Harry Potter, Rajinikanth and the Weight of Expectations

Having watched Kabali on the second day of its release and having read the latest Harry Potter book (its script format notwithstanding) within a week of its release, I decided to pen down my thoughts on the two. The reason I am clubbing the two into one post, although each is probably deserving of its own, is because they are both cultural phenomena. One about a Boy who Lived, the other about a Man who Lives. Both have captured the hearts of millions of people around the world, both are Thalaivars in their own right, both of whom I am a full fledged fan.

The similarities don’t end there. Both have Larger-Than-Life personalities – Rajinikanth, in all his films post Annamalai in 1992, seems to have developed his through his gait, iconic laugh, and all-round style in his films, which has found resonance with fans worldwide. By contrast, Harry, despite having friends by his side, always seems to have been portrayed as a lonely figure in the books, who seems to want nothing to do with the Larger-Than-Life personality that has been thrust upon him. Obviously, fans love HP for the themes of friendship, loyalty, courage, the triumph of good over evil and what not, so much so that when something new is announced pertaining to the boy wizard, there is an unparalleled level of hype generated. One could possibly make an argument that the hype is somewhat similar to that generated when a new Rajni film is announced, so maybe it’s not that unparalleled after all.

Kabali: I had never been more excited for a Thalaivar film than when I saw the first few images released officially when this film was announced. This was further bolstered in May of this year, when I stayed up at night to watch the teaser as soon as it dropped on YouTube. Whatever I may have said in a previous post, written in a fit of what can only be described as post-Thalaivar-padam-watching-euphoria, there is no denying that Lingaa was nothing short of a travesty. The story was boring, the supporting characters were awful, the climax was shit. There came a point where there’s only so much suspension of disbelief that one can perform, given that time and again you were watching a post 60 year old man play a 25 year old on screen. So for once, it was refreshing to see Rajni seem like he was playing his own age. Granted there was a sequence in the teaser in which he looked young, but the make up looked convincing enough that you could afford to suspend disbelief a little more. I had faith in Pa.Ranjith, who had made gritty realistic films in the past. Although he was inexperienced, I was glad Rajni took a chance with him rather than go to his familiar stable of directorial horses in the form of P. Vasu, Shankar and KS Ravikumar. It seemed to me that the hype level was justified. I was hopeful.

To tell you this movie is divisive is putting it mildly. I’m guessing people expected the Thalaivar with the Larger-Than-Life persona that he had cultivated over the last twenty years. What they got instead was a Thalaivar who had to showcase his acting chops after a long time. I was impressed, this was a Thalaivar I hadn’t seen in a while. I had missed him.

I thought Ranjith did a decent job given what he had. There were parts of the film that I loved, like the story – it wasn’t an all out revenge saga of a gangster – rather it was more of a gangster searching for his long-lost family; and parts of the film that I hated, like the editing which was all over the place.  Unfortunately, this film was never fully fleshed out as either a completely Ranjith film, which you expected to be more grounded in realism, or a full Rajni film, which you expected to be chock full with style. It was somewhere in between. And fans didn’t like that. They wanted the Thalaivar of yore, echoing back to his Annamalai, Baasha and Padaiyappa days. The fact remains that you might never get to see that Thalaivar again. The paradox of directing someone like Rajni today is that he has become so larger-than-life that it’s probably going to be very difficult to convince people that he is still capable of oozing style, as well as act in a good story.

This film could have been better, but I’m not complaining. First movie with D, so a little special.

HP and the Cursed Child: I grew up with Potter. I read the Philosopher’s Stone when I was 10 or 11 and there’s been no looking back – I devoured the rest of the books as and when they were released (once I caught up to the release schedule) and finished my last one in 2007, when I was 17 – the same age Harry, Ron and Hermione were by the end of the series. I would quote the books in conversation (“You wouldn’t know a joke if it danced naked in front of you wearing nothing but Dobby’s tea-cosy” – I still don’t know what a tea-cosy is). I loved the movies and watched all – barring Hallows part 2 – of them in the theater. To say I loved the series would be an understatement.

I am 25 now. I got to know of the play much after it was announced – I knew something was brewing from JKR as I was subscribed to the Pottermore email list some time back, but I didn’t bother finding out what – and had no idea there was a book launch surrounding the play. I was reminded of it when I had marked that I was “interested” in a Facebook event concerning the book launch on July 31 – Harry’s birthday. Undeterred by the fact that it was the script of the play written by someone else and not a novelization by JKR (which would have been infinitely cooler), I pre-ordered the book on Amazon, if nothing but to relive my childhood and the joy of owning a HP book again.

I didn’t have too many expectations prior to receiving the book. Once I got it in hand however, I was excited. It may not have been a HP novel in the true sense of the word but it was a new story by JKR! Marred by my corporate job, it took me three days to finish the book.

I hated it.

There are so many plotholes, so many questions raised, so many issues I have with the book. The new characters are downright boring, the returning characters are thoroughly different from the ones that I grew up with, the plot line as such is contrived and seems like it was such bad fan-fiction that I am stunned that JKR came up with this story. She has clearly taken a George Lucas route with this book and has come up with something pretty dreadful. Although at least Lucas had a good basis going for him with the prequel trilogy – exploring Vader’s past is a cool story in itself. There is really no reason for JKR to have come up with this. Granted, it may look great on stage with the effects and set changes (which seem infinite in number going by the script) – but special effects do not a good a story make.

Prior to reading the book, I was wondering who the “cursed child” in the title could be. After having read the book, which fails to answer the question concretely, I’ve come to the conclusion that I, as the reader, am the cursed child.

But that’s the problem with having created iconic characters such as Potter or having molded into such an iconic character as Rajni (I take the liberty of calling him a character as he has become one, playing pretty much the same person since the early 90s – sort of akin to Clint Eastwood in the Man with No Name trilogy). Whatever you try to do with them, it might not be the best a fan can expect.

Lol JK.

D and I were having a conversation yesterday about how JK Rowling “really messed up Harry’s love life” (her words not mine, though I tend to agree). Excerpts, paraphrased here and there for clarity:

D: Harry isn’t very romantic and needed a cool girlfriend, fine. But that track could have been so much better.

Me: The Harry-Ginny track felt forced even in the books. Ginny is cool and all, but it was quite random. And the movies…

D: Let’s not even get started on the movies. JKR suddenly gave it some thought, and decided to make Ginny cool all of a sudden. Adhukku munaadi avala loose maadhri portray pannirndha.

Me: “Oh, Harry needs a love interest. I can’t get him and Hermione together because that would be predictable. Ron basically needs some closure for his character because let’s face it, the movies effed him up. HEY! Hermione and him would be perfect! But that leaves Harry with nobody. Let’s face it, Cho is so severely one-dimensional and massively boring that she can’t sustain as a character.  So who do I pair Harry with… Oh wait, Ginny’s doing nothing, why not her.”

– JKR’s thought process

D: And also – “shit, do people like Ginny? She needs to be made cool somehow. Let’s get her to play Quidditch. That seems safe. Some obstacle irrukanume… Oh yeah, best friend’s sister. Perfect. Now love potion to kindle memories, and kiss.”

I’ve always had gripes about Harry and Ginny’s kaadhal kadhai. I grew to love Ginny’s character as the books progressed, but however cool she became later on, she just wasn’t an interesting character initially. JKR can very well say now that this was always her intention – to ensure that nobody (Harry included) paid attention to her and then suddenly, wham, she hits you with being an amazing person well into the series. Hints were dropped in the earlier books, sure, but the romance definitely felt contrived. And if there’s one thing the movies got wrong (apart from completely messing up Ron’s character, even though Rupert Grint was perfectly cast for the role), it was Ginny. Bonnie Wright, blah.