Monday, May 14, 2007

Long, gushing notes on Chennai 600028

Venkat Prabhu’s Chennai 600028, the latest sleeper hit among Tamil films, is an immensely enjoyable film that makes you ask for more, a rarity in itself. I walked in the theatre with quite a lot of expectations and thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The film blends City Of God-style realism with quintessential Tamil pop cinema, full of frothy fun and humour, with great flourish and comes up trumps overall.
Venkat Prabhu matches his unabashed crowd-pleasing instincts (which he seems to have faithfully inherited from his father, Gangai Amaran), inch for inch, with a strong eye for solidly real backdrops, zany humour, sheer wit and inventiveness. Sample this: A father goes ranting, bashing up his son in the middle of the street, “Unnaya pullayaa pethadhukku…” Cut to a guy talking over the phone, “… second show cinema-kke poyirukkalaam!

The film starts with SPB’s voiceover introducing us to the protagonists of the film, which sets up the spirit of what is to follow with assuredness. “Kandippaa innum neraiya cricket!” we’re promised. And, cricket, we get. Street cricket, the game that the entire nation plays, with tennis balls and great passion; one guy brings in the bat, another brings in the stumps, and so on.
The story is that of a local cricket team, Sharks, of Vishalatchi Thoattam (a.k.a. “Sunambu Kalwa”) and its players. The movie starts with the Sharks team losing out to Royapuram Rockers in the finals of the fourth edition of the floodlit gully cricket tournament, Radio Mirchi cup [1]. As it happens, a key player of the Royapuram Rockers team moves in to Vishalatchi Thoattam (his “encroachment” is one of the primary setup for hilarity in the early sequences), finds himself a place in the Sharks team, as another edition of the tournament is about to start.

But, that’s not all there’s to it; in parallel, runs the stories of individual players of the team, in different threads. The film infuses the stock Chennai elements (or, the elements of any urban or semi-urban place of Tamilnadu, for that matter) with generous doses of masala and fun, but without ever making the mix reek of even a wee bit of fakeness or banality. Be it, the love that develops from cursory glances and courteous smiles, the consequent betrayal that’s felt when the same cursory glances and courteous smiles fall on some other guy, a friend who comes with the thoodhu, the possessive owner of the bat with which the team plays, or that one fellow in a gang who finishes up all the booze, the film reaps rich from real people we’ve known all our life, and serves it all in a refreshing package, that is rich in droll humour and unapologetic willingness to entertain. (Premgi Amaran, Gangai Amaran's second son, dons the mantle of an overt comedian in the film.)
And, mind you, this is the kind of film that could have gone wrong in a hundred ways, could have struck all wrong notes, if it had taken itself seriously, even a wee bit seriously. Recalling all those “youth flicks” of 90s will instantly remind us of this. (As if to elicit the same, there’s even a teasing reference to Kannedhire Thondrinaal.) Those films picked their stock elements from real life too, but handled them in absolutely irredeemable ways, resulting in terrible films. The typical Madras elements – figures, friends, love (the most popular archetypes are here: a guy loving a dear friend’s sister, a coffee shop attendant loving a rich brat girl), the karpu in friendship, et al. surface in this film as well, but the film handles them in such an offhanded manner, and yet with such sensitivity, that, at times, I was positively stunned. The film’s wonderful ending, more than anything else, stands as a testimony to this. (I don’t want to spoil this for the readers, suffice to say that the film has a cracker of an ending and the last shot of the film is the best I’ve seen in years!)

There are just too many delicious moments in the film that one would be more than just inclined to forget the few forgettable moments. (The story of Aravind sticks out like a sore thumb though, there’s not anything much interesting in it, it comes of use only for the song-and-dance routines.) From the pop-culture nods and references to the spoofs of stock elements of Tamil films, even the inserted bits mostly work pretty well, while some of the bits are indeed predictable, but never actually off-putting.
The film has no story arc as such (nor does it contrive ponderous, heavy-handed “insights” into its various themes, individual redemptions or a collective salvation!), but when the scenes themselves are as well fleshed out and funny as this, to hell with story arcs! I must confess, there were moments in the film when I just wanted to watch these fellows talk, gang up, booze together, and play cricket.

A round of applause (ah, cut the stiff-upper-lip tone, add a ‘wow!’) for the spot-on performances, all of them are spontaneous, nonchalant and heavily restrained, even if a bit amateurish at times. You won’t remember the names, but every one of them makes a mark. Even the ones who appear just for a couple of scenes strike a chord – like, say, the Royapuram Rockers team captain (who looks every inch like that). Many such outlier moments are lovely here. The Royapuram team guys call Raghu back to the team for a match over the phone, (the screen splits, first into three, and then settles for two, one for each end) he evades from giving an affirmative answer, and the guy on the other end takes the phone off his ear for a moment and says in a matter-of-fact tone, “semma gaandu-la irukkaan da.” – a simple scene, but well fleshed and strikingly real.
I was especially impressed with Shiva (Radio Mirchi RJ) who plays Karthik, the Sharks team captain, with that quintessential Madras accent you rarely see in films, mixing his restrained persona with wry humour and nice comic timing, Nitin Sathyaa (who was anything but notable in his previous outings) as Palani, and Jai (music director Deva’s son) as Raghu, the new team member, who play the main roles with wonderful spontaneity. Either it’s the spot-on casting that did the trick, or Venkat Prabhu is quite fantastic in extracting spontaneous performances out of his actors.

The soundtrack score reeks a bit of rap and hip-hop, but works pretty well with the film, if one’s willing to overlook that aspect. [2] The background score by Premgi Amaran works even better.
The camera work is restless and patchy, pulling every trick (or gimmick, if you will) in the book to keep us engaged, employing “unsteady” cams, jump cuts, ramping shots, freeze frames (the freeze frames in the marina beach side bet match are sidesplitting!), colour tones, etcetera, with no restraint whatsoever. But, much of those doesn’t go in vain, but is rather put to good effect. If not anything else, it packs in all the plethora of detailing in impromptu mode, like in the montage in the title song, or in the scenes of cricket matches.

This is a greatly assured and brilliant debut from Venkat Prabhu. Please take a bow. Three cheers to SP Charan and the entire team as well for giving us such an entertaining film. Just, go watch. This one’s for the ages.

[1] – One of the many brand placements. We’ve Raaga.com, IndiaGlitz.com et al.
[2] – A bit of clarification needed. Isn’t there a guy uttering – spashtamaa – “otha!” a couple of times in the stanzas of the remix version of “Jalsa”? Or, was he going “what the…?”

27 comments:

  1. Another note - Premgi seems to be the the voice behind the various "wannabe" rap numbers from Yuvan Shankar Raja in the recent past. And did you notice the "biaaatch" at the end of the remix version of Vazhkaiya Yosingada? :D

    Too much only.

    Also Raghu's intro sequences seemed to take quite an inspiration from Vijay's intro scenes from his recent movie - a not so subtle play on the marked resemblence. As one of the characters says durind the course of the movie - Avan Vijay madhiriye irrukaanda

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  2. enjoyed reading this more than i did watching the movie. intha maathiri review kkagavE enakkE padam edukkaNum pOla irukku :-)

    * madras pasanga, especially mandaveli pasanga don't use wtf... it was otha only.. not just the song... the scene in which karthik comes to rescue raghu from rockers, raghu constantly utter... ..ththa ..mmaLa.. many such such scenes..

    * Jai is not Deva's son.. but Deva's brother's son.. sabesh or murali i dont remember..

    Not sure if you watched Koffee with Anu Show with SPB and Gangai Amaran as guests (last saturday) . At one point, SPB admitted that when Venkat naratted the story to him.. it sounded silly... As you right said, the film could have gone wrong for so many reasons, aana prabhu-voda brilliance... kaappathiduchu

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  3. Oooh something more. I thought I was hallucinating when I heard it about a month ago, but it looks like people agree with me!

    Yuvan's used the Spidey theme brilliantly, IMHO, in Saroja Samaan Nikalo!

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  4. Superb review, Zero. You had listed all the things I enjoyed in this movie.

    Well done!

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  5. I was told that it is an enjoyable film. But nothing prepared me for the superb climax. It was sheer brilliance. Especially after arvind says "dei leg side podadha da" or something like that.

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  6. Anantha,

    Yes, Premgi has sung the rap number here, but, I am not sure who's the voice behind that chaste 'otha!'
    And, yes, the interlude does seem inspired from the Spidey theme. Nice catch.

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  7. Prakash,
    Thanks!
    Yes, of course, pristine expressions like 'ththa and 'mmaala figure nonchalantly (and quite uninhibitedly) in the dialogues throughout the film. And, we love it, don't we!
    By the by, Madras pasanga "what the fuck?" 'nnu solradhu sagajam-nu nenakkara alavukku periya dubukku illa naan! My footnote query was only regarding the word in the rap number. Rap numbers do have a lot of out-of-place, peter words.
    Enna dhaan irundhaalum, tamil cinema varalaattril 'otha!' endru azhagaa paattula vandhadhu perumaikkuriya vishayam illaya? :)

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  8. Senthil, thanks.

    GasquetFan,
    aah, yes, the wonderful climax!
    *SPOILER ALERT*
    The brilliant cut from the hospital scene with Karthik asking Sharks team's maama Manohar, "Yaaru kooda 'nna finals-u?", to the finals match with Aravind telling Palani, "Leg side-la podaadha ra... Offside-laye maintain pannu..."
    A wonderfully succinct and hilarious cue -- both dialogue-wise and visually -- to that final moment of revelation.

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  9. superb review man. wonderfully written and a joy to read. thank you. baradwaj

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  10. Have been a silent visitor to your blog for a long time now- the review is good. :-) Makes me want to watch the movie. Will let you know how I liked it, after I watch it..

    -viji

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  11. Hey Baradwaj, thanks much man!

    Thank you too, Viji. :)

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  12. BTW, Madras pasanga "what the fuck?" 'nnu solla mattangala? What the fuck! Naan Madras paiyan thaan-pa... :-)

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  13. It was better than Vijays trash masala movies. Better we either make sensible stuff as movie as Mozhi or something decent masala as this one instead of those buildup masala shit.

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  14. Baradwaj,
    Ha ha! Prakash anne is to be blamed as he made that bit of parochial assertion. I had the all-important qualifier "sagajam!" -- just suggesting the uncommonness of the usage among true-blue Madras makkal.
    I was, and am, just glad that somebody said "otha!" in a Tamil film song.

    Harish,
    I liked this one much more than Mozhi.

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  15. Viji,
    When the film was announced, I had snobbishly called it out of the scope of this blog.
    I don't stand by what I said back then, but let me see if I actually have anything worthwhile to say...

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  16. This movie was like watching a few matches going on in somasundaram ground at the same time... you follow each only for a few minutes.. but nevertheless.. you are entertained...

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  17. The best thing abt the movie was that the cricket backdrop is just incidental. There is no unwanted buildup to a match. It just happens and that tends itself a very natural light feel to it. As a result, when the climax match is shown we are completely taken by surprise!! Only when we see the climax we understand how Venkat has cleverly misdirected audience attention to characters and the "Rockers" Vs "Sharks" rivalry more than the tournament itself. It was like Indian team fans focussing more on the Ind Vs. Pak match than the worldcup itself.
    A Very clever and talented director who should go on to make such "free" movies without getting into the trap of "directing" Star X and Star Y.

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  18. Hi everybody...i recently saw the movie Chennai-600028...It was a nice movie...but frankly speaking i haven't understood the climax...I have no idea about cricket...wat happens when sharks play with the kids...wat does it mean when arvind says..."Leg side-la podaadha ra... Offside-laye maintain pannu..."can any one please explain me...thanks a lot...Jenni

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  19. If any of you are on Orkut, Please do join the Tamil Cinema Community. We are looking for sensible members to discuss stuff and I feel people like you are quite essential.


    LKS

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  20. May be its bit late to post a comment, but ur review pressed me to do so. Good Review. U have the strokes 'so called' critics. No offense.

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  21. Chennai was good. But how can you compare it with City of God?

    I found the movie to be very dragging and another thing i noticed was that the director didnot give much of importance to the characters. it was like 11 guys playing a single character.

    If you take out the songs and chennai basha out of chennai 28 then it is just another masala movie you would want to forget

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  22. Thanks all.

    The last anon,
    I didn't compare the two films. I was saying that Chennai 600028 employs a frenetic style of realism à la City of God, to achieve something totally different.

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  25. A film i really enjoyed to the max..!..A complete Entertainer if you are a cricket fan.

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