As yet another Madras Week comes to a close, Sudhish Kamath lists his five favourite Chennai films
Remember Nagesh looking lost in the big bad city singing ‘Madras Nalla Madras’ (Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi, 1967) in sweet irony, wonderstruck at how men and women dressed alike? A few years earlier, Sachu and a lesser-known actor called Hari Nath drove around Madras in a Mercedes convertible singing ‘Azhagiya Mithilai Nagarinile’ (Annai, 1962), a rare song shot completely outdoors on the city roads. A few decades later, Kamal Haasan took Amala “footboard” on an MTC bus of yore to ‘Valai Osai’ (Sathya, 1988) and romanced around the city. And there is Manorama taking Sonali on a road trip all around town dancing to ‘Madrasa Suthi Paaka Poren’ (May Maadham, 1994). We thought about the Madras films over the years to draw up a list of five films you must watch to celebrate the feeling of being a Chennai-ite.
Venkat Prabhu’s ode to street cricket not only captured the friendship that binds the city youth but also showed us what it is to be a true sport. The home of Chennai Super Kings could not have asked for a better cricket film that celebrates the passion for the game. S.P. Charan’s brave production spawned many new young stars, taught Tamil cinema to not take itself too seriously and paved the way for many independent producers and directors to make small but offbeat, bromance-based entertainers such as Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom and Soodhu Kavvum.
This Mani Ratnam film just about knocked the refreshing Alai Payuthey off this list. If Alai Payuthey captured Chennai on the cusp of change and the changing attitudes towards the turn of the century, Aayitha Ezhuthu was a young and energetic rollercoaster on full throttle, high on edgy music by A.R. Rahman with an angry young Suriya taking on a menacing Madhavan. Aayitha Ezhuthu reflected the changed new Chennai that was not afraid to take on the rich and the powerful. And how can we forget how Mani Ratnam employed Napier’s bridge in the film’s most defining moments?
Ungalakku Rajini pidikkuma Kamal pidikkuma? Debutant Thiagarajan Kumararaja showed us a North Chennai rarely shown on screen with this freshness except by maybe Selvaraghavan in Pudhupettai and Vetrimaran in Polladhavan. This pop culture tribute edged those two films off this list because it is lighter in mood and certainly more original in its treatment, relying only on script and no stars to take us through the gritty streets of Chennai, the concrete jungle where only the fittest survive. Special points for the feminist subtext!
Think of all things Chennai and you will find it in Shankar’s underrated Kadhalan. Be it the celebration of the public transport bus in ‘Take it Easy Oorvasi’ or its tribute to Bharatanatyam and Kalakshetra or the ingenious Pettai rap. It was a rare musical where classical dance fell in love with modern street dance forms. Add Mr. Elastic Prabhu Deva and A.R. Rahman to the mix and you have a film that’s undeniably watchable any day for its Madras flavour. You can tell how much Shankar loves Chennai by watching any of his films, but this one made it simply because Chennai is the real hero of the film.
Sivaji The Boss
How can there be any list about Chennai without Superstar Rajinikanth? Shankar’s Sivaji The Boss is not just a tribute to Rajinikanth but also a great social commentary on the state of affairs. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” as Sivaji observes the inequalities on his homecoming, as a common man fighting corruption. But the best Chennai moment pops up halfway into the film when Vivek asks him to go back to America and he replies: “Ille. Idhuthaan Yen Ooru. Ithavittutu naan yengai da poven!” Whistle!
(The ones that almost made it thematically include Marina, Angadi Theru, Polladhavan, Pudhupettai and Madrasapattinam)
Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week
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