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MOVIES (55)

shivrajkumar

Shivaraj Kumar’s new film sees the city, so far portrayed as dark and inhospitable to migrants from rural Karnataka, as partly fair and humane

 

Operation Diamond Racket, the James Bond-style Kannada flick made in the late 1970s, is back, and teenagers are thronging Kapali cinema to catch it

girish


Did you know Rituparno Ghosh personally?

 

Yes, he had won 12 national awards, and so had I. We would meet in Delhi when we were there to receive the awards. We became friends that way. I first saw him when he came to receive the Golden Lotus for Unishe April. His Dahan and my Thaayi Saheba were contending for the top honours. (Thaayi Saheba was eventually adjudged the best film of 1997). He admired the way I portrayed my women characters. Our film-making styles are different, but we respected each other. I did not know about his pancreatic cancer, and neither did his friends. In any case, 49 is no age to die.

 

What in your view is his achievement?

 

He belongs to the third generation of film makers after Satyajit Ray. He started with a children’s film, which I hear was very unconventional. He then made films with women as central characters. He was different from the other Bengali masters. He wasn’t political like Mrinal Sen. Nor did he create images with metaphorical significance, like Buddhadev Dasgupta. He followed the conventional classical construct, where subtle drama forms the basis of his plot. After Dahan, he started getting Bollywood stars to act in his films. This got him a wider audience but diluted his artistry. Aiswharya Rai couldn’t portray the role of Binodini in Chokher Bali. Many film makers lose themselves when they try to reach out to a larger audience by casting stars, but the soul of Ghosh’s films remained intact. He managed to take his profundity to a bigger audience. This is a big achievement.

 

How do you react to the themes in his last few films?

 

His last three films— Arekti Premar Golapo, Memories in March (which he scripted and acted in), and Chitrangada—deal with homosexuality. He played those roles himself. He handled the subjects in a sensitive way, without embarrassing his audience, but still creating awareness. I think this is significant. As film critic Samik Bandopadhyay said, “Ghosh gave new life to an old sensibility.” His films a lesson in balance for students of cinema.

Infosys boy

How did you get into the movies?

 

Company drama came to our village, near Shimoga, every year. I was fascinated by them. When I went to Mysore to study engineering, I was bitten by the acting bug. Some of us formed a troupe and went around. Theatre taught me everything I know.

 

How did you bag this role?

 

Director Guruprasad had come to Mysore looking for an actor to play the king in an animation he was making. He gave me the role. He said, “I will launch you. Don’t go asking anyone else for a role.” I agreed. I quit my job with Infosys. I quit and waited for five years. He made me a hero, as promised.

 

Did you enjoy playing the orphan?

 

It was a challenging role that called for reaction rather than action, silence rather than dialogue. I was immersed in the role, and I enjoyed it. Guruprasad has promised me a role in his next film as well. I now have three roles in hand. I will remain choosy about what I do.

Maverick film-maker

Director’s Special is a smart, lowbudget film from Guruprasad, whose earlier Matha is remembered for its blend of wit and philosophy 

Namma Hero

Written by Friday, 31 May 2013 12:48

autoraj

A boy grows up to become an honest, public-spirited auto driver

 

Auto Raja (Kannada, 1982) Starring Shankar Nag and Gayatri (who later married Anant Nag), and directed by Vijay, the film tells the story of a sincere and heroic auto driver. When he falls in love with a rich girl, her evil father tries to separate them. The old man almost succeeds, insulting the hero and making him believe she is not in his league. Raja finally marries her with the support of his auto-driver fraternity. Auto Raja made Shankar Nag an icon among auto drivers.

 

Sometime in the 1990s, a decade after it was first released, MB Kumar got to watch Auto Raja. He was just a child then. “Shankar Nag made me understand that being a driver is not something to be ashamed of. The movie had a great impact on me,” says Kumar, now 34. When his parents couldn’t afford to educate him after the ninth standard, he didn’t hesitate to take up auto driving. “I had learnt one can live with self-respect and stay happy even in such a job,” he explains.

 

Kumar was particularly inspired by a scene in which the Raja’s colleagues help him marry. When lovers run into trouble, he volunteers to talk to their parents. If that doesn’t work, he helps them elope

 

. Once, a Vokkaliga driver fell in love with a Lingayat girl, but they had decided to part, unable to counter the opposition. Kumar was determined to help them. “I urged all my fellow drivers to join me in getting them married,” he says.

 

Kumar says he ‘kidnapped’ the girl and asked the boy to meet her at the Veerabhadhreshwara temple near Golretti, on Nice Road. There he got them married against their parents’ wishes. “I have helped four couples tie the knot and all of them are living happily. If I hadn’t watched the movie, perhaps I wouldn’t have even thought about helping lovers,” he says with pride.

 

‘Helping others’ has sometimes put him in trouble, but then, like his hero, he doesn’t care about the consequences. “A man was hit by a vehicle in RT Nagar and was dying. People just stood by, watching him, so I stopped and got him admitted to a nearby hospital,” recalls Kumar.

 

The victim was in a coma, and the police wouldn’t let Kumar go. They detained and questioned him all day. “But I had rendered service, just like Auto Raja,” Kumar says. Kumar sports a portrait of Shankar Nag on his auto. With his community, he has set up the Shankar Nag Auto Stand on 8th Main in Basaveswaranagar.

 

Kumar has watched all of Shankar Nag’s celebrated movies, and says it has inculcated honesty in him. He remembers films like SP Sangliana, in which the actor played an upright policeman. Kumar charges his customers by the meter and doesn’t demand anything extra. For pregnant women, he offers free rides to the hospital and back. “When I see poor people waiting for a bus, and I don’t have a customer, I take them along for free,” he says.

 

Another lesson he has learnt: Selflessness leads to wealth. In just nine years as a driver, he has earned enough to buy four autos. “Shankar Nag’s movies show how change can be for the better.I give lectures to drivers on how to dress and talk to customers,” says Kumar.

 

Think Positive

Written by Friday, 31 May 2013 12:47

vijay

A school dropout takes up a part-time job to kick-start an accounting career

 

Pudhiya Geethai (New Gospel, Tamil, 2003) Directed by newcomer Jagan, it tells the story of a young man with a never-say-die attitude. The movie flopped, but changed at least one life

 

After completing his 12th board exams, David Raj had no choice but to stop studying as his parents couldn’t pay his fees any more. His dream of becoming a film maker lay shattered.

 

The Hebbal resident was drifting aimlessly till he watched Pudhiya Geethai in May, 2003. “I had just finished my exams, and I had been to watch the movie to loosen up a bit from the problems that I was facing. But the movie transformed me once and for all,” Raj says.

 

The hero of Pudhiya Geethai is an optimist, and inspires people around him to strive against heavy odds. Inspired by the actor selling newspapers to pay his school fees, Raj started looking around for a part-time job. He found one with Just Dial, the phone yellow-pages company. At the end of the first summer, he had Rs 13,500 in hand. With the money, he decided to pursue a BCom from BEL College in Hebbal. He paid Rs 8,500 towards his fees, and kept the rest of the money for other expenses.

 

Raj’s father works as a gardener with Bescom, and his mother is a homemaker, so he couldn’t expect much help from them. He decided to work at Just Dial every summer for three years. By the end of the vacation, he would have enough money for the next academic year. This way, he successfully graduated from BEL College.

 

“The character’s positive attitude made me realise that education is important. Even now, whenever I feel down and out, I put on a CD and watch Pudhiya Geethai to get my positive energy back,” says Raj.

 

After his graduation, Raj found an accountant’s job with Tesco, and worked at its Whitefield office for four years. The pay was good, and the corporate job could have taken him places, but his heart was more in media than in numbers.

 

Teaming up with friends in advertising, Raj has produced 12 corporate films over the last four years. His clients include Cloud Nine Bytes and Wipro. He has now quit Tesco to do an MS in Communications at St Joseph’s College. “I saved up to join this course. I’m the most educated person in my family,” Raj told Talk.

 

Raj is all set to start his own production company, and plans to call it Emotions Factory. “I want to earn while I study,” he says.

 

Since actor Vijay has converted all his fan clubs into social service organisations, Raj is involved in service activities all round the year. He hasn’t met Vijay yet, but says he will surely meet him some day.

 

ROCK ON

Written by Friday, 31 May 2013 12:43

rockon

GM in a top company chucks it all up to form a rock band

 

Rock On (Hindi, 2008) A Mumbai-based rock band reunites after 10 years to play the music it loves. Woven into the story is the life journey of four musicians with individual aspirations and alternative career pulls

 

Rock On set off newer aspirations in the life of two musicians and a corporate honcho. The result: a band called Eka with music self-described as Swatantra rock.

 

Once part of a college band called Canzona—Italian for ‘song’— Hitesh Madan and Lokesh Madan (also cousins) went their separate ways. While Hitesh became a part of the band Euphoria, Lokesh took up a full-fledged corporate career in Bangalore.

 

They stayed in touch, but the thought of coming together as a band again hadn’t crossed their minds. Until Rock On hit the screens in August 2008.

 

“The promos seemed exciting and I went to watch the film with my wife in Bangalore. When the movie began, I knew it was our story. I sent Hitesh a message in the interval, only to discover he was watching the film at the same time in Delhi. I communicated with Hitesh in the interval and I remember saying the music was great and this was our story,” says Lokesh.

 

The seed was firmly planted and the two got thinking about their school and college band days. “We could identify with so many things in the film! It worked as a catalyst to get us back to what we were doing in school and college,” Lokesh says.

 

The film set Lokesh thinking about what lay ahead. Music as a career option emerged in his mind for the first time. By March 2010, he had quit his job as General Manager and shifted to Delhi to live his rock band dreams with two Euphoria band members—Hitesh Madan and Benjamine Pinto.

 

“The time was just right. Lokesh moved to Delhi and Benny (Benjamine) and I had just left Euphoria to pursue our own music. We got together and had our first show in August 2010 as the new band Eka,” says Hitesh.

 

For Lokesh, Rock On triggered the impulse to break free from the corporate world, while for Hitesh and Benny, it was a trip down memory lane. “To me, it was sheer nostalgia. The audience reactions in the film were very similar to what we had heard,” says Hitesh.

 

For Benny, who connected Hitesh with Arjun Rampal’s character in the film, it was nostalgia flowing right through. “The scene where a fight breaks out in the band during the shooting of a music video… something like that actually happened with Euphoria,” he says. “And I remember Luke Kenny once telling me at a show, “Don’t ever cut your hair”.

 

Then, Benny saw the scene in the film where nobody recognises Kenny after he cuts his hair. It all made sense. “Hitesh’s character is a lot like that of Rampal, who doesn’t want to play anything but rock and he appears visibly uncomfortable in a kurta pyjama. He used to sulk,” he recalls.

 

Nostalgia had its own place in getting Eka on stage, but it wasn’t all they took away from the film. The story of an Indian band held some lessons for them. “The key takeaway was the importance of a single vision and dream,” says Lokesh. Benny adds, “One dialogue by Luke Kenny in the film said it all. Translated, it meant, in your success lies the success of the band. It spoke of some of the fundamental problems in bands, and individual aspirations against collective aspirations”.

 

Breaking through as a band became simpler after such a film was made.

 

“In 1998-99, when we were a band first, there were hardly any success stories. The film made it a more acceptable profession. It introduced the masses to the concept of the ‘band’. Earlier, it wasn’t cool to perform in Hindi. Rock On actually drew from many bands in the country”, says Lokesh.

 

Rajini Promise

Written by Friday, 31 May 2013 12:35

rajnimama

A cigarette vendor becomes a real estate king, owning a fleet of cars and bikes, all bearing Rajini’s No 5625

 

Annamalai (Tamil, 1992) One of the many Indian remakes of the Jeffrey Archer novel Kane and Abel, it tells the story of a poor boy called Annamalai. After being insulted by his close friend Ashok, the son of a rich businessman, he works hard to become successful himself. It ran for 175 days at the box office and was the highest grossing Tamil film ever until 1995, when the record was broken by another Rajini-starrer, Baashha

 

As you turn off Old Airport Road into a narrow bylane that goes to NR Colony, you see unassuming middleclass apartments interspersed with monstrous multi-storey buildings under construction—until you reach a stretch decorated with little flags fluttering in the breeze. The flags have the face of Rajinikanth, with the caption, “V Harsha, President, Rajinikanth Fan Club”.

 

On either side are buildings belonging to the Mariyamman Temple Trust. Abutting an old tailor’s shop, two buildings have five little one-room offices bearing the name of Mahaveer Enterprises, and a logo that looks like a cross between the Manhattan skyline and an industrial dystopia. Above it looms a handpainted portrait of Rajinikanth, in the leaning-sideways-showing-off-bouncy- forelock posture that adorns countless barber shops in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. On an average day, about 20 to 30 bikes are parked outside, all with the number plate 5625. They are used by Harsha’s employees to scour the neighbourhood for vacant houses, and to ferry prospective tenants.

 

Harsha wants to “dominate real estate in Bangalore East like Thalaivar dominates filmland” because “lot of real estate are there but Mahaveer has different style” [sic]. He was echoing Rajini’s catchphrase in Padayappa, en vazhi thanii vazhi (My way is a different way), which he later identified as his favourite Rajini catchphrase.

 

This was my third trip in two days, each time I returned with assurances that Harsha would talk to me later only to find him gone. This time, I’d managed to ambush him in his office.

 

The wall behind Harsha’s desk is dominated by a 4.5 by 2.5 feet fulllength photo of Rajinikanth, with his arm around a younger Harsha, who looks suitably deferential. The same photograph adorns the walls of every one of the five Mahaveer offices in the city, giving me the impression that this is one of the defining moments in Harsha’s life. To the left, on a fax machine, is the same photograph, this time framed tighter in A5 size and cutting off Thalaivar and fan club president at the waist. Next to it is a copy of My Days with Baashha, the memoirs of Suresh Krissna, director of Annamalai, Veera and Baashha, with a close-up of Rajini on the cover, right arm raised in the famous ‘Naan oru thadava sonna nooru thadava sonna mathri’ (If I say it once, it’s like saying it a hundred times) pose. The left wall has yet another photograph of Rajinikanth.

 

Harsha tried yet again to postpone our interview to the night, except I wasn’t so trusting. Finally, I was in for some luck, and Harsha gave me what he called his ‘Rajini promise’, making us both crack up in laughter. Faced with making my fourth trip in two days, I felt strangely optimistic. Later that night, Harsha honoured his ‘Rajini promise’ and we had a long conversation in Tamil and English.

 

A Kannada Jain, Harsha recounted the beginnings of his career. “I used to sell cigarettes when I saw Annamalai. When I saw Annamalai film only, my life is changed. In the film, as they break his house, Thalaivar challenges, ‘Till now you saw me as a friend, but from now on you’ll see new face of Annamalai.’ That made a huge impression on me, I wanted to get ahead in life.”

 

I wondered if Harsha had turned to real estate because of the plotline in Annamalai (in which Rajini becomes a major hotelier) or reverseengineered the film’s influence once he had made it big in real estate. He continued, evidently relishing the rise-of-the-individual narrative, the staple of Rajini films of the 1990s: “Then I took up a marketing job, followed by painting job—a painting contract—finally coming to real estate. When I came to real estate, I saw film-Arunachalam-and then, with difficulty, I bought a bike. With Thalaivar’s number plate 5625. Then when Padayappa released I bought a [Maruti] Zen.”

 

Deliberately or subconsciously, Harsha was echoing the song Vetri nichayam from Annamalai in which Rajini’s climb up the social ladder is shown through his vehicles—modest cargo autorickshaw to a cargo van to a black Ambassador, and finally, a status symbol of the 90s, a bronze Fiat Premiere 118NE.

 

“After Padayappa, Baba was released, then I bought another Zen. For Chandramukhi, I bought a Scorpio. Sivaji, Skoda Laura. And for his 12.12.12 special birthday, I bought a Toyoto Fortuner. In 2011, when he was admitted at Ramachandra Hospital in Chennai for some medical tests, I took along 250 people from the fan club in my vehicles to go see him. He’s like a god to me.”

 

He was eager to prove the parallels between god and devotee. “He also has two daughters, I also have two daughters - I named them Aishwarya and Soundarya” (after Rajini’s daughters; I checked if his wife was named Latha, and was relieved she wasn’t!)

 

He continued: “He went to Mantralaya and wears a bangle from there, I also started to go there and wear this bangle. I also don’t wear any gold, Thalaivar goes to events dressed simply, no? He showed Himalayas in Baba, I went there for my honeymoon.”

 

How did he become the Rajinikanth Fan Club President? Harsha explained, “His film release is like my daughter’s wedding. I book a theatre and organise free ticket distribution. Thalaivar has poor people also as fans, so I give them tickets. IT people are also there, and middle class, business people also. We’ll go in a big procession with a horse and band set and 250 bikes, some 30 cars.”

 

Of these 89 bikes and six cars belonging to Mahaveer lead the procession, bearing Rajini’s number plate 5625, procured at Rs 8,000 a bike and Rs 25,000 a car. “All this is my own money, since I got ahead in life having watched Thalaivar’s films. I even took a Rs 6 lakh loan from Standard Chartered Bank for Sivaji. I spent for tickets and banners; I had put up 200 10×200 (foot) banners-biggest in India, no one has put up banners so big. Then they made me Fan Club President.”

 

Anxious not to sound as if he had bought his way into the post, he added, “In my life also, I take his advice-how to deal with parents and friends, I’m maintaining my life according to his advice only.”

 

When I suggested that the Rajini films of the 1990s showed him playing either a common man (Annamalai) or someone pretending to be a common man (Basshha), whereas in 2000s, he had transformed into a superhuman figure—a billionaire philanthropist in Sivaji, a saint in Baba, a superstar in Kuselan, and a star scientist and his robot in Enthiran.

 

Harsha’s reply was revealing, “Yes, yes, that is correct, but this is good. Different type of story is very good, different type of acting also, we are all very happy. We go with friends and family and we’ll enjoy and come. Now I want Thalaivar to do a film on politics to give a message to all the politicians clad in white, all of them are 420 only, making crores of rupees.”

 

By Harsha’s reckoning, Rajini cannot be in politics because “he don’t (sic) know how to stab in the back, he’s honest and straightforward, speaking what he feels in his heart”. Clearly, Harsha has bought into the superhuman themes unquestioningly.

 

Harsha compares Rajinikanth releases to a pilgrimage, “People go to temples, they go to Tirupati and pray. I want Rajini’s next film to be a big success, and I’ll do everything for that. I’ve made a lot of success in the last 15 years, and my life has changed since I saw Annamalai. Every film of his has one dialogue, which I’ve implemented in my work. He gave me an autograph which has lot of meaning: ‘No pain, no gain’. How Rajini’s style is different, my style too is different, my vehicle number is different. My staff has uniforms and nametags, since we are dealing with IT people. IT people, business people, Telugus, Tamils, Kannadigas, Muslims— all are Rajini fans.”

 

Harsha links his army of workers, all riding bikes with the number 5625, to Enthiran’s superhuman army of clones, and their pink uniforms to Vetri Kodi Kattu (Raise the flag of victory) from Padayappa. Perhaps informed by the spate of business books using Rajini’s catchphrases as inspiration, Harsha explained Rajini’s influence. “I learnt from the way Rajini started in Chennai and grew to Karnataka and Andhra and Bombay. Just like how Rajini dominated Tamil Nadu, I dominated Airport Road, then Indiranagar became my Karnataka, 80 Feet Road is like Andhra, Marathahalli is like Bombay.”

 

When I persisted in asking him what his clients felt about the Rajini-worship, he cut to the heart of the matter. “Rajini is an honest person, illaya? Simple, honest, straightforward. See how he goes in public —simple, normal, no makeup, no gold. I also don’t wear any gold, any jewellery. Only this bracelet from Mantralaya. Rajini is an honest person. He doesn’t go here and say one thing and say another thing somewhere else. So my customers come in and see Rajini’s photos and they’ll think, ‘Okay, this is an honest place. Simple people. They will do my job properly. I can believe them. Depend on them.’ We also want that.”

 

As I walked away, I looked back at the Rajini flags fluttering in the breeze, but I could no longer see Rajini’s face. I only saw a promise hanging. A young Hindi-speaking couple-the man in yellow t-shirt and jeans and the woman in cotton churidar, walked in to his office. I saw them exchange glances as they were confronted with the massive photo of Rajini with Harsha, and noticed Harsha beaming at them.

 

I wasn’t the only one to have trusted Harsha’s ‘Rajini promise’ that day. 

sidlingayya

A graduate shuns a government job and tills his father’s lands

 

Bangaarada Manushya (Man of Gold, Kannada 1972) One of Rajkumar’s biggest hits, it ran for two years to packed houses. The educated hero gives up city comforts and returns to his village. There, he encourages people to use modern farming methods, and brings vibrancy where there was desolation

 

An agriculture graduate from Kolar district decided not to go in for a government job, which he would have got easily, and went back to his village to cultivate his father’s lands. “Many young people became aware of government policies favouring farmers, and enthusiastically took to the agricultural life,” says Siddalingaiah, director of Bangaarada Manushya, now 77 and living in Rajajinagar 4th Block. The agricultural graduate did well, and built a structure on his land, calling it the ‘Bangaarada Manushya Farm House’. He took Siddalingaiah to inaugurate it. “I couldn’t speak a word… I was dumbstruck by what my film meant to him,” Siddalingaiah recalls. Sharatchandra of Shimoga was also influenced by the film, and started experimenting with sugarcane. He managed to harvest a sugarcane plant 25 times, creating a sensation in his region, and in the press. When reporters visited him, he told them the Rajkumar film had been his inspiration.

 

Kadidal Shamanna, leader of the Raitha Sangha—an umbrella organisation of farmers in Karnataka—admits the film inspired young people to return to their villages. “But in the 1980s, many farmers had pledged their land, and were losing all their property to the lenders. Siddalingaiah should have shown the happy climax first, and the dark opening shots last,” Shamanna joked to Talk.

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