“There are few directors in whose films I can’t see a structure. I see an amazing flow, like poetry or painting. The rest of us are, to an extent, planned, deliberate and methodical, and the art is not making the method or structure obvious, where you don’t see the lines and you don’t see the craft. That’s where the finesse comes in”, says Mani Ratnam.
That’s Mahendran for you!
Unlike KB, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra or Mani Ratnam, who made it big in 70s and 80s with signature style (what is called as director’s touch).. Mahendran differs drastically. He is one filmmaker who so effortlessly transforms life and fiction on screen. The realism in his films are for real and not just for the sake of giving an artsy look. You can’t think of a better way to block or compose a scene in Mahendran’s film other than the way he do.
While, to many, including stalwarts like Mani Ratnam, ‘Udhiri Pookkal’ being Mahendran’s best.. (After all, Mani still claims ‘Udhiri Pookkal’ as his benchmark and believes that he would be happy if he ever came closer to what Mahendran pulled with that film.) My personal favourite among his works is Johnny. I would even say Johnny as one of the.. rather the only film that strikes an extraordinary balance between art and quality commercial aspects of Tamil Cinema.
On one hand, you have stars who were dazzling in 80s.
There is SriDevi. There is RajiniKanth, who was in a tremendous rise.
And there is Ilayaraja who owns the sole reason behind whatever Johnny is today. On the other hand, the film is a break off from regular commercial cinemas made then. The silhouettes, back lightings, concerts that were shot with so much aesthetics and mood setups, incredible ambience that goes into each scene with leads.
And dialogues that are filled with so much values and life..
“Onnu mattum therinjikko! Indha ulagathula edha eduthaalum onna vidu onnu betteraaga dhaan theriyum. Adhukkoru mudive illa. Adhukaaga naama manasa maathikkitte pogakoodaadhu!”
This what Rajini says in Johnny. That’s a mere character depicter. But.. it hits you so hard because of the realism with which it is uttered.
Johnny still remains as the greatest entertainer etched out of superstar’s aura.
There is a beautiful scene where SriDevi literally recites whatever that comes in her mind and let Rajini think about it later. The scene is still remembered for the mindblowing background score that underlines the heartbeats. For the blooming chemistry involved. You can see so much of Mahendran in Rajini’s performance like him sitting up near her and wondering and smiling with his fingers in his lips. And.. SriDevi is beyond praises.
Look at that moment where he asks why she talked with so much rage. Without batting an eyelid, she responds with an attitude that this is how she will behave. And when he stresses on that again.. she just nods her head and smiles. What follows with Raja’s famous Johnny love theme, is one of the evergreen romances caught on celluloid.
So is the way Mahendran picturized his songs. The album is a sheer aural pleasure. And, through Ashok Kumar’s lens, what you see are not just moving images but like a poetry read in rain. With minimal detailing, you get how divine Sridevi is. How much craze people have for her voice! When she sings ‘Oru iniya manadhu isaiyai azhaithu sellum’ (heard still this song remains as Mahendran’s callertune) you see her like an angel with a mike.
And how badly we miss such actresses who lipsync with great efforts and care to make the character alive. Thirty seconds into any song.. you begin wondering whether it is Janaki or SriDevi singing herself.
Weeks back, I was watching glimpses of Johnny with my friend who is into cinematography. We were so moved by the enthralling blend of vocals, performances, lyrics and atmosphere that amalgamate in ‘En vaanile ore vennilaa..’.
There is a shot where you see Rajini and Sridevi in piano through decorative bell curtains. You don’t see them clearly yet there is a magical feel to it. You feel the divinity she is making up in the room. And my friend quoted that shot and worried that making something like this is a taboo today.
People would ask for a perfect focus without an overlap of actor’s face and curtains. In times where you see flashing post card visuals and lights in the frame gets applauded as uber-cool cinematography, Johnny still remains so contemporary and aesthetically refreshing.
The inserts are trippy. Like a maid sitting and being spellbound by the music..
And I love the inserts that begin the interlude. Where you see droplets of rain in a lake. They are soul soothing.
There is even ‘Aasaiya kaathula thoodhu vittu!”.. (what would be branded as item number today) where you don’t see woman shaking to wild beats of vulgarity spurred from the minds of lyricist and director. With dark women all around, the lights and cold eyesights! The visuals seduce you.
And I say this is genius! Who else were to make such art these days! To criss cross that delicate line between love and lust.
Also.. ‘Senoreetaa!’ where you see scissor cuts according to the tampo rhythms in the song. The visuals are not poetic montages caught in exuberant sets. Just gesture gimmicks of a couple rehearsing their future life. But you will be amazed with the way how they were making a classic song work with least and what they have.
Even as the film ends.. You see Rajini running towards Sridevi and all of a sudden, the visuals are cut to repeating sleek images of smiling Rajini and Sridevi in tears.
There is so much contended feels that this ending gives. That you do feel happiness within for them being together finally. And as the dusk broke.. as they walk.. appears, “Music – the life giver!”
And as the excitement of Kabali reaches a fever pitch, with another revolutionary director, P.Ranjith helming the project, we only wish to see Rajinikanth the actor(not the Superstar) make his return to form!
Written by Vignesh Srikanth