Dear Gautham Vasudev Menon,
Being a fan of your cinema, i was very excited, going into Ennai Noki Paayum Thota(ENPT). I know that you had to go through a lot to get this film released and i want this film to succeed desperately, so that we can get more films of your brand of class and substance. But right from the beginning of the film, i am gripped with a terrible sense of Deja vu. I feel i have seen this before in your films- a hero threatened with a life or death situation going into a reverie-, But i persist. But the sense of ‘seen it all , done it all much better before‘ just don’t go away . Maybe it’s because i have watched too many movies or maybe it’s my own attempt at making my film viewing a more interesting experience than it is, but, i do have a tendency to find traces of a great film; maybe made here , maybe abroad , in the film i am watching now . So as the protagonist starts reminiscing about his childhood, it reminded me a lot of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish : where a younger brother lovingly reminisces about his older brother ; he calls the older brother his hero and describes the circumstances under which he parted ways with the family and how longingly he looks forward to his return. There is another reason for the FFC-GVM connection. Not just the fact that you both have three names, but your film-making process is becoming alarmingly similar. After his mega success with the first two Godfathers, Coppola had a hard time making his subsequent movies. They were all troubled productions and what i have read about them , a lot of the troubles were his own making. The stories of making those movies – like The cotton Club and Apocalypse Now- were much more interesting than the movies themselves, with their juicy tales of Backstage brawls , threats and murders. The same thing is happening to you these days. You seem to be announcing a new project every month, but none of them are hitting the movie screens. We frequently get to hear about your fights with actors,producers, directors and distributors. The biggest suspense in your films these days is whether it will see the light of day or not. ENPT had a harrowing time before it reached the screens. A lot is riding on this film, because there are a bunch of films that is to be released from your production house, and their fate depends upon this film. So the very fact, that this film has finally released, itself is a cause for celebration . But i am afraid that’s all the good news i am going to get from this film. As Coppola and Rumble Fish recedes from my horizon pretty soon ; i realize that the film is nothing like that and Sasikumar isn’t going to make a ‘Motorcycle Boy‘ like reappearance(He does but that’s not it), the question becomes: what have you to offer me now?
Before i get to that , let me say that it’s great for a director to have a signature. All great directors in the world have it. Not just in cinematic style , but also in themes and characterizations. They are revered as auteurs. What makes a director a true auteur is how he use this signature to craft a fresh narrative every time he makes a film. Just check out Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman. The man is 78 years and almost 40 films old and has been making crime movies all his life , and that too in his signature style with pretty much the same actors. But the film looks and feels like nothing he has done before. Alas, the same cannot be said about you , though you are much younger and you have a much smaller filmography. And it’s not that you are just not doing something new with it , but these days, you are virtually remaking your old films . I would broadly divide your films into two categories: One is the full on Romance. Minnale, Vinaithandi varuvaya, Neethane en ponvasantham and to an extend Varanam Ayiram falls into this category. The second is the stylish cop drama, which is represented by Kakka Kakka, Vettaiyadu Vilayadu and Yennai Arindhal. Your last film Acham Yenbathu Madamayada – a terrible film on all accounts – was a kind of fusion between these two types; first half a romance, the second half a crime\cop drama. Now ENPT has the two types running in parallel. A cop\crime drama interspersed with a love story. Indeed, the film is quite an improvement on Acham, but that’s not saying too much about it. But what is truly unremarkable about this film is that you are lazily rehashing all your signature tropes and stock characters & situations
The opening is straight out of Kakka Kakka
Followed by , A romantic fantasia straight out of Varanam Aayiram
A heroine who refuses to make up her mind till kingdom come is from Vinnai thandi varuvaya
God-like parents -who allow their son to have a live-in relationship with his girlfriend in their house and that too in pollachi , is from every GVM film
Those crazy villains who talk big , but are easily beaten up by the hero and, more easily they get beaten up, the bigger their talk gets, until the hero dispatches them with minimal fuss in the climax , is from every GVM film
And of course those endless endless voice overs : the lazy screenwriter’s best friend , played over endless series of montages : the lazy director’s best friend
And finally a terribly episodic feel to the entire film: the audience’s worst enemy in being entertained by a movie
And i am not even going into specific scenes which again has a heavy hangover of scenes from your previous films. So what happened or what’s going on with you these days. To give you your due, there are some truly good moments in the film. The budding of the romance : from the first meeting to the birthday party to their separation was very moving. The voice-overs also worked for me to an extend, though by the end it was extremely over done. Voice-overs itself is not much a problem, Two of my all time favorite movies : Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now wouldn’t be such great films without the protagonist going so deeply into their psyches with their voice-overs. When your earlier films had voice-overs, it was something new to the audience and they were done without sacrificing the visual aspect of the films. But this film pretty much rides on voice-overs, which makes the proceedings utterly bland and lifeless. Ditto for the Montage; the training montage in Taxi Driver ratchets up the suspense and mental state of the protagonist to unbearable levels. But the way you use these devices these days is a) like fulfilling a fetish , an itch that needs to be scratched , otherwise you don’t feel you have made a film and b) you have clearly run out of ideas as to how to present a film properly and are lazily falling back on these devices.The same holds for your ‘Characters’ too. And pray what happened to the director who gave us terrific action scenes in Kakka Kakka and Vettayadu. the fight scenes in this film- and that too with a terrific action hero like Dhanush – is utterly bland. All that talk about ‘Beast mode and Death wish mode ‘ is just that ‘ Talk’. The fight in the lift that you set up well , ends up as a lot of choppily edited sequences.. I know you are a great fan of Kamal Haasan . All you have to do is to check out the fantastic fight between Kamal and the goon in a lift in the film Vetri Vizha from 30 years ago . If you could manage even fifty percent of that , it would have been a great scene. The same with the song picturisations too. It’s no way near ‘Ennai Konjam matti’ or ‘Manjal Veyil‘. I got a feeling that you had zero passion for making this film- except for those romantic portions in the first half- and you made it, for the most part, rather mechanically. Now i am not going into the specifics of the film’s plot; especially regarding Sasikumar’s story and all the conspiracy involving blackmailing (using Porn tapes was it?), because they were terribly uninteresting and frankly i couldn’t make much of it; like that organ trafficking subplot in Yennai Arindhal.
I guess i’ll stop here. This has been much shorter than my usual posts , because i am thoroughly disappointed with this film and i don’t want to spend too much time bashing it and revealing plot points. Suffice to say that the one-two punch of Acham and this has been hard to bear. I don’t want to call this film a disaster or anything, because a film from a revered DIRECTOR(in capital letters) like you , who knows cinema and makes cinema, is never a disaster on a level as, say a ‘Journeyman’ director simply transferring a script to screen. In GVM’s films , there is mood,there is a thought , a vision, technical brilliance and a signature, which may or may not be palatable to all, but it differentiates your films from the rest of the films that bombard the multiplexes week after week. So it’s from this vantage point that i am calling this film a disappointment. And the ‘filmmaking’ , for most part, is still great. The way you shot the birthday sequence; blocking out Raghu and Lekha , showing them slowly developing feelings for each other; or the scenes in Raghu’s house where they continue their courtship; or that brilliant scene where a goon holds a knife on Lekha’s neck which cuts to a flashback, from Raghu’s perspective, where he remembers kissing her neck when they were together; all proves that you still got it as a filmmaker. You just need the right vehicle to channel those skills. Now that you have managed to release this film, i hope you come roaring back to form with Dhruvanachathiram. If for nothing else, but for Vikram’s sake atleast. He is one of the best actors in the country and the best masala hero of our times, who is now scraping the bottom of the barrel due to bad choice of scripts and being repeatedly letdown by good directors. I hope you prove to be an exception.
From an ardent fan of your ‘cinema’ , who is fast loosing faith in your ‘films’