Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Madrasapattinam: I want to move there.

I had this saved as a draft and then I watched the film again tonight and actually liked it BETTER the second time around. Wonderful movie! Usually I would have screencapped some pictures for you but, well, you saw the part about me just watching the film again, right? You might also be interested to know that Amy Jackson has allegedly replaced Trisha in the Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa remake. Oh, and Cochin Haneefa who played Nambi the translator passed away at the beginning of 2010. My sympathies to his family.

I honestly had no idea what to expect when I popped
Madrasapattinam into my DVD player. Despite the fact that it had opened to fairly good reviews and a decent box office (you can correct me if I’m wrong), there were a couple of things that could make the film sink for a Western viewer like me, namely the fact that the film takes place in the 1940s and stars an English girl - a former Miss Teen World with no acting experience - opposite Arya. Thankfully, my fears of a robotic lead performance from Ms. Amy Jackson were unfounded and the cross-cultural aspects were dealt with in a firm but fair way.

Most importantly, the more embarrassing aspects of the Rachel Shelly falling for Aamir Khan subplot in
Lagaan were not repeated. (Yes, you know what I’m talking about... “I’m in loooo~oooove!”)

Madrasapattinam is the story of Amy Wilkinson, daughter of the British governor of Madrasapattinam, now Chennai. The film begins with Amy as an old woman (played by the gloriously understated Carole Trungmar). Her husband has died, her health isn’t well, and she has one final wish - to return to India. Chaperoned by her granddaughter (Veer’s Lisa Lazarus), Amy travels to Chennai on a spiritual quest of sorts. But she isn’t looking for enlightenment a la Eat Pray Love. Amy is looking for a man she knew a long time ago. She has something to return to him.

And cue the flashbacks.

The film weaves seamlessly between the elderly Amy’s quest for her old friend and the young Amy’s forging of that very special friendship.

The man in question is played with an endearing earnestness by Arya. I had never seen Arya in anything before so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Although it appears that his dancing skills are non-existent (I’m happy to accept youtube evidence to the contrary), Arya did a nice job with the role of Parithi. His body language was very expressive and his eyes have a real depth to them - very soulful. Arya almost radiated kindness and sincerity and it was easy to understand why Amy would be taken enough with him to strike up a friendship - enough so that his magnificent physique was a bonus and not the whole deal. This was a meeting of souls, not a hormonal coupling.

Young Amy (Amy Jackson) is probably a bit of an anachronistic character but I didn’t really care. (Do I want to watch a period appropriate doormat? No. No, I do not.) The spunky Amy is immedietely thrilled with her new Indian surroundings and wants to learn everything about India and the Indian people. Amy doesn’t just sit around looking pretty - she is given a hobby (photography) and a sharp mind. She teaches herself Tamil, a skill that is used to humorous effect on a number of occasions. And Amy understands the tension between her desire to help the people that she meets and the desire for those same people to help themselves, even if both sides are too polite to really articulate it. It is Amy who initiates contact with Parithi and Amy who finds a way to continue to meet with him. And, finally, (spoiler, but not really) it is Amy who sacrifices her love for the greater good of both of them.

Unfortunately, Amy has a period appropriate minder in the form of one Captain Ellis (the deliciously evil Alexx O’Nell) who wants her for himself and disapproves of her association with Indians. Now, can I just throw some praise at Alexx for the thankless job of playing Evil Whitey? He swished his liquor, called all the Indian men names, and was extremely pale all with great aplomb! There was one scene in particular that had me giggling with glee - there is a wrestling match between Parithi and Captain Ellis (supposedly over Amy but in reality a big pissing contest) and if you’ve seen pictures of Arya, you know who gloriously brown and buff he is (calling Briyanshu!) so to see pasty-white and weedy Alexx squaring off against him was such an effective visual scene... not to mention the style in which Captain Ellis fights. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anybody to say that it’s less than fair.

And there were a few other wonderfully drawn characters - Amy’s Tamil translator; Parithi’s group of friends, the older Amy’s driver and guide.

Madrasapattinam is a well-crafted film. The plot was concise and quick-moving. There were comedy moments but no real comedic side-plot. The music was nice and all the picturizations fit well. The visuals were really well done and considering the effort it must have taken to evoke 1940s Madras, I really appreciate it. The acting is (mostly) good - I couldn’t decide if Lisa Lazarus was pitch-perfect as the laconic teenage granddaughter or if she was just being lazy. You can tell that it’s Amy Jackon’s first time acting but she does a good job. She isn’t the greatest actress ever but there was something very enjoyable in watching her. And I think her performance was hurt somewhat by the dubbing process but she appears to have done her own Tamil dialogues, which is always nice. The Indian cast, Alexx O’Nell, and Carole Trungmar were all excellent.

One more note. Unlike
Lagaan, which is really the only film I have to compare this with, Madrasapattinam felt a lot more like a popular Indian film with masala film techniques. There were some realistic songs but then there were a few fantasy numbers, too, including one beautiful one set in England. There was some very broad slapstick humor, some melodrama, and the pacing was nice and leisurely. Anybody looking for strict realism won’t find it here.

So, is
Madrasapattinam the greatest film of all time? No. But did I love it? Yes. And do I recommend this? Absolutely! 100%!


Githa Vanan said...

Brown and Buff..lol!! I love it.. Great writing. Lovely review. I still cant review it since I go gaga over Arya.. :P

Anonymous said...

I thought Amy was forward-thinking but not too anachronistic. Maybe it was something about the British Raj, but the other English characters seemed to have stepped out of the Edwardian time period.

dustdevil liz said...

I agree with myrna-nora, Amy was fine for the 1940's, it was the rest of the Brits who seemed a bit out of date.

I really enjoyed this movie as well, for a lot of reasons you mentioned. I especially liked all of the peripheral characters, like Arya's sister, the 1940s translator, and the modern guide.

It also definitely used some tropes from Titanic (older woman seeking her lost lover, the final, extended chase scene and how Amy and Parithi are separated), but to very good effect, I thought.

You should absolutely watch Varudu, in which Arya is a fabulous villain. I also recommend Pattiyal and Sarvam.

Anu Russell said...


This is my review of the movie...please visit it.

I had tears in my eyes watching this movie. I could place my parents in Chennai 70 years ago and see how things could have been through this movie...it was not only a great movie but a movie the revived Madras from the past very nicely.

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