentary kind of narrative style, and there is nothing much to call as a story in the entire film. There are a few scenes showing the life style of the rich, Malaysia-returned businessman in the village; other than that, most of the scenes are around the circus. However, this raw-looking film gave a very memorable viewing experience for me. It creates a feeling of just being there in that peaceful Kerala village for a few days, and there is a lot that Aravindan conveys through his frames. The pure excitement and joy in the eyes of the villagers - especially the children and old women - as they view the circus shows, the more suppressed, fine-tuned expressions of the privileged part of the society as they sit in the front rows, and the emotions of the circus artists as two of them make a direct communication to the audience for a few minutes (one of them, who plays the clown, seems to have attained a philosophic outlook towards life in his old age, while the other, a middle aged lady, has a lot of pain in her eyes as she summarizes the 40+ years of her life in circus in a few sentences), and the reactions of the circus artists as they view the fireworks from the local temple festival, an occasion when they are the ones to be entertained, for a change - there are several scenes that were touching. And the few lines long song, "kaanakappennu.." was very melodious.

Shaji N Karun's camera work is the pillar of this film. It is a pity that this film does not have a remastered, high quality print available yet.

Bell Bottom

I have liked some of the Akshay Kumar spy thrillers like Baby earlier, hence was looking forward to watching his latest film, Bell Bottom, which is supposed to be loosely based on 1984 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight. But the film turned out to be a disappointment. The first half of the film was made in typical mainstream Bollywood style with a couple of songs, etc. The covert operation scenes were shown in last thirty minutes or so, and I felt that these scenes were very ordinary, with hardly any thrilling moment. The only thing to watch in this film is Lara Dutta's appearance as Indira Gandhi in a few short scenes. She looked like walking out of Indira Gandhi's old photographs, and the credit should go to the makeup department as well as to the actress for playing the role in a very convincing way.

Jayan - Abhralokathinte Ithihasanayakan

Actor Jayan had passed away before my earliest memories on watching films begin. But I vaguely remember watching two of his movies sitting in theater - One was Kolilakkam which I had watched at Irinjalakuda Prabhath theater, the last film he had acted in (Jayan passed away in an accident while shooting the climax scenes of this film), and the other was Moorkhan (I had watched it in a theater at Kalady - don't remember the name of the theater). But I recollect Jayan being regarded as a cult hero for many more years, and many of my friends in school having collections of his postcard size color photographs in various poses and costumes.

I also used to have many of such pictures with me, and my favorite among them was one in which he carried a rifle and wore a bandoleer around his body. A small but very realistic toy rifle with a wooden handle, which used to be sold at the toy shops at Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam temple festival, had captured my imagination that time, mainly thanks to this Jayan picture, and also to a children's novel called Amarjit Singh which was being serialized in Poompatta that time. I remember crying for getting that rifle, and secretly hoping that some of the visiting relatives at home would buy and gift that for me.

Though there is opportunity to watch many of the old Malayalam films on the Internet now, I still haven't watched most of Jayan's famous films. Sharapanjaram is the only one I have watched so far.

TK Krishnakumar's biography of Jayan, Jayan - Abhralokathinte Ithihasanayakan is a very interesting and touching read, and it brought back many memories of the old days in my mind. The book starts from Jayan's childhood days, going on to narrate his struggles with poverty during the early days, his years in the Indian Navy, life in Eranakulam surrounded by many close friends, his dreams about movies, and his meteoric rise to super-stardom in the last few years of his life.

TK Krishnakumar's writing style is that of a fan, and his repetitive and superlative descriptions on his favorite hero reminded me of writings by Kottarathil Shankunni about famous elephants of Kerala in Aithihyamala. There are a few passages which seemed like pure gossip for me, and should have been avoided. But I was impressed with the kind of study and research that the author might have done to write this book. He has carefully collected various bits and pieces of information about Jayan from different people and carefully inserted them in a chronological manner (mostly) in this book to create a continuous story of his life. I was especially amazed at some of the stories about Jayan's childhood days - like a bus journey during which he pulls the ears of an old lady sitting nearby. Overall, I felt that this book is a nice tribute to the legendary star of Malayalam Cinema.

Documentary on Tagore

Watched the Rabindranath Tagore, documentary film on Tagore directed by Satyajit Ray in 1961. There are a few dramatized portions of Tagore's life, shown without dialogues (in one of those, Smaran Ghosal of Aparajito comes in the role of Tagore), and they are augmented with photographs and real videos of Tagore, images of his writings and paintings. There is a lot of great music used in the background, and I could feel that some of the tunes were inspired from the famous themes from the Apu Trilogy.

The documentary has Ray's signature all over it. Even though the print available now in Youtube looks faded a bit, it is amazing to see the black and white imagery of the film capturing the essence of the great poet's life very effectively. Many of the scenes, like the rural landscapes of river Padma along with the accompanying poetry and background music, were very touching.

Ray

Watched the web series Ray, a collection of four films based on short stories by Satyajit Ray. Forget Me Not (based on the story Bipin Chowdhury’s Memory Loss), Bahrupiya (based on Bahurupi), Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa (based on the story Brain Bhowmick's Ailment) and Spotlight (based on the story Spotlight) - all four films have Ray's trademark thematic elements of the supernatural, satire and gentle humor.

The makers of these films haven't tried to just narrate Ray's stories as they are. Only the basic story threads are taken from Ray's works, and they have been transformed completely to modern day premises and situations (Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is probably the only exception, which remains more faithful to Ray's original in its entirety). But the films stand on their own, and I felt they were quite good viewing experiences. I liked the performances, the camera work and color tones, the edits used, the music, and the overall stylish way these stories are narrated. I also very much liked the "nain matakka" song that comes in the climax of Spotlight. It had a unique feel to it, and was very addictive.

Two Long-Take films

Watched two Malayalam films recently which were unique in their way of making.

Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam is around 1.5 hours long, and the entire movie is taken as a single shot, from a static camera angle. The camera gives the view inside a moving car, and we see the conversations (or a series of arguments, rather) between a man and woman (who are living together). There is only one another character appearing on the screen in the entire movie, but that is only for just a few minutes.

Though I have seen wonderful single-take films like Victoria before, I think Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam might have been probably even more challenging to make from logistical perspective because of the Pandemic restrictions. But the movie was interesting not just because of this uniqueness in narration style; It had some nice script and dialogues, and was an engaging watch overall. The performances by the both the main actors were good.

Randu Per, has elements of mystery, and it shows the events happening in a night. Here too, most of the film shows only two characters, a man and a woman, sitting in a moving car and talking. However, this is not a single shot film, and there are a few portions of the film which show some actions outside too. I found Randu Per to be a very interesting drama, and the performances were good too.

1984

Read Fido Nesti's graphic novel adaptation of George Orwell's classic, 1984. A well illustrated and presented book, I think it captures the essence of the original novel to a large extent.

Kummatty

Watched Kummatty (1979), which was very different from the other films by Aravindan that I have watched before. It narrates a simple fantasy-fable-like story, with folk-type songs and colorful visuals photographed by Shaji N Karun. The film centers around a group of children in a village, who are always fascinated by the wandering magician visiting the village once in a while whom they call as Kummatty. They are afraid of Kummatty; but at the same time his character is too intriguing to them, and they weave stories around him. Once, Kummatty turns the children to various animal forms, but misses to turn one of them back to the original form after their fun time. The missed one, Chindan, remains as a dog until Kummatty's subsequent visit to the village.

With its charming music, and depictions of some of the folk arts set in the rustic environment of a Kerala village of 1970s, Kummatty offers a very nostalgic and unique viewing experience. I felt that this was the most enjoyable film directed by Aravindan.