Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where Ivan ain't Ivan

Chennai can be a terribly boring place for humour buffs who know just konjum konjum Tamil. In such times of severe laughter deprivation, it might help to scan the movie section of your favourite national newspaper.

Just stare at any of the Kollywood ads that modestly proclaim their ‘terra hit 3rd day collection’. And focus on the Transcribed-in-English film title. Try and read it aloud, if possible. Chances are, all the localites around you will be in splits and that would make you smile.

‘But why should a Tamil Movie Title, written in English, raise a chuckle?’ you may ask. Well, the answer for that question lies in the Tamilian’s whimsical penchant for using spellings that follow no earthly logic.

Allow me to amplify with a few examples. Let’s just say, you happen to see the ubiquitous ‘7-am Arivu’ ad. How would you pronounce it? Seven-A-M-Air-Ree-Woo, right? You can’t be blamed if you assumed, it was a movie about early morning flatulence! Makes you wonder why Murugadoss didn’t opt for ‘Yezhaam Areevu’ instead of that misleading alphanumeric.

I’ll give you one more gem. ‘Potti’ is supposed to be the native word for ‘Box’. While ‘Poatti’ is supposed to mean ‘Competition’. But everybody who’s anybody insists on using ‘Potti’ for ‘Competition’. So you have a Jayaram-starrer called ‘Sabash Sariyana Potti’. A good acquaintance of mine read it as ‘Sabash Sariyana Potty’. Someone should box the ears of the filmmaker for this unintended toilet humour.

Actor Parthiban’s ‘Ivan’ is another hopeless case. When the posters made their appearance, many made the mistake of surmising it to be an adaptation of ‘Ivan Hoe’. It turned out to be the Tamil word ‘Ivan’ (meaning: him).

These goof ups happen as a lot of folks here mix up their ‘da’ with dha’ with ‘tha’. Not surprisingly, they write Kanda when they want to say Kandha, Anantha when they mean ‘Ananda’ and Mariyathai when they imply ‘Mariyadhai’. Given this chaos, I won’t be surprised if some people were to decode Mani Ratnam’s Kadal (sea) as Kadhal (love). If that happens, may be it’s time our directors signed up for a class in phonetics.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Peter Paradox

What will be your reaction if you stumble upon a man from Mannargudi who walks and talks like he was born and brought up in Manhattan? You’ll snigger at him, right? And if that farcical facade got on your nerves, you might just mutter: Enna da, eppidi Peter udraan (Tamil slang for – oh maan, what a pseud)!

Curiously, we don’t apply this derisive ‘Peter’ label to home-grown brands that appropriate very international-sounding names. We don’t mock at a Maharashtra-born ‘London Pilsner’ beer or a Ludhiana-made ‘Monte Carlo’ turtleneck. On the contrary, we seem perfectly fine if a local brand creates an aura of being European (Case in point: Fiama di Wills).

Strangely though, we do look down upon native brands that have a very native name. Somehow in our heads we grade a ‘Meenkashi’ as ‘downmarket’ while we’re happy to classify ‘Fish Eye’ as ‘uppity’. What our conditioned mind forgets is, ‘Fish Eye’ is but the English version of ‘Meenakshi’!

Funny, isn’t it? On the one hand, we make fun of people who are very put on. On the other hand, we are totally at ease with brown skin brands that pretend to be white skin. I’ve never quite fathomed this great Indian paradox.

Luckily, there are still a few brave hearts who are not at all ashamed to court consumers with Bharatiya names. Tanishq (Hindustani for Body Love) is a fabulous example. The company had a choice of riding on the super successful ‘Titan’. They could even have milked the mother cow ‘Tata’. But instead they boldly bet on Tanishq - without ever losing sleep over picking an ‘uncool’ brown skin name. The gamble was well worth the trick as the jewellery brand rakes in over 7000 crores of moolah, today.

The crunchy Hindi moniker Kurkure is another blockbuster brand that’s unabashedly desi. Come to think of it, Aashirvad Aata, Radio Mirchi, Vatika, Meera, Santoor, Aaj Tak, Rasna, Vimal, Mufti, and Amrutanjan have all been equally successful. Given this overwhelming evidence, you’d be surprised to know that only 3 in 10 brands launched in India opt for an Indian name. Makes you wonder if we are all just wannabe goras.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Circuit of Sidekicks

Life as a sidekick can be seriously depressing. You have to walk and talk like a retard to make the hero look smarter. You have to wear uncool clothing to make the star look hipper. You have to be the joke to generate the laughs. What’s worse, you don’t even get to serenade bimbos. A smack here. A whack there. A punch here. A punchline there. That’s all you get. And just when you’re warming up to be the scene stealer, you’re rudely cut out of the frame to make way for a corny climax.

So, that my friend, has been the zakhmi kahaani of sidekicks in Indian flicks. You get a miserly 15 minutes of screen time to make a deep impression. Given the blink-and-miss nature of the appearances, film makers today, are working harder to make these minor characters far more unforgettable.

Opting for wacky sidekick names is a great safety net to ensure memorability. Astute auteurs like Raju Hirani are increasingly turning to quirky names for injecting some added mirth into their sub-plots. The eminently likeable 'Circuit' in the Munnabhai series gave him a wee bit of leeway for the now-famous ‘Short-Circuit’ gag. He repeated that trick by inventing the ‘Virus’ and ‘Millimetre’ characters in ‘3 Idiots’.

Mr. Hirani needs to doff his hat to Shekar Kapoor’s ‘Mr. India’ for hitting upon the winning formula. For those of you who remember the charming Sri Devi-Anil Kapoor blockbuster, actor Satish Kaushik played the role of ‘Calendar’ in that film.

Shekar’s innovation was mimicked big time in the nineties by the David Dhawan generation. You had Johnny Lever playing ‘Hitchcock’ in ‘Aao Wish Karein’, ‘Taxi’ in ‘Farz’, ‘Screwdriver’ in Ghaath, ‘Okay’ in ‘Deewane’ and ‘Maggi’ in ‘Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya’.

You might have forgotten the horrendous ‘International Khiladi’ but you’ll never forget the fact that Johnny Lever played Twinkle Khanna’s photographer sidekick in the movie. And he was aptly called: ‘Focus’.

Comedian Santhanam is attempting to apply this template to Tamil Cinema. His ‘Kaatuppoochi’ in ‘Siruthai’, ‘Delhi’ in ‘Vandhaan Vendraan’ and ‘Speedu’ in Velayudham are steps in that direction. It remains to be seen if this name humour thingy will continue to tickle the funny bone.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life after name & fame.

Dravid’s career has hit a wall. Laxman has become Very Very Superfluous. Tendulkar’s retirement is just one century away. Zaheer has run out of steam. Gauti’s situation is fairly gambhir. Viru’s future seems very edgy. And Dhoni looks like he may need to hang up his gloves soon.

So what do all these legends do once they’re forced to call it a day? Surely they can’t turn television anchors, as Shastri, Gavaskar, Ganguly, Manjrekar, Sivaramakrishnan and Aakash Chopra have squatted upon every inch of real estate available in the already over-crowded commentary box.

The only way out is to start something new. Given how Tendulkar’s and Saurav’s have failed to tickle the palate of foodies, restaurants may not be the best bet. In such quandrous moments, it might be a good idea to study what celebs in other countries are doing in the sunset boulevard of their lives.

MC Hammer, the ‘U can’t touch this’ rapper, has just put his money behind Wiredoo, a deep search engine that’s expected to rock Google and Bing. Raquel Welch, the sex symbol of the swinging sixties, has stumbled upon a goldmine with HairUWear - the world leader in wigs. Shane Warne, Sachin’s dear pal and Liz Hurley’s leg spinner, is all set to launch a high-end nightclub named Club23 in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Paul Newman, the blue-eyed heartthrob of yore, has milked his equity by putting his name and face on Newman’s Own, an organic food company with the unique proposition of donating all profits for charity. The idea has obviously worked as the company has generated more than $300 million for social causes since 1982!

Another sizzling opportunity is to create a fashion label like Gwen Stefani. The American songster rode on her hit album ‘Love Angel Music Baby’ to create L.A.M.B – the clothing brand. Zaheer Khan is attempting something similar by backing – an online apparel store.

Jonty Rhodes, the jumping jack of cricket and the brain behind ‘Evolution’ dope-free nutritional supplements, offers the offbeat path of making money while still sticking to sports. Wonder what will appeal to our senior citizens. Gotta watch this match!