Talking Movies: Character under observation
The writer is the entertainment editor of The New Indian Express
There will come a point in the distant future when the burgeoning number of medical colleges in our state will decide to do away with all their professors, and by then, they may well be able to afford to do that, considering the number of films we are slowly churning out that are based on medical conditions. The notice board will likely read: "Classroom 3: anterograde amnesia. AR Murugadoss’ Ghajini."
Over the years, we have covered quite a few exotic diseases/disorders under the aegis of Tamil cinema. We’ve done that most conducive condition for cinema—dissociative identity disorder—in Anniyan.
Kamal Haasan spent extensive time in delineating some of the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia in Aalavandhan.
And this trend spilled over even into masala cinema when Vishal did Naan Sigappu Manithan, whose protagonist suffered from narcolepsy.
And in keeping with this trend, today, we have the release of Peechaankai, which has been promoted as a film about a hero who suffers from something called alien hand syndrome (as part of which a person’s limb acts on its own), and this is likely the most exotic of all the conditions we have made films about, considering that since the dawn of the last century, only 50 people are reported to have been afflicted by this. Peechaankai will show us the life of the 51st case.
And you have to wonder, would the writers scroll through a painstakingly collected list of exotic conditions before zeroing on one that seems interesting enough? Abscess? "No, too grizzly." Achilles tendon rupture? "Meh, not big enough." Acute pancreatitis. "No, not glamorous enough." Air sickness. "Hmm, how about we make a story of an air-sick fighter pilot?" Now, they are likely on to something.
The director of Peechaankai, in a recent interview with us, revealed that at the outset, he had decided to make a film about a medical condition. And you can see why such a condition would be an attractive proposition for a storyteller. The condition itself usually dictates quite a few important sequences, without the storyteller having to rack his brains to make up situations. If your protagonist has narcolepsy, you instantly know that he will fall asleep at a time of great need. If he has retrograde amnesia (like in Vetri Vizha), you know that a large part of the film will be about his trying to learn more about his past. And if he suffers from alien hand syndrome, you know that the involuntary hand will play god at a time of great peril and save the protagonist from danger. These sequences write themselves.
They also take care of large swathes of the development portions that some of our notorious filmmakers fill up with inane comedy tracks and pointless romantic sequences. In films about a medical condition, the filmmaker will be forced to expend time in familiarising you with the nitty-gritties of the disease, perhaps through the words of a Nizhalgal Ravi or a Nasser dressed as a doctor. And hey, who’s complaining when for the price of a ticket, you get entertainment AND a lesson in biology?