Murder Mystery

As the swivel chair spins #4

Murder Mystery

There is something sinister in naming a murder mystery film as ‘Murder Mystery’, especially when it comes produced by Netflix. Like most digital businesses, Netflix would be keen to get the search engine optimization right.

James Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac, also wrote this new murder mystery comedy (pause for reflection) headlined by Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston; maybe it was too close to the deadline and he couldn’t think about a title for his movie.

Great, I have spent two paragraphs- one slyly on the search engine benefits of generic movie titles and second on how someone who wrote the dense and detailed Zodiac couldn’t come up with titles.

On further introspection, while writing paragraph three, I realized that the joke was on me; this was meant to be a generic murder mystery movie made to cushion the want of those who craved more of the recently released Murder on the Orient Express.

Hmm, but Murder on the Orient Express too is a generic title, at least it has the specificity of the location.

So I come back home from work on a Friday and slump into a chair (the swivel) and think- “it’s the perfect time to watch a murder mystery”; the sentient sensors on Netflix pick this up and before I know it, I am watching the new Adam Sandler movie.

Something happens and we are told that Adam Sandler is a beat cop who wants to be a detective but he cannot pass the test and his wife Jennifer Aniston- a hairdresser is frustrated that she cannot have her Europe trip as planned.

While the movie never tries to be convincing about the genre it takes up- just throw in the elements like multicultural cast-a big billionaire-European cruise setting and the somewhat comical piling of bodies, hoping it works. But the most unconvincing part is about the leads playing broke middle class Americans on a Euro trip. (The movie goes by the tagline: First class problems. Second class detectives- tiring already)

Oh, but I must say Dany Boon excels as Inspector Laurent Delacroix, wish there was more of the O-ring smoking French officer, but there is very little for anyone to do- Terrence Stamp turns in for just one scene

Pastiche is done lovingly, parody takes it over to the top. This one neither has the love for the genre or the silliness that would evoke multiple viewings- this is just generic (like the title).

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Siri On You Crazy Diamond

Crazy Mohan: A Remembrance

“Margazhi thingal!

Adutha line enna?”

“Margazhi sevvai”

I think my life changed when I picked up a cassette of Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam (CTIP) in a basement book store..

Ok strike that that out, life did change really and I would never be able to listen to Thiruppavai without a chuckle.

The golden age of Tamil Drama was well behind me, I have heard only stories- the ones I had listened (not seen) by that time featured Sve Shekar.

 Natakhapriya cassettes would be bought, to be exchanged with another friend who could recite “Alwa / 1000 Udhai Vaangiya Aboorva Sigamani” at will, when teachers looked the other way. I marveled at his ability.

But this Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam cassette was something different; it did feature Sve Shekar but claimed to have been written by Crazy Mohan. I never knew, honestly- a rare and perfect combination- the timing of Sve and the dialogues and situations of one Mr. Mohan, who I had known from multiple collaborations with Kamal.

By this time MMKR was curriculum.

Perfect because of the coming together of talents.Rare because this is the Tamil comedy drama equivalent of Eric Clapton playing with the Beatles and like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ it was pure gold; there was a joke in every line, hell there was a joke even when there were pauses. It was that good.

Within 5 minutes I knew that this would trounce”Alwa” or such in any discernable comedic aspect and I took it upon myself to memorize it and became a quoting repository.  Despite the cassette being a live scratchy recording complete with a wailing kid and continuous laughter probably from the seventies!

I didn’t know it was Mohan’s first play and I didn’t realize its importance, then.  

Oh I love the movie dialogues, don’t get me wrong- but I believe everything started from this heist comedy at Palavakkam. Mohan had the ability to begin with situations that seem quite normal – like for example the perpetually jobless hero (Uppili) but add increasingly crazy elements to it.

In Crazy Mohan’s world situations are more important than the story, the situations that are formed in his head knows no bounds because imagination does not come with an input cost.

A character reading the newspaper is his favourite and I know translating into English won’t help, but nevertheless will attempt.

<Situation: Kuppusamy is convincing Sudarsanam to purchase a house in the outskirts of Chennai and asks his son, the foolish Uppili to read aloud a particular advertisement from the newspaper>

Kuppusamy: Uppili come on read the advertisement from the paper’s 4th page

<pause>

Kuppusamy(dissing his son) : Do you know number 4? It is the number that comes after 3

<Mild laugh>

Uppili: OoooOooo number 4? I thought the one that comes before 5

<Still more laughs>

Uppili continues: Nonsense Appa, do you think I don’t even know 4.

<Pause>

I have studied till SSLC

<Pause>

I can count till 10

By this time the whole auditorium is laughing. Also count me giggling with my Walkman on multiple train journeys, this was my Hamlet. I should internalize it.

 Uppili then goes on to read murder stories and inappropriate advertisements for the next five minutes till they come back to the situation of buying the house.

Uppili continues to my greatest hero- he says the most random things-makes insane movie references- and is a master in irritating others and doesn’t really want to work. It’s probably Sve’s best role and he carries the persona into his other plays, but albeit without Mohan’s situations and the dialogues.

Personally, CTIP is worth obsessing over for a lifetime(again, my Hamlet). It features kind thieves- a kidnapping gone wrong- deaf assistants and literally a Vinayakar Ex Machina and countless jokes in between. The fact that Uppili thinks Sholay is a Malayalam film is absolute looool material.

Mohan would also take many things with him from CTIP to the movies, including ‘Ekalyvan’, a reference which would continue till his last collaboration with Kamal(Vasool Raja MMBS). It is a work which will sow the seeds for many Crazy variants.

Has there been a more fruitful writer-star combination (well Kamal is not just a star) than that of Kamal and Crazy?

There have been and will be too- many impactful working relationships, but I doubt if there would be anything that would reflect the quality with which Kamal and Crazy would produce.  All 11 of them gems, designed to appeal to different types of humor seekers; there can be no one clear favorite.

Come to think of it, most of the stories that Kamal would have pitched Crazy are inherently sad ones and heavy drama material that could on any day fit Kamal’s serious part of the filmography

  • Panchatantiram: hero is unable to overcome the separation from his wife
  • Avvai Shanmugi:  hero somehow wants to win back his child
  • Kadhala Kadhala: two orphans must succeed in life to help other orphans
  • Thenali: hero is unable to come to terms with the reality of losing his homeland

Amazing how they developed situations over each of these- they throw in some Wodehouse-there’s some classic Hollywood screwball- and some Keaton/Lloyd/Chaplin-there’s some Nagesh too. It’s a professional relationship made in comedy heaven. They literally completed each other’s sentences.

Mohan would continue to be one among many of the crown jewels at Kamal’s RKFI court contributing to other movie discussions.  

Just a crazy thought/prophecy: MMKR will live forever and when the future cineaste digs up the others in the list is bound to be surprised.

“They made MMKR and made these too? Mind-blowing”

A body of work which is also a gift that keeps on giving (laughs).

Will we find someone crazier?

 But that how do I know sir?

Thank you Mohan for being Crazy.  

FRS: NGK

Tell, but no show

So we all know what FRS is right? Good that would save us an introduction.

-10: Movie begins with hero being introduced dramatically with rain, hence raising our expectations that something is going to happen now types, but nothing really happens (is this Selva preparing us for the whole movie?)

-21: Kollywood hero is a farmer cliche, not just any farmer but an organic one at that

Accepted Occupations in the Kollywood-verse (in order of precedence)

Rank 1: Farmers (honest, humble, divine and innocent)

Rank 2: Honest Police officers (not humble, but has thimiru)

Rank 3: Auto drivers (mostly honest, but actually humble)

Rank 4: Aspiring actor/ aspiring movie director (includes all above attributes, add to that struggling)

There is also intermingling of these ranks in a film like Raatchasan where a Rank 4 becomes a Rank 2, in Vettaikaran Rank 3 wants to be Rank 2

Not accepted occupations in Kollywood-verse (no order)

Any occupation that involves getting monthly salary and wearing some kind of formals, sometimes even casuals. Basically Kollywood is against anyone who works for a organization which is registered as a private limited company and believes they are actually slaves.

-30: As expected, farmer hero thinks all office jobs are for slaves and asks rest of TN to wake up and smell the “mannvasanai”

+30: Sai Pallavi, wife of NGK loves the smell of “mannvasanai”, her sense of smell is important for the rest of the story

+56: Organic farming executed by NGK and his 500 friends is successful, although none of this is shown.

-56: But not successful enough for other farmers in the region to adopt the same practices, even when the whole project is headlined by the town’s most prominent son NGK

Also if you are a hero from a small town in TN, obviously you have to be prominent and rest of town is happily dancing with you in an opening song which hero asks people to be vigilant, etc

-90: An immediate scene after this involves NGK battling for the government jobs of few unfortunate girls whose fathers died while in duty, hero is not successful on his account but achieves it by calling help from a school friend who works for the local politician.

This scene is a set-up for NGK to understand that how much influential he might seem, the real power lies with politicians.

But this we feel is going against the character of NGK, he did not for even a moment tell the girls to give up their dreams of working for salary and take up farming!

Or does this mean that NGK is only against private enterprise?

-67: All politicians are villains and all villains are politicians, except the unsuccessful ones

-32: Hero being asked to join politics so that he only can change the system by at least one character in a political film, also in the background is MGR staring down on him types etc

-66: Early success of organic farming somehow adversely affects rest of the economy of the village and hence the entire money lender mafia is now out to kill NGK….can’t money lenders look for some other businesses or individuals to lend etc.

Why does kollywood keep selling this success of one means failure of the rest narrative, there is space for all us guys, there is lot to do.

-101: Every big conflict in this movie is resolved by means of just a phone call, this never ceased to shock us, although Rakul Preet doing a mini bio-pic of Prashant Kishor within this movie is even more shocking

-34: Movie after being humorless for an hour suddenly decides to become a satire

-10: Satire still is not funny, but by this time NGK slowly descends into madness and pulls the rest of the film with him

+134: This was perhaps the most interesting feature, most of the characters become mad over the course of this film, fascinating; but Selva doesn’t overtly go through with this.

Maybe this is a film by a bored Selva, who really didn’t want to make such a flat film(but had to?).

This is more of a taunt to the audience. More like Selva’s Neengal Kettavai, but Selva doesn’t want to give what the audience want. All those things happen in the background somewhere but he is reluctant to show all this. This is a subversion of show, don’t tell philosophy of film making- Tell, don’t show.

Maybe during the making of the film, the director understood it, as to how NGK reflects this very moment in the entertainment business or popular culture- the entertainer and the entertained are the same people. Every turn a story takes somehow has to be connected to the current, deliver a larger message, the movie actually ends in a public meeting which is more of a direct address to the audience (us) at large

There are no jokes in this movie, because we are the jokes?

There are no redeeming characters in this movie, because reality is such?

There can be no change in the system, because we don’t deserve a change?

And those who promise change are as bad (or even worse) those who we wish to change from?

Selva puts out all these existential questions, provides no answers, doesn’t even try and write stand-out scenes which results in a film that is completely consumed of the director’s boredom.

But the cumulative effect is that, we (the FRS) writers could feel this boredom seeping into our minds while writing this piece that we forgot to deduct points for narration that we usually and happily always do.

This is not a happy experience.  But to Selva’s credit he actually made us ‘feel’ the film without actually making it.

Strange. Really strange.

All numbers are incidental and arbitrary, except the facts provided by our data analytics team

Subam

Team FRS