Review: Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

There was a time when Mani Ratnam was a master of his art. He took the best out of every actor; even actors about whom we thought were average have performed beyond our expectations in Mani Ratnam films. When melodrama was the signature characteristic of Tamil cinema or Indian cinema in general, Mani Ratnam’s characters did it subtly, spoke not just with their words, and they went straight to our hearts. Well, that’s a thing of past now.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

In “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam”, you see the director struggling to keep the audience consistently engaged with the characters. Even the characters are emotionally disconnected with each other (and I’m not talking about the plot’s context). There is a scene when Jyothika’s character is dying and Aravind Swami is confessing something to her. This supposedly is a very emotional scene, yet it is one among the many cold scenes in the movie.

The first half of the movie was totally racy though. So much so that you wouldn’t realise how that one hour went. Mainly thanks to the towering performance of Prakash Raj (that actor is a gem!). But once the initial plot for each character is set, the director is clueless about how to take this forward on the shoulders of the three leading actors. Though at the end he gains some hold on the craft.

Jyothika is the only consistent performer in the movie, other than Prakash Raj and Jaya Sudha. Vijay Sethupathi does justice to his role, but it is not convincing enough that all his subtlety throughout the film was for the climax. Aravind Swami’s performance is not what I would except in the company of Mani Ratnam but maybe that is expecting too much.

Rahman’s background score is gripping at times but falls to melodramatic lows at times. And please don’t sing anymore, Rahman! You startled me with your voice during that funeral scene of Ethi’s wife.

Mani Ratnam does a Ram Gopal Varma with “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam” and that is not what his fans go to theatres for. I hope he doesn’t forget that even if the movie does well in the box office.

The Revenant

“The Revenant” takes us back to the ‘olden’ days of Hollywood film making and tells us that movies can still be made outside the green screen studios. And that definitely is a plus, for a generation of computer-savvy movie goers aren’t much thrilled or convinced of stories told by the ‘gruesome’ visual effects these days. Lubezki’s camera would captivate you so much because it reminds you of the wide angles or close-ups that you have seen in movies about the wild west or native Americans (I also hear that he has used the natural lights, so that makes the cinematography here a lot interesting). Some of the shots are so Terrence Malick-ish and I’m talking about Malick movies before Lubezki started associating with him. At times, the movie has it loose on the conviction part – particularly on the scene where Glass could not move a finger when his son was being killed yet manages to drag himself out of his grave thereafter. The film in spirit too is a mixture of ‘Dances with Wolves’ meets ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ in a Terrence Malick movie scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

But that is not to discourage you from watching the movie. In fact, it is a must-watch and you should go to a theater where the widest screen and good sound are available to watch this movie (people of Trivandrum, do not miss this in Audi 1 of Ariesplex Cinemas). Because even with the advanced visual and sound technologies available these days, movies of this genre and visual quality are seldom made. DiCaprio’s performance does not come close to what he did with Wolf of Wall Street but is sure to gain the Academy members’ attention (who doesn’t like tragedy on-screen?). And I’m sure Lubezki would walk away with a golden man in his hand. I read that the crew had to go through a lot of pain while shooting and you can see that on screen.

Malayalam Film Songs 2015

Advise to Vidyasagar – stop imitating Ilaiyaraja even if it is on Sathyan Anthikkad’s request (reference to movie “Ennum Eppozhum”). We look forward to your signature music. Not just some skeleton of another music director.

2015 has seen many ‘casual’ songs being hit – like ‘Enne thallendammaava”, or “Kaikottum kandittilla” (both from Oru Vadakkan Selfie), and “Kaalam kettu poy”, or “Scene Contra” or many other such songs from the film “Premam”. For one thing, Rajesh Murugesan and Shaan Rahmaan – these won’t go past another set of such casual songs from yet another movie. You got to remember that. “Malare” however stayed and you got to thank Sai Pallavi for the song to have stayed, not so much for the quality of musical chords (why did you have to put that heavy set of strings to overshadow the vocals?!). If that is how you want to be remembered, okay, fine. “ithu puthen lokam” from ‘Premam’ however was nice, both lyrically and music wise.

“I Remember You”, the English number from the movie “Nee-Na” was a class apart. Good job on the male version, Nikhil Menon. Also on the track “Where Gravity Fails”. You have brought back the good old soft rock back to filmy music. Also your song “Then Nila” sung by Sachin Warrier was so nice to hear. Good job on the track of “Nee-Na”. Bijibal has kept it nicely with the tracks “Ee Mizikalil” from Lukka Chuppi (love those guitar riffs) and “Ente Janalarikil” from Sudhi Vaathmeekam. And Gopi Sunder has put the curtain to 2015 with the song “Puthu mazhayaay” from Charlie.

That sums up the otherwise mediocre musical year of 2015.

Music Review: Zikr Tera

“Zikr Tera”, the latest offering from Roop Kumar Rathod and Sunali Rathod, has a few things special about it. The album celebrates 25 years of togetherness of Roop and Sunali Rathod, the artists call it a tribute to the late ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, and this is the first album that the duo is releasing digitally. But more than any of these features, what makes it stand out in our times is that it brings back a music genre that is long forgotten in the mainstream music.

The Rathods bring back the flavours of ghazal that you loved, the one genre that Pankaj Udas, Jagjit Singh and Rathods themselves have reigned in once upon a time. The sound that was so common in the eighties’ and nineties’ mainstream music scene. This album gives a chance to listeners to enjoy the music that is easy on your ears and what better voice than Rathod himself to indulge in!

The album has eight songs, of which two are solos by Sunali Rathod, five solos by Roop Kumar and one song by the duo together. To be honest, I think the least interesting tracks of this album are Sunali’s solos. The singer seems to have lost the charm of her voice and seems uninterested. My favorite song from the album is “Haathon Mein Haath”, the duet which stands our primarily for the soulful rendition of Roop Kumar. “Meri Chaadar Tha” and “Sawaal Sabne Kiya” are other two favorites, again for the mellifluous voice of Roop Kumar Rathod. When you hear these songs, you realize how much you missed the man and his voice.

I hope this album brings back the old days of easy music listening where the composition talks straight to your heart with a beautiful voice. And that many more artists break free of the clutches of the record labels, now that a whole wide world of internet possibilities are open before them.

Click here to listen to the songs of Zikr Tera at

The Wolf of Wall Street

I didn’t even notice how many times the word ‘fuck’ appeared in the movie (of which I watched a YouTube video that took count before I watched the movie) because the movie, even in it’s entire three long hours, didn’t distract me to those unimportant details.

I was of the opinion that Leonardo DiCaprio, no matter what roles he played, I always saw the ‘actor DiCaprio’ a lot more than the characters he played. This was not to undermine his abilities as an actor. He does the ‘acting’ well, but he always was ‘DiCaprio playing the character’ for me. I have noticed the same thing in the case of Tom Cruise. No matter what role Tom plays, he remains ‘The Tom Cruise’ always (not comparing him with DiCaprio; DiCaprio is definitely in a different league as far as acting is considered). Don’t take me wrong, I don’t have anything against the handsome/good-looking actors because I don’t see the same thing happening with Matt Damon. Even when I look at Gatsby to Jordan boy here, they are just roles that DiCaprio plays (and there isn’t too many differences between both portrayals but that’s for another note). That said, the only reason that you would sit through these long three hours is, DiCaprio. And if there is a best of his so far in his career, this is it.

One thing is sure though. You’ve got to watch the movie to see what happens when you go off the track in your life – you know, with alcohol abuse, drugs abuse, sex abuse, career abuse or money abuse. There is a message for the guys of those sort or to the guys who may be headed on that track (even though the scale may vary).

“If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madhurai”

Finished reading Srinath Perur’s book “If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madhurai – a conducted tour of India” (what a perfect title for a book on conducted tours!). Its not just a mere travelogue but a study of the Indian landscapes – both geographic and characteristic.

Though the writer is critical on his subjects of study most of the times, he keeps himself at a safe distance – like a teacher’s pet trying to prove himself to the class teacher that he is a good boy, different from the naughty lot; here the teacher being the reader. Even though he isn’t asked to prove himself, this is evident from some chapters, like the one on Uzbek tour.

The general lack of enthusiasm of the writer (Perur seems to be approaching the trips as a subject study) in the first few chapters paves way to a more involved writing and excitement when it comes to the North East trip organized by Journeys with Meaning.

The book is a good read still. It explores the nuances of the conducted tours in India, some of which you didn’t know existed. I read it in a couple of weekend train trips to back home which made it more entertaining.

Book review: Bantaism

BantaismI have a friend who used to text me (and other friends in our local friends group) Sardar jokes. He took great pleasure in sending those texts and we enjoyed reading them. When we met, he always had a few sardar jokes to share. He enjoyed telling each of these sardar jokes and if not us, he had always laughed out aloud on those jokes himself. Rest of us even began to carefully choose other topics to talk about, so we can save ourselves from the sardar jokes. 🙂 But Sardar jokes are just too good to skip. I think what makes them popular is that it has certain amount of innocence to it. Or furthermore, it has a bit of us or our daily life in it. Something that we can relate to. It is this side of Sardar jokes that Niranjan Ramakrishnan is exploring with his book titled, “Bantaism: Philosophy of sardar jokes“.

The book is a collection of sardar jokes with comments from the author on every single joke. Apart from the interesting and funny titles for each story (which are coined by the author himself), I found most of the ‘philosophical’ comments uninteresting and sometimes boring. The reason is obvious. You wouldn’t look for philosophy in time-pass jokes such as sardar jokes. But not all comments are boring and a couple of them does give you some philosophical insights. For example, look at the joke where one sardar in a lion’s costume meets another sardar in a tiger costume. The author draws a parallel to the BPO, call center jobs with this story which makes a lot of sense. Or the lesson on irreversibility with the story of ‘chicken vending machine’. And another one about the sardar who throws himself off the balcony thinking that his wife cheated on him. But considering the whole book, these are very few. Still, you could read the jokes alone if you wanted to skip the comments. If you are fond of sardar jokes and wanted to collect some in printed format, this one is just for you.

In a way, sardar jokes have reflected badly on Sikh community. The jokes have made us, the rest of the Indians, believe that all sardars are idiots or it is easy to trick sardars. But it also sheds some positive light that (though as a variant of idiocy) sardars are pure-hearted, innocent people. Our movies, especially Hindi movies, have always featured them on a positive light. The righteous, happy, pure and open group of people. The author in his introduction to the book treads on the same lines. Little does he mention (perhaps he didn’t want to ruin the mood-setting for the book) about the ‘other’ side of ‘sardarsphere’ that is totally in contrast to the image created by sardar jokes and Hindi movies. Prevalent practices of bonded labour, caste-ism etc in Punjab that Annie Zaidi had explored in her book, Known Turf.

One of the biggest advantage of sardar jokes is that it is crowd-sourced humor. You can tout one of your personal jokes as a sardar joke, just that you would change the main character to a sardar. The scope of sardar jokes is thus limitless. Most recent example of this would be Tintu Mon jokes from Kerala (the difference is that Tintu Mon makes fun of others whereas a sardar is made fool of himself).

Final word is that if you like sardar jokes, you would like this one because it has many popular sardar jokes in collection. But if you were curious to see what philosophy sardar jokes have to offer, well.. there isn’t much. Just enjoy the jokes and keep the book closed.


Title: Bantaism: The Philosophy Of Sardar Jokes
Author: Niranjan Ramakrishnan
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: Rs. 129

Malayalam film songs of 2011 – My picks

2011 may not have been an exciting year for Malayalam box office, but it certainly was a turning point in the history of Malayalam film music industry. The industry had opened up to the rock music genre last year and a new trend of movie inspired OSTs had been introduced. As a result, we had a song from India’s leading  and Kochi’s own rock band Motherjane for the film Anwar in 2010. The trend continued this year with the Malayalam rock band Avial played the end title song, Aanakkallan, for the film Salt N Pepper. It seems to be continuing as the audio of the end title song from the upcoming film Asuravithu, sung by the new rock sensation, X-Factor fame Piyush Kapur, is out on YouTube.

It shows that the new age film directors who target the young audience are ready to go beyond the regular track to try out something new. And the stage is set right. There has been no better time than now for the independent music scene in India and the youth in Kerala are also reaching out to different genres of music.

2011 was also the year of Shreya Ghoshal in Malayalam film music. She has probably sung more songs than Chitra in Malayalam this year. Unlike other singers from the north and south of India, she has given much effort in terms of pronunciation and that is evident from her renditions. But are the music directors trying to use her pan-Indian image for the publicity of their albums is a question. If that is the case, some of the equally talented young singers from Kerala – Gayatri, Manjari and Swetha – are missing out in the competition.

So here comes my list of top 12 Malayalam songs of 2011. You can view/hear the songs on YouTube, if you click on the song names.


Song: Naattu vazhiyorathe
Movie: Gaddhama
Singer: K S Chitra
Music: Bennet-Veetrag
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Chimmi Chimmi
Movie: Urumi
Singer: Manjari
Music: Deepak Dev
Lyrics: Kaithapram

Song: Chembarathi Kammalittu
Movie: Manikyakallu
Singer: Shreya Ghoshal, Ravishankar
Music: M Jayachandran
Lyrics: Anil Panchooran

Song: Ithile Varoo
Movie: The Train
Singer: Sujatha
Music: Srinivas
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Kannoram Chingaaram
Movie: Rathinirvedham
Singer: Shreya Ghoshal
Music: M Jayachandran
Lyrics: Murugan Kattakkada

Song: Himakanam
Movie: Violin
Singer: Gayatri, Ganesh Sundaram
Music: Bijibal
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Chembaavul
Movie: Salt N Pepper
Singer: Pushpavathy
Music: Bijibal
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Premikkumpol
Movie: Salt N Pepper
Singer: P Jayachandran, Neha Nair
Music: Bijibal
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Pranaya Nilaa
Movie: Teja Bhai and Family
Singer: Shaan Rahman
Music: Deepak Dev
Lyrics: Kaithapram

Song: Manjil Melle
Movie: Makaramanju
Singer: Yesudas
Music: Ramesh Narayanan
Lyrics: Chandran Nair

Song: Amruthamaay
Movie: Snehaveedu
Singer: Hariharan
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Lyrics: Rafeeque Ahammed

Song: Mazhaneer Thullikal
Movie: Beautiful
Singer: Unni Menon
Music: Ratheesh Vega
Lyrics: Anoop Menon


Honorable mentions:

To Reshmi Satheesh for the songs Appa Nammade and Chalanam Chalanam from the movie Urumi. The highlight of both these songs is Reshmi’s powerful voice.

To Rex Vijayan for the background score of Chaappa Kurish. Rex has given a totally different approach compared to the traditional way our musicians have been scoring music for films.


Related posts:

Malayalam songs of 2009 – My picks
Malayalam songs of 2008 – My picks


‘Chappa Kurish’ is an honest film

Chappa Kurishu posterChappa Kurish‘ is a strange name for a Malayalam movie. Everybody was wondering what the name meant when they first heard the movie title. Later we learned that it is the Fort Kochi slang for ‘Head or Tail’ and the movie held true to it’s title, portraying two different lives in contrast to each other. The movie is directed by cinematographer Sameer Thahir (his directorial debut) and he also shares the writing credits with Unni R.

The story is simple and contemporary and it has been woven in a credible manner. The protagonists of the movie, Arjun (Fahad Fazil) and Ansari (Vineeth Srinivasan), live in the same city but in two different worlds. Arjun, a successful young businessman and a playboy who is engaged to Ann (Roma) but also has a relationship with Sonia (Remya Nambeesan), his colleague. Ansari is a cleaning boy in one of the super markets in the city, who is always ridiculed by his boss and almost everyone else except Nafeeza (Niveda) – his love interest. The story gets interesting when Arjun loses his iPhone and Ansari gets hold of it. Arjun desperately wants to get his phone back because it contains the video clip of his private moments with Sonia and it can  jeopardize his upcoming wedding and Sonia’s life altogether.

Ansari doesn’t easily give the phone away and it is not because of the video clip (he is not aware of it) or he wants to sell it. It is simply because this phone is a powerful tool that he could ever get. He even tells his love interest once that, “when you have this phone, you don’t have to be afraid of anything in this world“. He enjoys it when Arjun pleads to him and address him as “Sir” because he never had respect from anyone else in this world. He loves it even more when he could use Arjun to slap his boss, or to pour black oil on the Volkswagen of a woman who accused him of misbehavior and got his boss to make him apologize to her (for something he never did).

Eventually, Ansari decides to give the phone back when Nafeeza insists. But things go out of hand when the mobile shop owner, who offers to help Ansari to charge the phone battery, extracts the clip off the phone and upload it to YouTube under the title “Mallu Boy and Girl New“. The video goes viral thereafter and Arjun goes to find Ansari on his own.

Almost everything in this movie is told honestly. The plot, the characters, how they respond to each other and situations of the story are all so honest and natural. It is this honesty that I liked about this movie. Fahad as Arjun and Vineeth as Ansari have given wonderful performances. With their body language and acting, they have made their characters credible. I never liked Vineeth Srinivasan in any of his movies until now (Fahad also was disastrous in his first movie), but Ansari is one character that fits him like a T and he has done full justice to his role. Fahad is to be noted for his top-notch, matured performance.

There are a few firsts about this movie when it comes to Malayalam cinema. Except for one song sequence, the entire movie was shot on Canon 7D, a still camera (apparently, the Hindi movie “Stanley Ka Dabba” and parts of Hollywood movie “Black Swan” were also shot with Canon 7D). The traditional ‘blossoming-flower syndrome‘ for love-making scenes has moved way to a two minute smooch between Sonia and Fahad. Remya Nambeesan has to be applauded for having the guts to do it in a Malayalam movie. The climax action sequences were realistic, something that you also would do in real life, if put yourself in a similar situation. We would think that it is going the ordinary way when the movie clip goes online and we see Sonia going to the toilet with a blade. But we spot her in an airport later and she is also joined by Arjun soon. Jomon T John on camera and Rex Vijayan (Avial fame) with music also have done commendable work. But I wish Rex’s background score was a bit more tight at scenes like Arjun chasing Ansari.

If there is anything that I would complain about this movie, it is the scripting and editing and those are not small things to pass on. Had there been a tight script and an editor who knew his job, this movie would have easily become the best Malayalam cinema in the recent years. But in many scenes the movie loses it’s pace when it should have kept it’s viewers gripped to their seats.

My rating:

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Salt N’ Pepper – What really is cooking?

Salt N Pepper poster

From the movie reviews that I read in several websites and FB status messages, it seemed to me that “Salt N Pepper” was a refreshing, path-breaking, unconventional movie that is part of a ‘movement in Malayalam cinema’ (courtesy: Prithviraj) lead by some young people in the industry.

But the hiccup starts right from the beginning, when Kaalidasan abducts Mooppan from the wild. Kaalidasan wants the viewers to believe that he has plans to learn the unknown tribal recipes from the Mooppan, but throughout the movie, Mooppan is just an antique decoration in Kaalidasan’s house. He says nothing, does nothing except staring and smiling at times. We don’t know why that character is even there if not to bring in the ‘human right activists joke’ into picture. Oh yeah, we need to talk about that joke.

Off late, Human rights activism has been made a subject of ridiculeness in some Malayalam movies. It was started off with Major Ravi and his war movies and the nationalist fervor of people has cheered them all the way. Aashiq Abu does the same kind of ridiculing, with that loud ex-police character so it is easy for the viewers to hate the human rights activists. As a result, Kaalidasan, who pulled a tribal man off his environment and does nothing for him and rather Kaalidasan’s intention is to make use of Moopan to please his taste buds, is portrayed as the good man and the hero. The human rights activists who try to save the old man are portrayed evil.

Then comes Maya, the rebellious dubbing artiste who knows how to handle the guys in the studio or the big shot film industry people, who in a boozing session with her flat mates says that “being a woman, I fell for his trap” referring to her failed romantic relationship. The director who was bold enough to let the heroine hold a bottle of beer still couldn’t do without the ‘traditional wisdom’ that women are, by nature, fragile. Typecast never ends as the male assistant in the beauty salon acts like a woman. Again the traditional wisdom that men working in the beauty/glamor industry must be lady-boyish.

The film’s highlight is it’s light-hearted comedy but some bits of it is not so light-hearted. For example, look at the scene where Maya asks for ‘garlic chutney’ (to go with the Thattil Kutty Dosa) and Kaalidasan reacts by looking at his private parts. The hint is clear and Aashiq Abu certainly knows how to please his male audience. We should also note that this is the kind of ‘comedy’ that is seen in Malayalam cinema/TV/live shows these days.

So much so to the ‘path-breaking, un-conventional’ movie. But the film is not without it’s positives. The way that Kaalidasan bonds with Maya through their common love for food has been portrayed nicely. Their conversations on food, their own different reasons to love food – Kaalidasan a born foodie and Maya cooks to connect with her mother’s memories – have also been shown nicely. The most yummy and well taken scene in the movie is when Kaalidasan tells Maya the recipe of Joan’s Rainbow Cake and both make and relish it. The old Premier Padmini is also a part of the movie that does it’s role well while abruptly playing the music through it’s dysfunctional radio.

There is nothing much to be said about Lal and Shweta Menon (who have portrayed Kaalidasan and Maaya respectively) as we already know how talented these two actors are. Surprise of course comes from Baburaj, who usually does villainous characters, doing a comic role here. The scene that Lal asks Baburaj to go with him was hilarious.

When the movie ends, you would be wondering why the much-awaited meeting of Maya and Kaalidasan was scheduled at a museum and not in a food joint. But that is quite obvious as the food factor is forgotten right after the first half of the movie and from then onwards it’s an excessive bit of salt and pepper you taste here and there.