'2.0 is a basically a ghost movie. If it was given to Lawrence, he would have finished it at a lower budget and done a fantastic job.'
'Wherever the hero (Vijay) goes, she (Keerthi Suresh) goes and sits in the car's front. She is like one of these cleaners in a lorry.'
If you’re familiar with these acerbic remarks, you need no introduction to ‘Blue Sattai’ Maran, a film reviewer who has mercilessly ripped apart Tamil films over the last seven years, wearing his trademark blue shirt. His channel currently has 8,41,000 subscribers and is rapidly growing.
In a space where reviewers often pander to the film industry and big stars, Maran has never hesitated to call a spade a spade. His video reviews spare nobody, and his sarcasm has won him die-hard fans and haters alike.
Dressed out of character, in a white and grey shirt, Maran takes his seat in TNM’s Chennai office to recall his journey.
While he makes fun of films and actors in his reviews, in person, Maran is full of self-deprecating jokes.
"I was brought up in Pudupettai in Chennai and was studying at a school there. But they couldn't handle how incorrigible I was and threw me out when I was in the eighth grade," he says.
Once 'kicked out', his father gave him a choice to go to a different school or join his uncles who were in the film distribution business in Madurai.
"I just loved movies and the answer was very clear to me. So I entered the industry at the age of 15 and my heart has been here since," says Maran.
After a while, Maran and his three brothers started their own distribution company but they were unable to sustain. Following this, Maran tried his hand at several businesses not connected to the film industry but they all failed.
“I guess I just wasn't fully involved in the other things I tried. So I became part of production teams in Tamil and Kannada films," he says. In Tamil, Maran has been part of the teams of Vel, Seval and Lingaa. In Kannada, he was part of Ram Babu Productions and worked with the team in 23 movies.
Almost a decade ago, Maran was working as an assistant to the personal manager of a popular Tamil star who had just had a big release. The highly anticipated film, however, turned out to be a dud.
Or as Maran puts it, "Adhellam oru padam ah? (Is that even a film?)"
"The manager gave me two envelopes and some money to give to two Tamil newspapers. They were press releases. They read: 'After the 'super hit' (movie name), the 'actor' will next be seen in 'upcoming movie'. I just couldn't take it!" he says. "I turned to the manager and asked if he has a heart and how he can call this movie a super hit. For that, he told me not to worry and that the papers will change it," he explains.
But not a single word was edited out when Maran saw the papers.
"I was furious. It was such a bad film and these papers were doing this!” he exclaims. Even the reviews were far too kind to the film and the star.
This was when two family friends approached the disillusioned Maran for help to create a Youtube channel connected to cinema.
"I immediately knew what we should do. I told them we should do honest reviews of films. All we had to do was tell the audience the truth and we would be successful is what I told them," he recounts.
Althaf and Bhuvanesh, the men who approached him, are 20 years younger to Maran, and are both software professionals who could handle the green screen and other technical work. Maran roped in his friend Adhavan to direct the show and now, all he required was a host for the reviews.
But though he approached about 50 comperes, they were unwilling to get involved in a venture to take on the film industry.
By then Maran and his friends had rented a small office in Vadapalani, where they function out of even today. They had been paying rent for close to four months, out of their pockets. Not even a single review had been shot.
"So, finally, it was with no choice that I decided to do it," says Maran. "And look at how things have turned out," he laughs.
‘Welcome to the Tamiltalkies.net’
Initially, the reviewer admits he was terribly nervous in front of the camera. He would stammer and often give up.
"I couldn't even say 'Welcome to Tamiltalkies.net. But I managed to do something," says Maran, grinning.
In his first review, Maran took on a film starring Ajith, who is known to have a wide fan-base. He compared the actor's Billa 2 to Naan E, a film that released along with it.
"When a director is talented, he can even make a fly the hero. But when the director has no matter, he can give an utter flop even with Ajith," said Maran, in the first of several truth bombs he was to drop.
His decision to wear the same shirt every week on camera earned him the moniker 'Blue sattai'.
"When we decided to do it, I knew I had to do reviews every week. So this meant 52 shirts in a year. It was too expensive, and plus I'm not worth all that effort," says Maran smiling. "So we made it a uniform. Now seven years later, I wear the same Derbin shirt every week. I have only one of it. It was Rs.1500 when I bought it.”
Abuse and controversy
For the first time since he began his Youtube channel, Maran finds himself at the receiving end of what could be summons from the police. A result of his review of Charlie Chaplin 2, directed by Shakthi Chidambaram, starring actors Prabhu and Prabhu Deva.
The filmmaker has accused the reviewer of trying to extort money from him and went to the cops with allegations of blackmail. But Maran is unperturbed by these allegations.
"A film is all about making the audience believe your lies. What the Gemini Ganesan movie could do so many years back, a Shakthi Chidambaram failed to do decades later…They say they are in Dubai and then show a shot of Rohini Theatre's bathroom. Do they think we’re fools?" he asks angrily.
The Shakti Chidambaram film that Maran is referring to is one which made him fall in love with cinema. In 1976, Maran was just 7 years old and he had snuck out of his house all alone to watch the 1957 hit Manaalane Mangaiyin Baakkiyam, a fantasy film starring Gemini Ganesan and Anjali Devi.
He was fascinated by the picture of a snake in the film's poster and the prospect of 'magic'. For a 40 paise ticket, he went through a roller-coaster of emotions, which ended with him bursting into tears when the film's hero is morphed, by evil forces, beyond recognition of his own wife.
"That was first movie I remember that truly affected me. The director made me believe what I saw on that screen," he says.
Maran has been clear about his agenda from the beginning.
"When I started this channel I made a couple of things clear to my team. I don't have great clothes or a personality. And I can't talk intellectually. I will speak like a common person and will not use all these titles - 'Thala, Thalapathy or superstar'. Even a Puratchi Thalaivar, is just an MGR," explains Maran. "And most importantly we should make fun of a bad movie.”
But with his number posted on the Youtube page, Maran from his very first year began receiving abusive calls.
"Initially it used to anger me and I wouldn’t be able to shoot because of all this abuse. But soon, it became clear that these trolls had no sense. They keep asking me who I am to comment on the movie and whether I can shoot a movie by myself," he says. "If I go to a parotta shop, pay money and find the parotta to be bad, will the owner ask me to make the parotta myself?”
Moreover, Maran seems confident that he is only putting the truth out there.
"Like when Vishwaroopam came out, I said Kamal is always looking to create controversy," he says. "Immediately all these Kamal fans called and said do you know who Kamal sir is, who are you to talk about him etc. Their problem is not what I said, their problem is that 'I' said it. They think you have to be James Vasanthan or a Suhasini to make such comments. You have to be fair, speak English and look good. They can't accept a normal man with a camera making these comments.”
But is he unnecessarily harsh sometimes?
For the movie Thiruthani starring Bharath, Maran went beyond talking about the film's content and criticised Bharath for allegedly trapping and ruining the film's producer.
"I guess if I talk about just the movie and not get into commenting on people involved in it, I would get less abuse," he admits. "But if I don't call out a Bharath in that movie, he will ruin several others. As a reviewer we should encourage good films and actors. But when we encourage bad films and actors, we will end up with all these recent Vijay and Ajith films," he shrugs.
Maran praising a film is so rare that actors actually acknowledge a good review from him.
At the success meet of 96, Vijay Sethupathi exclaimed, "Even Blue Sattai praised the movie."
And while, Maran is amused by these reactions, he makes sure to never meet the actors or filmmakers in person as it may affect his review.
"When I see them somewhere by chance, filmmakers have said they saw my review and felt bad but that I was right. If you meet these people and become friends with them, you immediately develop a soft corner and that is bad for my profession," says the reviewer.
When they started out, Maran remembers how he and his friends gathered around computers to witness the 1000th subscriber joining.
"But now there are times when we get 20,000 subscribers in a day," he says with a wry smile.
So, does he think his reviews can make or break a film?
"Not at all. I gave a bad review to Ratsasan and OK Kanmani. They both did well. Content is king. If all reviewers sit together and say Baahubali is a bad film, will people not watch it? In fact, more people would have gone to prove a point," he says.
Maran has had multiple run-ins with big producers. His Petta review (Sun Productions) had to be pulled down over alleged copyright violations, but Maran says it was done deliberately before the weekend to prevent it from affecting the ticket sales.
"See, only 'mokka' (lame) films have to be scared of my reviews. And rightly so. But when I give a good review, I know it can help a film. And for small budget films like Merkku Thodarchi Malai or Pariyerum Perumal this is very good." he says.
Speaking of budgets, Maran’s videos now have ads for other films.
"But there is no conflict of interest. Most of our revenue, over Rs. 1 lakh a month, comes from YouTube. These ad guys approach us and we tell them clearly that this will not determine our review of the film. They have had no problems so far," says Maran.
So what, according to the reviewer, is a good movie?
"A good movie is one which makes you believe what you see or teaches you something at the end of it. It could even be an old concept but should be executed in an entertaining manner," he says. And then he smiles, "Well, I’m going to start shooting my own film in April, so at the end of it, you will get to know what a good movie is."