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Celebrating friendship

ON RECENTLY re-seeing Susi Ganesan's "Five Star" on DVD, I was charged with excitement. It crackles with energy, inventiveness and style. How could I have missed all this the first time? I guess I must have been too distracted by my initial disappointment that it didn't explore the lives of ALL the five stars. Shouldn't a movie about friendship be about all five friends is what I asked myself then. Now I see that it was - is - a lovely little film celebrating friendship. Because, though it sticks largely to the Prabhu-Easwari-Ilango story, it never actually loses sight of its theme — the bright ring of friendship.

It's the only Tamil movie worth taking note of in the last six months. ("Kadal Virus", though disappointing, was an interesting failure). The movie poster for "Five Star" — five friends sitting on the beach front in wet clothes, with the girls looking seaward and the boys looking back at the camera — should get an award for best movie poster of the year.

It would seem that to look for any Tamil movie with some style and originality (barring the films of Rajiv Menon and Shankar) you would have to look only towards the films of Mani Rathnam and his protégés. In this case, Susi Ganesan, who was his assistant. (The other worthwhile Tamil film was also from Madras Talkies — "Dum, Dum, Dum").

You know that "Five Star" is going to be different and interesting half way through the song, "Sunday", which opens the movie. It's energetically choreographed and stylishly shot. And the music and the lyrics are breathtakingly good. Song after song (specially "Engalukku" — the vocal and instrumental version) you feel this — that the music has an edge, a jazzy newness that you don't even hear in Rahman or Harris Jeyaraj. This is the terrific work of Parasuram-Radha, the husband and wife team of singer Anuradha and classical violinist Sriram.

You expect the opening credits to accompany the "Sunday" song but it doesn't! The credits begin AFTER the song is over. This is something you miss seeing in Indian movies — credits rolling quietly over the narrative, with the actors already talking.

The search for Ilango in Geneva is suspenseful and plot-wise, a nice departure from the formula. The other nice touch is that these friends REMAIN friends. Their relationship stays platonic till the end. The only clichéd bit is the musical card — which is, like so many Tamil movie greeting cards, kitsch. (Someone should write on the history of bad aesthetics when it comes to birthday parties, birthday songs and birthday greeting cards in Indian movies).

In his interview, the director says: ``Immediately after deciding on the film's subject, I made a note of the things that I didn't want to do. I didn't want to shoot inside the classroom. I didn't want students teasing teachers. I didn't want boys to sit on a wall as a group and tease girls like you see in all the other college films. I didn't want cheap comedy. I just wanted to make a film about real friends. I didn't want any makeup on the students. I wanted to maintain a blue tone all the time as blue is the colour of youth. That's why, now, people say the film is `fresh'.''

The actors — Prasanna, Karthik, Krishna, Kaniha, Sandhya, Mangai — have nice faces. They look and feel like real people. Watching them you are aware not of the actors but the characters they are playing. The women in the film look South Indian and not like the usually boring North Indian imports we have been stuck with in recent Tamil films. And their acting is so convincing, it's hard to believe that this is their debut!

In college, I had a friend whose dream was to have all her best friends stay in one house for the rest of our lives. It was the most fantastic and moving thing I had heard and I have never, since then, encountered that lovely sentiment anywhere and in anyone again. Not until "Five Star," that is.

The five friends here actually pull off this crazy but beautiful dream: they build a house with five bedrooms. What is also lovely and moving about this friendship is the space they give each other — particularly to Ilango, who says he needs to be on his own for a while. Fine, they say, and when you return to us, there will be a room waiting for you in that dream house.

One mystery to be cleared up about "Five Star": Why does Ilango not miss his friends the way his friends miss him? When Prahbu finally catches up with him in Geneva, Ilango explains why he cannot return to India. But why, oh why, does he not once say something about how much he misses and yearns for his friends? Movies about friendship are so rare. For some inexplicable reason filmmakers avoid making movies about friends, while they rush to make movies about every other kind of conceivable relationship.

Those buddy movies (specially the cop movies) that Hollywood churns out are NOT about friendship. Neither are the gangster movies like "Goodfellas" about friendship just because they have some dubious male bonding going on. "Sholay" and "Dalapathy" for me are the exceptions — when Mammooty puts his arms around Rajinikanth and proudly shows off his new friend to everyone, you find yourself moved enough to remember other friendships.

The Hollywood films that repeatedly have friendship as a theme are those school-college reunion movies — "Return of the Secacus 7," "The Big Chill", "Dinerm", "Peter's Friends" and so on. But what these movies don't do is consciously celebrate friendship the way "Five Star" does or the way Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creature" did.

In this sense, the greatest movie about friendship would be Truffaut's "Jules and Jim". Though the three friends in the movie — two men and one woman — get romantically entangled, there's still something innocently platonic about their relationship.

Other movies about friendship: "Midnight Cowboy", "Scarecrow", "84 Charing Cross Road", "Walking and Talking", "A Passage to India", "Metropolitan" and "Travelling Avant."

"When Harry Met Sally" could actually have been about friendship if it wasn't spoilt by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan getting together in the end. Do we as an audience subconsciously push two people to turn to romance — that if two people get this close, it has to get sexual? I find movies about friends more moving than anything else because there's something pure and beautiful and self-effacing about friendship — it's sweet distance and joyous detachment.



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