Saturday, October 9, 2010
The other night I reviewed Endhiran (or Enthiran, as Wikipedia has it, or The Robot in English) for Tor. It spawned a couple thoughts: one, I don't get out to see movies in theaters as often as I should, and the place out in Queens where Endhiran's playing right now is this awesome old movie palace that reminds me fondly of the old Metropolitan in downtown Brooklyn (now a church, of all the things). Seeing movies in theaters is just right. I can go on all I like about how watching things at home lets me block out all distractions and just see the movie, then I remember that when I watch a movie at home I end up live-tweeting the fucking thing and checking my fantasy football roster and such and that argument falls apart.
The other is how bizarrely unknown the popular cinema of the world's second largest country is in the US. I'm not terribly well-versed in the cinema of India, but I know enough to know that the tendency most of my countrymen have to lump everything Indian under the catch-all “Bollywood” is dumb. “Bollywood” is one—albeit prominent—part of the Indian movie industry, based in Mumbai, and they're in the Hindi language. Endhiran, for one example, was made in Tamil Nadu, in Tamil. Americans are used to a movie being shot in, say, Santa Fe as being a Hollywood movie if a Hollywood studio produced or distributed it (Santa Fe and Los Angeles are roughly the same distance as Mumbai is from Tamil Nadu). But imagine if they spoke an entirely different language in Santa Fe. Wouldn't it make sense to call the cinema of New Mexico something other than “Hollywood”?
I had never heard of Endhiran before a few days ago. It first came to my attention when my friends Abe Goldfarb and James Comtois started talking very excitedly about going to see a movie starring a guy named Superstar Rajinikanth. “That's the greatest fucking name I've ever heard,” I thought to myself. They invited me to go with them, but for extremely complicated and boring reasons I was unable to join them. It did, however, occur to me to see if Tor would pay me to go see it—the notion of getting paid to do something that doesn't suck is still wonderfully new and exotic to me—and when it transpired that they would, I headed out to Jackson Heights the next night to go check it out.
Basically, my thoughts on the movie are covered in the Tor review, but one thing I didn't get a chance to expand on in properly baroque/profane fashion is how motherfucking awesome Rajinikanth is in this fucking movie. He's this little bald 60 year old dude, but slap a bad wig and some shades on the cat and he turns into a SUPERSTAR. It's the most appropriate nickname for someone that awesome since basketball legend “Magic” Johnson (only better because there's no blaring dick joke staring you in the face), and it makes me wish Western movie stars would follow his example and take new names that sum themselves up perfectly: we'd have pictures from Increasingly Solid DiCaprio, Weirdly Polarizing Heigl, Why The Fuck Do I Have A Career Kutcher and No, Why The Fuck Do I Have a Career Jessica Parker.
Rajinikanth's particular brand of awesome is something wonderfully foreign. Take this example, from the picture Abe and a couple random people I talked to at a party last night told me I have to see next, Sivaji: The Boss—
I don't know about you, but that clip and the plot description (an IT guy returns home to India from the US and fights gangsters) make me want to see the living shit out of that movie. If only it was available on Estados Unidos DVD.
The reason I love Rajinikanth so much is because he, in so many ways, is a normal guy. He's got magnetism out the ying yang, but he's a little bald guy in a wig. And yet he's one of the coolest motherfuckers on the planet (the only Asian movie star who makes more per picture is Jackie Chan, rarefied company indeed). We could ask why this is all we want, speculate about whether it's because he believes in himself, whether it's because a cultural norm less fascistic about physical beauty allows a normal-looking dude to rule the fucking universe. I couldn't tell you, I just think Rajinikanth is awesome.
And, of course, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Oh, Aishwarya.
Accept no substitutes. Also, lest one think I'm leering at her, she can act, too. The pictures she does don't, as a rule, give her a lot of complicated stuff to do and some of the gender politics seem a little regressive to New York homocommies, but she always hits every note exactly right. Say what you want about the melody not being that difficult, playing it perfectly deserves credit.
I say the West can learn from the East. In the 90s, Hollywood adopted a number of aesthetic tropes from Hong Kong action pictures—two-gun shooting, shades, slow-mo, action choreography—and these influences remain, to some degree or other to this day. Why not India? Sure, the three-plus-hour running time might scare the shit out of ADHD-addled Americans, but these pictures aren't three hours because they're full of navel-gazing or complicated plot. The main reason they're so fuckin long are because of the music numbers. Take Endhiran. It's a science-fiction action picture with enormous musical numbers. I'm sorry, I'm not getting into a debate about this, that is absolutely fucking awesome and NEEDS TO HAPPEN here. Just think how great The Expendables could have been if suddenly Sly, Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews formed a kick line and started warbling “I know what this must look like/It might look a little gay/But we're just some guys [note: elide those last four words] who blow shit up/Like back in the dayyyyyy-eee-ayyyy!” Or if after Keanu said “I know kung fu” in The Matrix, that led to a five minute bangin' club dance track by someone like A.R. Rahman featuring a hundred dancing girls doing wuxia in traditional costumes. Is this not brilliance?
So anyway, yeah. I got a new favorite movie star. Someone start seeding that torrent—cough cough—I mean release/re-release the Sivaji DVD in the US. Do it for justice. Do it for Superstar.