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December 31, 1998


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Year of the big bombs

A still from Dil Se. Click for bigger pic!
As another year comes to an end -- in Tamil films, as elsewhere -- you tend to take stock. And the first thing that strikes you, about the year that was in Tamil films, is the bombing, albeit in relative terms, of two mega-budget movies, by two directors with an all-India reputation.

Mani Ratnam, the man who focussed national attention on Tamil cinema with his Roja, failed in his bid to woo the Hindi audiences with the made-for-Bollywood Dil Se -- this, despite the presence of Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala.

Why did the film go bust, despite all its obvious plus points? Perhaps there lurks a clue in something Mani said in the aftermath of its release: "I will not," he told an interviewer, "make any more films in Hindi and dub in Tamil, from now on it will be Tamil first, the other languages after that."

Inherent in that premature New Year's resolution, perhaps, was the realisation that the Tamil audience did not take too kindly to Shah Rukh mouthing Tamil.

Mani Rathnam
It seems to work just fine with the bevy of Bollywood belles regularly making it big down in Kollywood, but when it comes to the guys, it's a seeming no-no (perhaps the flip side of the fact that southern male stars, no matter how talented -- the name of Kamal Haasan comes to mind here) rarely make waves in Hindi cinema.

Interestingly, a lot of Hindi teleserials, starring a galaxy of big names, have been dubbed in Tamil with little if any success. Perhaps the audience back in Tamil Nadu saw, in Dil Se, nothing more than a gigantic Hindi soap dubbed in their language and blown up to silver-screen status.

The counter-argument could be that Mani hasn't always made his films first in Tamil -- his Pallavi Anu Pallavi, with Anil Kapoor starring, was originally made in Kannada, while Geethanjali, a Nagarjuna-starrer, was a Telugu original (later dubbed in Tamil as Idahayathe Thirudathe). But then, it could well be that those two south Indian languages were easier for Tamil audiences to accept, than Hindi, traditionally a red rag to the Tamil psyche.

Whatever, Dil Se, for all its hype, has to go down in the 'flops' side of the ledger.

When the zipper stuck

A still from Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
Then there was Jeans -- with perhaps even more expectations tagged on to it, not least because of Shankar's rep as the man who had helmed his first three directorial efforts to superhit status.

But even Aishwarya Rai's presence couldn't redeem Jeans -- at least, not the Hindi version, though the film did attain hit status in Andhra and escaped being dubbed a 'flop' in TN.

And even the most optimistic will concede that it certainly didn't replicate the magic of Gentleman, Kaadhalan and Indian, but faded quickly from the public consciousness, leaving behind memories of the special effects, and what was touted as the seven wonders of the world. Like the critic said, it was a pretty decent pair of Jeans, but the zipper somehow wouldn't work.

That doesn't seem to have fazed Shankar, though -- for, in the immediate aftermath, he turned producer, sinking his own money into the upcoming Mudhalvan, starring Arjun (his first hero, in Gentleman) and Manisha Koirala, whom he had used earlier in Indian.

Funny that it failed

Kamal Haasan. Click for bigger pic!
Another film of which much was expected was Kamal Haasan'sKaadhala Kaadhala, co-starring Prabhu Deva. Two actors with a natural flair for comedy were expected to come together in an explosion of mirth -- only, the audiences came away with the feeling of having overdosed on some too rich confection.

The film's script was peppered with what Tamils know as kadi jokes -- the form being punning one-liners. Trouble was, the jokes came so thick and fast that if you laughed at the first one, you tended to miss the next two.

The only entry on the plus side, on this one, was the music, which provided a hit for Ilayaraja's son Karthik Raja, with Kaasmale topping the charts for a fair bit.

Rajni takes it easy

Rajnikanth. Click for bigger pic!
The other Tamil megastar, Rajnikanth, did not have a single release -- which comes as a bit of a first for the 'superstar' who tends to have at the least one big release every calendar year.

His Padayappa -- which reportedly features him as 'foreign-returned', and has him playing TN's reigning deity, Muruga, in one sequence, is expected to be released around the Tamil New Year day.

The film, with a lot of pre-production hype over the identity of Rajnikanth's co-stars, has Soundarya and Ramya Krishnan in lead roles, with Shalini and Abbas playing other prominent characters. Interestingly, this is supposed to be the Tamil icon's last appearance in a lead -- as in 'hero' -- role.

The reign of the Ilaya Dalapathi

Vijay. Click for bigger pic!
Given the low profile of TN cinema's two senior stars, the younger ones held sway -- none more so that Vijay, the star son of director S A Chandrasekhar, whose immense saleability already has him being billed as 'Chinna Rajni' or 'Ilaya Dalapathi', and poised to take over the mantle of the reigning superstar.

His biggest success this year came with Priyamudan -- a film that in a sense loosely parallels Shah Rukh's going negative in Baazigar (which in turn owes its story to Ira Levin's classic 1954 suspense novel, A Kiss Before Dying). Vijay, like Shah Rukh in the Hindi film, put his 'hero' status on the line, playing an obsessive lover who kills to attain his ends.

Young hopes

Simran. Click for bigger pic!
Another star who struck gold at the box office was Sharat Kumar, whose Simran co-starrer Natpukaaga proved a huge success.

While Simran held her place as one of Tamil cinema's top female draws, competition arrived in the form of former child-star Shalini, whose Kaadhalukku Mariyadhai with Fazil at the helm ( Aniyathipravu, in the Malayalam original) was a runaway hit.

Taking off from the earlier reference to big name directors such as Shankar and Mani Rathnam failing to live up to their billing, it needs mentioning that 1998 saw the emergence of a whole host of debutant directors, all of them doing very well indeed, thank you. The likes of Selvaa, Sasi (with Sollamalae), and Ravichandran with Kanedhire Thondrinaal figure in this list.

Up and coming

Sonali Bendre. Click for bigger pic!
Another underlying thread in Tamil cinema this year was the ongoing industry unrest that saw film-making virtually stalled for weeks at a time. This, in turn, meant that several mega-films, slated for release in the year just ended, now find mention in the 'to watch for' column for 1999.

Prominent among these is K T Kunjomon'sKodeeswaran. which launches his son Eby opposite Simran (a song featuring Karisma Kapoor as an alien is supposedly one of the movie's attention grabbers).

Then there is Mudalvan, Shankar's fifth directorial outing. Also due for release, as early perhaps as January 14 (Tamil New Year's) is Kaadhalar Dinam under Kadhir's direction, with Sonali Bendre starring opposite debutant Kunal in a tale of love on the Internet.

Interestingly, Salman Khan's infamous blackbuck shikar could indirectly impact on Kaadhalar Dinam -- simply because Sonali made one of the party, along with the likes of Tabu and Neelam.

While the furore was at its zenith, there was minor panic in Kadhir's office, as it was unsure whether the court orders permitted Sonali to shoot outside Bombay.

Then there is Engineer, which will bring Madhuri Dixit to the Madras marquee for the first time, with her being paired opposite Arvind Swamy in what is billed as a techno-thriller.

While on Arvind Swamy, the man with the penchant for starring opposite Bollywood babes came up with a miss when Karisma walked out of the Perumal-helmed Swamy-starrer, Mudhal Mudhalaga.

The female flood

Isha Koppikar. Click for bigger pic!
In passing, 'bird-watchers' of the celluloid variety have a lot to look out for in the year ahead, what with a bevy of belles slated to hit the marquee in course of the coming year. Starting with the likes of Karisma, Madhuri and Sonali, the list encompasses Konkan beauty Isha Koppikar (in Kaadhal Kavidhai which reportedly incorporates a hit-hot song and dance number, and which includes among its USPs the fact that a part of it was shot at the venue of Lady Diana's tragic car crash).

Isha also will appear opposite Arvind Swamy -- here we go, again -- in En Swaasa Kaatre, loosely based on Mission Impossible.

Then there is Laila, in Kallazhagan, a Vijaykanth-starrer. Vindhya, in Aananda Poonkaatre and Sangamam, Malavika in Unnai Thedi. Jyotika, Nagma's sister, who will appear in Poovellam Kettu Paar and Vaali, Mumtaz in Monisha En Mona Lisa, Asha Mehra in Ashok Kumar's erotic epic, Kaama. Raasika. That's also the directorial debut of actor Mohan.

There's more -- but these will do to be going on with. And hey, have a great time ahead in the year just dawning.

-- Rajitha

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