Tag Archives: #Tollywood

Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

Tamil Film Exclusively at the San Jose Drive-In

West Wind Drive-In Theatre in San Jose will offer a special limited run three-day run of the long-awaited and critically acclaimed film Master, a Tamil-language action-thriller film directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.

“We are thrilled to have the exclusive Northern California screening of Master,” explains Nancy Crane, Vice President of Operations for West Wind Drive-Ins and Public Markets. We are lucky to be selected to show this lavish action-thriller. The cinematography is superb and the storyline is exceptional.”   

The film follows a charming young professor (Vijay), who is addicted to alcohol, is looked down on by his colleagues but is adored by his students. He is sent for a 3-month teaching stint to an Observation Home for Juvenile delinquents. He realizes the reformatory is controlled by Vijay Sethupathi, who uses the children in this Home for his unscrupulous, nefarious activities. The story is about the clash between them and if truth triumphs!

The film starts Friday, January 15 for a very limited three-day run.  


 

SandiSpell: Spelling Bee Champ to Tollywood Remix Artist

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

After a hectic day in high school, comparing notes with classmates to understand derivatives and limits to traveling to various suburbs in central Massachusetts to play tennis, nothing grounded me more than resting my forehead on the window of a moving school bus listening to my favorite song. The melodious vocals of Sadhana Sargam on her award-winning song ‘Manasa’ from the Telugu movie ‘Munna’. Fast forward 10 years, I still find comfort listening to Desi tracks every morning on my way to work. Recently, I came across a mix on SoundCloud called “A Decade in Rewind: Tollywood Edition“. A mix of familiar Telugu classics I grew up with blended with hip hop vocals and beats by a name familiar to those in the desi dance circuit, SandiSpell aka Snigdha Nandipati. Having seen her name as the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion, I knew I had to speak to her and find out how she was breathing new life into songs that of us grew up with.

My interviews on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ primarily focus on identity. What has been a constant amongst the different personalities I encounter is this – this generation finds its own unique way to express their South Asian Identity. For Snigdha, one such outlet of her identity was through her music. Like many, she grew up singing and continued to hone her craft at Yale through her campus acapella group. While she learned how to harmonize with others, dissect melodies and beats, she wanted to implement the same techniques to the Telugu classics she grew up with. In between recording covers and acapellas of Telugu songs, she found herself in a community that many young South Asian creatives find their roots – The Desi Dance Network Forums. Check out my interview with Snigdha Nandipati on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ to hear about what her Telugu identity means to her, and how she expresses it through her music.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

A Holidays Must Watch: Brand New Dawn

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (PPK), the Tamilian short story anthology, is the sine qua non of the 2020 emotional roller coaster.

“Memories of a brand new dawn” are five short films completed during the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown in March, in India.Five short stories by five accomplished filmmakers take us into the homes of people locked in the early days of the COVID pandemic in India. It was released on October 16, 2020, on Amazon Prime.

The stories are a lyrical peek into love, family, despair, and friendly shenanigans. To me, they bring back tender memories of Malgudi Days.

In my zoom interview with Rajiv Menon for India Currents (find it at the end of the article), I was hesitant to say the name out loud for the fear of mispronouncing it but ever since then, I have been happily recommending Putham Pudhu Kaalai to everyone! I love the “skirted” Tamil script, the dialogues, and the music!

Rajiv Menon said it reminded him of “film institute” days. All of them brought their inherent creative talent and expertise to stories of new beginnings, bruised relationships, and dreams with a buoyant playfulness.  

#1. Ilamai Idho Idho: Directed by Sudha Kongara with Jayaram as Rajiv Padmanabhan and Urvashi as Lakshmi Krishnan, is an effervescent champagne cocktail! How two quinquagenarians are transported to their teenage years with the chime of a doorbell is endearing! Like their squabbles over domestic chores over “spoons, dishes, and wet towels.” I wonder if Kalidas is developing Parkinson’s because he drops cups and saucers while offering tea to his girlfriend! Composer GV Prakash’s music of this short inspired by a Kamal Hasaan song is lilting! Will their kids approve of their rendezvous after the lockdown is the question.

#2. Avarum Naanum / Avalum Naanum: Directed by Gautham Menon with MS Bhaskar as“tatta” grandfather and Ritu Varma as “Kanna ” granddaughter. Kanna visits her estranged tatta, a nuclear physicist but is pleasantly surprised by him. I cried with the octogenarian in a checked shirt who can dice mangoes, fix routers, berate rude managers, and pine for his daughter’s melody! Art deco mirror, gramophone, family photos, and the Bodhi tree tie into the narrative. The flashback of two girls in their silk skirts holding sweets reincarnated childhood. I think of this and singBachpan ke Babuji the, acche acche babuji the..

#3. Coffee, Anyone?: Directed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam. On the eve of their mother’s seventy-fifth birthday, two daughters come home to a mother with a pontine stroke and a father is treating her at home!  Suhasini has opened a Pandora’s box of family dynamics, aging parents, fertility, and dyslexia. The mother reminds me of my mother with a “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth”  but stronger in her resolve as a cup of potent filter coffee! The home with a mango tree, a wrought iron gate, and swarming feminine energy is familiar too! Squabbles, selfies, kumkum, birthday wishes at midnight will make us all sing Tu kitni acchi hai, tu kitni pyari, hai, bholi bhali hai. O ma, o ma…”

#4. Reunion: Written and directed by Rajiv Menon with a cast of Andrea Jeremiah, Leela Samson, and Sikkil Gurucharan is wonderful! Rajiv Menon was surprised that I had not watched the anthology but once he knew I was a physician, he shared the backstory that prompted him to write the script. Carnatic musician Sikkil Gurucharan is a doctor who after being exposed to a COVID-19 patient is quarantined with his mother, an elegant Leela Samson, and an old school friend Sadhana (Andrea). He discovers that she is a drug addict! The feng shui of the sloping red-tiled Kerala style home with black and white photographs of palm trees, temples, and fishing nets is beguiling. There is an echo of a popular song “Ooo la la…  by the director, and lyrical poetry reveals Rajiv Menon as an incurable romantic. The best poems are always those written to our childhood sweethearts. I want to wear a Kerala saree, drink deep from the fresh mint mojito, and dance on the blue-tiled courtyard! Rajiv Menon writes in English/Tamil but his dialogues are in Malayalam, his matribhasha.

As a physician, I give him full marks for taking cues from his own arthritic mother, Apollo hospital’s ICU is packed with patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal in lockdown, and doctors treating patients without proper PPE. Rajiv Menon got this right! Once a doctor- always a doctor at home or in the clinic! An unexpectedly tender love story of redemption and joy. I remembered “ Taare hain baraati, chandni hai ye barat

#5. Miracle: directed by Karthik Subbaraj with Bobby Simha as Devan K. Muthu Kumar as Michael is about an Indie filmmaker and two hoodlums who want to make quick money inspired by a spiritual “Baba” with a scripted message: Miracles do happen! This quixotic comedy of errors crescendos to a climax with rolls of crisp rupees rolling out from proverbial Sheikh Chilli’s imagination!  Who loses, who wins is the question? Karthik Subbaraj has certainly won my applause with an uncanny knack to conjure a hilarious tale with an iPhone with awesome night scenes! This last short is radically different and perhaps that makes it more memorable. The fact that I was able to narrate it to my grandson in India in one breath says a lot!  These “Do deewane shahar mein.., may not have found their biryani but they are content in eating puliyodharai and hoping to catch reruns of Mahabha…rat on a stolen laptop.

I have watched the PPK anthology on Amazon Prime thrice, to familiarize myself with Tamil words, music, and the ambiance of Chennai! I am indebted to the wonderful personal advice given by Rajiv Menon about making good stories! Putham Pudhu Kaalai is relatable like dishes created from a snake gourd-like pachadi, raita, curry and sambar, similar but deliciously different! This analogy does make me hungry! 


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.