IN DEFENSE OF GAUTHAM VASUDEV MENON
By Behindwoods Visitor Sharmila Valli Narayanan
The views expressed in this column are that of the visitor. Behindwoods.com doesn't hold responsible for its content.
When quotes are taken out of context and not translated well, it spells trouble. Here is a closer look at what Gautham Vasudev Menon actually said in Ananda Vikadan and what he did not say.

If anyone has not read the original article and just bases his or her view on what was reported in the English web sites, one would think that Gautham is very rude and arrogant. This is a very wrong assessment of the great director.

Allow me to put some of the facts right. The interview appeared in Ananda Vikadan (AV) issue dated 6/1/10. The two page interview concentrated on Gautham’s latest movie Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya. The interviewer N. Kathirvelan, asked some frank questions about the movie, Gautham’s personal life including the rumor that his name is often linked to some of the heroines in his movie to which Gautham gave honest answers. Gautham’s interviews are always refreshing to read because of his frankness and honesty, something which is missing is most Tamil actors especially when they give interviews to Tamil media. They are far more forthcoming when giving interviews to English media. Case in point is Kamal Hassan and his personal views on marriage which he gave to an English channel in North India. Would he have dared to give such comments in local Tamil media?

Coming back to Gautham, his comments appeared towards the end of the article. I have translated the particular paragraph in full:

AV: You always have the right judgments/comments about Tamil films. Who do you think is the noteworthy director of the moment?
Gautham Vasudev Menon

GVM: I liked Subramanipuram. As a debutant director what Sasi Kumar did was a big achievement. We have to accept that. However I do not understand why people are acclaiming Sasi Kumar to that extent. (The Tamil phrase he used was Yen tukkivetchi kondaduranga nu teriyela). I too can tell a story with blood soaked machetes (aruval) and village based themes (the word he used was nativity). It is not a big deal. Is it wrong to speak English in [Tamil] movies? Can’t meaningful stories be told without bloodshed? It is wrong to judge whether a film is good just based on the fact whether or not it contains nativity. Life is found everywhere. People living in urban or town areas also have lots of stories to be told. I have lost the respect that I had for Ameer. After pontificating so much, it was a mistake on his part to make Yogi. Why should Ameer remake Tsotsi? He should think about this.

That, ladies and gentlemen is the full extent of what Gautham said. And what he says makes a lot of sense. The way Subramaniapuram was acclaimed, one would think it set new standards in Tamil cinema. Did Sasi Kumar introduce a new genius of a music director like how Mani Ratnam did with A. R . Rahman in Roja? Did it break new grounds in cinematography? Did he try to introduce new technological breakthroughs in his movie like how Shankar tries to attempt in his movies?

Subramaniapuram was a good story with its usual dash of blood and gore. The only thing that separated it from the other usual fare was the good story line. Unfortunately it seems to have started a renewed interest in Tamil films to explore the blood and gore to new heights. (Not that blood and gore was missing from Tamil films before this). Aruval has now become as ubiquitous in Tamil films as the item number. Movies like Renigunta etc are just reinforcing this blood and gore love affair of Tamil films. This reinforces the stereotype image that Tamil films have among non-Tamil people in India: Tamil films glorify violence.

And for us Tamil film fans living in Malaysia, it makes us cringe as these films will likely be held up as examples as to why Tamil films are bad for Tamil youths as they propagate violence. The crime rate among Tamils here is very high and the police and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) love to point their fingers at Tamil movies such as Subramaniapuram etc as the main reasons why in Malaysia the ill educated Tamil youth turns to a life of crime. (To be fair there are other reasons for the high crime rate among Tamil youths here but this is not the place to discuss that).

Gautham has a point when he says that good stories can also be found in the urban areas. The huge impact of modernization among the urban youths in Tamil films have still not been explored in the full. Tamil Nadu is an IT powerhouse with even women earning huge pay packets and with more women working etc. But we do not see this being portrayed in Tamil films. All the heroines are perpetually 18, in college with no thoughts of finishing their degree, getting a job etc. They only seem to be interested in falling in love and marriage. Since more young people are finding themselves falling in love and ending up marrying someone else, their stories are not being told either. While the concept of oruvanukku oruthi (one guy for one girl) is good but times are changing in cities like Chennai where people in love do not always marry each other but go on to marry others and still live happily; where men and women are getting divorced and going on to remarry and finding a second chance at happiness.. These are all never told in Tamil movies. Most of the movies are still stuck in the rut (in terms of themes) from the 1960s.

Take a cue from Bollywood. You do not see many village based movies coming out from Bollywood. Most of the themes are city based and they have explored many new controversial themes. It used to be that Tamil cinema set the bar in exploring new daring themes in the early 1970s. But now it is Hindi films that are doing it.

Another theme that Gautham touched on was the use of English in Tamil films. His film Vaaranam Aayiram was heavily criticized for its use of English. They way the critics went about you would think that English was an alien language in Tamil films. Which urban middle class Tamil family in Tamil Nadu (or those in Malaysia and Singapore) does not use English liberally? You only have to watch the programs in Sun TV especially the callers who call in for Sun Music or the participants in shows like Rani Maha Rani or Deaar No Deaal how many of them cannot speak a sentence of Tamil without adding English to it or speaking in English. Even Tamil movie stars (and these are those who speak Tamil) cannot seem to speak one sentence in Tamil without speaking in English. Gautham merely showed what was happening in middle class Tamil homes where English is often the second language and in some houses the main language. To criticize him for it is the height of hypocrisy. At a time in Tamil cinema when except for Sneha, none of the top heroines (the Trishas, Tamannahs, Shreyas, Anushakas, Nayantaras) can speak in their own voice in the movies because they do not know the language, the critics should be worrying about this very sad trend of heroines not being able to speak Tamil. That they do not and focus on small things like English in Tamil movies shows that most of them are like ostrich with its head buried in the sand!

On Ameer, what Gautham has said merely echoed the feeling of others (who dare not say it). Ameer is one of the most promising directors of Tamil cinema who can take Tamil movies to new heights. He can easily come up with this own original story. Secondly, if you are remaking a movie borrowed from another culture or if the movie is inspired by it, why not admit it up front? This seems to be the bane of many directors in Tamil films. They insist their movies are not remakes but when they are released everyone can see that it was lifted partially or wholly from another film.

Tamil directors/producers/music directors etc should realize that globalization especially in entertainment has arrived in India. There are now many Hollywood movie studios with offices in India. And they will be on the lookout for what they perceive to be plagiarism or taking a story lock, stock and barrel from Hollywood without proper credits. There is no harm in copying from others. Even Hollywood does it. But it does it professionally by crediting the source and paying royalties. Tamil films cannot hope for the halcyon days when they lifted songs, plots etc wholesale from Hollywood and got away with it scot free. Already some Bollywood films have run into trouble with Hollywood copyright infringement. Tamil films should be aware of this and act accordingly.

As for Gautham Menon, I for one hope he still continues to be frank and honest in his views. In the past there have been times when he had back tracked from some of the comments he had made (especially regarding Vijay’s insistence that GVM adds some elements from his movies like Sivakasi and Tirupatchi in GVM’s movies) with the usual “I was misquoted.” Once this issue blows up I hope if he was misquoted – let’s be frank the paragraph does seem like a cut and paste job. I hope the writer did not just pick the juiciest quotes and left others out deliberately – I hope we won’t be hearing the same excuses again.

Cheers,
Sharmila Valli Narayanan
sharmval@gmail.com
 

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