By Meera
Shankar's Paradesi and Bala's Thuppakki, shankar, paradesi


Tamil audiences have been treated with romances that ooze with passion, music that titillates our senses and rural dramas that shock our souls. Every craft of an auteur in Tamil cinema is progressively sleeker and crisper than his former work. There are directors targeting the box office while some deliver strong social messages within the commercial and mainstream format. There are others making movies that cater to their inner genius while indifferent to the cash registers. Then there are directors returning to their roots and delivering hard hitting yet poetic rural fables. Even before the first shot is canned, we associate the title and director to a genre. Rarely have directors strayed from their well trodden path. Some have tried to look beyond their boundaries but as audiences have we encouraged them or have we tried to chop off their legs at every attempt to stray?

We have long begun to associate Shankar and Murugadoss with commercial cinema. Their movies have a strong star cast, foot tapping numbers, fast paced action sequences and above all a rock solid plot. Amidst all this commercial cacophony they try to sneak in a social message or societal policing. They are pioneers in this genre where KV Anand, Linguswamy and others are emerging equally successful.

Bala and Selvaraghavan come to mind instantly as directors rarely succumbing to commercial aspects. Their movies are often about people on the off-beaten tracks or emotions that are extreme. Hence their movies seem to take forever to emerge from the production pipe line but are worth the wait. They particularly defy the song and action sequence. Bala’s Pithamagan had a lead that never uttered a single word. Selva’s Mayakkam Enna had a husband who was repeatedly slapped by his wife. Their movies seem to take life from their minds without paying heed to the wallet.

For every Shankar we need a Bala. For every Ghajini we need a Pudhupettai. If Ramana decides to clean corruption, Sethu tells us the reality of romance. But what would happen if they decide to crossover. Would we accept a Paradesi from Shankar or a Thuppakki from Bala? Both directors are aware that cinema is a medium for providing responsible entertainment. Both would have mutual respect on how they each approach this medium but would viewers treat this mix-up kindly? Perhaps our answer lies in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal.

Mani Ratnam was a favorite while directing middle class melodramas like Mouna Ragam, Agni Natchithram and Alaipayuthey. He rose to fame and critical acclaim embracing the national conscious in movies like Bombay, Roja and Dil Se. Iruvar might have bombed at the box office but the movie drenched in sepia tones was a trendsetter in its own right. Mani Ratnam had a unique way of dealing with pain. His Anjali was about a family coping with a mentally challenged child and was presented in an entertaining yet engrossing format. Amudha in Kannathil Muthamittal dealt with the Eelam issue in a sensitive and poignant tone. When a mother abandons her child to fight for her land, we take interest in the cause. Mani Ratnam acquired steam with every release and just when we thought there was no stopping this success train, he derailed. Guru and Raavanan missed his Midas touch. When he had finally dropped his bilingual pursuits we fashioned dreams of trains, rains and boy meets girl.

But Kadal was some of that but more of good vs evil. Kadal soaks in the sea. It drenches our bones and washes away the sins. But who wants a story of redemption when this man had mastered puppy love. Mani’s magic was gone, kaput.

Cinema is akin to religion. It evokes anger, romance, love and above all passion. We are so awed by our stars and strangely devoted to its makers. We have an intense love hate relationship with the craftsmen. But if we learn to tolerate their deviances without admonishing them, then the palate would only get diversified. Or are we supremely satisfied with the ritual buffet and will not be tempted to order A la carte?

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