Warning: Here be spoilers

I walked out of Spyder sick to the stomach in a number of ways. It took me a while to process my reaction and realize that I had a problem with a lot of things, only some of which are about the film itself. In order to talk about this, I will have to reveal some spoilers, so if you have a problem with this, please stop reading right now. But if you are going to watch the film, please, for the love of God, don’t take your kids to see it. You’ll understand why when you see it.

So, here goes.

The hero works for the intelligence bureau, in an illegal wire tapping division that has been set up for the public good. He decides to use this to eavesdrop on a bunch of private conversations and plays vigilante. Or to be more precise, he stops crimes before they occur after having listened to phone conversations that involve the perpetrators discussing the crime beforehand.

One night, he eavesdrops on a conversation between two medical college students. One of them talks about how she stumbled upon some porn and ended up watching it for four straight hours, and now needs to get laid. So obviously he decides to go meet this girl. After a bit of stalking, they end up as friends with benefits. (I am not going to describe the scene where they have a conversation about this with the hero’s mum.) 

Am I the only one who finds this plot thread problematic? Why have a (ahem) romantic subplot at all in a film about a vigilante phone tapper on the hunt for a serial killer? And if you do feel compelled to have one due to commercial considerations or whatever, could you please, pretty please with sugar on top, go easy on the whatthefuckery?

The serial killer plot, though, has some  interesting aspects. There’s a pretty interesting origin story there: he is born in a crematorium, and needs to hear the wails of people mourning the loss of their loved ones in order to feel alive. So at some point he becomes a serial killer himself. SJ Suryaah plays the villain with such palpable relish that he walks away with much of the film. 

But here’s my problem, and this is not with the film but with something peripheral. I walked out to the loo at the interval, sometime after this origin story was told, and noticed that the hall had a whole bunch of parents who had brought their kids. I’m not talking about teenagers, I’m talking about eight year olds and the like. And I realized that the aforementioned whatthefuckery in the film couldn’t even hold a candle to this. 

My first reaction was, why on earth would you bring your kids to this. I understand that you don’t want them to stick to talking animals until they go to college, but come on! Then I realized that the film got a U/A certificate, which means that, if you’re under 12, parental guidance is advised. So if this certification is how a filmgoer decides whether or not to take his kids, then the certification process as well as how it is enforced needs fixing. 

I’m not talking about censorship here, just the idea that if a film has content that is only suitable for mature audiences, the certifying body has a responsibility to inform filmgoers of this, and the theatres screening the film have a responsibility to ensure that kids don’t get in. 

Why is this so difficult?

Honestly, I found it difficult to care about the rest of the film after this. 

Akhil: The Power of Jua

This isn’t a review. I am not going to provide a critical analysis of the buried subtext and reflexive postmodernism inherent in the film. (No, I don’t know what reflexive postmodernism is, and quite honestly, I don’t even know if the term makes sense. Why the eff are you even asking?)

I am simply going to narrate what I saw one night when I was working with the TV on. I switched to the channel playing this only after two thirds of the film was over, so I might have missed much of what makes this a great film. That is why I am not calling this a review — I can’t truly review something I haven’t fully seen. I save that sort of nonsense for work.

So this guy — the Akhil of the title — and his girlfriend and a couple of comic sidekicks are stranded in Africa. There’s a tribe on one side and some kind of warlord on the other. The girl’s dad is there as well, but I’m not sure which side he’s on, and I’m not sure he knows either. Anyway, it turns out that there is some precious artifact — the Jua of the title — that has been dropped into a lake somewhere, and needs to be rescued and returned to some shrine maintained by the tribe before the solar eclipse, otherwise the earth will be destroyed. (It’s always solar — lunar eclipses happen so often that if we risked the planet every time we had one, sooner or later the odds won’t work in our favour and we’ll no longer be around to make movies like Akhil – The Power of Jua.) And our intrepid hero has to be the one to find it.

Oh, and the warlord wants it as well, on behalf of some Russian gangster who I assume is willing to pay handsomely for it. Clearly, imminent destruction of the planet doesn’t faze said mafioso. I’m assuming he has a condo in Mars waiting for him. I’m sure it was covered while I was watching Sooryavansham instead of switching to this channel. But he looks like the kind of guy who would grow potatoes using his own crap and then make vodka out of them.

So our hero goes to the lake and dives in. Now, because this is the sort of artifact that can destroy the planet, a school of piranhas have migrated to Africa to guard it at the bottom of the lake. I briefly wondered how they got there, and the obvious answer that sprung to mind was that they piggybacked on an African swallow, which then led me to wonder about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow… But I digress.

So, piranhas. African warlords don’t get to where they are without some knowledge of diversionary tactics, so they throw a cow into the water to distract the fish. (Where’s a good gau rakshak when you need one, the cow would’ve probably thought, except I think it was dead before it got dropped in.) Our man makes use of the distraction to go find the artifact and then… I don’t remember exactly, but I think he pivots on some branch and jumps out. Then of course he fights off the Russian on a plane and jumps out before it could crash into an active volcano.

The properly thankful tribal chief takes the artifact back to its shrine and places it on top of an inverted tripod-like stand just before sunlight can stream in and the photons can notice that the orb isn’t there. There’s actually a moment when they’re racing a beam of light and placing the orb just before the beam can hit the tripod. And I’m obviously sitting there thinking, if the photons got there just ahead of the tribals and noticed that the orb wasn’t there, could they make up some excuse involving Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle?

I didn’t get a lot of work done that night, but I did google piranhas and swallows and Heisenberg. It was all very informative. Now I have to watch the rest of the film in order to see what else I can learn. Trouble is, I keep getting distracted by Sooryavansham and Indra the Tiger and Ek Aur Most Wanted and…

I suppose I should be thankful that the fate of the planet doesn’t rest on my easily distracted shoulders. You could put the orb in a bucket in my bathroom and ask a guppy fish to guard it, and the earth would be swallowed by a black hole while I’m still ooh-ing and aah-ing over Ravi Teja’s dance moves.

Trivia Challenge #2

When I posted my first trivia challenge some weeks ago, PV asked me to do one on desi movies. So here it is:

1. You know what, I think the really good Govinda movies of the nineties (the best of which is undoubtedly Coolie No. 1) deserve comparison with some of the frothiest entertainers of all time. Yeah, I really do think that. Then of course it all went to hell with films like Hadh Kar Di Aapne. One of the saddest things about it is, Hadh… borrows its basic premise from one of the best Fred & Ginger musicals of all time. Name the musical.

2. There are three things common to Alam Ara, Bhakta Prahlada and Kalidasa. The first is that they were all released in 1931. The second is that they were the first talkie films in their respective languages (Hindi, Telugu and Tamil). What is the third?

3. There’s a song attached here. Listen to it, it’s quite nice. Now, if I were to ask you for the name of the singer, you’d say Mohammed Rafi even before I finished the question. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a question at all, given that the singer’s name is given in the display when you launch the player from this link. But if I were to ask you for the name of the actor it’s picturized on, your answer would be…?

4. Back in the nineties, SRK starred in an Abbas-Mustan film called Badshah. It wasn’t too bad, as comic capers go. Not surprisingly, it was highly leveraged (fin-speak for “borrowed heavily”). The last 30 minutes, in particular, faithfully lifted plot points from two different Hollywood movies. Name both of them.

5. Every so often, some Indian filmmaker decides to adapt Shakespeare. Gulzar did it with Angoor, while David Dhawan was inspired by the same play to make Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan. Apparently, The Taming of the Shrew provided the inspiration for Sivaji Ganesan’s Arivaali — not sure about this, though. Vishal Bharadwaj, however, seems to prefer The Bard’s tragedies. When Omkara was released, much was made of the fact that it was an adaptation of Othello to an Indian mileu. However, I don’t remember too many people making mention of the fact that someone had already done Othello in Indian cinema. Your task now is to tell me what the earlier adaptation was.

Answers in a day or two.

Freeze Frame #87: Shiva

Shiva is a late-80s action movie about one man taking on an organized crime syndicate. Considering how many such movies get made regularly even today, it’s amazing that it still holds up so well. Some scenes come across as tacky, and the lighter material is of the hit-or-miss variety, but the intensity of the movie is undimmed.

The iconic moment in Shiva is clearly the cycle-chain scene. Sometime soon after Shiva (Nagarjuna) has had his first fight with the college goon, he sees him and his henchmen outside the college waiting for him. He takes a long, cold look at them, then pulls out the chain from his bicycle and slowly wraps it around his fist. You know what happens next.

Heroes picking up assorted weaponry when they see some goons is not new. But I think what makes this scene work is how expressionless Nagarjuna’s face is when he’s pulling out that chain. I’ve spoken of how effective minimal expression can be in an earlier post. This is a good example of that principle.

Passing the musical buck

Another sub-genre of film songs that I am very fond of is – for want of a better term – the relay race song. These are songs where one singer falters somewhere in the middle for whatever reason, and someone else picks up from where he/she left off and completes it. Here’s my top three in that category:

3. Beeti na bitaye raina: Sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Bhupinder, from the movie Parichay. Jaya Bhaduri starts singing, falters, and Sanjeev Kumar steps in. Beautiful number – R. D. Burman at his very best.

2. Chinnanchiru vayathil: Sung by Janaki and K. J. Yesudas, in the movie Meendum Kokila. Sreedevi plays a young woman whom Kamal Hassan has come to “see” (a concept familiar to anyone who knows about the arranged marriage system). She is asked to sing a song, picks this one and promptly forgets the lyrics halfway through. Kamal steps in and finishes it. It’s a beautiful song, and beyond just the musical qualities it possesses, Janaki manages to bring out the girl’s shyness and embarassment, and her reaction to her husband-to-be singing the rest of the song, in a manner that very few other singers can even aspire to, let alone achieve. Okay, I admit, that wasn’t a great sentence. Aw, heck, you know what I mean.

And finally, the Numero Uno in this category:

1. Dorakuna: S. P. Balasubramaniam and Vani Jayaram, from the movie Shankarabharanam. This album was one of the big reasons why I wanted to learn Carnatic classical music when I was a kid, and this song remains my all-time favourite. J. V. Somayajulu plays a great singer who has since faded into obscurity – this is supposed to be his comeback concert. Predictably, he collapses due to ill health right in the middle, and his disciple takes over his mantle, both symbolically and literally. The moment when Vani Jayaram continues where SPB left off after a coughing fit still gives me goosebumps.

ps: Giri reminded me that a similar but quieter moment occurs earlier in the movie, when the disciple is singing Manasa Sanchara Re, falters midway, and his master continues.