Greatest Tamil Films – 6 and 5

 

6. Nenjil Ore Aalayam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, how Shakespeare would have loved cinema!

                                                                                     – Derek Jarman

If Kadhalikka Neramillai gained its cult status for one of the greatest comedy scenes, Nenjil Ore Aalayam can do it with just one song, the most recognisable anthem for failed love: ‘Engirundhalum Vaazhga’. However, that’s not the only reason why this title is here. Nenjil Ore Aalayam is melodrama done to perfection.

Nenjil Ore Aalayam was perhaps the first film to combine Indian melodrama with European sensibilities and production values. First film to be shot entirely in one location in less than 30 days, its cinematography evokes Italian neo-realism and its narration, French New Wave. The film was new in many ways. The camera angles teased one’s imagination and the script tested the nerves of the masochism of the prevailing era.

Plot: what would you do if you were a doctor and the woman who you loved and lost comes back with her husband and pleads you to cure his life-threatening illness? The film tackles this dilemma with grace, compassion and, of course, with the inherent moral issues it poses. Here the woman holds the central stage. Sridhar was probably not a feminist, but women usually had an intrinsic upper hand in his films. And Nenjil Ore Aalayam is no exception. With direct lines, shadow and evocative frames, naïve goodness of characters few films portrayed the agonies of lost love, moral dilemma, and sacrifice for love better than Nenjil Ore Aalayam.

Sridhar

As for the casting, Sridhar’s belief in using new faces helped communicate fresh moods and experience. About the setting, one building, few rooms, just three characters, no major dramatic sequence (till the end) would have been claustrophobic, but the film cruises so gracefully and engages you with its flow. Just so you don’t feel stifled by its setting, Sridhar offers you great melodies to relieve you, and a tad misplaced, albeit brief, comedy track, although it launched the career of the best comedy actor in Tamil.

There are no great performances to speak of, but you end up caring for the characters and can’t help feel the pain in the end. That’s when you realise that it is out and out director’s film.

Nenjil Ore Aalayam is simple in setting, yet epic in its ambition, Shakespearean in its scale and would be #1 in a Top 10 tragedies of Tamil films list. And surprise, surprise, such an epic tragedy found audience’s acceptance. People found time to constrict themselves in the tiny clinic that Sridhar built and placed just three characters to suffer. Therefore, Nenjil Ore Aalayam is the great tragedy from the first true Master of Tamil cinema.

 

5. Endhiran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   ‘Don’t wake me for the end of the world unless it has very good special effects!

                                                                                                  – Roger Zelazny

It is still intriguing what might have gone through Shankar’s mind when he thought up this idea, or how the ideas of the story shaped up in his mind. He should perhaps write a book about it. It’s true that Endhiran is not as original as 16 Vayathinile or Kadhalikka Neramillai. It’s true that Shankar owes to Terminator, RoboCop, AI and, some may claim even Transformers, and countless other films for the inspiration. But accusing Endhiran is like Terminator is akin to saying Nenjil Ore Aalayam is like Casablanca. Besides, when was the last time have you seen a film about a robot in India, that too with such slick production values?

Endhiran not only took it upon itself the radical idea of a scientist building an andro-humanoid, the concept incongruous to Tamil Nadu, it also stretched it further by adding artificial intelligence to it. We Indians adore our love stories. And when we have robots in our films, we make them fall in love too! And what a spectacular love affair it was! Endhiran combined great production, audacious story, excellent script and, to top it, one of the best villains of Tamil cinema! It, in essence, was a love story alright, but it required cutting edge technology. Previously, ‘special effects’ were tacky, cheesy and made you wonder why we bother with it at all. There were other films like Dasavatharam that promise great effects yet deliver visuals that compete with some of the cheap TV serials. Endhiran took it to a whole new level.

Shankar

The years spent in slowly brewing the script had helped Shankar come out with an intricate screenplay and manage to bring in a technological superiority unheard of in Indian cinema. It was a huge risk as well. Like Kadhalikka Neramillai, it could have gone either way. Rajinikanth, used to auto driver, milkman or coolie roles, donning the cap of doctorate from Carnegie Melon University and building an andro-humanoid was bad enough, but teaching Big Bang Theory to the robot is another! As one of the reviewers quipped, the climax is not about Rajini resolving it with muscle power but by a mere geeky gesture. Shankar went boldly where no director has gone before. At least not that far!

 

Today, many directors are able to go there because a landmark has been set. Today they are talking about motion capture, animatronics, and saturation release. Well, they are not taking any risks. They know they can get audience’s acceptance. They know their money will be back. Shankar has shown the way. Dot.