Tamil cinema

‘Will have to surprise them again’: CS Amudhan on returning to parody with ‘Tamizh Padam 2.0’

Actor Shiva is back to send up Tamil cinema’s most overused plot devices in the sequel.

A single line inspired Tamil director CS Amudhan’s 2010 hit Thamizh Padam.

Looking to make his directorial debut, Amudhan had one sentence in mind: “A village that is intolerant of male infants.” What resulted was a feature-length spoof, one that would win commercial success as well as critical acclaim.

“It was a complete shot in the dark and a gamble everywhere,” Amudhan told Scroll.in. “It was basically a genre that had never been attempted, and we did not know if the audiences would be accepting. The fact that it worked was good fortune.”

The Shiva-starrer, which parodied cliched plot devices and characters in Tamil cinema, is back for a sequel. Thamizh Padam 2.0 will be released in July.

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Tamizh Padam 2 (2018).

Through the saga of an aspiring film star, Thamizh Padam sent up every beloved plot device in Tamil cinema. The sequel sees Shiva takes on the Tamil Nadu police, one of the most overused professional groups in Tamil films. The cast of the Y NOT Studios production includes Iswarya Menon, Disha Pandey, Sathish, Santhana Bharathi and Manobala.

“We have tried to maintain some continuity from Thamizh Padam,” Amudhan said. “Everything else is different. It is mounted on a much bigger scale than what we were able to afford before. I think this film will be a much bigger cinematic experience than the original. At the same time people are going to come into the theatre thinking it is a certain kind of a movie. We will have to surprise them again.”

Amudhan did not expect his first film to be such a success. “To be very honest with you, we were not very serious about the film,” he explained. “We did not think that the film was the beginning of our career or anything of that sort. I wrote it, pitched it, got it approved and the star got on board immediately. We did not have time to think. We shot it in one rush and released it almost immediately. We were not very careful [and did not] consider too many things before the film.”

Largely featuring fresh faces, Tamizh Padam got away with with mocking popular screen icons including Rajinikanth, Vijay and Suriya. Amudhan credited the spoof’s success to the Tamil film audience’s maturity, but also acknowledged that fans can sometimes be loyal to a fault.

“We are like an equal-opportunity employer,” Amudhan said. “We did not single out anybody in the film. For fans, that is a consolation. If I go after their idols, I am also going after other people’s idols. It tells them that there is no agenda and that we are not doing this to attack anybody. That is probably why we did not get trolled.”

The movie further levelled the playing field by going after classics such as Nayagan and Thalapathi. “These are cult films,” Amudhan pointed out. “You basically go after the top-of-the-mind pop culture stuff. I think the audiences got that.”

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Thamizh Padam (2010).

How were references to so many films and characters woven into the limited run time? “The writing process usually starts with a theme,” Amudhan said. “You start with an exciting scene or an idea and then that kind of feeds the writing of the entire script. It sets the tone of the film. I keep referring back to that idea to see if every other scene is falling within that context. Everything is measured against that original idea.”

The scenes also need to make the allusions clear to the audience, Amudhan pointed out. “The Thupakki [Vijay’s 2012 film] reference from the teaser is an example,” Amudhan said. “You put a man against a Mumbai backdrop wearing that sweatshirt with two guns in hand and you do not need to say anything more. People immediately get the reference of Thupakki.”

That Tamil film fans are a knowledgeable bunch also helps. “I don’t think even I have the knowledge that they have,” the filmmaker said. “They sometimes pick references which even I did not know or intend to place in the film.”

Still, wouldn’t it be a niche set that can pick up on all the references? The genre automatically ends up finding its audience, the filmmaker said. “People above 40 and people who do not regularly watch Tamil movies are not going to get the film,” Amudhan pointed out. “They might still laugh, but might not get the references. You are not looking for a 100 crore collection and that is alright. It works better with a different audience.”

A strong story line is also important, Amudhan said. “I often get questioned regarding the relevance of spoofs now when everybody is a meme creator,” he said. “The cinematic experience that we can give you will not be visible in those things. It is a very thin line. We were careful about not descending into silliness. All the criteria that go into a regular film still apply here, including character arcs and movements.”

It has taken Amudhan eight years to mount the sequel, and with good reason. “I did not want to do a spoof again knowing very well that I would be typecast for it,” Amudhan said. “I wanted to do something else and then come back. But unfortunately the other film did not take off.”

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Pachai Manja from Thamizh Padam (2010).

The parody comes from a place of veneration for Tamil cinema of the 1980s, Amudhan said. “You should own the Tamil film identity instead of thinking that it is passe,” Amudhan said. “If we have a natural ability to do something like that I don’t think we should feel ashamed that it is dated. Older films used to balance different elements. If you look at Thamizh Padam, we have followed the same model of balancing songs, fights and emotions.”

While new productions have become more technically sound, they lack the charm of older movies, Amudhan contended, adding that his inspirations include K Bhagyaraj, R Sundarrajan and Manivannan. “Sundarrajan’s Vaidehi Kathirunthal, for instance, has extreme tragedy and outright hilarious comedy,” Amudhan said. “If you want to make a raunchy comedy like Mundhanai Mudichu [K Bhagyaraj’s 1983 film], we are not able to strike that balance. We are either going overboard or inane. Bhagyaraj hit the right chords to pull the family audience in and also keep the young male audiences happy. That is the kind of balance I am talking about.”

For Amudhan, radio jockey-turned-actor Shiva was the obvious choice to achieve that balance. “His kind of sense of humour and presence lends itself very well to the genre,” the director said. “He brings a certain identity to the movie. He does not mimic anybody. He does not try to act like Vijay or Ajith in any scenes. He brings his own sense of comic timing to the film.”

The affability that Shiva infused into the character helps. “It is very hard to take offence with him,” Amudhan said. “You really cannot get angry with him for anything. That is an invaluable thing to have in a movie like this.”

Shiva in Tamizh Padam 2 (2018). Image credit: Y NOT Studios.
Shiva in Tamizh Padam 2 (2018). Image credit: Y NOT Studios.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.