Chennai Express goes well beyond previous Bollywood flirtations with the South
I am a fullll Tamilian. Solla pona… I talk Tamizh and walk Tamizh. But had I gone to watch Chennai Express with radical Tamizh feelings and got unnecessarily offended at the incorrect Tamil spoken here and there in the movie,I would have missed enjoying two hours of priceless pleasure. This movie was a total surprise. Sure,with a Shah Rukh Khan film one can expect romance,emotions,some light comedy and a serious climax. And it has all of that. But the theme that strings the movie,the characters and the humour was totally unexpected. Thankfully,we were spared the usual insulting caricatures of Tamilians and instead treated to an endearing Deepika Padukone as the daughter of a small village don in Tamil Nadu who is constantly fleeing from a betrothal to another don. Shah Rukh chances upon her and finds himself embroiled in a comedy of errors that takes a serious twist. Both excel in their roles and kept a packed audience in splits throughout.
Even though some of the dialogue is in Tamil,the superb expressions of all actors made it quite easily comprehensible. And I am happy to pardon a gorgeous and very Tamizh penn (girl) looking Deepika saying Solli kudikiren which really means I will tell and drink,when she means I will teach him and Poi tula,which means god knows what,when she attempts to say Poi thulai,as in,Get lost. Her generous use of the feminine gender with the many woh bolti,tum sunti,kidar jaati,while perhaps a little exaggerated,added a memorable flavour.
Over the years,Indian cinema has strangely seemed to have traces of south India in one way or another. If you listen carefully to the songs of the 1940s,when Saigal sang Jab dil hi toot gaya with a nasal voice,it sounded almost Tamil jabba dilla hi toota gayyyaa and a lot of dialogue in the same accent as (read with a nasal tone for the right effect) Mayi nagheen janthi tee mere saat ayesa oga… The accented songs and dialogues of the 1940s are today oft-repeated for their strangeness,but sadly overlooked for their intensity of emotion and the beauty of their composition and context. Tamil degradation set in mostly with Mehmood cast in outrageously exaggerated Tamilian versions,as in Padosan,and his lungi version of Muttu kulikavarengala (Will you come pearl-diving?),which till this day gets sung as Muttu kudi qawwali gada. It may have amused many,but clearly showed the lack of research and sensitivity to a community.
In the following era,this was reversed with a fusillade of beautiful Tamilian and Telugu actresses keeping the crown for years to come… Padmini,Vyjayanthimala,Sridevi,Hema Malini and Rekha. Unfortunately,this once again typecast South Indians as a community of gorgeous women and ugly men.
The era of Chiranjeevi,Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan heralded a new glory for this breed with their charisma,talent and unique storylines that Bollywood was only too eager to emulate. Yet,these heroes,while becoming demi-gods in their own lands,could not get acceptance from the rest of India. Rajnikanths stunts have translated into several cartoon films for viral marketing and a million jokes. Though acknowledged as the lord of lords,his clear Tamil accent is yet again used for poor Hindi emulations and comic acts.
But what a relief that the new breed of heroes dont seem to care much for Bollywood acceptance. Ajith,Daggubati and others are making their mark in Indian cinema and establishing that they too can have the looks,muscles,personality,talent and attitude to boot. Perhaps now,Bollywood has come out of its myopic view of south India and other regional cultures,and is beginning to represent regional characters in their true essence. Movies like Dabangg,Kai Po Che and now Chennai Express have attempted to do so.
But hey,Shah Rukh,while I didnt quite mind your eating noodles with curd in Ra.One,you need to learn that Tamilian men are not all fat,gory,dark,unkempt,dirty and nightmarish. To show a village full of such abominable ogres in the name of cruel and heartless Tamilians may have created the right impact and humour in Chennai Express,but it is far from the truth. Like the rest of India,we have all kinds too,and many like Sathyaraj who plays the father. So,mind it,wokay?
I am not about to go on a rampage for these trivial errors. A movie has to be watched for its overall sense of entertainment and intent. It takes courage to make a movie with so much Tamil,and yet create an all-India appeal. And moreover,making non-Tamil actors give their best shot is no mean task. So,if you are the kind who would take to street protests and make this an anti-Tamil agenda,I suggest you stay home and watch Sun TV. As for me,mere ko to yeh fillum baut pramadam lagti. Ab chhhalo… tum bi dekti,fir bolti.
The writer is CEO,
Product of the Year India