So, you slept through' 1997 (much like this column has done so this year) and missed watching your favorite movies on the screen. And you only have time to watch 10 movies from last year before your wife and conventional wisdom (in that order) warn you of poor eyesight and your deteriorating sanity. Don't despair - for here's a list of what you shouldn't have missed from 1997 and why you should rent them, if you did! (all, in the author's opinion, ofcourse.. your mileage may vary :-)..And in no particular order, here's the list of 5 of the top 10 entertainers of 1997 (not by its B.O. Prowess - that's Box Office, for the uninitiated)... Despite some critical comments, these movies are watchable. Take my word for it.. Now, Some drumroll please..
Minsaara Kanavu: Rajiv Menon's ode to Free-Spirited Love was set to tune by Rehman, aided by Vairamuthu's pen. Prabhu Deva, Kajol and Arvind Swamy liven up the proceedings in this feel good love story from the AVM stable. It is a clever reworking of Cyrano, with the sets and dances inspired by Gene Kelley's An American in Paris (the Vennilave choreography is a straight lift from the above mentioned movie, sets and all). Arvind Swamy can't seem to get over Kajol who says Nun's the word, which makes Swamy scream "Why in God's Name ?". So Swamy and Friends try to win her over, enlisting the help of Prabhu Deva, a scissors toting fabulous baker boy who waltzes his way into Kajol's (and the viewer's) hearts. So Swamy gets swarmy around Kajol, who'll of course have none of this and retreats to a church. Not trained in the mystical eastern art of jumping from moving trains, Deva find himself in a Hospital with Swamy by his side. Since this is still Kodambakkam, we want a happy (but not gay) ending, and so Swamy braves El Nino in Kodaikanal to save the day. Wizened by the experience, he attains Father and the Hood. Deva and Kajol who now sport gawky outfits to imply their maturity and parenthood live happily ever after. Rehman steals the show, and the production values are first class. A little overdrawn, but eminently watchable except for S.P.B and Girish Karnad whose presence serves as an irritant more than anything else.
Kaadhalukku Mariyadhai : If it was Rehmaan who scored with Minsaara Kanavu, it was Raja who had the last laugh (literally) at the end of the year. Vijay's n'th hit in a row was the sleeper hit of the year, its success spilling over well into 1998. Fazil reworks his Malayalam hit to suit the Tamil audiences. Vijay wears colorful ties to his college but the one that binds is with Shalini, who matches his taste in ties with her colorful folders. Charlie and Daamu play Vijay's friends who look like they've stayed in the same class for years. Now the story is going nowhere until the brothers step in and try to brush aside the hero. The lead pair, now tired of singing silly tunes that glorify love, decide to elope to, off all places, a fishing hamlet. The Pettai Philosopher is played by Manivannan who croons philosophical sonnets about the ocean that feeds him and vouches for the couples' safety. On the eve of their wedding, realization dawns on them and they decide to honor their love (and hence the title!) and return to their respective folks. More glycerin is wasted before the final showdown in Shalini's place. SriVidya and Sivakumar suddenly wake up from deep slumber, while Radha Ravi looks lost in the proceedings. Before long, the couple is back to singing some silly tunes again. "Ennai Thaalata Varuvaiya" is reason enough to watch this movie. Enuff said!
Arunachalam: Rajinikanth proves that his star presence can salvage a mediocre movie. Rajini is the humble servant, loving son and loathed grandson who finally says that The Hunch-Back is not our dame and searches for his heirs(and hairs). So, he Moves to Madras, slips into Jeans and finds his roots. The Super Star Plays the eponymous hero who has to spend Rs 300 Crores in 30 days or risk losing his entire fortune to a bunch of no-gooders. See, Papa Rajini in his last bouts of senility wrote up this will to subject his son and the entire audience to an exercise in Lavish Spending. Rajini with his patented trademark style and swagger does exactly that, down to the last paise. His accountant in arms, Rambha and his fiance in alms, Soundarya suffer from dreams that would puzzle Freud. Rajini appears in every frame and of course their silly dreams too, lest you lose sleep over it. Sendil has a whale of a time spoofing Rajini's Baasha-isms. Deva begs, borrows and steals to come up with some decent numbers that you forget as soon as the movie is over. Raghuvaran and company play the hapless baddies who are no match for our beloved Superstar. Without a political target, Crazy Mohan doesn't have enough fodder to work with. Its Rajini all the way - and you'll want to watch this if you like him. Even if you don't its a good time-pass flick, worth the price of its rental.
Aaha: Crazy Mohan's genius is highlighted in this simple and sweet offering from Suresh Krishna. The acting by a stellar supporting cast is terrific. Rajiv plays the good-for-nothing son of Vijayakumar who manages to save the day in the end. Bhaanupriya is absolutely delightful in her role as a Brahmin Daughter-in-law. SriVidya plays the Mother-in-law to the hilt - you can't find a friendlier pair in film history. Its Mohan all the way, and he is in familiar territory as he sizes up the Brahmin community without offending anyone. Delhi Ganesh gives a solid performance as the heroine's father. The dialogues are crisp, and the narration smooth. No sex or violence to mar the proceedings. Suresh Krishna deserves kudos for coming out of the shadows of Baasha and Annamalai and delivering a clean family movie.
Iruvar: ManiRathnam's biopic on the MGR-Karunanidhi relationship suffered heavily at the Box-Office, but still makes compelling viewing. Its not often that you see a biography or a true-life story played out on the screen in tamil. For those familiar with the history of the Dravidian movement and the story, you can compare your notes from memory with Rathnam's interpretation. For others, it is a good 2 hour primer on the subject. Though flawed and undecided on whether it should be a documentary or not, Iruvar is laced with its moments and the undeniable star presence of Aishwarya Rai. Rai sizzles in both her roles and steals the show from the seniors. Mohan Lal is impeccable in the Anandan character, and Prakash Raj thesps just enough to lend credibility to Rathnam's Karunanidhi, Tamizhselvan. Gouthami, Kalpana Iyer in a totally degalmorized role, Rajesh, Nasser and Delhi Ganesh provide admirable support. The production values makes Iruvar a visual treat. Santosh Sivan keeps a brilliant eye behind the camera, while Banu Athiya captures the period in her costumes. Rehmaan's score and re-recording is brilliant, as usual. Despite a weak script, the story and the style rise above the storytelling to keep you engrossed for a couple of hours.
For the reviews of these movies on Tamil Thirai Valai, click here.