Monthly Archives: April 2006

ARANGETRAM Part 3: The Movie

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“ARANGETRAM” (aka The Debut) sort of came and changed the trend of Tamil Films… This is not a review, but just an interpretation.

IMHO, the main problem was not with the movie, but the goverment’s decision to promote it as a message oriented movie to show the importance of Family-Planning… I doubt that was KB’s intention, but of course,as a director he didn’t mind the free publicity… I mean the only family planning message in the movie came in the form of wall poster displayed for a split-second…

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In “ARANGETRAM”, KB tries to give a twist to an old thought from Vatsyayana:

“Poverty is not a virtue. It is an obstacle, not only to pleasure, but also to ethics and virtue. Morality is a luxury which very poor people can rarely afford”

But since our own  Intellectuals added spiritual meaning to some poems, censored others and labeled some poets as people obsessed with sex, also labeled everything Vatsyayana wrote was about sex… The man gave some real interesting philosophical thoughts

Vatsyayana was a poet, the only thing a poet asks for is the freedom to express his raw thoughts… Some of it had to do with reality, while others were just poetic exaggeration…

“ARANGETRAM” is all about characters and their attitudes, also how they react to different situations… Though, there is only one major character, all the minor characters are equally important to the movie…

CHARACTERS

sash.jpgThe first character is Ramu Saastrigal (S.V.Subbiah), a poor orthodox brahmin making a living by performing rituals for other brahmins… But Saastrigal is a man of orthodox principles and mocks brahamins who don’t follow principles; he even tells them atheists are much above the brahmins who don’t follow rituals… In a small village with only about 12 brahmin families, he has managed to offend 8 families… And Saashtri has a real big family (8 children – 5 girls and 3 boys) and two extra members in the form of a sister and her daughter. The whole family runs on his income…

Is he a bad man? No, just a man who wants to follow principles, but can’t understand why people who don’t follow rituals, but yet wear that white thread as a caste symbol are succeeding in life…

This character passes a few interesting anecdotes… So in case you decide to watch this movie, pay attention to Ramu Saastrigal…

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This is Visalam (M.N.Rajam) aka Mrs.Saastrigal… As the finance minister of that house, she often makes suggestions to reduce poverty, but only to have them rejected by Saastrigal using anecdotes…

She tries to convince him into sending the eldest daughter to work, but he wouldn’t bite that vaadai (now known in the west as Spicy Donuts)… He is worried about his image…

As an obedient wife, Visalam never tries to argue with her husband, eventhough she prefers a life with less principles and a bit more money…

The Visalam character, is  a caring mother worried about the future of her eight children…

 

Then we have Thyagu (Kamalhasan), the eldest of the male off-springs with an ambition of becoming a doctor… Often has arguments with Saastrigal over his career choice… Dad wants him to follow his footsteps…

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Lalitha (Pramila) is Saastrigal’s eldest child… This character begins as a carefree prankster, not bothered by poverty or the future…

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Then in Phase two, which occurs after witnessing her mother’s plan to commit mass suicide… She becomes a caring mother… Saastrigal’s anecdotes gets defeated by Lalitha’s logical arguments… And Lalitha starts working…

In Phase three, which occurs after being raped by a man in the city, she puts that incident behind her and continues working at an office…

In Phase Four, she chooses prostitution as a part-time profession after carefully thinking about it and takes full responsibility for her choice (shown using dialogues between Lalitha and her clients)…

Pram02.jpgAnd in the Final Phase, she finally  comes back to the village after successfully lifting the family from poor to middle-class status… At home, everything seems fine… Her sister was getting married, her brother has become a doctor and her ex-lover who already knows about her secret life  is going to marry her…

But her dreams of starting a new life in the village gets shattered as soon as the family finds out the source of her extra income (something they weren’t bothered about when the actual money was coming in)…

The mother who once planned a mass suicide because of poverty, today kicks Lalitha out… What turns Lalitha insane after her marriage ?  (a) Guilt about  her past life style?  (b) How society views her now? or (c) Her family’s rejection?

Now lets look at a situation which was considered as controversial both in the press then and at some of the discussion boards now….

Controversy : KB’s decision to use the word ARANGETRAM as a title and to run an actual arangetram parallel to a rape scene…

Arang001a.jpgAragentram within the popular culture of early 70’s and even now is the term used to refer to the performance of a student who has mastered the classical dance known as Bharatanatyam… After completing the Arangetram, he/she can become a teacher…

But Bharathanatyam also happens to be a term given by E.Krishna Iyer to a former dance routine known as Dasi Attam performed by Devadasis (aka God’s Servants)… All this happened back in the 1930’s…

E.Krishna Iyer (A Lawyer) was more interested in preserving the Art form performed by Devadasis, than the actual life style (often linked to Temple Prostitution)… He also wanted to give a second life to these women and an alternate form of earning income… He cleaned up the dance (which simply meant replacing songs with instrumental music) and had the devadasis perform it on stage for middle and upper-class audience… And also wanted the dance to become part of South Indian culture and continued on by Middle & Upper class families…

A sample of Devadasi songs… Most popular songs were from Ksetrayya’s composition, so here is a song from his treasure box…

The song is titled “Perubada” composed using the raga natakuranji… It’s about a devadasi talking to her friend and expressed thru the dance…

When will I get married to the famous Mannaru Ranga


A daughter’s life in a lord’s family

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass as your parents do the thinking for you


Some days pass brooding and waiting for the moment


Some days pass pondering caste rules


Meanwhile the bloom of youth is gone
like the fragrance of a flower, like a thick of fate

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass without any pleasure from your husband


Some days pass in mere courtesies


Some days pass in the pride that we are palace women


looking for quality


It’s a pity all this high passion is like moonlight in a forest

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass shilly-shallying, knowing and not-knowing

Some days pass ignorant of the ways of experience


Some days pass listening to friends’ stories of lovemaking


Alas, womanhood itself has become my enemy,
and I’m tired

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

KB uses the term Arangetram propably as it relates to dasi attam… In the Deva dasi culture ( I don’t even know if you can call it a culture, it was simply men taking advantage of some women using myth), Arangetram was the formal celebration of the debut recital after the completion of dance training.

Here KB tries to link dasi attam arangetram with a rape of a woman in the contemporary society of the 70’s… In a society, where folks are obsessed with a woman’s virginity and rarely care how she loses it,  always seem to find a reason to blame her…

As I said in my previous post, KB’s movies are more about social commentaries than about messages…

The problem started when this movie became a box-office hit… Had it been a flop, it wouldn’t be controversial movie…

Let me end  Arangetram  with this thought from Vatsyayana:

“Without eroticism, the mind becomes restless and unsatisfied… Without Virtue (ethics), the conscience goes astray… Without spirituality, the soul is degraded”

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ARANGETRAM Part 2: The Man

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Normally, you could put a movie into one of these three general categories: Art-House, Commercial or Documentary …

But in KB’s case, most of his movies pretty much offered a portion of each category… When only a portion is offered it’s hard to put it into any specific category…

KB often refers to himself as a a theatreman who blundered into cinema by accident. But I see him as Subrahmanya Bharathi of Tamil Cinema. A cinematic poet. As soon as he sees the shadow approaching reality (Nizhal Nijamakirathu) he finds new meanings (Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal) to echo (Ethiroli)  the voices of old poets. His films are like  a house with two doors (Oru Veedu Iru Vasal), so at the box-office it becomes a coin toss (Poova Thalaya).

KB’s strength is in creating characters… I mean the characters he creates stays in your mind, even if nothing else in the movie makes sense… This is because the attitude of these characters towards any subject is very real and common within a society… KB’s movies mostly comes in the form of social commentary (and his favorite target being the Middle-Class)…

From his first movie “Neer Kumizhi” (aka Water Bubbles) in 1965, KB was out on a mission to break cinematic myths of Tamil Cinema… And in his fourth movie “Bama Vijayam” (aka Bama’s Victory) in 1967, he broke the first major myth…

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The 60’s myth was that if you didn’t use big name stars, you wouldn’t be able to succeed at the Box Office… Bama Vijayam succeeded using just comedians and character actors…

The table you see at the bottom (a table I stole from my Movie Rental store’s database, unfortunately they only carry Tamil movies… Paarthale Paravasam was actually his 100th movie) has a column titled “No. of Days”… And most of the times, that’s probably the only thing producers look at… The Column refers to the number of days a movie stays in four or more theaters, if it crosses the century mark, producers would end-up at your door steps… This system has killed the careers of so many directors… But in KB’s case, even when his movies failed to cross the century mark, the producer’s were still willing to take the risk… Out of KB’s 52 Tamil movies, only 16 crossed that magic mark…

KB is a very smart moviemaker; he didn’t jump quickly into Nouvelle Vague… Instead, he used his first 19 movies to build an audience for himself making conventional movies (while adding smaller elements of Nouvelle Vague)…

And with his 20th movie “ARANGETRAM” in 1973, he uncorks a full bottle of Nouvelle Vague… New formulas and styles was what it was all about… Nouvelle Vague’s first rule was to come up with unpredictable endings for a film, you have to keep changing it film after film… Another rule was to force the audience to break the habit of using the screen as the wall to scale in order to escape from their lives…

Now, I will talk about styles that you would find in Nouvelle Vague films that you could also find in KB’s movies… Styles that you wouldn’t see in conventional movies… And I’m going to pick them all from”ARANGETRAM”

(I) EXTREME CLOSE-UPS of FACIAL EXPRESSIONS:

 

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(II) Use of SHADOWS

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(III) Use of MIRRORS

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No.

Year

Film Title

No. of Days

1 1965 Neer Kumizhi  
2 1965 Naanal  
3 1966 Major Chandrakant  
4 1967 Bama Vijam 100 Days
5 1967 Anubavi Raja Anubavi  
6 1968 Thamarai Nenjam  
7 1968 Ethir Neechal 100 Days
8 1969 Poova Thalaya 100 Days
9 1969 Iru Kodagal  
10 1970 Patham Pasali  
11 1970 Navagraham  
12 1970 Kaviyath Thalaivi 100 Days
13 1971 Ethiroli  
14 1971 Punnagai  
15 1971 Nootrukku Noor  
16 1971 Nangu Suvargal  
17 1972 Velli Vizha  
18 1972 Kanna Nalama  
19 1973 Sollathan Ninaikiren  
20 1973 Arrangetram 217 Days
21 1974 Naan Avanillai  
22 1975 Apoorva Raagangal 100 Days
23 1976 Moondru Mudichu  
24 1976 Manmatha Leelai  
25 1977 Pattina Pravesam  
26 1977 Avargal  
27 1977 Aval Oru Thodarkathai  
28 1978 Thappu Thalangal  
29 1978 Nizhal Nijamakirathu  
30 1979 Nool Veli  
31 1979 Ninaithale Inikkum  
32 1980 Varumayin Niram Sigappu 100 Days
33 1981 Thillu Mullu  
34 1981 Thaneer Thaneer  
35 1981 Enga Ooru Kannagi  
36 1981 47 Natkal  
37 1982 Agni Sakshi 100 Days
38 1983 Poikkal Kuthirai  
39 1984 Achamillai Achamillai 100 Days
40 1985 Sindhu Bhairavi 284 Days
41 1985 Kalyana Agathigal 100 Days
42 1986 Punnagai Mannan 106 Days
43 1987 Manathil Uruthi Vendum 100 Days
44 1988 Unnal Mudiyum Thambi  
45 1989 Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal 175 Days
46 1990 Oru Veedu Iru Vasal  
47 1991 Azhakan  
48 1992 Vaaname Ellai 175 Days
49 1992 Jathi Malli  
50 1994 Duet  
51 1996 Kalki 100 Days
52 2001 Paarthale Paravasam  

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ARANGETRAM Part 1: The Critics

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Initially, I was planning to do mini-diagnosis about the movie “ARANGETRAM” (aka The Debut)… But after a little pondering, I thought why not kill three birds with one stone… This movie sort of changed the tradition of Tamil Movies, K.Balachander (KB) is a very unique director and that’s probably why he has so many critics trying to execute his movies… Part 1 will deal with KB’s critics (critiquing of the critics)… Part 2 will be Simpleton’s critique of KB’s career… Part 3 will be a focus on the movie “ARANGETRAM”…

A few years back I had  picked up a book called Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen (from a store that specializes in selling books which people refuse to buy at book marked price or better known as Old & Used Bookstore) …

OK… The book is really thick with over a 1000 pages (and a lot of B&W pictures), so I guess my $25 wasn’t really wasted… Obviously, Ashish & Paul must have felt it was time to play Siskel & Ebert (Sorry! But I’m still having problem saying Ebert &Roeper)… Now I have always used S&E to decide which English movies to warch, so whenever I see both give two thumps down, I go and see it … 085170669X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_1.jpg

In this book, KB’s bio reads like this: “K.Balachandar is the most consistent manufacturer of morality tales reinforcing middle class conservatism”…

The out of state critics of KB have never really bothered me because his movies revolve around elements of South Indian Arts, Literature and Language… If the critic is unfamiliar with these elements, the person is going to misinterpret certain things…

KB’s remakes rarely succeed at the box office for the same reason…

The success of “Ek Duuje Ke Liye” at the box-office had more to do with music and a script that was easy to adapt… All KB had to do was replace the Telugu Family with a North Indian one…

103b.JPGWhereas a movie like “Ek Nai Paheli” was bound to fail… Why? The Tamil version of the movie was released in 1975 as “Aboorva Raganagal” (aka Rare Melodies or Unusual Ragas)… The Tamil script was very Carnatic Oriented with KB trying to find other uses for Ragas than just music… Again, for those who are familiar with Indian Classical Music (Hindustani or Carnatic),you would know ragas are associated with Time and Mood… He uses Freeze frame with the subtitle of a raga to introduce each major character, so that the audience who are familiar with ragas know the mood each character is going try to create in the movie…

Of course, this sort of gets lost in a layman’s mind, so what does KB do to satisfy the layman? He begins his on-going project to reduce alapana and add more ragas with words (Sindhu Bhairavi probably the most successful project in this attempt)… So he brings in one of the best in the business,the Late Kannadasan to add verses to ragas… For Instance, in Aboorva Ragangal, if the movie had began with Bhairavi just rendering an Alapana and moving on with a carnatic style, KB probably would have lost half his audience… But here he gets Kannadasan to come up with these verses:

Aezhu swarangalukkul eththanai paadal?
Idhayach churangaththul eththanai kelvi?
Kaanum manidharukkul eththanai salanam?
Verum karpanai sandhoashaththil avanadhu gavanam!

Translated:

How many songs within the seven Solfeges¹?
How many questions within the passages of a heart?
How many afflictions within the humans we see?
But their attention is always on imaginary happiness!

The problem with the remake (Ek Nai Paheli) here starts with casting… Its easy to get a younger person to play an older character, but getting an older person to play a young character is hard to do… Yes! I’m referring to Kamal… I mean, how can you get Kamal to play the same role he did almost a decade ago… Prassana in Aboorva Ragangal was suppose to be a very immature 19 year-old rebellious boy, where as Sandeep is just an angry man… Of course, the translation from Carnatic to Hindustani is not easy, but can be done; unfortunately it was never done in this movie… For starters, Bhairavi in Hindustani is really Hanuma-Todi in Carnatic…

Now if you really want Ek Nai Paheli, then try solve the puzzle on how you could have one set of critics claiming KB as a manufacturer of morality tales reinforcing middle class conservatism, while another set blaming KB for manufacturing movies to corrupt human minds…

Another group that often takes shots at KB (Esp. about Aragetram) comes in the form of movie critics from the press in TN … And you can’t really blame these people because they usually build this imaginary wall around their brains and often find themselves bumping into it… They first try to review a movie from a social approach, if that doesn’t work; they look for a humanistic one… If they can’t find these two, they come to the conclusion the movie either has to do with Psychology or Ideology…

So you probably are wondering (after bad mouthing all these critics) how on earth is the Simpleton going to handle KB’s ARANGETRAM…

 

 

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