Recently I’ve come across a spate of articles online denouncing La La Land and nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking on it, because it’s cool to hate on something which a large majority adores. I’ve seen complaints like the characters are shallow, Emma Stone can’t dance, Ryan Gosling’s voice is too reedy, the Los Angeles depicted in the film isn’t representative of today’s LA because it doesn’t have a single gay person in it, “BUT WHAT IS THE ENDING SUPPOSED TO MEAN?”, and the like. These complaints which don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m biased. I wholeheartedly love the movie and have watched it thrice in a span of two months, unprecedented when it comes to my movie-watching habits. I think it has all the bearings of a modern day classic. And with the adulation that it’s been getting in the awards circle, clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Let’s face it though, despite it being an outstanding film, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s deserving of 14 Oscar nominations. For example, I don’t think Ryan Gosling deserves a Best Actor nod, because though he was great, I don’t believe it was a performance worth nominating. Maybe it was a weak year for actors. Hell, it wasn’t even HIS best performance of the year (here’s looking at you, The Nice Guys, you criminally underrated gem). I am also ambivalent about Emma Stone’s performance in the film – I like her in every film I’ve seen of hers, and she knocks it out of the park during the last half hour or so from the audition scene onward, but I feel like she’s basically playing her character the same way she’s played it in a lot of her other films for a better part of this one.

Then again, maybe I’m just peeved that Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival. Emma Stone aside, damn it Meryl Streep, enough with your nominations already.

The Academy – film societies in general, really – loves films which allows it to pat itself on the back. And La La Land, in all its technicolor glory, does just that. Which is why even though I’ll be happy if the film does end up winning Best Picture at the Oscars tomorrow, there would be a small part of me wondering whether Damien Chazelle did in fact play it to his target audience – in this case, not the general public or the critics, but the folks giving out the awards.

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.

ARIMAAHEYY

You know you’re watching a Thalaivar padam outside of India when the people in the row behind you are arguing about whether it would be ok to put whistle or not.

Lingaa has cemented Rajini’s status as a superhero. He jumps, performs martial arts stunts, flies, kills with abandon and gets the ladies to swoon. The man has built up such a larger-than-life image for himself in India that the climax, taken out of context, could easily confuse the unsuspecting viewer for a scene from a documentary based on his life. Ok not really, but you get what I mean. There’s so much unbelievable stuff happening in the climax that it would make Shah Rukh Khan climax and plan fervently for a Lungi Dance Part 2 to feature in his next film. It requires as much disbelief suspension from the audience’s end as mid air suspension performed by a youth Thalaivar, and it is precisely for this reason that the “Super Star” mass doesn’t come through as much as one would want.

Rajini films have now become something of an experience, an event. That he releases only a film once every two or three years only serves to strengthen this. I’ve come to a point where I don’t care what people say about his films anymore. Whatever one may think about it, it is undeniably fun.

Lingaa doesn’t come anywhere close to the paal abhishekam requiring, cracker bursting level of badassery that a Baasha or a Padaiyappa can bring to you. It’s derivative, it’s bloated, it’s overlong, and it rides on the image that the country has created for its hero. But it holds its own, and for me that’s enough.