A New Beginning

AnbeSivam1Kamal Haasan (KH) announced that he would retire from films from barring Vishwaroopam 2 and Indian 2, not surprising at all. The fact to be noted is that both are extensions of his previous works and sadly not something new.

‘Something new’ would be the murmur of those who walked out of a Kamal film, even for the truest of fans, the films would be things that couldn’t be described at a moment’s notice.

Notice that KH has been very cautious about his late career, not wanting to be another curd rice eating lion (his phrase for the later phase of Nadigar Thilagam) but somewhere along the line he too had realized that it was time.

Time is of the essence, something that resonates in Kamal’s cinematic swan song “Uttama Villain” in which an ageing superstar has to balance between his final act to right his wrongs and his final act (in a movie) with his mentor.  For me the last Kamal consummate performance.

Performance that has no end is of interest, one song from the film claims. Yes we have finally reached the point in the universe that there would be no more waiting for a Kamal film. Waiting and patience, the two characteristics that binds even unlike Kamal fans of which there are many.

Many careers come to an end, but few leave a lasting impact; while in fields which are driven by statistics (hi sports), achievements  which will always be broken. Performance artists on the other hand achieve near immortality thanks to their craft and can comfortably disregard numbers.

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Numbers too are surprisingly in Kamal’s favour; in a career spanning almost sixty years he has played from camp to class and what lies between.  Take 1982 for instance which gave the Tamil movie going public both Sakalakalavallavan and Moondram Pirai. This is not a singular occurrence Sagara Sangamam came with Sattam, Nayagan came with AVM’s Paer Sollum Pillai, Virumandi and Vasoolist etc etc etc and it is hard to imagine any other actor who can withstand this stretch consistently and still look natural.

Naturally, his multifaceted nature attracted different kind of fans. His long career has ensured that there was a constant churn in admiration, old fans becoming disillusioned allowing new ones to take their  place. An example would be a generation that still believes that KH was the coolest in the 80s, while another set claim he peaked in the 90s, some say he should just direct and not act, others don’t want him behind a megaphone, some want him to even work with youth directors (LOL). Personally, it is KH’s ability to be all this and more that makes me revisit the films.

Films (of his) are all that we will have of him in the future (not discounting the interviews), and it is surely exciting to revisit them not just as a fan, but as an explorer of the medium. Especially now, when there very little to expect. You have given me a lot to work with and all the best for your future endeavors, Kamal.

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Anbe Sivam: What sort of design is this?

Something that I have observed during the course of this ongoing education called movie watching is that when characters are faced with loss or suffering or even an unattainable dream eventually tend to receive it in some form.

This as I see it, is to bring about balance to the character, the way in which this cycle happens can be as direct as a revenge drama or something as poetic and long drawn as Gollum losing it before the lord of the rings begins, only to hold it again in his last moments at the very end. 

It here refers to the one ring of course.

(My god what a precious arc!)

If there is loss, there is gain; unless we are watching some harrowing tragedy. Which is a different topic altogether

 

This loss and gain, of course I assumed was a part and parcel of story writing and very noticeable, and this can happen to supporting characters as well and when done well, resonates.

Let us now come to Anbe Sivam, one of the few things we know about ad filmmaker Anbarasu is that he is currently in love and had lost his brother earlier in a cricketing accident; this at face value seems like a backstory to explain his nervousness around bloodshed; the fact that a character has lost his brother and is now almost about to get a new brother didn’t strike me till today.

 (Slow mind eh)

Waitees, but Anbarasu doesn’t get a brother back!

His loss is not actually balanced, he almost gets a brother back. Difference, small yet key to this post.

Waitees again, we are still with Anbarasu; there is again a disturbance at balance. 

An unknown kid caught in a horrendous train accident and fortunately shares the same blood group as Anbu; the blood is obviously the connect here since Anbu’s brother’s bloody death was in many ways the biggest loss that Madhavan’s character has faced (or at least this is what the movie tells us)

In a usual film of course this would have been the balancing point, matching blood groups and saving the kid which will make Anbarasu overcome his fear and grow for the later part of the film.

Waitees, but Anbarasu does grow and become a different person through the course of the story but the outcome of these almost balancing points are exactly the opposite of the usual.
Nalla (Kamal) doesn’t stay and fill the void of a fallen brother nor is Anbu’s blood enough to save a boy’s life.

Summary: so you have a structure or a road-map , you almost reach the end but then turn the other way; this I see it as a way to introduce some amount of randomness, even if controlled into the story.

A point where the screen writer knows what should be done next if the film is to take its usual course, but doesn’t (want?) do it.

 I imagine at these balancing points, the writer putting down his hand on the table, hoping the pen would somehow write down the next few words.

It is amazing. Really.

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I guess that this didn’t strike me on previous viewings because I was not looking for it and of course there are other very fulfilling  themes in Anbe Sivam which is why it has endured for me.

Small addition to this ‘aberration’ from usual is the name of Poun, which here denotes two characters, one of course is the street theater artist  who dies in the bus accident which also disables Kamal, and also the aforementioned small kid who mumbles the same name.

Again the lead comes close, but doesn’t quite make it.

Doesn’t quite get what he is wanting.

Important to note that Anbe Sivam is not a tragedy.

While loss is not balanced by gain, loss by itself is not tragic, whenever a character in Anbe Sivam gives away or loses something it feels heroic and it feels real because there is no return of this ‘giving away’ much like in real life.

Real life doesn’t have the comfort of a writer’s balance. Real life is really random but filled with common folk out there making choices beyond their imagination.

Maybe the film is about giving after all.How else would we experience Anbu?

Maybe, we are just over-reading as usual, let us know what you think.

 

 

 

The Stuff Stories are made of: Vasool Raja MBBS

Are all stories, the same?

Ever since I heard about the monomyth or hero’s journey, I have been intrigued; the fact that all the stories at some level are the same may seem disturbing, some writers even might find it alarming, readers might think they are reading the same stuff again and again, Manmohan Singh might feel that we are all dead in the long run anyways.

Joseph Campbell, the proponent of the hero’s journey(or mono myth theory) came into pop consciousness when George Lucas did not stop with using the monomyth in the creation of Star Wars, but went on to call Joseph Campbell ‘his Yoda’. Hollywood has since churned out innumerable films year on year. His book, the hero with a thousand faces is a goldmine for writers.

Anything that is universal, must tug at the heartstrings of the viewer, make them connect themselves with one or more of the characters to follow the length of the story and at the end of it, have something to mull upon or even bring about a change in themselves.

 

This is the reason why I chose Vasool Raja MBBS as Exhibit A to see if this hero’s journey holds true and also it is one my favorites and the movie and its message has remained intact for me, even after multiple rewatch-als, I’m sure many would say the same about Munnabhai which is of course the parent film. I would also like to assume that it is a widely watched film, so that we need not dwell on plot details.

Another reason for choosing Vasoolist was because a comedy film is not so frequently dealt with when it comes to the theory of monomyth, here is a chance to see if the theory sustains immaterial in which genre it is applied to.

 

An education in management has made me look for frameworks for every damn thing, and yes there is a framework for(every damn thing) ,this one comes from Dan Harmon, the creator of Community.

 

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Reduced to the most basic level, the story (read any story) can be expressed in the form of a circle, begins and ends at the same point.

Harmon divides the circle into four quadrants and 8 markers

But first let us look at the circle in two halves, the hero’s world is divided into known and unknown, a hero must move from a place of comfort to an unknown place. The moments in the story too work within these halves.

 

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Specifically with respect to Vasool Raja MBBS (from now Vasool) the order and chaos are represented by his rowdy state and his wish to be a doctor represented by the hospital state.

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Now we will proceed to go over the story traversing the eight points as mentioned in Harmon’s framework.

Stage 1: Character in comfort

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The most essential thing in the journey of the hero is the hero himself/herself, at the beginning they are in a place of comfort, something like how Raja (Kamal) is introduced in the film. With his buddies, going about his job; there is even a dialogue which explains his way of work (2% commission)

Stage 2 : Hero Wants Something

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Although something or someone doesn’t let things remain the same way, the journey begins with the hero’s want to do something, the trigger could be internal or external; mostly external.

Here when Raja’s parents are insulted by Dr. Vishwanath (Prakash Raj), he decides to become a doctor, the want here on one level is to become a doctor and irritate the hell out of Dr. Vishwanath, but at a deeper level is to fulfill his father’s wish of becoming a doctor  (Hero Onnu sonna senjukaatanum, adhan hero)

Stage 3: Hero enters the other world

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This is a direct consequence of the previous stage, something like to become a wizard Harry needs to go to Hogwarts, similarly to become a doctor Vasool Raja needs to join a medical college, of course here he takes the route of the fraud (93.5 FM)

Stage 4: Hero adapts to this new world

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Getting accustomed to how a class,college and hostel function and how much it is different from his earlier Vasool phase, although it is not alarming for Raja when compared to say the Ringwraiths who chase Frodo, basically this is coming face to face with the reality (and dangers) of the other world. Raja also begins to understand this hospital world.

Now he is well out of his comfort zone (remember the two halves)

Stage 5: Hero gets what he ‘wants’

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This is the tricky one, heroes like most of us do not really know what they want, they might have more than one targets, sometimes they might get what they did not plan for, drifting away from what seemed like their initial goal.

Here Raja doesn’t really want to become a doctor, he is content with his current position where he is able to irritate doctor Vishwanath, but he achieves other things like new friendships and love (with Dr. Janaki), his gregarious nature and helping tendency make him a darling at the hospital. (kattipudi vaidiyam)

Stage 6: Hero deals with loss

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Raja somewhere believes that a doctor is not just one who treats diseases but a care giver to the heart , testimony is his ability to heal people with humour and hugs, but even his best of interests cannot save the life of Zakir , the cancer patient. Raja’s inability to do anything when a man dies in his arms makes him question the very journey he has taken.

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Stage 7: The Return

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In the penultimate stage Raja is convinced that he is not going to achieve anything by prolonging his stay at the hospital, he feels responsible for giving hopes to a dying man; in the end concedes defeat to Dr. Vishwanath (again recollecting how his parents were made to do the same) and literally walks back to never become an MBBS, the return.

Stage 8: The Change

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Raja is now back to where he started, though he doesn’t want to go back to his ‘Rowdy’ days. But time has changed and it has brought his parents back, they too realise that they have been hard on their son for not becoming a doctor.

He is now a changed man.

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There and back again.

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Epilogue

An ending in a circle is in fact the point of beginning, this story of the hero might have ended, but the journey is continuous. Real heroes accept the change and learning that comes with the circle and set off on another adventure, hopefully a different one.

A framework is merely a way of understanding concepts in an easier way, there is even further scope in the framework when we drill down to the characters, I am not trying to establish that this is the only way to look at stories, but this is certainly one way and I tried it with my favourite movie.

Again a framework is not a rule book, things need not happen in all these stages, some might be skipped, maybe not in the same chronology, start somewhere in the middle and make your way both sides.The potential is immense.

The point here is that a framework gives you the freedom to experiment with it, even break down. Dan Harmon’s Community is a telling example of how imaginative you can be in using a system.

The commonalities established with examples from the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and even Star Wars and yes Vasool Raja MBBS too, brings about a feeling of universality in the way think, tell and consume stories. Yes stories can all be the same and still be different in the telling.

Do let us know if you liked this way of looking at film, do let us know if you think it is number one quality hogwash as well.

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