From Kongu to Singala Tamil, many actors have tried out different dialects on the big screen to make their character more convincing.
  • Saturday, January 19, 2019 - 12:51

In Viswasam, actor Ajith played a village goon from Madurai. In Red (2002) too, he had played the role of a local don from Madurai. To sound more authentic this time, the actor tried speaking in the local dialect, inserting phrases like ‘injarule’ (a local exclamation for ‘won’t you look at this?’) to make a pronounced effect.

Although not one hundred percent authentic, we’ve seen actors trying out new dialects time and again which would give more edge to their character. And most times, this becomes a unique aspect of the film that is extolled by the makers before its release. Here's a list of dialects we've seen on the big screen and the films in which they featured.

'Madras' Tamil

This is one of the most common dialects that stars slip into. From Kamal Haasan to Vikram, all of them have done it at least once in their career. This sharp-edged dialect has classist undertones to it, indicating that the hero hails from working-class areas.

Undoubtedly, Kamal Haasan tops the list with the actor having tried out almost all possible dialects. His wisecracks in the Madras dialect in films like Maharasan, Michael Madana Kamarajan, Kadhala Kadhala, Pammal K Sambandham and Vasool Raja MBBS, have been some of his best.

Vikram has tried the same in films like Gemini, I and Sketch while Dhanush has done it more convincingly in films like Pudupettai, Polladhavan, Maari and Vada Chennai. Vijay, too, has employed this dialect in films like Thirumalai and Pokkiri and Suriya has spoken in Madras Tamil in Mayavi, Ayan and Aaru. Ajith has done it in films like Attahasam and Vedhalam.

Actor Rajinikanth aka the Superstar, has never found the need to lace his dialogues with a specific dialect. His Tamil, in fact, is among his unique strengths. What might have been a dangerous disadvantage for many, Rajini turned it into a charm, proving that he is the only person who could possibly pull it off. The mildly accented Tamil he has used to his advantage, presenting it with a style that is quite hard to acquire. Yet, the actor has surprised fans with a few cautious experiments in Madras Tamil.

Other actors like Karthi in Aayirathil Oruvan, Madras and Saguni, Vijay Sethupathi in films like Idharku Thane Aasapattai Balakumara, Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, Vikram Vedha, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, actor Jiiva in Siva Manasula Sakthi have all spoken in Madras Tamil.

It is also interesting to note that comedians from Chandrababu to Cho Ramaswamy to Janagaraj to Santhanam have given us some of the best jokes delivered in this dialect.

Yet the crown has to be given to aachi Manorama for her astounding library of dialects. She slips into different dialects with more ease than any other actor has ever done. We’ll leave you with this song the actor has sung to prove that she’s easily the Queen of the Madras dialect.

Nellai's nuanced dialect

The Tirunelveli/Nellai accent is one of the most nuanced dialects that there is and very few actors have tried it. But you can be sure, any film set in the backdrop of the lush green villages of Tirunelveli has had actors speak this tongue.

Madhavan has tried this in Dum Dum Dum while Vikram who played the rowdy cop in Saamy can be heard speaking this dialect too. Suriya’s Singam franchise is based on a cop from this region and so the dialect he uses is the Nellai dialect.

Kamal has spoken in this dialect in his films like Dasavatharam and Papanasam. Actor Rajini too spoke Nellai Tamil in his recent Kaala.

From Kongu, with love

Suriya in Aadhavan, Kamal in Sathi Leelavathy have adopted this sweet sounding dialect. Vijay’s “Yenungana”, a typical Kongu Tamil line, has become a popular catchphrase with the actor using it even in films which don’t have him speaking in that dialect.

Kongu Tamil is one of the most loved dialects in the state and actors who hail from this region like Sathyaraj, Manivannan, Kovai Sarala, Goundamani have spoken this dialect is many of their films.

The Madurai diction

Madurai Tamil stands out distinctly from the rest for its sharp delivery. The dialect demands the speaker to be unabashed in their delivery. Time and again we’ve seen many present their dialogues in Madurai Tamil.

Kamal in Thevar Magan and Virumandi, Karthi and Priya Mani in Paruthiveeran, Vijay in Sivakasi, Mathurey and Tirupachi, Ajith in Viswasam, Bobby Simha in Jigarthanda, Prakash Raj in Ghilli, Dhanush in Aadukalam, Vishal in Sanda Kozhi, Bharath in Kaadhal and Jai in Subramaniyapuram are some of the notable examples.

Kizhakku Cheemayile too is another good example where all the actors in the cast speak this dialect. Comedians Vadivelu aka Vaigai Puyal and Ganja Karupu often speak this dialect, more authentically than anyone else, in most of their films. 

Singala Tamil

This dialect is not so common in Tamil films with just a few notable exceptions. Kamal Haasan in Tenali and Prakash Raj in Kannathil Muthamittal are some of the examples.

Palakkad Brahmin Tamil

This dialect again has been spoken very few times in Tamil films. Most popular among them are Kamal Haasan, Oorvasi and Delhi Ganesh in Michael Madana Kamarajan and actor Madhavan in Nala Damayanthi.

Brahmin Tamil

This is another dialect that has been commonly used in Tamil films. Vikram in Anniyan, Kamal Haasan in Dasavatharam and Avvai Shanmugi are some of the examples. 

Prathap Pothen posted a photo from 'Naalaya Iyakunar', and wrote that he saw great talent in Karthi's team that had actors Vijay Sethupathi, Bobby Simha, music director Rajesh and directors Alphonse Puthren and Manikandan.
  • Friday, January 18, 2019 - 13:47
Facebook/Pratap Pothen

You see a group of young men, confident, imaginative and excited to make their mark in the world. You’d think, with their potential, they have the chances to become someone memorable. You see a young actor on screen, playing the role of the main lead’s friend or sister or brother, and you’d think to yourself that you might possibly get to see more of them in future (Exhibit A: Trisha, Exhibit B: Vijay Sethupathi).

People who listened to AR Rahman’s Roja in 1992 probably thought that the young and new music director had “a very bright future”. You get our drift? It is this very same feeling of “having spotted talent miles ago”, of telling your companion “didn’t I tell you he/she was going to become big?” which actor and director Pratap K Pothen has shared now, possibly inspired by the #10YearsChallenge.

Recalling an episode from his time as a judge on a reality TV show in Tamil in 2009, Pratap posted a photo and captioned it thus, “When I was the Judge in Nale Iyakkunnar in Kalainjar tv, I chose this team including Karthik Subaraj as winners. Hope my decision is not wrong (in the pic bobby Simha, Vijay Sethupathi, Rajesh Murugsan, Alphonse Puthren) in stage petai director Karthik (sic),”

The episode that he is referring to is from the show’s interview with Karthik and his team - and what a phenomenal team it turned out to be! The people in this picture would go on to make blockbusters, win accolades for their acting, and have millions of people humming their tunes.

Gateway to Kollywood

Kalaignar TV’s Naalaya Iyakunar is a reality show for filmmaking aspirants. The show has churned out some of the big talents in the industry right now, including directors Karthik Subbaraj, Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum), Balaji Mohan (Maari), Alphonse Puthren (Premam), Ramkumar (Ratsasan) and Vijay Kumar (Uriyadi) to name a few.

Petta director Karthik was selected for the show for his short film Kaatchipizhai. This first season was jointly judged by Pratap and writer Madhan.

The friendship shared by these film personalities - directors Karthik Subbaraj and Alphonse Puthren, actors Bobby Simha and Vijay Sethupathi and music director Rajesh Murugesan - is spoken about fondly inside and outside the industry circles, not just by young filmmaking aspirants and struggling actors but any gang of friends, with dreams to make it big. And quite interestingly, very few talents can say they started out together, with very minimal film background.

While Karthik himself did not win the title of the show in 2009, which actually was awarded to Nalan for his short film Nejuku Neethi, Pratap tells us, through his Facebook post, that he had chosen Karthik’s team instead.

What happened after

In the team was another director who would go on to make a Malayalam film that would become unimaginably popular in the south - Alphonse Puthren and his Premam. But before Premam, there was Neram. Everyone would know that Nivin Pauly (the heartthrob from Premam) was the hero of this film, but did you know that the first version was a short film and that it starred Makkal Selvan Vijay Sethupathi? Neram also starred Bobby Simha, another actor who was on the Naalaya Iyakunar show.

The bilingual feature film had Nazriya playing the female lead and released in 2013. This film won him critical acclaim and also did well at the box office. Alphonse then went on to make Premam two years later in 2015 with Nivin in the lead once again. Rajesh Murugesan, the music composer from Naalaya Iyakunar worked with Alphonse in both Neram and Premam, churning out some of the best chartbusters of that time like ‘Pista sumakira’ and everyone’s favourite ‘Malare’. He also worked on the background score for Aviyal, an anthology produced by Karthik Subbaraj.

And there's the brilliant Manikandan, who made the critically acclaimed Kaaka Muttai. He's part of this picture too! Manikandan made his directorial debut with the film in 2015, following the success of his short film Wind. Kaaka Muttai fetched him several awards including National Film Award for Best Children's Film. He then did Aandavan Kattalai with Vijay Sethupathi. His upcoming film Kadaisi Vivasayi too is with Vijay Sethupathi.

Bobby and Vijay Sethupathi have remained Karthik’s constants working with him in films like Pizza, Jigarthanda, Iraivi and Petta.

How the show happened

During the show, Pratap told Karthik, “You have an unusual talent for cinema.”

Karthik, on his part, thanked his team - actors Bobby Simha and Vijay Sethupathi, music director Rajesh, editor Alphonse, and cinematographer Manikandan (Kakka Muttai) - before beginning to explain the story behind his entry into the show.

Karthik, who was in France at that time, came down to India to participate in the show. “I was working in Bengaluru for a software company and they had sent me to France for work. I actually came back on a holiday to participate in the show but eventually I told them that I’m not going back and quit,” he shares.

But how did his family react, ask the judges. “I had told them earlier that by 2010, I was going quit my software job to join the films. My parents were a bit concerned in the beginning but they have always been quite supportive. If I was sure in my decision they asked me to go ahead,” he says on the show.

From Pizza (2012) to the recent Petta, Karthik has shared his journey with his friends. In one interview with The Hindu in 2011, he speaks about working for his friend’s film while he worked on his. “There were two Indian films selected for Bodega Bay, including mine. The other, Wind, was directed by a friend of mine, Manikandan. I was the assistant director of ‘Wind' and also wrote the screenplay. Manikandan, on the other hand, was the cinematographer for Black and White,” he was quoted as saying.

Karthik’s Black and White was a short film starring Bobby Simha who plays a photographer. The story is about a mysterious antique camera he receives from an anonymous sender.

The group has had an interesting journey since, with each being a part of the other’s project. 

Here’s what real-life police officers think about the portrayal of their profession in cinema.
  • Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 13:28

One of the funniest jokes made about the police in cinema around the '80s and '90s was that they’d always come only after all the action in the film has ended. A shot is fired above the head to announce their arrival and in five minutes, it will be time for the end credits to start rolling. This stereotype is so common in Tamil cinema that we can vouch that this was how a fifth of the films released ended at one point.

But we’ve also seen glorified police officers - from Sivaji in Thanga Pathakkam to Vikram in Saamy Square - where the film revolves around their righteousness and their invincibility. Then there are funny constables who provide comic relief throughout the film - Vivek in Singam, Vadivelu in Marudhamalai, etc. We’ve also seen corrupt, vile cops who laugh at their own insensitive jokes and fail to take complaints seriously. Swerving from one end of the spectrum to the other, Tamil cinema has shown us different kinds of police officers - from being the honest and sincere officer to being the butt of all jokes or the reason for all hate.

But what do real life police officers think about their portrayal on screen?

Vilifying the constable

Madurai’s Commissioner of Police, S Davidson Devasirvatham begins with this exact point. “The problem with Tamil films is that either they are shown as superheroes or they are very bad cops. Very rarely do they picturise the true conduct of a police officer,” he says.

Joint Commissioner (Traffic) North, Najmul Hoda, agrees. "The feature film is an entertainment medium and therefore they would add spice to make it more entertaining. In the process, they have to blow up and magnify things. They seldom show what is real. Even romance is blown up in cinema,” he laughs, adding, “Either we are magnified beyond proportion as ‘singams' or vilified as corrupt officers licking the boot of politicians. 'Lionised or villainised' - there, that can be your tag line.”

Commissioner Davidson also feels that there’s a tendency in Tamil cinema to villanise the low-ranking officer as a vile and corrupt person.

Madurai’s Commissioner of Police, S Davidson Devasirvatham

“It is a very gross misrepresentation. I know many officers at lower levels of office - constables, sub-Inspectors, inspectors, etc - who do great work. When it comes to actual groundwork, as a field officer, I’m impressed with the kind of responsibility that constables take up. But this is seldom shown in cinema. Good and bad is at every level. It is the same with everyone in society,” he shares.

While he agrees that there might be a few bad apples in the department, he explains that what is shown in cinema is far from reality. “If there was so much bad in the police department, how can we keep it safe for people. Because of the sacrifices that we do, we are able to maintain peace, law and order,” he says.

Misrepresenting police ranks

Talking about ranks, Joint Commissioner Najmul says if there’s one thing that irritates him about cop movies, it is the misrepresentation of police ranks. “Inspector could be shown wearing a DGP rank, etc. They need more literacy in this matter to which they are quite oblivious. Also they miss out on the line of communication. No inspector can talk to the Chief Minister or Home Minister, DGP or Commissioner directly,” he says.

Joint Commissioner (Traffic) North, Najmul Hoda

While attention to detail can irk a few, Commissioner Davidson shares that directors tend to present what sells. He shares, “I’ve also interacted with film directors and some of them come with a stereotype mindset, which is their own mental construct, not even layman’s. But they probably visualise what will sell among audience.  Anything against authority is enjoyed by people. But there are millions of people who appreciate the positive work done by police also.”

So does he keep up with recent films? “I see a lot of Hollywood films. But the difference in portrayal cannot be any starker. Here they want to focus on commercial interests and in the process they bury reality. Recently I saw Suriya’s Anjaan, I could not sit through for more than ten minutes,” he tells us.

Films that got it right

Speaking about film inspired from real life incidents, Joint Commissioner (Traffic) South, R Sudhakar says, "The recent Karthi film Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru was based on real incidents and was very well made."

Joint Commissioner (Traffic) South, R Sudhakar

Commissioner Davidson's pick, surprisingly, is Vetrimaaran's Visaranai, which showcased police brutality.

“I really liked Visaranai. It was very well done and was based on a real situation. It looked original. I also liked Vazhakku Enn 18/9. Although it shows a corrupt officer, it was a very good film," he says.

Commissioner Davidson tells us that there are some directors who try to understand the psyche of a police officer better, spend time at the station and then write the film, but there are also those who work with fixed mental constructs.

“Police officers are supposed to be macho and very tough. They do encounters and are gun-toting cops. They sometimes glorify encounters in films - You are a good cop only if you do encounters. But that is not how it happens in reality,” he says.

“In films like Kaakha Kaakha, Vettaiyadu Vilayudu, the songs are nice and it's nice to watch in a good screen, nothing more. Such films are overdone,” he comments.

Jt Commissioner Najmul says, “The Singam franchise is so generic, it is nothing new. The commercial cinema is not capable of giving nuanced understanding. It is unidimensional - black or white.”

But for Jt Commissioner Sudhakar, films like Kaakha Kaakha have been enjoyable. “The film released exactly when I was about to join for training, so I watched it with friends. I was very inspired by the physical fitness shown in the film. It will always remain a favourite,” he tells us.

He also shares that the “funny cop” scenes with Vivek and Vadivelu are popular among cops. “As humans, we tend to forget things that we don’t like. I like films like Singam, Kaakha Kaakha, Thani Oruvan (in which I was thanked in the credits), Ratsasan,” he tells us.

Old cop films Vs New

If one were to compare old police films with those of the present, it becomes evident that a lot has changed. Commissioner Davidson agrees. “Back then, the first thing that would come to people’s minds if someone were to say, “a good, honest police officer” would be actor Sivaji Ganesan’s Thanga Pathakkam. Films like Gnana Oli, Thanga Pathakkam had more of dialogues and drama but now there’s more bloodshed and action. The films back then were interesting to watch, too. They had more investigative aspects to them and it was more interesting,” he tells us.

Shivaji Ganesan in Thanga Pathakkam (1974) | Youtube Screengrab Pyramid Movies

Jt Commissioner Sudhakar says, “I’ve heard that Sivaji met IG Arul, spent time with him to learn his mannerisms for the film Thanga Pathakkam, but not sure how much of it is true.”

While there have been seeing a few films based on real events like the award-winning Visaranai or the recent Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru there’s one film all three of them have recommended during our conversations - the 2003 Hindi film Gangaajal directed by Prakash Jha, starring Ajay Devgn.

“It is a fantastic movie. It is about what a district SP goes through in the badlands in Bihar. It also had elements of commercial moviemaking but it had a lot of originality to it. If you get the time you should watch,” says Commissioner Davidson.

Me Too
‘Strengthening Voices: A collective awakening’ - organised as part of The Hindu’s Lit for Life 2019, the panel was made up of actor Parvathy, author Gayatri Rangachari Shah and Madras High Court Advocate Suhrith Parthasarathy.
  • Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - 18:30
Facebook/L toR: Kalpana, Gayatri, Parvathy and Suhrith

This past year saw a phenomenal increase in the number of women opening up about instances of sexual harassment at their workplace. The 'Me Too' movement that gained rapid momentum has changed the status quo at quite a good number of organisations that have come forward to institute a complaints committee to address such issues.

#MeToo was a watershed moment in the entertainment industry and art field, with big names being outed. While the movement is still in its nascent stages, a panel constituting actor Parvathy, author Gayatri Rangachari Shah and Madras High Court Advocate Suhrith Parthasarathy discussed the implications of this past year, reflecting on how far the movement has come and on the journey ahead.

This panel discussion - ‘Strengthening Voices: A collective awakening’ - organised as part of The Hindu’s Lit for Life 2019, was moderated by Kalpana Sharma, journalist, author and presently Readers' Editor with Scroll.

Actor Parvathy began the session by discussing the birth of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), a group that was formed by women from the Malayalam film industry. “In 2017 February, our colleague was abducted and assaulted, an incident that was orchestrated by someone very powerful in the industry. When her litigation began, we wanted to be her voice. That was the beginning of a collective that would start something new. It was this one issue that we wanted to back, but when we began sharing our incidents, that is when we realised there were repeat offenders,” she said.

This group, that registered itself as a body in November 2017, has been constituted by 17 women from the industry, including Parvathy. Parvathy also adds that the inadequate knowledge of law among her colleagues was unsettling and shocking.

“We had no understanding of the bye-laws of our association. We have no understanding of the laws that should protect us. So the 17 of us started studying, sharing links. We spoke to lawyers to understand better. We realised that there were so many loopholes, we were shivering about the uncertain grounds that we were standing on,” says Parvathy.

Sharing that she was called ‘Bathroom Parvathy’ in the industry because she had kept asking for better sanitation provisions on sets, Parvathy said, “I had to become a lead star to get my own vanity van. This is not just for women or men. Questioning status quo started long back.”

Parvathy also observed that what happened in the Malayalam film industry did not receive national attention but was dubbed as the "dark underbelly of Malayalam cinema" instead.

While the WCC did start for one specific issue, Parvathy shares that they’ve expanded since. “We didn't stop with one case. We are open to receiving complaints. We want to make sure women get employed. It has become a think tank now. End of the day, it has to do with working in a dignified environment.”

Author Gayatri, who has co-authored Changemakers: 20 Women Transforming Bollywood Behind the Scenes, spoke next and said that women have always had to fight for their right to work.

Sharing the story of celebrity make-up artist Charu Khurana, Gayatri explained that Charu had to fight for over 6 years to be inducted into the all-male dominated Cine Costume, Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers’ Association (CCMAA). She became the trailblazer for the rest who were to follow. “But there are, of course, other barriers. They’ve now raised the price to enter the union, making it difficult for both young men and women to join.”

Gayatri also spoke about age discrimination in the industry. “Guneet Monga, who is a well-known producer for films like Masaan, Gangs of Wasseypur, The Lunchbox etc., spoke about how she peppers her hair white to appear older. She’d say she would go out with the boys during smoking breaks because that was when all the business deals were done.”

Speaking of another anecdote about cinematographer Priya Seth who has worked in Airlift, Gayatri said, “At one point, she was commanding 300 men across the economic spectrum while working as the DoP in a film. Now people like her have learnt to dress in a particular way to command the kind of respect they want. To mobilise 300 men, to make them listen to you, you have to desexualise yourself,” she notes.

Adding his points to the dialogue, advocate Suhrith spoke about how the law can never be the panacea for all the problems. “Law is not the panacea for all the problems. Because we believe in the role of law we want to achieve an equal society. But it is precisely because the process has failed, that this list has been published,” he began.

Listing the limitations of law, Suhrith said, “There are two important questions: What should be the substantive and procedural points of the law? And the other part is the matter of enforcement. We haven’t yet seen precisely how well POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) works because we don’t have ICC instituted in all organisations. POSH itself has a number of limitations. There’s a limit of 3 months to approach the committee, which can be extended, but we don't know how well this works. The other is the procedure. ICC does not comprise of lawyers and the Law says ‘Principles of Natural Justice’ should prevail, but what is natural justice? Even Supreme Court judges don't seem to know what that is."

The session also extended to the topics of stalking, marital rape and rape threats issued on social media. Kalpana observed that it was indeed ironic that while social media had facilitated the movement, there were several who used the same medium to lash out at those who had come forward.

While sharing the hate that she received following her comment on the misogyny shown in Kasaba, a Malayalam film starring Mammootty, Parvathy said that although four young boys were arrested for their graphic rape threats on social media, they were let out on bail just a few days later, and were, in fact, celebrated in their circles.

Parvathy also added that while it was encouraging to see many women open up, no one should be forced to do so. “We're not going anywhere. We are here to stay,” she said to loud cheering.

Parvathy concluded with, “Shattering the hierarchy in society is critical. What kind of justice are we looking at? Retribution? Restorative? Naming and shaming is one step but one has to be brought to justice. As one journalist said, we should stop inviting people who have been chargesheeted. We should not give them a stage nor should we listen to what they have to say.”

The session ended with one of the participants summarising the proceedings of the afternoon with, “We do have social media which is free for all and then there’s the court of law where we wait sometimes for 25 years. But we do need alternative structures, alternative process and alternative outcomes.”

Plastic Ban
From papaya stalks to bamboo stems, they are leaving no cylindrical objects unturned.
  • Sunday, January 13, 2019 - 13:32
Bamboo straws. Image courtesy: Shanmuganathan/Twitter

When one door closes, another opens. While the plastic ban that was announced by the Tamil Nadu Government six months ago came into effect from January 1, 2019, might have come down hard on one section of people, there are those who are finding interesting alternatives to replace plastic.

While a lot of folks have started switching to mandarai leaves, banana leaves and betel nut plates for packing food and such items, these tender coconut sellers from southern Tamil Nadu have found ingenious ways to replace plastic straws.

Do you Papaya?

Thangam Pandiyan, a resident of Madurai and an organic farming enthusiast was quite intrigued by choice of a seller to use papaya stalk to serve fresh, cool tender coconut at Maravankulam bus stop.

“He had collected them from his own farm and these are available in plenty in papaya farms usually. This is the stalk that bears the fruit and the leaves. And farmers usually keep trimming the leaves so there’s plenty of stem available. It is interesting that he has made use of them,” shares Thangam.

The stalks that are semi sun-dried (mainly for the papaya milk) have become quite sturdy in the process, he says. “Also, it does not bend easily like how a plastic straw would and is easier for children to drink as well,” he observes.

Image courtesy: Thangam/Facebook

An organic farmer himself, Thangam shares that in addition to papaya, most kinds of grass can be used for this purpose. “There are very few plants with a hollow stalk like that of a papaya’s. If you take corn stalk it has a spongy filling inside, which makes it unfit to be used as straw. However, we do have the hardy sugarcane grass known as naanal in Tamil (botanical name: Saccharum arundinaceum), and plain old straw (vaikol in Tamil), can also be used to serve the purpose,” he says.

Basking with the bamboo 

Yet another seller has come up with an innovative idea, and this time it is from the picturesque town of Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. Surrounded by Western Ghats, this town is as green as Tamil Nadu, a state on the wrong side of the ghats, can hope to get.

J Shanmuga Nathan, a resident of Tenkasi, tells us about the now famous tender coconut seller near the Essar Petrol pump between Tenkasi and Idaikal for his bamboo straws.

“Just right across the other side road, he found plenty of Bamboo stems which he thought he’ll make straws out of. From one bamboo he can make about 6 to 10 such straws,” says Shanmuga Nathan.

“Bamboo added its unique flavour to the tender coconut. It was quite refreshing,” he adds.

While Shanmuga Nathan is in awe by the tender coconut seller’s idea, he also shares that the plastic ban is a move that has to be welcomed. “People are switching to greener alternatives. Earlier we had groceries packed with paper and jute strings. Today, most of the pollution is done by big corporate brands. The ban will be meaningful only if these brands are made to find other alternatives,” he adds.

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Pavan Narendra of Stone Bench Creations explains that legal and technical options are the only way ahead to end the menace of online piracy.
  • Saturday, January 12, 2019 - 13:39

Just hours after the release of Rajinikanth’s Petta and Ajith’s Viswasam, news of the two films being uploaded on the notorious Tamil Rockers website spread like wildfire. This, even after the Madras High Court banned sites from illegally streaming these films.

But Petta and Viswasam aren’t the only films that have been affected by online piracy. Every new release, irrespective of its language and from where it’s being released, goes up almost immediately on these piracy websites.

Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta team is now working round the clock to bring down as many links as they can. In about 48 hours, they’ve taken down over 300 such sites with links to illegal copies of their film.

Speaking to TNM, Pavan Narendra of Stone Bench Creations explains that piracy in the industry is a lot like the Hydra of Lern from Greek Mythology - a monster capable of doubly regenerating from its severed heads. “All the parties involved are exploring options to curb piracy. Films go up almost instantly no matter from where the release happens,” he says.

Pavan further explains that there are legal and technical options to fight this menace. “There are also other options where you can educate the film-going population to understand that watching it online is a way of bringing down the effort put it by everyone involved. But that can be an intangible way of measuring the impact,” he says.

Therefore, Pavan is of the opinion that right now, all that the industry can do is from the side of technology and law. “Nothing in the real world has worked out so far. The only way is to invest more resources from tech side along with strong enforcement laws, which is now happening. As you can see, when a site has been blocked by the court all access to it is blocked immediately. But still the problem persists because the pirates find a way to work around it and manage to inform the public on how they can watch. So technology always has to be one step ahead,” he shares.

Pavan further adds, “When there is investment there is always an expectation and in business you need to recover that investment. But piracy kills it quite hard. And we’re talking about very bad prints that are not even worth watching on any device. This has a detrimental effect to the entire process,” he says.

But the widespread knowledge of these links can be quite alarming for makers.  “Everyone who works for us, even people who drive us to places, immediately inform us when they come across any such links. That is encouraging in a way that there are people who are concerned but what is discouraging it is that it is available to so many people!” observes Pavan.

How do they do it?

So how do they go about fighting it? “There will be an IT team that works specifically for taking down links of torrents, not just Tamil Rockers. There will be a coordination cell that will be getting all the links and forwarding to the IT cell who will be taking down the links,” shares Pavan.

There are two ways in which a production house equips itself to fight piracy. We learn big production houses might hire in-house IT teams while some others outsource it to reputed IT teams who can do this on a daily basis.

But these links cannot be dismissed in just one click. “When we were working on Mercury, it took us about 30 minutes to pull down a link. You generally cannot take down every link. First, you have to verify the link. Then it has to be backed by evidence and has to be documented because in future if someone were to question legally, there has to be sufficient documentation to prove that this was indeed an illegal copy available. Then the request is given immediately to take it down,” explains Pavan.

All documentations are made online and the tech team employed in such a task usually has specific arrangements with Internet Service Providers (ISP) across the world.

“Guys who are doing this will have their backend team working in tandem with ISPs. The minute a link comes up, it needs to be sent to the ISP to block it,” says Pavan.

But the pirates have a clever way to work around the system. “If they go through Virtual Private Network (VPN), they can bypass any country and download the link. When you’re using VPN, you are not bound by law anymore,” explains Pavan.

A VPN is a private network that uses the public network (Internet) and the data transmitted is usually encrypted. VPN allows a user from India to access content that is specific to a foreign country, thereby bypassing laws. This has been a goldmine for users with a tendency to download/watch illegal content online.

Has online streaming platforms helped?

Online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, SunNxt, Hotstar, etc., have worked beneficially shares Pavan adding people’s effort to download films from the internet, if, by chance, they’ve missed the movie in theatres, has reduced in recent times.

“I have seen people who will shy away from online piracy. Nowadays the online streaming platforms are also advertising heavily on when a particular film will be available on their platform. People would rather wait for that, even if a few weeks, and watch it in the way it needs to be watched,” he says.

Anbarasu and Kamakshi got married outside the Woodland's theatre in a ceremony organised by Rajini Makkal Mandram Chennai South (East).
  • Friday, January 11, 2019 - 18:50

Palabishegams for giant cut-outs, firecrackers, special dance performances, band music, cutting of huge cakes and lining every available space outside movie theatres with banners, might sound like the norm before the release of any big star’s films in Tamil Nadu.

Most of the times, these arrangements are made to celebrate the actor’s film release and fans usually try to outdo each other when it comes to planning such celebrations - 50 banners last time, let’s make it 100 this time. 

But here’s an interesting way in which these fans decided to celebrate the release of Rajinikanth’s Petta on January 10. 

A wedding ceremony was organised outside Woodland’s Theatre in Chennai’s Royapettah by Rajini Makkal Mandram South Chennai (East). “We were planning for a special show at Woodlands and so we booked the entire theatre for it. Music bands, Karagattam (folk dance), cake cutting, balloons are part of our regular plan. But this, no one has done. When I was younger, I would do palabishegam. But now, I wanted something more meaningful for Thalaivar. We decided to organise this marriage,” said Sinora PS Ashok, Secretary of the fan club, which is a part of Rajini’s political outfit RMM.

And so 29-year-old Anbarasu from Tindivanam and 25-year-old Kamakshi from Mudichur, both Rajini fans, were referred to Ashok by other fan members. “I gifted them Rs 1.5 lakhs for their wedding and around 1,500 fans were present during the wedding.” Ashok spent close to Rs 4.5 lakhs for organising the wedding event. 

A pandal and stage were erected outside the theatre near the stairs. “We also had two cars parked on either side of the stage for the bride and the groom to get ready for the wedding.  We called it the bride wagon and the groom’s wagon.” Hundreds of hydrogen balloons with Rajini’s face on them were also floated up after the wedding. 

While TNM could not get in touch with the couple, Ashok adds that the wedding was done with the permission of their respective parents. “They both belong to different castes but it was done with their parent’s blessing. The wedding took place at 7.40 am before the first show that was to start at 8.00 am,” he says.

“We also conducted a lucky draw for all those who had come and gifted them a refrigerator and other such items,” adds Ashok.

N Venkatesh, Managing partner, Woodlands Theatre, tells us that this was indeed the first time such an event had taken place inside their premises. “It is great, something that was happening for the very first time here. It was a nice gesture by the fans to make arrangements for the couple. It happened in front of 1,500 Rajini fans, so you can imagine the euphoria around it,” he says.

Madras Art Guild is a month-long art program envisioned and executed by VR Lifestyle Centre, Chennai.
  • Friday, January 11, 2019 - 08:19

Madras Art Guild is a month-long art program envisioned and executed by VR Chennai. This interactive art program will see the participation of art students from some of the premier art institutes of the country like the Cholamandal Artists’ Village (Chennai), Government College of Fine Art (Chennai), Government College of Fine Art (Pondicherry) and Government College of Fine Art (Kumbakonam).

This art program was started in the year 2013 and has been organised at different VR lifestyle centres across the country. Speaking to TNM, Sumi Gupta, Curator of the Art program says, “We’ve been doing these art shows in our centres pan India. In Surat, it is in its 6th edition and is called the Dumas Art Project, in Bengaluru, where it is now in its 3rd edition, it is called the Whitefield Art Collective and in Punjab, now in its 2nd edition, it is called the Punjab Art Initiative.”

The month-long program that started on January 10 will conclude on February 11, 2019. Sumi explains that the idea behind it is to connect communities. “It is one of the pillars of our brand - connecting communities and art is the perfect way to connect. We work with students from art field and give them a platform they usually do not get. Their work will be exhibited along with prominent artists’ work. And the kind of audience they’ll get is something they might not receive at an art gallery. It is a very inclusive show and is for the community,” she says.

The program currently has 60 art installations in addition to 100 paintings, photographs and a mix of other fine arts. “We will also screen art films. There will be a children’s arts competition for school children to participate. Then there’s also going to be an art bazaar. It will be an immersive experience,” adds Sumi.

Having planned this art guild for over eight months, Sumi shares that the art scene in Chennai is quite unique. “While the idea remains the same, the art program takes different shapes in different places. And Chennai, being the Mecca of art, has its own distinct flavour.  Students here have done art that’s reminiscent of the ancient past of Chennai. Then there are also the contemporary pieces. We’ve got an interesting juxtaposition of the ancient with the contemporary creating quite a piece for the senses,” she shares. 

The inaugural ceremony was attended by Grammy-nominated Carnatic musician Mandolin Rajesh, Padma Shri awardee Thota Tharani and M Senathipathi, President of Cholamandal Artists’ Village. 

A curated discussion on “The Changing Landscape of Public Art” featuring photographer and founder of the Chennai Photo Biennale, Varun Gupta, senior artists Murali Cheeroth, Parvathi Nayar and Rahool Saksena, and fashion designer and founder of Brass Tacks, Anaka Narayanan and moderated by Sumi Gupta, was also organised on the day of the inauguration. 

The inauguration ended with renowned Bharatnatyam dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar’s performance followed by the unveiling of the VR Art Car. For more details on the event schedule, click here.

Plastic Ban
Some plastic traders, on the other hand, have put up the shutters in protest, demanding more time to find sustainable, cost-effective alternatives to plastic.
  • Tuesday, January 08, 2019 - 17:06

A warm January afternoon becomes slightly cooler the second you walk into Anderson Street located in Chennai’s George Town. The buildings, packed close to each other with just a needle’s gap between them, insulate the street from the outside world. Anderson Street is famed for its wholesale paper and plastics shops. On an ordinary day, one can barely walk five paces without bumping into another or swerving wildly to one side to make way for the fiercely fast hand-drawn trolleys.

But a few days since Tamil Nadu Government’s plastic ban, it is evident that business is not as usual. One out of every three shops have downed their shutters with a white notice plastered on them: “TN Government has announced a ban on plastics beginning January 1, 2019. The Government has not heeded to our requests until today and so all plastic manufacturers and sellers will go on an indefinite strike until the ban exists - George Town Plastic Sellers Association.”

This association is made up of close to 600 shop owners and over 50,000 workers. On day three of this ban, all plastic shops on Anderson Street have downed their shutters.

Walking ahead, the crowd thins as the number of plastic shops increase from here on. And towards the end of Anderson Street, is a small gathering of bored adults, seated under a pandal. Behind them are wall paintings of Bagath Singh, Ambedkar and Dr Abdul Kalam and once again, the white paper bill announcing the indefinite strike makes an appearance.

However, it was refreshing to find many shopowners plying their trade despite the challenges the ban poses.

Making small steps to change

While there are a few protesting against it, many others are looking at alternatives to overcome the crisis. Some are starting a new business while others are switching to alternative methods to ply their trade and daily chores.

K Abbas Mandri, who has been running KAS Plastics for close to five years on Anna Pillai Street, is doing whatever he can to sustain his livelihood, even though he feels the ban is wrong. Outside his semi-shuttered shop, he is unwrapping a sack of red onions and stacking them on bamboo baskets. A pile of dark green leaves lie next to the onions.

“The ban might be here to stay. One should whatever he can to keep his head above the water,” he says while sorting through the onion sacks. “I heard there’s a requirement for onions and I bought a few sacks today. Since the ban, some ask for mandarai leaves (from Mandarai tree or Bauhinia racemosa or Bidi leaf tree),” he adds.

Mohamad Basith emptied the plastics at his wholesale plastic shop on Malayaperumal Street and has replaced them with multi-coloured daily sheet calendar boards adorned with gods from different faiths.

With his legs swinging down from the raised platform he’s seated on, Mohamed says, “It’s a new year, people will need calendars. In fact, there is a huge demand for them now.”

But even for those who sell alternatives - plantain leaves, for instance - cannot deny the practicality of plastic covers when it comes to daily chores. A jolly-looking Kumar, who has been cutting the green banana leaves into different sizes outside his shop, says that he and his boys were not been able to get lunch because the hotel, from where they usually buy food, had no covers to pack sambar.

“The rice and curry they can pack with papers and banana leaves. What about sambar and curd?” he laughs adding, “I have 10 boys working for me here. All of them are not from the city and for them, food always comes from such hotels. This surely is a challenge. So, I am going to buy stainless steel vessels to help with packing food for my employees.”

‘We need more time’: Plastic traders

In 2013, the Jayalalithaa government had announced the same ban, but soon after analysing the situation, revoked it. “We hope this Government does it too!” begins Sadik Basha, the owner of Kamaal and sons on Anderson Street.

“We are only asking them to revise their ban. It is true that they gave us six-month advance notice but during this period, why didn’t the government announce or make provisions for alternatives. On Thursday morning, they seized bundles of paper tissues and paper cups from my shop because the wrapper covering them was a banned plastic. Plastic Packing is not banned; yet they seized bundles of plastic packing from our shops,” Sadik says.

Babu, who has been running Euro Plastics for about 15 years on Malayaperumal Street near Anderson Street, adds, “The shops at George Town alone make several crores turnover. Today, no one is working. The Government will soon feel the pinch.”

Reflecting on the hastiness of the ban, Sadik says, “They have extended the time for big corporate brands like Kurkure, Lays and Britannia until 2022. But they have taken away appalam packing covers and Kovilpatti snacks packing covers. The ones affected are always the small and local brands.”

Expressing their concerns with the Government since the ban was first announced, George Town Plastic Sellers Association protested in December. However, the government refused to revoke the ban. 

“We cannot make as much profit as we do from selling plastic. We need more time to find and switch to about the alternatives. Currently, the beetle nut plates and plantain leaves do not match up to the plastic industry’s level in terms of quantity and cost,” says Abbas.

Kumar, who sells plantain leaves, explains why it will take time for small hotels to switch to alternatives. “This is my family business and I’ve my usual customers - the big hotels and restaurants - who buy the banana leaves no matter what. But now, I’m unable to provide these leaves to small hotels due to lack of stock. Unlike plastics, these leaves cannot be mass produced and cannot be stored either. Usually, the banana leaves come from Madurai, Theni and Kambam region. Every day, Chennai consumes 40 to 50 truck-loads. And all of this stock has a regular market.”

Karthik Subbaraj speaks to TNM about Rajini's character Kaali, why he cast Simran, and what fans can expect from the film.
  • Tuesday, January 08, 2019 - 15:38

Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta is up for release this Thursday and Rajini fans can barely contain their excitement. Petta is hitting the screens even while Rajinikanth’s 2.0 is still playing in theatres, and this is the first time in years that the star will be having two of his films running in theatres at the same time. 

The film’s trailer, teasers, and first-look posters have all suggested that Petta would be a Rajini fans' celebration. Director Karthik Subbaraj, too, has admitted this on more than one occasion. During the film’s audio launch, he had said, “Petta is a film inspired by, performed by and dedicated to Rajinikanth.”  The story was written specifically for Rajinikanth, and Karthik had said that his dream of making a film with the ‘Thalaivar’, who had inspired him to make films in the first place, looked bleak especially after the star announced his political ambitions exactly a year ago.

Produced by Sun Pictures and starring a bevy of actors like Simran, Trisha, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bobby Simha, Sasikumar and more, Petta will release in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi. TNM caught up with the director, who was in the middle of film promotions, to discuss what fans can expect from Petta.   

Tell us about Kaali, the character played by Rajinikanth. What kind of a person is he?

We can’t reveal much about his character right now. He plays a hostel warden in a college and the story starts from his relationship with the students and then takes off from there to what happens in different situations.

You’ve said in your interviews that Petta will be a tribute to Rajinikanth and the trailer has references to his old films. Were you conscious about Petta being received as a mix of old Rajini films?

It won't be like old Rajini films. It is a very stand-alone story and I wrote it specifically for Rajini. We have plenty of Rajini moments, the one that fans love to see. The story will be a fresh, stand-alone story. We’ve used a few shots of his mannerisms that might be like a tribute to his previous films. The name Kaali itself is a tribute to his previous Mullum Malarum film.

Your previous films are not without your own unique stamp. How much of Karthik Subbaraj will we see in Petta?

I don’t agree that there’s something called Karthik Subbaraj stamp. But I do scripts that excite me. There’s the same level of excitement in this film, too. You won’t miss that excitement in this film as well.

Tell us about the women characters in Petta. How did you decide on Simran and Trisha?

We have more strong women characters in Petta and all of them have their own importance. The women are independent and we wanted performance-oriented actors. When it came to pairing Rajini with someone, we thought of Simran. Ever since Chandramukhi, Rajini and Simran were supposed to do a film together. This was an on-screen pair that people missed seeing. We wanted to make it happen. She is a great performer and has done a very good job.

We heard Trisha's character has a comparatively shorter screen time?

Trisha’s character has a comparatively brief time on screen. But all the women characters are important to moving the story forward. The women are all independent but the story is not just about them like how you saw in Iraivi.

Now, especially since his recent films like Kabali and Kaala have broken Rajini's strictly for “mass appeal” tags, will Petta take us back to “star power over content” days?

I would say that Petta will definitely bring back his mass appeal. Kaala and Kabali are both good films but the fans probably missed his “larger than life mass appeal”. Petta film will bring that back. I’m also sure it comes with good, strong content. The mass appeal won’t overshadow the content.

In a Rajini film, everything usually revolves around his character. But you have many stars in the film, including Vijay Sethupathi. How did you strike a balance?

The script has a strong story. And it is a story that happens between very strong characters. Since Rajini sir was doing a strong hero character, I also wanted the other strong characters to be big stars as well. The drama sort of elevates the characters. That’s why I approached actors like Nawazzudin and Vijay Sethupathi. The first reason why they agreed was because of Rajini sir and second, they also liked the story.