I suppose it's not totally impossible for a person who primarily taps into the Hindi side of Indian films to understand what the term, "a film by Shankar" truly means. After all, he has done Nayak: The Hero with Anil Kapoor and Rani Mukherji, and there are Hindi-dubbed versions of both Anniyan (relabeled Aparichit) and Indian (which translated to Hindustani) out there. But at least to my non-Indian sensibilities, his style is full-on Southie, and his broad-appeal films need to be digested in Tamil, as most of them were intended to.
I've talked about Anniyan before, and reviewed Sivaji: The Boss. Besides those, I've seen Nayak and Boys, and now I've also seen Indian, which is nothing short of essential Shankar, coupled with the acting legend Kamal Hassan and an A. R. Rahman soundtrack.
The plot of Indian is fairly simple in the beginning, but blows up to extremely epic proportions by the end of the film. Chandru (Kamal Hassan) does servant-type favors to a rich family in order to get a promotion in his public servant career. The daughter of the family Sapna (Urmila Matondkar) bosses him around haughtily, which doesn't sit well with his animal-loving girlfriend Aishwarya (Manisha Koirala). Meanwhile, a police detective Krishnaswamy (Nedumudi Venu) is tracking down a series of murders, where all victims are government employees and the killer appears to be an old man (also Kamal Hassan) who simply goes by the name Indian...
So, what is Shankar all about, then? First and foremost, at the core of most of his films are the societal ills that affect India as a country. I've often thought about these social message Southie masalas, that tackle pretty serious topics, like corruption, black money, etc. The films typically offer up one hero to preach at the crowds and scare the evil-doers into acting responsibly and morally. The message is; if we all stopped doing this, we wouldn't have this problem. Everybody needs to correct their own behavior, and if we all do so, the problem will cease to exist.
Simplistic but true. In both Indian and Anniyan, it takes more than a few bodies to get the message through, something that may not sit well with everybody. But I think I read somewhere that these messages of social change coupled with rather extreme violence are a sort of cathartic release for the audiences, who in their ordinary lives grow frustrated at the corruption or such issues. In real life there is no Vikram, Rajnikanth or Kamal Hassan hero figure to kill all the baddies, but to see the scenario takes away the anger built up in everyday life.
Pure speculation on my part, of course. I've always lived in one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Even if the corruption is exaggerated in this movie, corruption is a big problem and I can't even imagine what the realities must be like..
While the social message, coupled with home-state pride and tons of patriotism (Jai hind! Vande maatram! and so on), is at the core of the film, it is cushioned by masala elements. There are plenty of incredibly imaginative song picturizations (with all the picture manipulation you can imagine they had in 1996), comedy bits here and there, and the romance between Kamal and Manisha is pretty cute.
Even if Indian isn't as solid as some other Shankar films I've seen (Anniyan remains a heavily rewatched favourite), it brings on entertainment in staggering amounts. And the song picturizations are virtually undescribable, so much so I think most of my screencaps are taken from the songs because oh god, they're so fantastically Shankar. Visual, explosive, crazy, full of special effects.. Let's examine the first song, wherein Urmila and Kamal shake a leg together (Kamal may be just a man with a pudgy face to some of you but he's actually a classically trained dancer and is quite entertaining to watch).
We begin with painted faces and bodies. You know, as you would.
Moving onto futuristic black clothes. His cape! It sparkles!
Hawaii-inspired holiday clothes. I can't see the logic that connects this to sparkly cape but I concede because Shankar's cinematic logic is superior to my measly human one.
So then there are some costume changes and Kamal breathes fire. Have I mentioned how much I adore Shankar? This is one of those reasons why.
And of course, the denim costume changes and Urmila's shirt that has fluffy bits over her breasts. I couldn't come up with this stuff. Even on drugs.
Can you make sense of this? It's a total brainmeltdown. I think Shankar just burst through all existing dimensions with his use of CGI. Hot damn.
I love it, love it, love it. But I can't take any more and therefore moving onto another song!
Little penguins and Manisha! Cutest!
Non-koala koala kisses! There is something so ridiculously cute about the way this Australia-filmed picturization begins.
But eventually it gets a little strange. They're on an old-timey ship and...
Kamal is a cowboy and...
They're in Australia so naturally they dance in front of the Sydney Opera House.
I think that's enough song picturization screencaps, but I have to post one more. At one point the movie launches into a flashback sequence of the colonial period, which is shot in black&white. Until the point of independence, when we finally get colours and this song, with a glorious cavalcade of Indian costumes from different regions and time periods.
I don't really have that many complaints. It's a good film, maybe just a tad too declaring and harsh, with the hero just a little too full of patriotic zeal. I accept all of that as traits of a Shankar movie, but that doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy. The old make-up on Kamal Hassan and Sukanuya who portrays the wife of "Indian" (at least I think the actress is Sukanuya - if it's not, feel free to correct me) was fairly good but lacked wrinkles and was layed on so thick it made them look very stony-faced. Kamal Hassan's acting can be very expressive but in this character he could only really act with his body and eyes, and I felt the lack of facial expression really hurt the character's believablity and sympathy one should have towards him.
Overall, Indian is the quintessential Shankar films but one that I wouldn't recommend as anybody's first Shankar film. It's a little dated but doesn't fail to entertain.
Another movie ticked off my Southie to-watch-list. Yay!