Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is Prithviraj on his way down?

The title is controversial, I agree. You would say he never was on the top, to be sailing down. Or you could say, there is no question of him coming down soon - he is safe at the top. 

They say viewers, and opinions, make or break a star. Fret not, I am not his well-wisher or a fan. Nor am I a hater. However, I don't think I have given so much thought to any other actor in Malayalam cinema, nay, in any kind of cinema. That itself is worth noting. When we watch a movie, it is not the actor that we think of. If the acting is good, we don't notice the man or woman who plays the role. It is the character that captivates us, and stays in our mind. The actor comes afterwards.

There is no denying that Prithviraj has talent. These days it is tough to spot, but it exists nonetheless.

When I watched Nandanam way back when it was released, I knew him as 'Actor Sukumaran's son.' Though the role did not offer much versatility to the debutant, there were a couple of scenes where the subtle emotion that crossed his eyes made me think, "He could make it big one day." The character was flamboyant. The actor was sincere.

Classmates followed soon after. It is very rare to find a movie with a good storyline, picturization, songs and well-balanced acting. Everyone associated with the film did a great job, no one overdid anything. The characters blended well into the premise. No one stood out. Prithviraj placed one more feather in his cap.

I cannot recall many of his films after that, but I often felt that no new actor could portray the 'Angry Young Man' better than he. Comedy was not his forte, that belonged to his brother. It was perhaps a field he was yet to master. He could be forgiven.

Last year I happened to watch a song from the movie Anwar. Though it seemed to be popular at the time, I did not like it. Something about the snow, the romance, the smirk seemed too phoney. But I could not put my finger on the exact problem. It dawned on me much later - it was the Smirk that ruined it all. But I will come back to the Smirk later.

Then Urumi happened. Touted as the biggest hit of 2011, I did not hear many voices against it. When I posted my review of the film, a friend commented on Facebook that she had read somewhere, 'the arrogance is intentional. The character is arrogant and unyielding.' It seemed reasonable, but again, I was not satisfied with that argument. I have seen several arrogant characters - the good and the bad ones - played by other actors, in all kinds of cinema. I figured it out soon enough: The character was normal. The actor was arrogant. And it showed, through the skin of the man he portrayed on screen, drowning the character's own shades.

I would give Prithviraj a score of 98% for his looks, which could be the highest I would give a person considering only looks. Others who score higher in my scale have an endearing quality to them, something about their nature or attitude that attracts people to them. As I said, I haven't analysed any other actor as much as I do Prithviraj. I am not film-crazy. I may not remember who the director and producer are, or anything else related to a movie, except its name and the actors. For the very same reason, people who have watched most of his films may have a different opinion of him. Their analyses may bring out a totally different picture.

Now let me tell you about the Smirk. I have no idea when it began to appear. I only know I noticed it in the song from Anwar. I must have watched that song three or four times before deciding that I hated it. 

The Smirk often reminded me of something or someone. It gave me a sense of déjà vu. That I have seen that smile before. I could not exactly recollect who or what, for a long time. Then one day, it came to me while I was watching an animated movie with my son, in one of his cartoon channels - Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu, I forget who, was saving the world from chaos and asuras. Voilà - the smile on the Lord's face after attaining victory, when all the people of the world bow to Him in gratitude - wasn't it quite similar to the condescending smile on Prithviraj's face? The animated Gods do not express fear, shock, anger. They always have a knowing smile. Prithviraj's omnipresent Smirk seemed to have erased all other emotions from his reel life. Even his romance does not have softness anymore. He could no longer portray the different shades that make up a character.

Can you spot The Smirk?! (Click to enlarge)

I should say that at one point I almost gave him up - I forgot the talent I had spotted in him long ago. I thought he never had any, and that his looks alone had rewarded him the youth icon status. Soon after Urumi, perhaps on the very next day, I happened to see Classmates again. The difference jumped out. Classmates was much before superstardom hit him. A few weeks ago, I watched Akale, another of his earlier films which did not provide scope for arrogance. He should watch his own old movies and learn a thing or two. He used to play the disturbed young man, convincing and precise, not a shade overdone. And without the Smirk.

There are other actors who started much before he did, and have not reached any closer to where Prithviraj is today. I see them making their presence felt through small roles in small movies, making mistakes, learning, taking small steps forward, falling, advancing. They may take a long time to reach where Prithviraj is, but they are persistent and diligent enough to attain those heights one day. When they do, they will have enough learning to stay there. Prithviraj seems to have got things too easy, and if he cannot hold on to them, he will have to risk losing them too soon.

Prithviraj has the skill to justify his presence at the top. He has the learning to hold on to it. He can be part of brilliant cinema, yes, he can indeed be a brilliant actor.
But only if he tries to go back to where he was before the Superstar title got to his head.
If not, he has to slide down till he hits rock bottom. Who knows what will happen if he does?

Monday, January 23, 2012


Change is inevitable.
Change is unavoidable.
Change is mandatory.

Then why are we afraid of seeing people change??

Most of us, at some point in life, have faced accusing fingers pointed at our nose, closely followed by the words:
"You have changed!"
"I never believed anyone could change as much as you have."
"How could you change so quickly?"
"One should not change so much!"

Sometimes we Change because we find ourselves unable to adapt to the changing present. Sometimes we Change without our knowing. Sometimes we Change, or pretend to, to get out of situations. 

Sometimes we wonder why we Changed. Whether it was right to. If it was good to move on. Sometimes we regret that we did. 

But very often we tell ourselves that we were right. That if we had not Changed, we would have been miserable for ever. 

We tell ourselves,
Badi mushkil se aaya hai yeh attitude. Nahin hoga, Sir. Aap apni naukri rakh lijiye, main apna attitude rakh leta hoon. I'm sorry, don't mind, Sir.*

*Sharman Joshi to his interviewers in 3 idiots (1:25): "I have found this attitude with much difficulty. I cannot change it, Sir. Please keep your job, I will keep my attitude. I am sorry, don't mind, Sir."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The simple Joys of Swearing

As a person who, not so long ago, used to wince at the gentlest swear word in English or Malayalam, I find it quite surprising that today some of these censored terms are ready at my fingertips - or, at my tongue-tip - to be delivered as per the need. I often find myself indulging in words that range from the mildest swear to the threshold of the extreme curse.

As my friend once observed in Facebook (and which I wasted no time in 'Liking' to my heart's content), people who don't swear much find inexplicable pain relief in letting out a forbidden word or two at the right time.

My knowledge may be limited as compared to those who have been in the business for years, but the commonly used s-words can broadly be classified into four:

Nouns. These are terms you can throw at people you are annoyed with - or, for more poisonous effect, at their loved ones. Not necessarily to their visage, of course. But all alone in your room, feel free to toss these words to their imaginary faces and watch your rage disappear like a puff of smoke. Like this: "You p@##%!!"  (Repeat as many times as you wish, for greater effect.)

Adjectives. These are qualifiers when the nouns alone are not effective. The usage goes like this.
"The t@#$##  woman!!"
They can also be clubbed with the nouns mentioned above as,
"You t@#$## p@##%!!"
(This can be followed by loud silly laughter, for immediate relief.)

Verbs. Some of these are very tricky. They can be used in any form, anywhere in the sentence, they can serve as adjectives, nouns and verbs. For example.
"Why did you $#%@ing come here?!" (verb/adverb)
"Who the $#%@ do you think you are?" (noun)
"I will kill that $#%@ guy!" (adjective)
"$#%@!" (This usage is explained below.)
Or a combination of all: "$#%@!! Who the $#%@ do you think you are to $#%@-ing come here and kill that $#%@ guy?"
[Note that the same $#%@-ing word was used in all places.]

None of the above. These are the most powerful and the most efficient words of the lot. If we explore history, we could find that these words once did have meaning and existence in spoken and written language. But they have long lost their essence with time and over-use through centuries, and are now living their lives as curses. These do not fall in any of the categories listed above and do not always need a sentence to hold them in place. They are independent swear words, yet they can sometimes be used to glorify sentences as well.
One of the best examples in Malayalam is 'Pandaradangan'. (If you don't know its significance, watch any Malayalam movie. There will be at least one occurrence of this word. It is one of the mildest forms of swearing, but used by one and all, and which does not require the televisionistic bleep! to conceal it from immature audiences.)
If delivered in the right tone, with full power on the first syllable, "Pandaradangan!" proves quite cathartic and relieves the speaker of much of his worries and anger. For example, assume that you hit your toe against the edge of the table. The answer is a howl of "PANdaradangan!" and you will find that the piercing pain has miraculously vanished.

I am sure there are similar words in all languages in the world, for no people can exist without such powerful, meaningless and significant curses.

*Please feel free to fill in the suitable words in the @#$% characters above. Go on, be creative.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Neil I'm Strong

6-yr-old: "When I grow up, I will go to space. I want to be an astronaut."
Me: "Okay. Did you learn that in school today?"

"Yes. Prateek and I will go to space."
"Very good."

"So when we become big, and finish our school and college, they will ask us 'What do you want to be?', right? I will say 'Astronaut'. Then I can go to space, right?"
"Well, not exactly. When you decide what you want to be, you will have to study more about that before you start working. To be an astronaut, you will have to learn Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, I don't know, things like that."

"What for?"
"You can't just finish school and directly go to space. You need to know everything there is to know. That's how it works."

"Neil I'm Strong was the first man to go to space. Was he really very Strong?"
"I am sure he was. By the way, his name was Armstrong, not I'm Strong. And he went to the Moon. He was not the first man in space, he was the first man on the Moon. The first man in space was Yuri Gagarin."

"But moon is in space. So he went to space."
"No, Yuri Gagarin went before him, floated around a bit and returned."

"So, is any planet left where no one has gone yet?"
"Jupiter. No one has landed on Jupiter till now."

"Okay. So that's where I am going."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ghost under the bed

After a long time I posted a story to my short story blog. This does not mean I am writing a short story after a long time, it just means I am posting one after about a year. Please read my story "Ghost under the bed" inspired heavily, as always, by my son.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Meeting the teacher

5 year old: "Mamma, Papa, when will you come to my school? Will you come to my class, please? Please!"
"Look, everybody! Here is my Mamma! Here is my Papa! They have come to meet me!"

10 year old: "Mamma, why do you have to come to my school? Can't you just write a note to my teacher? Okay... but please don't turn up at my classroom. Just meet her and leave!"

15 year old: "Are you kidding me? Why in the world do you want to meet my teacher? I tell you, I can handle this!"