Friday, May 4, 2018

Anbe Sivam [dir. Sundar C]

So last night's Netflix movie with mum was Anbe Sivam (AS), the 2003 Tamil movie with Kamalahaasan and Madhavan.
AS's major plot line is ripped off from the 1987 John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles, which had Steve Martin as an uptight and rude ad executive and John Candy as a happy-faced boisterously friendly loudmouth salesman who are repeatedly brought together when trying to get to Chicago during a blizzard. Of course, since it's a Kamalahaasan movie the John Candy character is made into a handicapped and badly scarred character that Madhavan makes a point of passing snide remarks about.
Symbolism is rife in this movie. Kamal's character is called Nallasivan and Madhavan is called Anbarasu but prefers to be called plain Arasu (like how a Japanese
stereotype might refer to the buttocks) because he can't stand 'Anbu' (affection). They are both initially stranded at the Bhubaneshwar airport in Orissa on account of flooding. Without any hope of flying out, they first check into a hotel (where an incident with a shower head seems to refer to John Candy's job of selling shower curtains in the original film), and then try various means of getting from Orissa to Chennai over land. All during this while, Arasu is constantly irritated by Sivan's well-meaning curiosity and meddling and tries several times to dodge him without success.
Of course Kamal is not content with a mere comedy of errors, and hence we go into flashback mode where Sivan was once a handsome mustache-twirling union leader with socialist ideals fighting the oppressive factory owner for a wage hike. Potshots are taken at hypocritical religion as the factory owner (Nasser) is a God-fearing man that prays regularly (to Siva, of course) but shirks paying his workers a decent wage. Owner's daughter (Kiran Rathod) falls for Sivan and they plan to elope (a funny scene has a cascade of Sivan's worker colleagues confessing to their respective crushes). A freak bus accident (brilliantly shot, I would love to know how they filmed it) derails the whole affair and grievously injures Sivan thereby leading to his present situation. End of flashback.

After this huge chunk of Kamal-time, we return to the main narrative and the continuing misadventures of Arasu and Sivan. Being witness to the grisly aftermath of a major rail disaster (an otherwise PG-level movie gets scenes of dismembered corpses and blood soaked moaning victims) finally opens Arasu's eyes to his selfish mollycoddled nature and he learns to think about people other than himself. There are some last minute twists which shouldn't surprise anyone.

I have mixed feelings about Anbe Sivam. While the main plot is indeed a ripoff of PT&A, it has a gentler, more compassionate feel especially attributable to the writing and execution of Sivan's character. He also manages the handicapped character's tics and quirks without overdoing it. In contrast Madhavan's Arasu behaves like a caricature arse, and you wonder why his folks didn't think of whacking him a couple times (I was also bugged by Madhavan's twang when he speaks English). I appreciate that Kamal as writer brings his personal concerns - anti-religion, socialism, anti-MNC, empathy with humanity - but the messages are dumped in large clumsy blocks. Also, the film could have done without the audience appeasing heropanti (Flashback Sivan thrashing an army of goons with an umbrella). Too much time is devoted to the flashback making the transitions that come later abrupt and jarring, and there are curious lapses of continuity, like the sudden disappearance of Sivan's commie colleagues and even his girlfriend from his life immediately after the accident (in these days of mobile phones and hospital records, surely someone would have attempted to follow the aftermath of a major accident). But Anbe Sivam is still better and less egregiously egocentric than some of the other Camel Haasan flicks this side of the millennium.

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