Considering how besotted we all are with cinema, it may seem a bit absurd to say this, but lately, I’m beginning to believe that Tamil films meant a lot more, say a couple of decades ago. Do you remember that time — when a trip to a cinema theatre was almost an exotic outing that occurred perhaps only once or twice a month? Back then, entire seasons were flavoured by the biggest releases of that period. The Pongal of 1995, for instance, had the scent of Baashha, the summer about Bombay, and its Diwali, Muthu. Till summer, when Bombay released, you had three whole months to consume Baashha to the fullest. That’s why you could hear theTerminator-‘inspired’ soundtrack blaring in your mind as you walked up to your teacher/boss to collect your report card/appraisal result. That’s why, thanks to all the practice, you could accurately recreate that famous whoosh caused by Rajinikanth’s index finger moving faster than the speed of sound. That’s why a classmate of mine could play the entire percussion bit at the beginning of ‘Naan autokaaran’ by tapping his fingers on his desk. This sort of, shall we say, immersion was possible because there was time to absorb the film, to romanticise its elements. The next big film was a while coming. You could afford to memorise all the lines of ‘Stylu Stylu Dhaan’ without looking over your shoulder at the incoming ‘Arabic Kadaloram’.
Now though, the shelf life of most films is barely a week; for many, just a weekend. A vacation for you often comes at the cost of a good film. Even if you manage to catch it, there is little time to dwell on it, to savour its quirks. Last year, for example, you got Shankar’s I releasing on Pongal. However, before you had the satisfaction of using ‘Adhukkum mela’ enough times, Yennai Arindhaal was out. And before you could memorise all the lines of ‘Unakkenna venum sollu’, it was time for Anegan and of course, ‘Danga maari’. And before you could… well, you get the idea.
It is alarming how even films of the biggest directors out there are no exception. Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani, for instance, got barely two weeks before Kamal Haasan’s Uttama Villain came in to gently show it the door. I dare say that even the recently-released Visaranai, arguably the best Tamil film in a long time, will only remain etched in most people’s mind as “that film with a lot of police torture”. A good film must not just be seen; it must be devoured, every bit of it — every word of its poster, every beat of its best song. And that needs a gestation period. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that available in the present scenario that is reminiscent of lunch time at that crowded restaurant, where hungry customers stand around and try to stare you into vacating the table. I’d rather wait patiently. The hunger always makes the food tastier.
Of course, if you’re the glass-half-full sort of person, you may argue that we are never starved for films to watch these days, and you’d be right, of course. Theri, 24, Kabali, Iraivi… they’re all coming at you. So, you may perhaps want to reconsider your long-planned summer vacation, because when you come back, there will likely be very little to suggest they even existed, regardless of their box office success. Padangalum Kadanthu Pogum.