Thamizh Talkies: Gods among men
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
The festival weekend outings (Durga Pooja), that stretches all the way up to mid-January (pongal), has begun. This Navaratri has already seen an influx of movies, and in multiple languages no less. For a change, it is good to be spoilt for choices even in terms of genres. If Asuran is leading the way when it comes to gritty tales and solid collections, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy is leading the way in epic blockbusters. A mega star in a mega budget movie where each character is played by luminaries from across India, seems to be a sure-fire formula, and one which the Telugu film industry has practised as an art to much perfection. Take any successful mythology from the black and white era and you will find that it would have been produced by either Nagi Reddy or LV Prasad, until SS Vaasan changed the scenario with Avvaiyar. He gave the world the meaning of magnum opus with his Chandralekha. Even still, it’s the Telugu film industry that has the record for producing most epic stories that we have so fondly read in Amar Chitra Katha comics, be it from the Ramayana or Mahabharata or historical tales or even stories from freedom struggles.
In Tamil, the tales of gods and goddess were left to filmmaker AP Nagarajan. His films on Lord Muruga (Kandhan Karunai that gave a big break to actor Sivakumar who played Murugan, with Sivaji Ganesan playing his lieutenant, Veerabhagu) and the other super hits, Thiruvilayadal, Thirumal Perumai, Thiruvarutchelvar and Saraswathi Sabatham (all of which had Sivaji Ganesan as the lead, and other major actors too, like Gemini Ganesan, Savitri, K R Vijaya, Nagesh and others) were all big films, both in terms of production value, star cast and box office collections. Mythological stories with multiple stars have always been money spinners. My all-time favourites are Karnan in Tamil (with the Telugu touch of NT Rama Rao who played Krishna), Sampoorna Ramayanam (NTR again as Rama), MGR’s Madurai Veeran (not mythology but a historical take, like Veerapaandiya Kattabomman or Sye Raa).
Casting a hero from another language in an important role has been the norm for such productions, as it expands the market for the film. Amitabh Bachchan, Vijay Sethupathy and Sudeep in Sye Raa along with actresses like Nayanthara and Tammanah who are recognised across state borders, make the project viable with good prospects to see an ‘on the table profit’ for the producer (and not just the distributors or theatre owners). When it comes to content, it is wise to dig into history, because the story and key events are readymade. A heroic tale is even better because no matter what the genre, we like to see the triumph of human spirit against all odds. The triumph could be a personal win (Gully Boy) or it could be an uprising/collective victory for mankind (Gandhi or Sye Raa).
The canvas of an epic film is perhaps best for a hero whose business and appeal is also of epic proportions. Chiranjeevi dons a lead role where he unleashes his mega star power in full might, ably aided by a superb crew, in Sye Raa. Close on the film’s heels comes the teaser of another mega star’s (Mammotty’s) mega movie in Malayalam, titled Mamaangam. Mammotty has earlier had super hits playing historical characters in Oru Vadakkan Veerakatha and Kerala Varma Pazhasiraaja. His regal appearance and stature automatically lend gravitas to such films.
In Tamil, the most awaited magnum opus film in this genre now, will have to be Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan, the epic semi-fiction series on the ascent of Raja Raja Chozhan by Kalki. This story has had a strange allure for all superstars in Tamil, and a film adaptation has been started and shelved by many icons beginning from MGR, owing to the intricate nature of its multiple characters (therefore the casting and shooting details will pose a big challenge which Team Mani Ratnam looks to have cracked now). To this list of epics, I will also add Kamal Haasan’s Marudhanayagam and Marmayogi, two films which, had they been finished, would have likely led this renewed trend of super hits in the historical or epic-fantasy genre. Well, as they say, the best is always yet to come.