Jun 15, 2008

dasavatharam - the first bollywood movie in my life

11 pm. i am sitting in my bed, there is a cab under my window now, and it is apparently doing a reverse maneuver. how do i know this without actually seeing it? well, easy. i hear the theme song "my heart will go on" from titanic, in a completely monophonic, loud, high pitch beeper sound, similar to those very first mobile phones.

after a long workweek of not many significant events, today i was lucky enough to be invited by my colleagues to a bollywood movie, that was awaited with great expectations wide across india. as this was my first encounter with this genre of entertainment, i had a great chance to be introduced to some of the quite unusual charms the indian movie industry has to offer.

/update 16/6/2008: today i learned from rohit, kote and ramya, that actually this movie was made in chennai, in tamil language, so it does not qualify as a real bollywood piece, which are mostly made in mumbai and in hindi. this puts my review in a little different perspective, but the essence remains true./

i would like to warn you, my dearest reader, that a candid, straight opinion is coming in the following paragraphs, from a movie lover, who have seen many good and probably even more bad movies. the critical tone i allow myself is addressed only to this exact movie, and has no intention at all to hurt or insult the indian movie industry as a whole.

now let's discuss some of the circumstances first. the movie started at 10 am in the hyderabad imax theater. they show many 2d movies in there on the big ass screen, among them this one. dasavatharam (adsense heavy site here) was originally created in tamil language, which is spoken in south india, chennai for example, as i understood. hyderabad however is telugu language territory, so most shows of this movie are the dubbed telugu version here. the only tamil show was the 10 am one, without english subtitles. the main actor (or hero) in the movie is kamal hassan, a 51 year old handsome, slightly chubby lad from chennai, apparently a widely cheered and respected star. he seemed to me to be the tom hanks of bollywood, although much more iconic and celebrated in his own way. some of the facts i learned about dasavatharam before the show:

  1. it is so far the most expensive bollywood movie, it cost 120 crores (indian name for ten million) in rupees, or about 28 million usd.
  2. kamal playes 10 different roles in the movie, breaking the record of nine roles played in one movie by the same actor, set by an other indian sometime earlier
  3. the movie tries to deliver a message, something to do with chaos theory and the butterfly effect.

armed with all this knowledge, i entered the cinema with great valor, to sit out this 3 hour grandiose epic.

here are my observations, in random order:

  • the audience loudly cheers, claps, whistles with great frequency, depending on their emotions. i found this to be in great contrast with the deadly still and silence we endure movies in in dublin.
  • there is a break in the middle of the movie. 10 minutes for grabbing some snacks, sodas (thums up, without the b is the local coke), and to process and chat about the first 90 minutes (which is often the length of a light hollywood full feature). i found this tradition rather strange, but actually it wasn't disturbing at all in the case of this movie. however, if the screening operator stopped the deer hunter, the pulp fiction, the game, or any significant and brilliant movie for even a 60 second break, i would personally go up to his little dark room to ... well... to talk to him about the capital sin he just committed against art.
  • families go to see movies together. mommy, daddy, kids. lovely. although i personally have doubts over the beneficial effects watching brutal fights and killings can have on the minds of children, especially those 4-5 years old. i would prescribe some child psychology literature to the lunatic who rated this movie with no age restriction, and of course i would also lock him up for a few years to have time to read it.
  • the movie was packed with computer animation, visual effects. while the ways the camera was moved and scenes were shot were definitely very now to my eye, i can't also say they were good. the quality of the textured 3d buildings, the blueboxed action and the projected background sometimes dived into scandalous regions. i took note of a ridiculously low attention to detail, which manifested in severe logical glides in the story, obvious mistakes, and also objects and characters behaving according to very unearthly physics in some cases.
  • the actors were doing their job more or less to a high standard. the main guy indeed played ten characters, among them a singer, a bioweapon scientist, an old lady, a stupid police chief, and an american ex cia agent, not to mention the president of the usa, george criminal bush. unfortunately, as these characters showed up in the same scenes quite often (two, sometimes even three of them), the many layers blueboxed and projected over each other resulted in an other huge drop in image quality. sometimes you could easily and painfully spot that the figures on the scene were all shot with different whitebalance and even resolution settings, probably not even with the same camera. ouch.
  • bollywood movies contain song implants. these are music videos, that could easily function separately from the movie. they are more or less embedded into the flow, and in my view, greatly compliment this kind of cinema. in this one, there were maybe 4 or 5 such clips, 3-4 minutes each.

verdict. a stabile 4 star for the experience, i always enjoy seeing, learning new things, be it pleasant or unpleasant. as for the movie itself, placing it in worldwide competition, i grant a mere 2 stars, which, let's face it, is not too much.


Ricco said...

Not bad, now you should see a cheap B class movie maybe the true charm of Bollywood lies there.

kannan raman said...

I this its unfair to review the movie without understanding the story line of the movie. I would appreciate if you go through this and better watch it with sub titles and then review the movie.

FAQs on Dasavatharam

What is Chaos?
Basically a chaotic system is one wherein long term predictions are impossible. Like for example, if I push a car, I know that it is going to move and it will continue to do so if I go on pushing it on and on. However, in a chaotic system, this situation cannot be predicted over a long period of time. Weather, for example, is a chaotic system. No matter how good your instruments are, you simply cannot predict the weather with 100 per cent accuracy over a long term basis and forecast it.

What is the Butterfly Effect?
It is the most important component of a chaotic system. Basically, small perturbations results in amplifications which completely destroys the original nature of the system and makes prediction impossible. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, it could result in a cyclone in USA.(Mark the word COULD.) A highly dumbed down explanation of the butterfly effect is in the film Anniyan, where Vikram's sister dies because a liquor shop owner sells liquor on a dry day.

OK, how does Dasa incorporate it?

In essence, Dasa talks about eight characters who are inconsequential as such, but are integrated in a larger picture. Without Bush, the plane would have been called back. Without Shinghen, Govind would be dead. Without the tsunami, the world would have been destroyed. Even Krishnaveni (the old woman) plays a very important role. If she had not put the vial in the idol, maybe Govind would have recovered it then and there and a powerful weapon would have been unleashed. The very fact that it went into the idol meant that it was being accelerated to its destiny. Without Kaifulllah Khan, Govind would have never escaped... the list simply goes on.

OK, so does the film talk about theism or atheism?
Neither. It talks about how humans drive the destiny of the world.

The idol that is drowned in the sea along with Rangarajan in 12th century by Chozha king results in a fault being developed at the bottom of the ocean and creates tremors more than 800 years later. These tremors result in the Tsunami. This again is a classic case of Butterfly Effect wherein a seemingly inconsequential event (the drowning of the idol) saves Tamil Nadu from being wiped off the face of the earth.


g. said...

re: kannan raman.

thank you for taking the time and writing your comment. i can't completely agree with you when you say that it is unfair to review a movie without understanding the story line. i think i remained fair when i posted about my experience, especially as i concentrated almost entirely on the objective technical side, on the cinematographic experience. i kept my subjective opinion about the story and message (or whatever i understood from it) to myself, especially because i did not see competent value in expressing it.

i am pretty sure you misunderstood my review, and felt that i did not like the movie because i did not understand the story. well, first, i did understand the story pretty well, it seems to me (especially after your explanation). second, the realization of a movie can totally kill a good story, while the opposite is also true, even a pretty poor story can form basis to a very good movie, if the implementation is superb. in my review i judged the implementation as very poor, without saying anything about the story, or the message if you like.

another great example of the butterfly effect is this reply i am writing right now. the movie was implemented with little professionalism and attention, therefore i judged the movie hard in my review, which provoked your comment on the unethical nature of my post, which called me to try to explain my point in this reply. and who knows where all this is leading? ;)

i think that the chaos theory and the butterfly effect are fascinating and hard topics, and i truly respect dasavatharam for giving it a shot.

littleborka said...

Hey guys!

I just watched Chaos Theory ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460745/ ) with Ryan Reynolds yesterday, so it's fun to find you talking about similar topic here. It's an easy one, a light comedy, not makes you think for hours, but has a clear and simple message (at least for me): to take your chances. As for the implementation: nice pictures, great acting. Worth watching, give it a try!

For G: conversations can give the most valuable part of a movie (take Woody Allen), maybe it has important role in Dasa, however, you missed them all, don't you think?

FrostAtMidnite said...

Hi G! i could meet you while at work, the two days i was there atleast. :)
(Jayasree.. from SQE, the one who fell sick and had to leave Google for the same reason)
Anyway.. Nice review. India and its cinema is divided based on Languages..hindi cinema is Bollywood, while tamil is Kollywood, and Telegu is Tollywood.
When you go to watch a movie starring one of these "legendary" actors, it is taken for granted that you overlook all the technical aspects - these movies are made for them! Although they established themselves as actors in the past, these days they just want to make screen presence and break even at BO.
And the family thing.. every movie has to lure the family audience so to say. If mom and dad do not approve of the movie.. you (dont)simply sneek out and go watch it. Although I personally do not favor violence, and think kids are better off without it, I was left wondering after reading your comment. And I am not sure if you noticed it, most parents ask their kids to close their eyes at such scenes, but a censor cut or a supervision rating would get cult fans outraged. It is extremely close to their hearts if such things happen. Politics, Religion, Cricket, Cinema these are things that you should watch out for when in India.. you will be amazed just by the sheer brutal force it possesses.

kannan raman said...

thank you for your response to my comment. I completely agree with your observations and there are some bad things technically in the film. But the creative efforts should be appreciated. This film is truely a new experience for a the indian viewers.

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