Freeze Frame #131: Kalloori

Something interesting is happening to Tamil village cinema these days. It is as if a bunch of directors have decided to throw away the NattamaiMorai Maaman playbook and write a new one instead. This new cinema is defined, above all, by real characters. I could spend ages in the interiors of Tamil Nadu and not find a single individual similar to the ones Sarath Kumar and Vijayakanth play in their village movies. On the other hand, I could go to Periyar bus stand in Madurai, get into any bus going out of town and come across one of the guys I see in movies like Kalloori or Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu. I cannot adequately express how refreshing that is.

Kalloori, for me, is a near-perfect example of how one could make a movie about a bunch of friends in college. It is not without its missteps, but none of them really stay in mind when the movie is over. What remains is the memory of spending two-odd hours in the company of real people from a village in Tamilnadu.

It is also the movie in which I got introduced to Tamanna Bhatia the actress. I had seen Tamanna the Babe in movies like Padikkadhavan where she did not, to borrow a phrase from Miss Congeniality, do anything better than convert Oxygen into Carbon Dioxide. But in Kalloori, she actually acts. And quite well at that.

She is well cast, to begin with. As the beautiful, fair-skinned city-bred outsider in a college full of rustic, dark-skinned people, she stands out. I am not being biased about skin color here — this is how the filmmakers want her to be perceived. In the context of the story, it works.

My favourite moment comes towards the end of the movie when Shobhana (Tamanna) finds out that Muthu (Akhil) reciprocates her feelings towards him. That it is done through that oldest of standbys — her handkerchief, treasured by him, falling out of his pocket at a critical juncture — is something I am willing to overlook in light of what follows.

Shobhana sees it, realizes what it means, and exults briefly before rearranging her features and joining a friend. That friend represents a complication of sorts — her views on mixing friendship and love is one reason why the couple refrain from expressing their feelings for one another. Cue a rather tearful conversation between the two girls, which seems to resolve things satisfactorily.

And then an ending that comes almost out of nowhere and changes everything. I am not going to reveal it here, but let me just say that it rules out the possibility of the couple singing happy songs in some scenic location somewhere.

Now think back to that moment where Shobhana spots that handkerchief. For Tamanna, it is a crucial moment because those three seconds are all she has to express her joy over her discovery. No songs, no scenes of her standing tall, looking up at the heavens and smiling while flowers rain down upon her and a thousand violins play in the background, nothing. Just a few seconds to herself where she needs to look like she’s bursting with joy. It is to her credit that she makes those seconds count.

A vast majority of our movies involve requited love, or at least require that both people know what the other is feeling, even if circumstances dictate that they can never be together. And where that cannot happen, there is much gnashing of teeth so that the audience knows exactly how much pain one of the protagonists is in. It is often overdone to the point where every bit of emotive power has been leeched out of the situation. The cardinal rule of storytelling is: Don’t tell the listener what to feel. Lead him there and let his mind do the rest. Amazing how few filmmakers understand this.

Which is why, when a filmmaker does it right as in Kalloori, it hits us so much harder.

ps: While on the subject, think about this: In Ghajini, if Sanjay had had the opportunity to tell Kalpana the truth about himself, do you think the flashback would still have been  as effective?

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12 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #131: Kalloori

  1. Yes, there is much good in Tamil cinema, mixed in with much crap. I especially like the fact that the village cinema is alive and well in this language. I can’t remember when I last saw a good village film in Hindi.

    Apropos Ghajini, try to remember within 15 minutes 😀

    ~ramsu

  2. When did this movie come? I did not even know about it. Yet to watch this one and Veniall Kabaddi Kuzhu.

    But I did see one that belonged to the “much crap”. Something called Siva Manasula Sakthi. Thaanga mudiyala!

  3. Haven’t seen Siva Manasula Sakthi yet. Jeeva often does good work, in movies like Dishyum and E, but of late he’s come out with clunkers like Thenavattu. Dunno why.

    ~r

  4. I think I wrote somewhere about the irony in both Ghajini’s not being exploited at all. From a man who had to play a charade to get the girl he loved, he is reduced to a person who needs to tattoo his body to remember who he is. I think my exact words were “the plot is thick with underdeveloped irony”.

  5. Rajendran says:

    Haven’t heard of this movie but the genre is a personal favourite of mine. I yearn for movies set in villages and especially those set in Tamil Nadu villages and not the Sarath Kumar variety who has made a career out of the Morappilai idea. Each time I take a random bus in Tamil Nadu, I visualise each passerby being part of a scene in my head. There is something too beautiful about those rustic images. Subrahmanyapuram, for all its flaws still worked in bits for me for that reason. Is there a resurgence of Bharathi Raja style of filmmaking!

  6. complicateur>> To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, I believe Murugadoss would rust even irony 😀

    Raj>> I think what has happened is that this new breed of directors have started listening to how people really speak in everyday life. It cuts out so much of the melodrama, it’s refreshing. And every time one of those movies succeeds at the BO, ten others are inspired to follow its example.

    The litmus test for a lot of these directors is usually the second movie. A lot of filmmakers make their first movie because they have something to say (it’s similar to what the Ben Affleck character in Chasing Amy says about writing your first book/comic). It is inspired by people they have seen or can readily imagine. It is when they’re done with that initial burst of adrenaline that we can find out if they have what it takes to make it in the long term.

    But even if a lot of them fail, so long as there are enough first-timers coming in with a story to tell and a clear voice to tell it in, we will keep getting good cinema.

    As it happens, Kalloori is actually Balaji Sakthivel’s third movie. His debut was a forgettable Vikram starrer called Samurai, and his sophomore effort was the much acclaimed Kaadhal. And now this. Judging by the last two, I now wonder what possessed him to make the first one!

  7. I am what I Yam says:

    (That’s a Ramana Maharishi-ism, in edible form! 🙂 )

    “..it’s similar to what the Ben Affleck character in Chasing Amy says..” – OK, OK, we get it – Kevin Smith IS the new-age poet (as far as saying *anything* goes) and you just can’t get past that yet. 😀

  8. As for what possessed Balaji to make Samurai when he could make Kaadal and Kalloori, I guess you can ask a similar question for what made PC Sriram make Meera when he could give us Kurudhipunal! 🙂

  9. Catcher in the (samu)Rai says:

    Maybe Balaji Sakthivel’s school of thought espouses just one tenet: Take a Warrior and transform him into a Worrier. Even then, the only excuse for Samurai seems to be songs like Moongil Kaadugale, Aagaya Sooriyanai..

  10. Karka Kasadara says:

    OK, now that I’m done watching the catastrophe that was Kalloori, where is the baseball bat with which I almost got bludgeoned this weekend (before my usually comatose “think on my feet” cells came to my rescue and I pointed an accusing finger at my sister, two time zones away; or maybe it was the immediate after-effect of the film’s sermon shoved down my throat, fusing with my own warped whimsies, that had me conclude thus: When your dear friend is in the line of fire (or family-member ire), use an otherwise-useless sibling for a shield!)? 😀

    To each his own and all that apart, not to worry, coz this is only the third time (in the brief history of my Tamil cinema review reading) that a source whose raves I routinely rely on has let me down (the two other instances being Chennai-28 and Pirivom Sandhippom). No big deal. At least I had (as you’ve correctly observed) Tamanna’s (and Sneha’s in the case of PS; no such luck with Ch-28, which had me asphyxiating way before halftime, not that anyone in the cast cared) extraordinarily effective performance to anchor my oh-god-this-movie-is-appalling-in-a-way-nothing-else-has-been-in-a-while anxiety.

    What I’m shit scared about now though, is the prospect of checking out Sakthivel’s sophomore effort. (But I’m counting on my “Once bitten, twice shy” reflex failing miserably, yet again, sooner or later, so there may be hope still, for Kaadhal!) 🙂

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