SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE SELECTION| ESSENTIAL VIEWING: MANAL KAYIRU

“Scenes from a marriage selection”

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I do not remember when was the first time I saw Manal Kayiru, but it must have been a very long time ago and with  some certainty I can say that it was an afternoon movie; I have since watched it multiple times at multiple points of time; classic is a word that has been tossed around as tags for many movies and is a word that should be used only after much deliberation, but Manal Kayiru has the word classic written all over it.

No one has made films relentlessly on the problems of the middle class woman like Visu, can only be compared to the nothingness and existentialism in the films of Woody Allen.(Unmeasured comparison)

And in the core of the problems of the fairer sex was marriage.

Oh but wait, weren’t Visu’s films stagey? Thoroughly dipped in the sentimentality of the time and mostly adapted from stage plays and really looked like a televised one, that they may be but, they are not without their own inventiveness.

To continue with the Woody Allen analogy, Manal Kayiru can be called the ‘Annie Hall’ of Visu’s career which began from the stage, the film in which he found the balance and his own space within Tamil film making.

It is the world of 1982, unknown and seemingly distant to the now world of shaadi and bharat matrimony; a middle class man has aspirations, not two but eight(including bizarre ones like failing in college). If you had been a daughter’s father in eighties and before, conditions is not a word that you would have wanted to hear.

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That is the thing with comedy, it takes away that tears that go behind the thought of these jokes; and this is where Visu stands tall as a maker of socio-comedy films, he never cuts down on the seriousness of the issue; yes the eight rules seem ridiculous but by the time we reach the end, these rules represent the stupidity of ourselves and how big a deal it was to get a girl married. An achievement worth putting into your CV types.(Again now, everyone will put anything on the CV, I was talking about the eighties)

To thank God for how things have changed is being childishly optimistic, marriage selection has remained a sort of gruelling job interview, the only things that have changed has been the medium and now that both sides can do this ticking of checkboxes exercise, before thanking God reflect on Darwin and this quite unnatural selection.

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Enter Naradar Naidu, who completely randomises this process; with Manal Kayiru, my formative thoughts about marriage has been about co-existence rather than the one of selection, and this is primarily because of Manal Kayiru, selection in this case so seems like a recruitment for a slave, but what about expectations?

Is it possible to live with someone who does not meet even one of your expectations?

Pardon my middle class movie loving brain, but the act of marriage is really much higher than fulfilling individual’s expectations and that is what the world is moving towards, bespoke dating.

Visu is like that teacher who comes back to the starting point of the lecture at the end of one, most teachers don’t. He knows his subject in depth, the lesson here is: let not your expectations bring tears to the other party.

Like the job of the ‘marriage broker’ whose occupation has been quietly replaced by the match making sites, Visu’s family dramas have been replaced by television soaps starring murderous mother in laws and wailing working women, but more so it has the generation that has been replaced, a generation that looks at marriage and family in the long run, as this India Today article puts it ‘obliquely’.

Maybe the events that happen in Manal Kayiru are exaggerated, and the days of conditions are long gone; but as number of divorce applications and new family courts suggest that there are more broken marriages than broken hearts and the saddest part is that there will be no Naradar Naidu to liven things up for you this time.

Epilogue

Dowry Kalyanam can be seen as a companion piece to Manal Kayiru, while the former deals with the struggles that happen during the course of marriage, the latter covers the pre-marriage irritations

Sve Sekar plays the fool of a groom in both these films and is tremendously effective.

While lovers of good old drama might not have anything to complain, cineastes might be pleasantly surprised by Visu’s handling of a deaf character. Gimmicky and stagey yes, but the film is not without substance and the characters hold up well even after years have piled over the film. Class apart, Manal Kayiru is an extremely easy film to love, proving again the best way to approach serious stuff is by making comedy.

PS:  The title of this column was originally called “we cannot be friends if you do not like this movie”, but changed to the more boring but just-about-doing the job “essential viewing” because the previous title was considered antagonistic to our already dwindling audience.

PS2: None on the staff of the Lowly Laureate is married, except the 86 year old printing press operator. His Facebook relationship status as of today is: I won’t tell you, go.

Xbox: Naradar Naidu is the first in a long list of typical Visu characters, a wily outsider who sets up the film’s flow and provides the solution as well, but here he faces a saddening end, not unlike the one Kamal faces during the climax of Panchatantiram(well, almost)

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THE AGE OF EMPIRES

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There is an anecdote of how Queen Elizabeth went up a tree as a girl and came down a Queen, to put the story of Baahubali in a single line will be on similar lines, like say, the boy who went up the waterfalls and became a prince.

But stories are best told in their entirety with flourish and detail and the stories of kings and queen require something else, magnificence.

Magnificent as they may be in text, the trouble lies in the realisation of these visuals from the mind and this is where we come to the ‘is technology taking over our movies’ part of the discussion, in a film like Baahubali yes, a computer really does aid your/the director’s imagination.

From a country that routinely decries its films for not making movies with better graphics, we are very much left behind in the technology debate as well, especially in a time when StoryBrain came up with what he calls the Weta Effect last month; which is in other words that movies with better graphics do not really resonate well with the audiences.

Personally, the inability to make graphics seem seamless in only a temporary worry and can be overcome with training and investment and Baahubali is definitely a step in the right direction, the best graphics film is a film that you can sit and not worry about the graphics (remember Kochadaiiyan), also miraculous that we have moved so far away from Kochadaiiyan in a span of two years. And that is all I have to say about Baahubali’s graphics which went from non-troubling to quite spectacular, but let us first attack the mind/heart(don’t know which does which job, not a doc) of Raajamouli which I guess is filled with fascinations for the epics and long forgotten stories from Chandamama back issues.

Fifty and a half years back, we were making such movies, often large studio productions involving the matinee idols from the states below the Vindhyas, swashbuckling stories of slaves who become kings, banished princes, scheming uncles and whispering corridors, occult magicians, tender princesses and giggling harem girls and not to forget the scenes of war.

With the advent of the so-called realism and the Dravidian movement, these movies dwindled, but the spirit of the classic fantasy lived on but not quite so rightly on the shoulders of mega stars, the characterisations would only fit a mythical time: the masala film.

Somehow a hero jumping between cliffs sits well within a royal story rather than a modern entertainer. Rajamouli’s Baahubali is set in the mythical nation of Mahismathi covering diverse geographies (waterfalls, mountain avalanches, vast dry lands and imposing palaces) and populations ( tribes of different types, assassins, barbarians and royals of course) deserves mention because most of the time the mind limits, and these are how epic stories are built, it is never about one person, it is about all those who live and die in the space that you create and this is where the modern formulaic films go wrong.

Testimony to this is one scene which can also be called “the moment of realisation” , the ground is covered by all those who have shaped the hero’s life, direct and indirect, friend and foe.

While the effect of visuals has considerably increased since the times of Paathala Bhairavi, Mandirikumari and Uttama Puthiran, the excitement in telling these stories has been thankfully retained, which I think is the next greatest triumph of Baahubali (the first being the director’s bold imagination).

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Palaces made of sandstone or software are nothing without the people, here Mahismathi which resembles Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings is populated by a league of able actors  who mouth refreshingly well written lines.

The empty throne of Mahismati resembles a widow’s forehead” a minor character says, enough to make me sit up, the fact really was that I was wide eyed straight from the beginning, even the initial dragging set up seems justified for what is to follow.

Patience in actors like Satyaraj is truly rewarding, one of the finest Indian actors alive, catching your eye even when bowing down to someone in deference; but the film truly belongs to Ramyakrishnan, the God Mother who breast feeds both the scions of her clan, it is said that Romulus and Remus; the founders of the Roman empire were nourished by the same wild wolf and that comparison here only seems right. A performance to savour.

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Baahubali is in no means a perfect film, making a film this scale is in a sense like building an empire, but is a start, a beginning as the title loudly says. Post Gladiator, there was an active public interest in the Roman classics and the sword and sandal genre itself, if only Baahubali could do the same; then we could have a cinematic age of empires ahead of us.

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Jai Mahismati!!