Monday, October 25, 2010

How a New York film critic views

How a New York film critic views



He is no mere actor – he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and their tiger-nado baby

got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.

By Grady Hendrix,, Sept. 27, 2010

Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia, and that makes sense. Besides producing, directing, and starring in his own action movies since 1980, he's earned millions in Hollywood with blockbusters like Rush Hour and The Karate Kid. But the No. 2 spot goes to someone who doesn't make any sense at all. The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986.

This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth. Or, as his films are contractually obligated to credit him, "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!"

If you haven't heard of Rajinikanth before, you will on Oct. 1, when his movie Enthiran (The Robot) opens around the world. It's the most expensive Indian movie of all time. It's getting the widest global opening of any Indian film ever made, with 2,000 prints exploding onto screens simultaneously. Yuen Wo-ping (The Matrix) did the action, Stan Winston Studios (Jurassic Park) did creature designs, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic did the effects, and Academy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the music.

It's a massive investment, but the producers fully expect to recoup that, because this isn't just some film they're releasing; this is a Rajinikanth film.

At 61 years old, Rajinikanth has made more than 150 movies in India, and he isn't even a proper Bollywood star. He works in the Tamil film industry, Bollywood's poorer Southern cousin, best-known for its ace cinematographers and gritty crime dramas. But whereas Bollywood stars may have devoted fans, Rajinikanth is considered beyond reproach, beyond criticism, beyond good or bad.

Ask Bolly-fans about their favorite stars, and they'll spout the typical griping—Hrithik is a little boy, Shah Rukh Khan is spoiled, Amitabh Bachchan wears a toupee—but mention Rajinikanth, and their eyes light up. He is so rich, he does so many good deeds, his films are all No. 1 superhits. Rajinikanth is not just some filmstar, they insist. Rajinikanth is a "real man."

Indian message boards are alight with Rajinikanth jokes, the equivalent of Chuck Norris jokes. ("Rajinikanth was bitten by a cobra. After four days of intense suffering, the snake died.") Onscreen, when Rajinikanth points his finger, it's accompanied by the sound of a whip cracking. When he becomes enraged, the director cuts to a shot of a gorilla pounding his chest or inserts a tiger roaring on the soundtrack. Echo is added to enhance his "punch dialogues," rhyming lines uttered at moments of high drama. "When I will arrive, or how I will arrive, nobody will know, but I will arrive when I ought to," he snarls, confusingly. Or, "I will do what I say. I will also do what I don't say." Then he punches some goon so hard that he flies through the windshield of a minivan and continues on out the back window. Can't argue with that.

Rajinikanth's movies are crammed with comedy, action, and musical numbers (usually by A.R. Rahman), and they take great delight in kicking narrative logic in the face. Chandramukhi (2005) sees Rajinikanth play a psychiatrist so well-trained he can read minds based on a person's facial expression. The movie starts with a marriage, becomes a haunted-house drama, pauses for a musical number in which hundreds of kites spell out "Superstar" in the sky, and then concludes with Rajinikanth fighting a half-naked martial-arts master on the roof during a fireworks display while hundreds of doves flap around. It broke Tamil box-office records, was the longest-running Tamil movie of all time—playing for 800 days at one theater—and became a cult hit in Germany under the title Der Geisterjäger.

When Rajinikanth is around, the camera spirals, dips, dives, and soars during the most banal dialogue scenes while the cinematographer works the zoom lens like a trombone. The editing is hyperkinetic with Rajinikanth thrashing thugs so fast that you don't even see how he hits them. All of his movies are named after his character, and every single one of them starts with a musical number in which he introduces himself in the most insane way possible.

In the first scene of Padayappa (1999), he's asked, "Hey man, who are you?" and his answer is a four-minute musical number in which he plays the harmonica, flips through the air, oversees a massive martial-arts demonstration, and then morphs into a baby. At the end, the village chief says, "Padayappa, that song was excellent," at which point the music revs up again, Rajinikanth climbs a 30-foot-tall human tower and smashes open a clay pot, fireworks explode, and the director's credit flies out of it.

But as ridiculous as Rajinikanth is, he's also in on the joke. In Sivaji: The Boss (2007) he's a software engineer returning from overseas to battle political corruption and Wall Street-style fatcats. From a fight in a music store in which Matrix-esque bullet timing allows him to bash five miscreants with a guitar then do a series of dance steps before they hit the floor, to a musical number in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao in which Rajinikanth, in whiteface, sings: "I had a dark complexion then/ Now I am awesomely white!" the whole movie is a combination of fist-pumping populism and wink-at-the-audience masculine camp.

And that's what Rajinikanth offers his audiences: style. The Superstar doesn't just mop his brow with a towel; he flourishes it like a bullfighter. Putting his sunglasses on is an operation as complex as a Vegas floor show. His action scenes are so mannered that they're like watching a new form of macho Kabuki. As one song about him proclaims, "Your gait is stylish/ Your look is stylish/ Your thunderous action is stylish/ Whatever you do is stylish." While Bollywood movies, more and more, copy Hollywood conventions and morals, Rajinikanth stays respectful to his parents, chaste with the ladies, and firmly on the side of the little guy.

As Bollywood movies drop choreographed musical numbers in favor of MTV-style montages, Rajinikanth stays committed to old-school masala filmmaking. He's "exuberant, mesmerizing, and victorious," as one lyric says about him, but he's also an unreconstructed Indian, a homegrown hero who will never go Hollywood. A Rajinikanth movie without his "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!" billing, without his crazy-making opening number, without his fingers pointing like whips, without the world's most complicated plot, without the dshoom dshoom of him punching giant thugs into exploding electrical lines—that's just not a Rajinikanth movie at all.

Laugh at him all you like, but on Oct. 1 Rajinikanth is going to play a robot onscreen in Enthiran, and it is going to gross all the money in the world. Because Rajinikanth, like a Tamil Nadu Cyrano de Bergerac, is the epitome of manly Indian style and, like Cyrano, when one day he goes to his grave, he'll cling to the one thing they can't take away from him, the one thing that has mattered most to him in his life: his panache.

Grady Hendrix, a New York writer, runs the New York Asian Film Festival.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Young Malaysian’s Dilemma

A young Malaysian laments on the vicious cycle of survival young adults are caught in and the slim, dim chances of getting out to lead a life more meaningful.

The typical Malaysian student

The typical Malaysian student

Here’s a brief introduction to my (young) adult life. I went to university at the age of 18, right after my SPM. Dad scraped some cash to put me through foundation studies. I started my degree course at the age of 19. I then took a PTPTN loan and completed my degree at the age of 22. I got a job, moved up the ladder a couple of times, and here I am four years later.

Here I am, in debt.

I’ve been in debt since I was 19. So are most Malaysian teens who try to pursue their tertiary education upon leaving public school. I’m the average Malaysian youth from the average middle income family with average savings. I drive a second-hand national car with problematic automatic-windows which also increased my debt. I have an insurance policy that I pay monthly to ensure that I die in a warm bed in the event of any mishap; although it chips away at my savings account at the moment.

Now comes the interesting part. I plan to get married in a couple of years, so I obviously am going to need more cash. Then as the family grows, I need to buy a house to live in with my wife, kids and parents. Obviously I can’t find a decent home that’s cheap as most houses around the Klang Valley are priced in excess of RM350,000.

Assuming I manage to scrape RM50,000 from somewhere, I would still have to be gloriously chained to a bank with a debt of RM300,000 that would take 30 years to pay off while eating away half of my salary. Then of course I have to buy a brand new (and reputable) car as my current one will probably break down one day, which would easily set me back with another RM50,000 loan at the very least. Now add all that to my PTPTN loan – that is probably another thousand ringgit a month heading to the banks.

Where does this leave me? Dead broke – that’s where.

Lack of value

For a progressive and modern country, is this how our youths’ future will be? I’m sure many youths out there will find similarities to my situation here. I got into debt before I reached the age of 20, and it’s likely that I will be in credit until my 50s. What lingers in my mind is whether will I ever be able to enjoy the fruits of my labour and I spend my earnings on myself, rather than throw it all away to the banks?

The government may measure our success by the number of people being able to afford a home and how many of us actually own a vehicle, but did they include a “happiness quotient” in its statistics? I feel burdened of all this debt that I have to incur, and it seems like there isn’t a way out of this. I certainly am not happy nor do I feel that everything is a-okay.

Let’s look at things from the beginning. Many amongst us cannot get into public universities. Many of those who opt for private higher learning institutions have to borrow money from somewhere to get their education. You borrow money to study, and then work your bottom off to pay off the loan. If you don’t borrow, you can’t study, and your best bet for a job is at the city council, doing menial jobs. A vicious cycle.

What about housing and property? I earn twice the amount that my dad earned at my age, yet I cannot purchase my own property as he did 30 years ago. He bought a property with 11% bank repayment interest rate and I can’t buy one with even 4% repayment interest rate. Why? The property prices are inflated beyond comprehension. A good example (that I know of) is a property development in Klang along the KESAS highway. Upon launching early this year, it was priced at RM338,000. Last month it was RM374,000. At the time of writing this article, it’s RM389,000. I do not need anyone to lecture me about property valuation because I certainly don’t need statistics and technical jargons to try to justify the meteoric rise of property prices.

How many of us are free from debt? Forget about credit card debts or personal loans that people take to fulfill superficial materialistic wishes. I am talking about the basic needs in society: education, housing, healthcare and transport.

Is our nation so broken until a youth in his 20s has to be burdened by thought of how is he going to carefully plan his finances for the next 30 years? I agree that financial planning is an integral part of modern life, but to push it to this level where you are burdened by the simple idea of surviving in your homeland is absolute madness.

Life is meant to be lived. How many of us can claim that we work because we want to, not because we have to? Where is the quality in your life – if you have to spend ungodly hours at work, then braving the traffic jams, only to come home to work on your “side gig” to earn that little bit more to pay for the domestic help service that cleans your home while you and your partner are at work?

How many hours are we able to sit down and chat with loved ones without being distracted on matters that are supposed to be trivial?

The fact is, most of us are caught in this cycle. We sit down to think about this yet we seem so helpless. Scrap that. We are more prone to arguing about who gets to call god what and who gets to enter houses of worship. We prefer to picket about artistes’ “inappropriate dressing” and love to create badly photoshopped images of politicians. Our debates are on racial rights and how the press misquoted our words.

Naysayers will accuse me of not doing enough research and coming out with statistics and jargon. They will say that I should work hard to break free and attain my own freedom. God knows I do try as hard as I possibly can. And I don’t want to research on loan statistics and banking regulations as I speak from my heart. So too, do many Malaysians. For most of us, there is simply no time to look for answers because that time is needed to keep moving to stay afloat in life.

For us youths, we are just starting our lives. And boy, the burden is already feeling heavy.

LB: Kavilan Nakaswaram works with computers, has a penchant of looking at things from a different angle and believes that Bruce Wayne should be elected as PM of Malaysia. He has done his small share of blogging and usually puts out a point laden with sarcasm and humour . He currently blogs satire and parody at My Seed Stories and tweets nonsense as @kavilan

seals: Do we still need the new 100 floors tower?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Endhiran The Robot

I watched it last night at the premier show together with some stars....

Movie was superb, I will give a full star for the graphics. Never in Indian film industry I have seen such a cool graphics and importance given to graphics.

Storyline.... nothing great, but I like the way it was made to an interesting and action filled in the 2nd half.

I don't have to say anything about the SUPER STARs everlasting STYLE..., he is the soul the movie. Pssst: He uses iPhone :) ....

Aishwarya Rai, wow! and her kissing scene with Rajini ...was super!!!

I love the song and the locations...specially the Kilimanjaro song :)

I cannot talk about the plot as it will kill the Ummph! You have to watch it then you decide....!

And I like it at TGV CapSquare was spacious and comfortable ...