Saturday, May 01, 2004

third atlanta film festival of india opens

[first knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

with Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal. First off, I have to say that the film was not as bad as I had feared it would be. MR's Spielbergian tendencies have always been a cause of concern for me. While there is no denying his talent and genius at using technique and style to achieve his ends, I failed to find closure even with this flick for a pet peeve of mine: how his well-shot song sequences fail to mesh in with his well-shot narrative moments. The songs (especially the Amudha-dedicated gimmicky su.ndarii) jar. MR strikes a decent balance between his pet themes of terrorism, its impact on families of different kinds (cross-religious unions in Bombay, cross-geographical and cross-cultural matches in Roja, and now adopted children of interesting parentage) and position on the fence between art and commerce. ARR's songs and background score function best when they accompany the on-screen happenings while being relegated to the background. Every time they came to the fore I found myself uncomfortably shifting in my seat. Just about the only interesting (and relevant) visual moment I noticed was Amudha imitating a statue in Sri Lanka at the close of the Madhavan-driven version of the title song. There seemed to be richer content in those few seconds than in the rest of the beautiful yet incongruous songs. P S Keerthana goes through the motions of being the daughter trying to deal with the truth that she is an adopted child, but occasionally grates with a limited palette of expressions (some of which seem to stem from a refusal in the script to attempt to present us complex moments). But there are undeniably good moments, some of which reminded me of Spielberg's Ryan outing (for no particular reason, really). And MR is less simplistic in presenting the effect of terrorism here than in Bombay (where the strict religious polarity resulted in an inundation of clichés). As may be expected, MR chooses a strong technical team to build his vision giving us treats like Sabu Cyril's production design (I kept thinking of Kerala every time they showed the jungles of Sri Lanka, and an online article underscores my reaction by informing me that SC built a lot of the film's Sri Lanka in Kerala!!), Ravi K Chandran's camera (this is Chandran's first film with MR, and is probably known for his two collaborations with Rajeev Menon and his work on Virasat and Koi Mil Gaya). The ARR/Vairamuthu combination struck gold at the National Awards. It was interesting to see Prakash Raj pop up as Harold Vikramasinghe, a guide to the troubled family in war-torn Sri Lanka. Which brings me to another irksome aspect of the film: hardly any character development. Arguably, this works to the benefit of the focal point of the narrative: the family. But it doesn't offer us enough counterpoint when the focus shifts occasionally to terrorism. Thankfully, MR doesn't take a stand on that front. But these recurring annoyances aside, I have to say it was a satisfying experience overall. If only they had an MR showcase ... Aah yes, must also note strains of puuryaa dhaanashrii in ARR's background score as well as a portend to Meenaxi's chinnammaa chilakamma.
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