Monday, January 29, 2007
A tractor continuously chugs in the background, while Bharani is trying to make a point to Brahmaji. Bharani gets irritated after a while and yells the tractor driver to shut the engine off. The constant rumble in the background dies down immediately and silence prevails for a few seconds. "vinu! niSSabdam enta bhayakarmkaa vundO! silent gaa unTaenae inkaa violent gaa unTundi" teaches Bharani to the weapon-weilding, bomb-hurling, Sumo-chasing goons. It is quite a valid observation when it comes to action movies. The huge explosions, the mushroom clouds, the varied hacking to death with a variety of weaponry, the loud (and unnecessary) statements masquerading as powerful and emotional dialogues, all pale in comparision to the emotion that builds up exponentially in pure silence. Noise dilutes power, noise drowns emotion, noise destroys mood. The distant rumble of the thunder cracks its whip ominously. The room is darkly lit with a sole candle bulb hanging down the from ceiling showing a wearied Bhavani in the spot light. The door bursts open and in walks Siva with a goon on his shoulder. Bhavani and Nanaji are shell-struck. It is a moment that neither of them anticipated even in their wildest dreams. Moments roll on without a single word uttered by either party. While Siva looks on intently, Nanaji bends over and whispers a single word in Bhavani's ear - "SIVA". Silence claims victory once again. Now, re-imagine the scene with loud talk and unimaginative action. Siva bursts through the door, throws the goon down, and starts letting out a barrage of screams, warnings and threats at Bhavani, bashing Nanaji's head against the wall nearby before storming out forcefully into the raging storm outside. What could have been achieved with deafening silence, threatening seriousness would have completely been reduced to a mediocrity of loud actions and boorish statements.
However subtle the difference might be, but the distinction still exists between what constitutes action and what constitutes violence. While both the forms indulge in the almost similar methods, the perception or the end results are completely different. When violence goes for shock, grossness and revulsion, action aims at adrenaline, thrill, and in a twisted way, pure fun. A hero picking up an axe, hacking and chopping his way through a bunch of goons, would never evoke the same kind of thrill feeling, when compared to a character reserving his right to exercise action, and more importantly, using it quite judiciously, so that when the actual action happens, the effect is enhanced and the action intensified. Movies, in particular the telugu ones, seem to confuse between the two, vastly under-estimating the (negative) effect and the (unwanted) impact that violence has on a scene when compared to pure action. The transition from the days when the hero would successfully tackle a bunch of ruffians, flying through the air, indulging in circus acrobatics fare, all in the name of mindless fun, to the current period when tackling a gang of villain's henchmen involve mauling them to death/near-death, all in the name of power-packed action, is quite a painful one. After "okkaDu", "ataDu" seems to exactly understand this distinction and uses to its advantage splendidly. What a radical departure for Trivikram! While "nuvvae-nuvvae" reveled in logic, "ataDu" goes for the glory in action. While words (in plenty) are used in good measure to vividly and in detail explain what, why and how of the characters' actions in "nuvvae-nuvvae", action seems to have completely taken over muting words in "ataDu". While the writer's thinking mind seems to be on display in "nuvvae-nuvvae", "ataDu" has the director's creative side behind it.
Simmering anger and controlled aggression - "ataDu" captures these two moods perfectly in Mahesh's character. Ram Gopal Varma's "antam" had this same exact mood for the lead (and the similarity ends there). That both these characters are contract killers, and they have little life outside of their work, explains the way they behave - reticent, stand off and non-communicative. It is certainly commendable of the Trivikram to not ease down on this mood, once the setting changes from the political arena to the village mileu, and persist with the same tone right till the end of the movie. It is very easy and convenient to ease down on the pedal in regards to the seriousness in the name of relief and humor, but bringing back the character into his element, when needed, would require the inevitable sacrifice, either of the integrity of the scene or the effect of the build-up. Consider this - Brahmanandam goads Mahesh to punch him in the stomach to prove his masculinity in front of the women and the kids. By that point, it has been already sufficiently established that it would prove near fatal for Brahmanandam to go on taunting Mahesh. Trivikram plays along with the scene building the required momentum for a big pay-off with the final result. Had Mahesh's character been compromised earlier with a toned down approach, the hilarious result at the end of that scene (and many such) would not have hit its mark. Another similarity that "ataDu" shares with "antam" is the way, none of the actions of the lead character, pertaining to his profession, are explained in a telugu movie format friendly fashion. "sinmaa kasTaalu" did not force him to pick up the weapon, circumstances did not prey on him to commit the deeds, misfortune had no say on his fate. Cause is not what is in question, but effect is what that matters.
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Lensman Guhan and editor Prasad deserve equal and rich praise for the final outcome of "ataDu", along with Trivikram. The drawn out action sequences, beautifully choreographed by Haines, the brief pauses to elevate the mood, the ramp back to the wicked action, remind of the three-way shoot out sequences in cowboy Westerns that director Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, For a few dollars more, A Fistful of dollars etc) specialized in, in that, action does not happen in a rapid burst of sequences, but paced along in short spurts, each pause setting up the heightened mood, sometimes even raising it, before handing it off to the next sequence. Case in point, Mahesh's first encounter with Bharani in his farm land. The action takes off with thinly-weilded threats to Bharani, hands it off to a quick thwack to the throat of a goon, followed by a brief assessment of strengths of both the parties, bursting into a round-up melee, pausing again for a re-evaluation, before going for the final kill. A really thought-about action choreography there, from Haines, Prasad, Guhan and Trivikram. If "okkaDu" set a standard for such thrilling action sequences a few years ago, "ataDu" raises the bar even higher, for completely stylizing the action in a fashion never seen before, making the telugu hero look as suave, as cool and as polished, not to forget, as cold and as calculated, as his Hollywood counterpart. Here is a classic example of the concept and visualization of the director run amok on the paper first, only to be translated, without loss of any minute information whatsoever to the celluloid, and the result appears quite splendid on the silver screen!
Tailpiece: While the end credits of the movie "Chasing Amy" roll, there is a little note in there that says "And to all the critics who hated our last flick (a critically panned, "Mallrats"), all is forgiven". "ataDu" bears a note from Trivikram along similar lines for "malleeSwari". "for those who were disappointed with malleeswari, all is forgiven", personally written in invisible ink