I'm not all that active in social media and I have no memory of catching a glimpse of the supposedly fervent promos for the film Yaaruda Mahesh. I got to know of the film through Tamil Talkies review in youtube (one of the only people I check out regularly). He mentioned something about 'Vadivel' Balaji and 'Robo' Shankar being funny in the film. I've liked both guys in spite of their occasionally insipid humour and sexual innuendo on television. In fact, I've grown to like that humour because it was high time that that part of the 'Tamil culture' is given a space in mainstream media. It's markedly sexist, crass and simply male -- the kind relegated to bars and (men's) Hostel Day skits. But its existence needed to be acknowledged by wider audience.
After watching the entire film twice the same day, I felt that this segment alone more or less sums up the director's intent. He wanted to make people laugh, let loose and in the process break a lot of rules that have come to define Tamil humour in films (but not elsewhere). He just wanted to string up a series of sketches with a fairly well conceived script (a model comparable to the Scary Movie series). Obviously many of the idiots who didn't like the film were complaining about how 'things didn't make any sense'. I don't think they got it. I'm even more convinced of that when I read a few reviews that refer to 'Vadivel' Balaji as transgendered. Fuck me!
Anyway, this scene starts with Shiva looking for Mahesh (read the story in Wikipedia). He enters a house where he's greeted by a middle aged woman ('Vadivel' Balaji). They start of with some exchange that's somewhat relevant to the script and quickly move on to a sketch even before 'Robo' Shankar enters the scene. (Part of it, as it turns out, has already been done once in Vijay TV.) It's not unlike those of Goundamani+Senthil or Vadivelu, but it's largely self-citational and even meta. That is, the humour is embedded in the fact the audience knows these people are from television and they know what they're going to do. It's funny because we know the woman is a man and nobody on screen is alluding to that. It's funny because they don't care how obscure their pop-culture reference is. It's funny because the impersonations are unoriginal, predictable and hence recursive - probably the best kind. I could not have picked another scene to illustrate how the film tried its best to be not taken seriously; that the 'film' is to carry the humour and not the other way.
Another area where they've pushed the boundaries liberally is with one of Indian cinema's oldest follies - dubbing. To my knowledge Goundamani was the first person to exploit it with ease. The guys in YM have dubbed the film with the least attention to lip-synching and more to mocking the scene. The characters, especially Jagan, seem to have a lot to say when they're not facing the camera than when they are. It's like watching the film with the characters themselves. You pass a few comments and they pass a few, everyone's happy.
Then comes the sexually laced dialogues that run throughout the film. Now, the so called double-meaning dialogues are not new to Tamil films but it's how coy these guys have been is what stands out the most. The guys in the film want to have sex, so do the girls. No shame, no guilt. There's the scene in which the guy is probably fondling the girl's vagina and says "kallu sooda irukku?" (lit: the griddle is hot) and girl just smiles in agreement (it's in reference to a very popular 'adult joke' that I've heard when I was 8). To me this is de-perversion of human genitals in a sexual context. It's the treatment that makes the difference. I would even suggest that this goes a long way in the normalization of sex as as a recurring act of pleasure in one's life (as opposed to a milestone). I find the arguments that this is crass and problematic puritanical (cultural, feminist or whatever the basis is). The supposed damage caused by such expressions are far outweighed by the benefits . It's time that both men and women participated in 'vulgar' exchanges in public. They actually do, in lower income communities. The elites have English. It's the bloody middle class that doesn't seem to know what to allow into their living rooms.
Granted there are several pitfalls/problems with the film (ex: one could argue why abortion was never thought of as an option - wink, wink) but I'm willing to let them slide. A film like American Pie or Road Trip may not have contributed much to Hollywood but I really believe that Yaaruda Mahesh has to Tamil cinema. We'll see the evidence in the films that follow. If anything, I hope that film-makers say 'Fuck you' to the Censor Board and just go with the A certificate. To hell with the 'family audience' and their children.
After watching Yaaruda Mahesh I found Soodhu Kavvum to be really slow and didn't have enough laughs. It's debatable as to whether laughter is the latter's promised deliverable. It probably isn't, but I'll say it anyway. It wasn't as funny. Tamil cinema may have its need for irony, but it needs blunt and unapologetic transgressiveness more than anything else. Yaaruda Mahesh tries to address that need in its own little way.
In general, there's reason to be optimistic about Tamil cinema, it seems .
1. This films underscores how bad the film Boys was, it's the quintessential definition of vulgarity.
2. Will try to expand on few other films that I watched recently.
When there's enough 'counter-backlash' to all the backlash caused by a stupid 'film' and a bunch of cartoons, all the 'backlashers' will have to get tired and say, "fuck it, as jobless as I am, even I cannot respond to all this counter-backlashing." Here's my cowardly contribution to the counter-backlash - let passion of all kinds be drowned by senseless mockery:
There was a fire drill today in my office. What's the point of a fire drill if it's planned ahead? Everyone/everything is at their 'best behaviour'. They would have gotten a much more meaningful measurement of whatever -- you know, infrastructure, support systems, mental preparedness etc. -- if they had told us after the fact. Of course, it would have tested some friendships too: “Sorry for pushing you down the stairs! I have a cat who can’t live without me.”
This episode features Rambhala -- writer and director of the 'cult' comedy show Lollu Sabha from Vijay TV. He spoke about many things including: his early days in Vijay TV and how Lollu Sabha came to be; controversies surrounding several episodes including 'Bakery'; about 'Tamil Padam' and his attempts to make it to films. The interview was recorded last Saturday and plays for about 70 minutes. Since it was recorded over cellphone, there's some quality loss but it's mostly negligible, I hope. I'll try to add descriptive timeline soon.
The general point that everyone seems to agree with is that a star like Rajini and the media feed on each other to push their own agendas. What many don’t quite agree is that the same is true of the fans who are incomparably ‘politicized’ than those of, say, Bagavathar. Whether it’s organic or not, a star’s fan in Tamil Nadu (the one who engages in ‘marketing’), post MGR, mostly tends to have ambitions that far exceed the star/star’s film’s success . The ‘fans’ who sustain the spectacle of fandom created by the former engage in it purely as an act of aggrandized consumption . I think, for these fans, their relationship to the star does in fact offer a rather distorted understanding/experience of the film that isn’t necessarily ‘productive’ (from an understanding they could have had otherwise, even as ‘fans’ of a different kind – different from either). For they both construct a discourse that normalizes the inclusion of a film’s externalities such as ‘budget’ in its appreciation (at least in its most primary mode). Because they know what’s external for the film is, nonetheless, essential for the spectacle.
While it’s true that marketing muscle is an inextricable part of star power, it used to originate from the star -- he’s usually the top of the pyramid. It may not be the case anymore. The star’s image has now been hijacked and remodelled to meet ends that probably don’t serve the star himself. So a different kind of spectacle is manufactured in which the star is an auxiliary mechanism to propel, in this case, the producer. The interesting thing is, there isn’t much resistance to this. Or so it seems, given how many 'fans' actually mention Maaran’s name alongside Rajini. It’s quite an anathema for an erstwhile Rajini fan .
The least that can be established is that Rajini’s star power and the ‘marketing muscle’ that he’s supposed to possess ‘naturally’ did not save Baba  (let alone the election results in 2004). And there’s little reason to believe that his waning star power gathered momentum, like it did in the 80s, as he aged further from then, by his fans’ efforts or some such. While he may have had the potential for resurgence, he probably could not have done it on his own (even with what could be called ‘good’ films). What the Sun corporation has done is to re-articulate the dormant fanaticism of Rajini fandom by suggesting normativity of the exaggerated, and in presenting that it’s both a matter of pride and Tamilness even. The ‘new age’ yuppie fans badly needed the re-articulation to legitimize their publicized indulgence -- and lend some elitist charm -- in activities that were otherwise relegated to the ‘uncultured’ .
Shankar’s own claims of grandiosity (especially one that’s perceived in the north Indian media) further exotified -- what is perhaps a matter of shame (my personal opinion) -- the participation in the spectacle of Rajini fandom. Ultimately it translates into a desire to seek the film’s success and break box office records at any cost (literally) in order to sustain the spectacle. This collective participation is enabled by simulating a cloud of consensus in all forms of media. This is the point of departure for ‘real’ star power from what is manufactured.
1.That his contemporaries who tried to follow the same model and that only Rajini succeeded to a great extent (intentionally or not) is what sets him apart.
2. It’s not unlike the self-elevation common in other kinds of fan mentality (among certain ‘fans’).
3. It's different from producers/distributors who used to be the auxiliary beneficiaries in Rajini’s older films. This ‘paradigm shift’ is also, incidentally, a mark of public acceptance of corporate greed and profiteering (as discussed in the podcast with Krishna Ananth).
4. It’s debatable (and a different point altogether) as to whether Baba failed because it wasn’t as good as Endhiran. But then, it only undermines the argument of 'star power'.
5. People in videos like this seem to be have been desperate for an excuse to do something like this or it’s just the old ‘bhangra envy’.