I have no regrets that my birth happened three centuries after the curtain came down on the European Renaissance.
After all, it’s been my blessed fortune to have lived through the glorious age of Tamil cinema, from the early 1960s through 2012.
Tamil cinema has been unjustly vilified and much calumny heaped on it in many circles including most virulently by my bibulous predecessor, old SI.
But I consider the Tamil cinema industry no less than the Renaissance that flowered in Italy and then gloriously scattered its pollen across all Europe.
Isn’t Tamil cinema following a similar trajectory by starting small and slowly extending its reach, first to Bollywood and now to America. (Word has just reached me that Tamil star Kamal Haasan, who crunches into 10-roles like cotton candy, has been held hostage in Los Angeles by Hollywood stars besieging him for acting tips on managing a single role.)
Once the delight solely of those far-sighted, noble Tamils, films like Siruthai, Singham, Vinnaithanadi Varuvaayya, Paiyya etc are now the templates on which Bollywood learns the craft, makes its money and feeds its workers.
Rumors that script writers in Mumbai have been reduced to eating grass after Tamil films flew over the Bollywood ramparts and shattered its citadels are not unfounded.
How much longer before the dilettantes in Hollywood, the Scorseses, Coppolas, Nolans and Tarantinos, take notice of geniuses of Tamil filmdom and come calling on folded knees. And who more capable than that Ultimate of Stars, Thala to carry the Tamil banner into Hollywood
If the European Renaissance had its Benvenuto Cellini, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Tamil film industry has the almighty Rajinikanth, legendary Thala (Ajith), exemplary Simbhu (son of the great artiste T.Rajendar), the nonpareil Khushboo, petite damsel Jyothika and the angelic Trisha Krishnan, whose extraordinary charms remain unmatched even by the combination of my late European inamoratas Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn.
It’s inconceivable we’re not living through the Golden Age of Tamil cinema.
Velaikkaran – What a Gem
Given my extraordinary passion for the wonder that is Tamil cinema, I never miss an opportunity to see Tamil films.
On TV, in theatres, on the iPad, on the Windows PC, on my iMac and occasionally even on the iPhone, Tamil films are the dependable solace in the autumn of this decrepit matriarch.
So last night, as is my wont before summoning the sleep gods, I was flipping through the Tamil lineup on movie channel Mela when I had the immense good luck to stumble upon a gem called Velaikkaran featuring Rajinikanth.
Released to a eager audience in 1987, Velaikkaran (a Tamil word meaning lowly servant) had me reeling in a swoon, sent me into an ecstasy and caused body fluids to escape my various pores.
I was thirsty but heedlessly let my throat remain parched, nature called insistently but I resisted resolutely, the phone rang frequently but I summarily pushed it to my voice mail.
Nothing, nothing would interrupt my unalloyed enjoyment of this 25-year-old tour de force.
Incredible acting mated with a gripping story and melodious songs coupled with graceful dancing to produce an extravaganza for the eyes, ears and for all the senses.
No number of thank-yous to director S.P.Muthuraman will suffice for the timeless work of art he has painted on the screen to the frenzied delight of countless, grateful fans stretching many decades.
I will not bear the reproaches of posterity for spoiling your enjoyment of this masterpiece by revealing the story in its entirety.
But this I will not hesitate to say – Velaikkaran’s story is an unparalleled amalgam of sacrifice, devotion, love, courage, comedy, tragedy and duty triumphing over evil, greed and cruelty, and picture perfect in every respect.
Just a few minutes into the the movie, we see 37-year-old Rajinikanth playing as an equal with a bunch of eight-year-old kids in a rustic, sylvan setting. As my eyes fell on the beauty of the village, I told myself, Surely, this must be what Eden looks like.
Soon, at the behest of his grandfather, Rajinikanth’s character Raghupathy leaves for the big city (Chennai, of course) to earn a livelihood. Voila, he quickly lands a job as bellboy at a 5-star hotel.
It’s to the credit of Tamil Nadu and the sweet waters of the Cauvery that grandfathers in the state drink that they look not a day older than their grandsons.
No sooner does our Superstar’s character Raghupathy arrive in Chennai than the tremors start and destinies of some key people living there begin to be changed.
Of course, changing destinies, off-screen and on-screen, has been Rajinikanth’s metier since he so kindly made this planet his home.
In short order, the traitorous hotel manager and his evil father, the hotel housekeeping manager (Amala), hotel owner Raj Kumar and his mother Savithri (K.R.Vijaya) and dozens of bad characters, all have their destinies indelibly altered by Raghupathy.
The elan with which Rajinikanth walks, talks, fights, makes ‘wide’ eyes at the beautiful babe Amala and, above all, the way he fires off English is so rare to behold that it makes the Halley’s Comet seem like a frequent visitor.
And how wonderfully does Raghupathy turn the commonplace bicycle into a weapon of mass destruction in the fight scene when he rescues his Mudarali (employer) from the gang of hoodlums.
It’s to the credit of the film’s producer K.Balachandar that he paired 37-year-old Rajinikanth with 18-year-old Amala.
What’s a 19-year difference when your soul-mate is God! By the way, the sight of Rajikanth’s Raghupathy staring wide-eyed at the lissome Amala is one for the ages.
Music for the Gods
When Amala’s character ‘sings’ Vaa vaa vaa on the snow-capped peaks of Kashmir accompanied by Rajinikanth dancing a la the majestic ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, so enchanting was the scene that it seemed like the duo added an extra chapter to the form of dance itself.
Behold the grace in their steps in the below video. Who can hold a candle for this timeless dance.
Mock me all you want you but I have no embarrassment in admitting that I wept after listening to Thottathullai Pathikatti.
Insensitive ears only hear the sounds of music in this song but to yours truly this song and the magnificent accompanying dance represents the eternal essence of the Tamil soul.
Watch how beautifully the extras sway their hips to the song below.
If you want to know what a young White girl is doing suddenly in the middle of the song, well, they call that racial integration in America, my dears.
Sarath Babu has delighted audiences in Mullum Malarum, Muthu and dozens of other fine movies, often playing second fiddle to Rajinikanth.
But his second fiddle as the hotel magnate to Rajini’s servant in Velaikkaran leaves all his other second fiddles in the dust, makes ‘em seem like, well, fourth fiddles.
In a scene that would have Karl Marx spinning in his grave over the fatal blow to his life’s work on class conflict, hotel magnate Rajkumar befriends the servant Raghupathy as the latter is about to return to his village, pleads with him to stay and insists there are no distinctions between them. Stick it up, Marx.
Eschewing her trademark smiles, Tamil Nadu’s Queen of Smiles Punnagai Arasi K.R.Vijaya dons the role of a mother who forsakes her own son to care for the son of her late husband’s employer to keep a promise.
Motherhood redefined, as only a devoted Tamil widow can.
Amala’s character is a woman of many-talents, as only a Tamil woman can be. An able manager at the hotel, devoted caretaker of her blind brother, passionate lover and ferocious fighter.
After seeing her pummel the villains toward the end of the movie, I quickly sent a text message to Nagarjuna urging caution. After all, it’s still not clear, even to Telugus after all these years, whether Nagarjuna is playing the hero or villain in his movies.
Truth be said, I learned more about photography watching Senthil’s antics with the camera than I did in all these years with my point-and-shoots, SLRs and DSLRS. Senthil plays a photographer and Rajinikanth’s buddy in this gem.
To recount the many merits of Velaikkaran, its splendid photography, its moral message, the two villains, the classic humor, the item dancer/crooner Pallavi, etc would require more storage, higher memory and greater bandwidth than this server can support.
And so not without regret I stop my ode to Velaikkaran but not before heartily recommending this rara avis to you all.
Watching Velaikkaran was a turning point in my life vis-a-vis Tamil movies and I promise it’ll be the same for you too.