Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finnish films that remind me of Indian films.

I try to keep this blog as on-topic as possible; no reviews of non-Indian movies or movies not at all relating to the country or the diaspora. But I have to make an exception with this post because the topic wouldn't leave me alone.

We'll start from the modern. Tyttö sinä olet tähti (international title "Beauty and the Bastard" is topically accurate but the direct translation would be "Girl you are a star") is a romantic comedy directed by newcomer Dome Karukoski. The set-up is classic; Nelli, a girl from a well-off family, and Sune, a boy from a not-really-well-off family. What unites them is music; Nelli aspires to become an r'n'b singer whereas Sune's a part of an underground hiphop group. He agrees to help her make a demo even though he thinks r'n'b is a disease more than it's a style of music, and this kicks off their eventual love story.

So there is the Romeo&Juliet-esque set up, music plays an important part in the movie (though it's mostly heard as background score and in a couple of performances) and the film is unabashedly romantic. But what really makes TSOT redolent of Indian cinema is the faith that the director has to the format and the story. It's no doubt a fluffy film, but the director gets that, and is not ashamed of the fact - instead he goes all out to make the best fluffy film he possibly could, and succeeds brilliantly. Characters, execution, comedy, romance - it all just works. It's a pet peeve of mine that many film makers outside India (and admittedly, also within it) tend to have a huge disregard for the romantic film genre even though they make films that belong to it. So no wonder if the results are boring, the characters unrelatable and the story evokes zero emotion in the viewer.

One more thing that made me think of Indian films was the use of kisses in the film. The director saves the kiss until the very end of TSOT, and it works perfectly. It was originally Indian cinema that made me realize that kisses don't make a movie romantic; a good story along with actors who share on-screen chemistry do. Whether you have kisses is irrelevant, but a well-placed kissing scene can further the story or in some cases, provide a wonderful happy ending. The question is not "kissing - yes or no?" but rather, "kissing - when and why?".

Then onto a new topic: the golden age of Finnish cinema or as we call it, Suomifilmi. It resembles classic Hollywood in certain features; there was an established studio system, and stars shone brighter than ever. Pictured here are the golden pair of 1930's-1940's, Ansa Ikonen and Tauno Palo.

Finns are about as good as Indians at bashing and belittling their own cinema - though one might argue that considering the popularity of Finnish films abroad (virtually nonexistant) and even domestically (rising but not big), Finns are more allowed to do so. Suomifilmi-productions are often rather populist and it's fair to say that the cinemas of other Nordic countries at the time are more accomplished. The type of language that is used in the films is nowadays parodied. The acting they contained was rather exaggerated and theatrical, a fact that is also included in parodies.

Anyway, it was a classic Tamil film called Thillana Mohambal that reminded me of this Suomifilmi school of acting. This is by no means a bad thing; I enjoyed the 1968 Sivaji Ganesan-starrer immensely, and it introduced me partly to the Carnatic music/Bharatanatyam dancing traditions of South-India that I've later grown to love. It's difficult to elaborate the association I had, especially for people who've seen neither TM or Suomifilmi. It was something to do with the mood of the film and dialogue delivery, perhaps also to do with the acting of side characters; Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini, the grand pair of the era and stars of the film, were more understated in their performances than the rest. (The music of the film, by the way, is exquisite.)

As far as specific Suomifilmi favourites of mine go, I recall adoring two films especially; Prinsessa Ruusunen (The Sleeping Beauty), a costume drama of the fairytale and Vaimoke (Pretend-Wife), a light romantic film where a spunky young woman (Ansa Ikonen) teaches a flirt (Tauno Palo) a lesson. I sincerely doubt either are available on DVD with English subtitles, so most of you won't be able to check them out. For that reason, I won't ramble about them in length.

So while most of you won't be able to get your hands on most of the films discussed here, I hope this was interesting and - if nothing else - slightly educative.


ajnabi said...

Wow, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even think of Finland as having a film industry (*blush*). This was an interesting post. A lot of older HW films make me think of BW--like the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers projects--except for the abbreviated length.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! Must remember to pick up a few Finnish movies when I visit Helsinki. If I had to pick just a couple of them to start with, which ones would you recommend?

I quite liked Thillana when I watched it as a kid, and it has stayed with me. Even now, when I watch the song Kannalane from Mani Ratnam's Bombay, I keep getting reminded somehow of that song in TM where Sivaji sneaks off to watch Padmini dance and she catches him at it.


veracious said...

ajnabi - No worries, it's not like our industry is big and well-known. I love Fred/Ginger films. :)

ramsu - Tough one. I would recommend "Tummien perhosten koti" by the same director as "Tyttö sinä olet tähti". Pick up both if you want something modern. I also liked "Pitkä kuuma kesä", another youth-centric film. Finnish cinema doesn't really have Sholay or DDLJ type must-sees at least as far as I know so it's difficult to say what else I would recommend.. When (if?) you do visit Helsinki, I can e-mail you addresses of a film shop I love going to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recos.

I plan to be in Helsinki in early July to attend a conference on learning theory. Unless the embassy refuses me a visa, I should be there!

Do mail me the name and address of the store you mentioned - you can mail it to gs.ramsu@gmail.com.


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