Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gautham Menon - The Kamal Hassan of Tamil Film Direction

I would badly like to pass off a generalization like "Tamil cinema is probably the film industry with the highest ratio of pretentious-scumbags-to-genuinely-talented film personalities in the world", however, such a gross generalization would likely divert the attention from the subject of my post. Hence, despite temptation, I would like to refrain from making the previous statement.

What would you get if you had a director with reasonable talent, some creativity, a little gumption, a lot of luck and oodles of arrogance mistakenly self-assumed as chutzpah? You'd get Gautham Vasudev Menon.

I only recently realized that he happens to be the director of two of the movies I hate most - Vaaranam Aayiram & Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu. However, on seeing the movies, I usually cringe at Surya's nails-scratching-blackboard-level dialogues+delivery (in the former) and Kamal's laughably funny demeanour (in the latter). Funnily enough, the direction of GVM never struck me during my repeated irritations during watchings of either movie. And to think I really have/had him as one of the Tamil directors to watch out for, every time his movie releases. Coming to think of it, there's exactly one GVM movie that I adore - and that movie remains one of my all-time favourite Tamil movies - Minnale. Oh wait, there's also Kaakha Kaakha, but following that up immediately with the utterly unpalatable Vettiyaadu..., that too with a very similar storyline, having Iyengar mama deliver macho lines more-or-less wiped out all lovely memories of Kaakha...

The main problem with GVM is his ultra-hyper wannabeness. Wannabeness oozes from every pore of his movies. Minnale & Kaakha Kaakha somehow escaped this. The thing with people who are talented, but with limited doses at that is - by the first few opportunities, they have somehow exhausted their talent. And they have impressed people somehow so much that two things happen - one-people immediately have semma expectations and two-people conclude this guy is awesome and anything he does subsequently is interpreted as awesome.
This is pretty much the case with Gautham Menon.

There is also a certain pure rawness in one's first few works that subsequently cannot even be dreamt of. Take Roja, for instance. (Rahman, however, is blessed with much much more talent than GVM of course). Minnale & KK are classic examples. There was this rawness to Minnale that made it endearing. Yes, Maddy's remonstrations were definitely nowhere as brilliant as Alaipayuthey, but they did justice to the setting. KK had its rawness in the sophistication of both Surya's & Jo's characters. However I guess GVM made the mistake of pulling out his best too soon.

So at the end of two movies, GVM became this "next big thing after Maniratnam". Cock a doodle doo. And bang - his subsequent movies began to have this air of an experienced campaigner aware of his awesomeness. In GVM's case, considering he was from *this* generation, that experience of an old hand had to be supplemented with coolness. Only, it was wannabeness at its pristine best.
"Raghavan Instinct", "Un****ing believable", to name two outstanding examples. Though there are good chances that the former was courtesy our dear Iyengar rationalist mama himself, however, Gautham Menon's pretentiousness tilts the probability of him being the genius behind this in his favour. Surya's entire dialogue from Vaaranam Aayiram I'd add, but that deserves a whole post on itself.

This wannabeness has a lot of Kamal in it. In Kamal's case, however, he's been around for so long and has peddled his intellectuality enough (in different forms) to at least sow the seeds of doubt in you (doubt that, oru velai, thappi thavari, ivar nejamaave intellectual'a iruppaaro'nu).
Fortunately also, Kamal has loads more talent and has enough success to show (i.e. Success minus pretentiousness). As also from time to time, forcing you to wonder if you were being too harsh on him.
This Gautham Menon guy - no.