Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru (2009)

Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru has been unwittingly billed as a romantic comedy by some, but that is not the case. Yes, there is a cute couple at the core of this film, but for almost its entire running time, their relationship is portrayed as something very less. Love rarely enters the picture save for a couple of songs and a few scenes sprinkled throughout, both of which are worked out to provide some sparks and make us believe their pairing. However, the comedy portion of the film works, for the most part. Whether or not that it due to the lack of a traditional romance (something which was the downfall of this year’s Siva Manasula Sakthi), I cannot tell. Still, the light tone of the movie comes as a good welcome relief to the heavier fare we have had recently.

Thiru Thiru... is also director Nandhini’s first film, but she doesn’t bring anything new to the table. She follows the template set by V. Priya, with whom she has worked as Assistant Director, in her two movies so far – Kanda Naal Mudhal & Kannamoochi Yenada. Like the former movie, the lead pair in this film too bicker at each other and engage in meaningless fights (this is traditional in any rom-com), only to realize their true feelings at the very end. And, like both of the aforementioned films, there is an involvement of senior actors (in this case, only one) which undoubtedly works to the movie’s favour. Apart from that, the story is nothing to write home about and the way it is structured, we always know what we are in for right from the beginning.

Arjun (Ajmal Amir) works as an art director in Srinivasan’s (Mouli) ad-film company. He is very close to his boss, almost like a son; he constantly arrives late to office, lies for fun, is irresponsible in serious situations, and is irregular in almost every respect. Archana (Rupa Manjari), who works in the same company, is his polar opposite, i.e. perfect in every sense. When asked the amount of time remaining till a meeting starts, she replies with the exact time right to the minute; she likes everything to be kept organized and has hardly lied to her parents in all her life. With a lead pair like that, there is no surprise in how the film ends. So, what we have left is the situation these two are put in to provide some comic relief.

Their company is about to gain a big contract, which will definitely boost their status and also alleviate some of the boss’ problems. Obviously, trouble occurs when the baby supposed to act in the ads catches a fever forcing them to look for an alternative, or risk losing the contract. Arjun finds the perfect choice in the middle of the road, but as he is requesting the mother, she meets with an accident. It is not after everything is finalized that he finds out that the mother is missing from the hospital. Now, he, along with Archana who joins in on this seemingly wild ride, has to take care of the baby and find the parents in order to obtain their signature on the agreement.

By any measure, the film would have been very hard to recommend if not for Mouli’s involvement. A veteran of stage and film, his comic aptitude and versatility is known to everyone. As the absent-minded boss who has a hard time remembering names more than anything else, he gets the best lines and his delivery extracts every bit of comic juice out of them. In comparison, Ajmal and Rupa, as the lead pair, are more straightforward when playing their characters. I never could agree with popular opinion that Ajmal deserved his Best Supporting Actor filmfare award for Anjaathey. The complaint I had against him in that film was he was wooden in quite a few scenes. In this movie, he changes that opinion somewhat; and although the main requirement is good looks which he has, he shows a marked improvement in general, which is a good sign. Rupa shows none of the first-time jitters that plague new faces on-screen and is less inhibited than most others. For a newcomer, that is definitely heartening to see even though she isn't stressed too much.

Thiru Thiru... has also been dubbed as one of the first fully digital Tamil films, shot completely using the Red One camera. If that is truly the case, then its effect remains largely unnoticeable to the naked eye; but the cinematographer goes a long way in maintaining the light tone of the film with bright and crisp colours. The picturization of the Jillena Veesum... song is quite good mainly due to the colourful locations on display. Mani Sharma’s music is largely forgettable, and his background score is more or less a full-on assault on our senses.

Like many similar movies, Thiru Thiru... is not going to win any awards or have an impact on the viewer. Though not all of the comedy hits the mark, and the movie shows a tendency to fall into slapstick on more than one occasion, it achieves what it sets out to do and packs a decent level of comic punch that makes for light viewing. If you have nothing else to do and decide to watch a movie for time-pass, it should be this one.

Saraswathi Sabatham (1966)

Saraswathi Sabatham is the kind of movie that will make us reminisce about the grand old age of Tamil movies, for a variety of very different reasons. For one, it is based on the Hindu Goddesses, but doesn’t involve a child falling into a ‘hundial’ or an evil wizard trying to overpower God. It is also basically a “message” movie about the elementary qualities of life, but, unlike today’s movies, that message comes about only because of the interesting premise set up by the movie’s story. And most importantly, it features an ensemble of cast of actors and actresses who were probably in the prime of their careers at the time. Since that is something which will never happen in today’s climate, this movie works as a great reminder of a time where our top actors worked together without a hint of ego on display.

The film’s underlying premise is very simple. Which is better: knowledge, wealth or strength? In the opening sequences, we see the mischievous sage Naradha (‘Sivaji’ Ganesan) visit Saraswathi (Savithri, as the Goddess of Knowledge), Lakshmi (Devika, as the Goddess of Wealth) and Parvathi (Padmini, as the Goddess of Strength), and pose each of them with the above question. This sets up the clash between the three to see which quality is more essential. To this effect, Saraswathi provides Vidyapathi (‘Sivaji’ again), who is dumb by birth, with a voice and intelligence making him wise and all-knowing. Lakshmi makes the poorest girl in the country as the next queen to the throne, Naachiya (K.R. Vijaya), providing her with unquestionable wealth and fame. Parvathi transforms one of the biggest cowards into Veeramallar (‘Gemini’ Ganesan), the bravest and strongest man in the land, who also goes on to become Naachiya’s commander-in-chief. As the three come to grips with their new God-given gifts, they also battle each other to prove their superiority (obviously the Goddesses’ hands are involved in this also).

Notwithstanding the interesting set-up and story, the film’s biggest attraction is, of course, the cast. Not only does the movie feature two of Tamil cinema’s acting greats in ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan and ‘Gemini’ Ganesan, but also the most famous actresses of the time in Savithri, Padmini, K.R. Vijaya and Devika. When you think of the last time in recent memory that anything close has been attempted, you would probably go back to 1999’s Suyamvaram, but even that was mainly put together in order to obtain the world record. When combined with the fact that this movie is considered an ensemble for its female leads (with today’s heroines being used only for eye-candy, this is another thing to remember fondly) coming together as much as its male leads, it further drives home the fact that our yesteryear actors had little or no ego clashes coming in the way of sharing screen space.

Even with such a cast, the acting honours would obviously have to go to ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan. Of all the people who have played Naradha on-screen (and there are quite a few), none would probably come close to matching Sivaji. The mischievous glint is obviously visible in his eyes as he plays around with the three goddesses in order to obtain the obvious answer to the question. (Note him especially in the single sequence with the three in tandem.) As Vidyapathi, he also brings the dignity and ego of the knowledgeable character to life. Although K.R. Vijaya and ‘Gemini’ Ganesan are legends in their own right, the pride seen in Sivaji’s face and body language as he talks about the power of knowledge is unmatched by the former two. (In fact, such a comparison will be deemed unfair on all three by many; I just felt it is worth mentioning in the context of the movie.)

The above statement aside, K.R. Vijaya and ‘Gemini’ Ganesan are perfect for their respective roles. The self-importance of the queen, with all her wealth and fame, is skilfully depicted by the former. And since good screen-presence is the main pre-requisite for Veeramallar, the latter fits the bill perfectly. Savithri, Devika and Padmini are essentially in the background, but their sequences with each other and Naradha serve as special highlights. Nagesh and Manorama raise quite a few laughs with their separate comedy track (though it does fit in with the other characters in the movie). The actors playing Lord Shiva and Brahma are largely unknown to me, while a very young Sivakumar appears as Lord Vishnu.

Another major highlight of the film is K.V. Mahadevan’s music combined with Kannadasan’s lyrics. Agara Muthala Ezhuthellam... is the best song with each line starting from each of the Tamil alphabets in sequence, but the other songs don’t lag behind either. Kalviya Selvama Veerama... features great lyrics from Kannadasan underlining the significance of each of these qualities in life. Dheivam Iruppadhu Enge... is sung in praise of the wealth of knowledge and also sets up the straight head-to-head between knowledge and wealth. Thai Thandha Pichaiyile... has become the staple for a variety of beggary-related comedy scenes over the years, while Gomatha Engal Kulamatha... is a perfect song for the "Mattu Pongal" festival. Uruvathai Kaatidum Kannadi... and Rani Maharani... are mostly obscure remaining largely unheard outside the movie. T.M. Sounderarajan and P.Susheela are the only two voices heard in all the songs, and are the main reason why it is considered such a stellar soundtrack to begin with.

Despite all the high-praise accorded to the film, there are a few elements that can be off-putting for some viewers. Some sequences in the film do move quite slowly, but that is essentially a quality shared by all movies released at the time. The set design and costumes will also feel more akin to a stage-play than a movie; again, another aspect that is not unique to this movie alone. However, these are only worth mentioning for what they are: minor nitpicks.

Saraswathi Sabatham has become a staple for TV viewing on Saraswathi Pooja and Vijayadasami days. (In fact, I wrote this review the very next day after Vijayadasami.) And though not as good as director A.P. Nagarajan’s certain other films (Kandan Karunai and Thiruvilaiyadal, for starters), it is still a very entertaining film in its own right and is worth a watch on TV or by finding yourself a VCD.

Unnaipol Oruvan (2009)

Excuse me for a moment while I ponder over the reality of the situation: Last week I walked into a theatre to watch a little movie called Eeram with a relatively unknown cast and crew, only to come away stunned and satisfied that Tamil cinema could still surprise me with such variety sans any masala. This week I went to watch Unnaipol Oruvan, which admittedly had an all-star cast and was already a proven hit in Hindi, so there was considerably more expectation than in the former case. What surprises me about this scenario is that we can have two very good (and meaningful, especially in the latter case) movies in two vastly different genres within the span of a week. But that is exactly what Kamalhassan has provided with this film which, along with Eeram, provides the one-two punch that Tamil cinema so badly needed.

Having not seen the original Hindi film “A Wednesday,” I will refrain from commenting on how faithful this remake is. (Though two of my friends who had already watched the Hindi original acknowledged that this is a frame-by-frame remake, which is certainly good news.) Taken on its own, Unnaipol Oruvan is definitely one of the best films of the year so far and while it would be right to classify it as a thriller, to pigeonhole this movie into a particular category is to ignore what Kamal (and, to a very large extent, the director of the original Neeraj Pandey) has achieved with it.

The film begins on a seemingly casual note as it tries to establish the main players in this convoluted plot. Commissioner of Police Raghavan Maraar (Mohan Lal) is having as boring a day as any other, trying to answer queries relating to a police protection request from superstar Aravind (Sriman, in a role which has a very obvious resemblance to ‘Ilayathalapthy’ Vijay). Natasha Rajkumar (Anuja Iyer, who appeared as the whitely ghost in Sivi) is a trademark Indian journalist conducting a TV satire on Former Pakistani and American Presidents, General Pervez Musharraf and George Bush. All this (and more) happens while we also see the prime character of the movie (Kamalhassan) move around the city placing black bags in common places like trains, buses etc., and set up his comfortable perch on top of one of the city’s under-construction buildings. What happens afterward should be known to most people who have seen the trailer; the Commissioner receives a phone call from said character stating that he has placed in various locations across the city, all of which are ready to blow unless his demands are met. Watching the movie without knowing the rest of the plot is one of its biggest pleasures, so needless to say it one of the best edge-of-the-seat thrillers in recent memory.

Much of the first half is spent in a similar note to how the film starts. A host of more characters is introduced, from the Chief Minister’s Chief Secretary (Lakshmi) to a rough-and-tough cop Arif Khan (Ganesh Venkatram). Although the film moves ever-so-slowly in these sequences, they are absolutely necessary in making us relate to these characters, given the breakneck speed at which the plot moves post-intermission. As the movie reaches its final quarter of running time, we are hit in the face with a genuine twist. I would advise anybody to read as little about this movie (or “A Wednesday!”) as possible before watching, because knowing certain aspects of the movie may lead the viewer to accidentally guess (sadly, this happened to me) what happens in this key moment. However, having said that, this pivotal moment will definitely have such an impact on anybody that there is no danger of its effectiveness being diluted by accidental guesses. The twist more or less only acts as a means in making us understand the very powerful message the film is trying to convey, which is certainly very effective.

When somebody assembles a cast of this calibre, it is going to be very hard to speak about how they go about their roles, but I am going to try and do that anyway. As Raghavan Maraar, I had my own doubts about how effective Mohan Lal will be with his Malayali accent (his talent, I have no right to question). But, he comes out with a very understated and dignified performance that I could not help but vent at myself for my initial fears. His verbal trade-offs with Lakshmi are such a pleasure to watch, both within the context of the movie and in India’s political system in general, that it is now hard to imagine anyone else coming with such a subtle portrayal. Kamalhassan returns to being himself rather than being buried under sheets of make-up (though, here he is buried under a somewhat unkempt beard). Initially, he is quite soft when making his threats and demands, and remains so for much of the first half. His passion and rage constantly build up during the second half, and he peaks in the final sequences with a stunning monologue that will make everybody in the audience sit-up and listen intently. Much has been said about Naseerudin Shah’s superlative performance in “A Wednesday,” and although comparisons are unfair, I can safely that Kamal has definitely provided for a Tamil person what (I have been told) Shah did for a Hindi one. Lakshmi never fails to impress me even in small appearances and her role here is nothing more than a glorified cameo, but one she pulls off perfectly. The rest of the actors are perfectly cast (of note is Ganesh Venkatram as Arif Khan) as is required for this movie to hit all the right notes throughout.

Cinematographer Manoj Soni and dialogue writer Ee. Ra. Murugan are two of the film’s biggest strengths. The former provides some stunning shots of the entire city as seen from Kamal’s top-level perch and hardly puts a foot wrong during the entire running time. The impact of the entire film hinges on the latter, who (one would assume with inputs from Kamal) writes some of best lines I have heard in Tamil recently. Much of the impact the later sequences have on us is as much due to the dialogues as the person delivering them and for that, Murugan deserves high praise. Shruthi Hassan is making her debut as music director with this movie. The first time I heard the entire soundtrack, I was genuinely induced a headache. I am not a big fan of Indian music trying to imitate western rock and that is what Shruti tried to do. Thankfully, the two songs remain largely in the background, heard only in bits and pieces. She also does not try to upstage the onscreen happenings with her score. Neither does it make us notice her as the next big thing, nor is it too subpar that it brings down the quality of the presentation, which is a good sign.

In the end, Unnaipol Oruvan speaks with the same voice “A Wednesday” spoke with. The impact here may not be the same because we Chennaiites have been living in relative obscurity when it comes to our position as one of the top Indian cities. However, in a post 26-11 era where the whole of India is trying to come to grips with the terror threat facing the nation, that voice is very powerful. The film leaves no stone untouched with its constant thought-provoking comments. It makes us wonder why Ajmal Amir Qasab is allowed to make a public mockery of the Indian judicial system when he was obviously one of the perpetrators of terrorism in India. Also present is an obvious swipe at the headlines grabbing nature of Indian journalists which will be similar to anyone who watched any of the major news channels on that horrifying date. (Kamal also takes a thinly veiled jab at the Electoral system, which is sure to bring a smile out of anyone who followed what happened in the city on Lok Sabha Election Day.)

Whether that voice will be heard is largely in doubt. One thing that is of no doubt is the quality of this movie. Kamal has efficiently adapted for the Tamil milieu, what has been heralded as a modern Hindi classic to begin with. And, with a star-studded cast, dialogues that hit the nail on the head and a very meaningful message, Unnaipol Oruvan is a must-watch for any Tamil viewer.

Eeram (2009)

Horror has been a very on-off genre in Tamil movies, largely neglected in favour of more commercial subjects. Recently, however, there has been much cause for optimism. 2007’s Sivi laid the seeds for the slow return to the spotlight for this kind of movie, and it has been on a full bloom this year with Yaavarum Nalam, Arundhatee and the dubbed-from-Hindi Bommayi. (Not to mention Naan Aval Adhu whose promo appeared quite a while ago on TV, but is yet to be released.)

Apart from the supernatural element being common in all the aforementioned movies, the treatment of the subject has been widely different. Arundhatee (and, from the look of it, Bommayi) focused on a traditional examination of the subject using grand visual effects and bodily reincarnations to grab (and spook) the viewer with on-screen images. While Yaavarum Nalam dealt with the subject in a more subtle manner, focusing on the psychological aspects of spirits and their unfulfilled desires, instead of only spooking the viewer. Eeram firmly establishes itself in the latter category and though similar to Yaavarum Nalam (and, to a slight extent, Adhu), it is still a good horror/thriller in its own right.

As the movie opens, we see the watchman complete his rounds for the night and get ready to take a breather only to be stopped by the sound of flooding water coming from one of the upper floors. He goes to investigate it and after figuring out that it is coming from the E5 home, he knocks heavily on the door to no avail. The camera at this point moves outward. Although this is only a small sequence and plays as the opening credits are rolled on-screen, it is quite important in that it establishes the emphasis of water and how big a part it is going to play in the rest of movie.

In the next scene, we are treated to a police investigation regarding the death of Ramya Balakrishnan (Sindhu Menon) who apparently drowned herself in the bathroom tub by closing the drain hole (leading to the flooding water mentioned above). The suicide note tagged to her body states that no one is responsible for her death. (Rumours around the apartment suggest the involvement of an extra-marital relationship.) Moorthy, the officer on-hand, calls for help from his police friend Vasudevan (Aadhi), who happens to be Ramya’s one-time true love from college. Vasu takes up the case immediately after it is closed as suicide. And, from this moment, the movie moves back and forth between the past and the present.

The flashbacks focus on a lightweight college romance between Vasu and Ramya which, not surprisingly, involves love at first sight. Despite the contrived nature of the beginning of this love, there is some practicality in it and I thought there were some cute scenes, which made accepting it easier. Obviously, the plot progression involves the requirement of a split between these two -- which is again clich├ęd with the opposing father -- leading to the marriage of Ramya with Balakrishnan (Nandha).

In between all that, what we get in the present day is a standard police procedural with Vasu enquiring about the truth behind the rumours surrounding Ramya. Moorthy is highly sceptical of his friend’s motives behind pursuing a seemingly dead case and suspects it is only because of his prior romantic relationship. But, a string of more deaths of people from the same apartment forces everyone involved to rethink their perspective. Especially since water seems to be the common tool of death in all of them.

Eeram has a very strong first half. The flashbacks do a decent enough job of establishing Vasu and Ramya’s characters and their relationship. This makes it easy to accept that the latter’s death could not have been a suicide and lends support to Vasu’s single-minded pursuit of disproving the same. Each of the subsequent deaths is built up very well and the usage of water in each of them is quite thrilling. However, the movie loses some of its focus in the second half.

In a movie like this, the moment of revealing the key plot point should come as late as possible, with the scenes before establishing all the suspense. Eeram does a good job with the establishment part of it in the second half in the portions depicting Ramya’s marriage life in the apartment. But, instead of closing everything quickly after the revelation, it dwells on some minor issues far too long. This effectively destroys the initial surprise one might have when everything is revealed. Not only that, the movie tries to provide a lot of cheap “boo” moments in these sequences, which only felt like concessions made by the director (not to mention that none of the them scared me one bit). Nevertheless, the director achieves a certain sense of closure at the end that, while not completely satisfying, is well worked out in the context of the movie.

Aadhi gets first billing and more of the screen time but only does an adequate job with it. He seems to have toned down from Mirugam and has a good body presence as is required when one dons the cop uniform, but when it really comes to emoting, he desperately falls short. It didn’t help that his face and voice reminded me of Vishal more than I would have wanted. Sindhu Menon is naturally the heart of the movie, since how much one likes the movie is dependent on how effective her character is. She looks very pretty in the romantic portions, and also provides a really strong performance in the sequences leading to her death, which makes the viewer sympathize with her character. Saranya Mohan is decent while Nandha, who should be seen more often, really improves upon his reputation as a strong actor.

With the importance this movie places on water, the weight of its success entirely falls on the shoulder of the cinematographer. Manoj Paramahamsa really proves his mettle and shows why he was picked by Gautham as the cameraman for his next movie. He neatly desaturates the screen during a majority of the movie (except the college portions), which is very effective, and also captures water in its various forms – flowing, still, falling as droplets -- quite breathtakingly. I was really surprised to find out that the plump drummer in Boys (Thaman) was the music director for this movie. Thankfully, there is only one traditional song (in addition to another which plays in some scenes) in the movie which is very average. The background score, on the other hand, is quite effective in raising the tension at quite a few places. The art director is Rembon who impressed me very much in Subramaniapuram, and again shows his efficiency in the interior scenes especially.

Clearly, this is another winner for Shankar’s ‘S’ Pictures following the success of Kaadhal, Imsai Arasan and Veyyil. (I am ignoring the existence of the very disappointing Kallori and Arai En 305’il Kadavul.) Though it just falls short of the standard set by Yaavarum Nalam for this kind of horror/thriller, it is infinitely better than this season’s most bloated and hyped movie about a non-existent superhero.

An Overdose of "Special Titles"

One thing that has always annoyed me about the culture of Tamil cinema is how quick people are in providing heroes with “special” titles. While this may seem warranted for our more established actors, it gets a little out of hand when a relatively new hero with arguably very few hits to his name is tagged with one. This is one of those issues about Tamil cinema that has been building up in my mind for quite some time now. And it reached a boiling point recently when I read that Surya has been handed the title of “Narpani Nayagan” which has directly lead to this entry (which can very much be considered a “rant”).

Although the issue I talk about in this post may make me seem like a person who hates the whole culture of handing out titles, my feelings are exactly the opposite. And, in my defence, I am going to provide some examples of when this whole “title” thing was done right.

“Nadigar Thilagam” Sivaji Ganesan – Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan is widely acknowledged as one of the finest method actors in our country and his performances have directly influenced countless subsequent Tamil actors including Kamalhassan. The “Nadigar Thilagam” title is but a small example to show that he really was (and still is) the pinnacle of acting in Tamil cinema.

“Puratchi Thalaivar” M.G.R – Another easy enough example to prove my point. As a politician, M.G.R’s success in an era which was dominated by the DMK can be considered slightly revolutionary. And as an actor, he introduced certain novel action sequences (most importantly fencing, which I have not seen done better anywhere else than in his movies) and concepts (like in Ulagam Suttrum Vaaliban), all of which firmly establish that the “Puratchi Thalaivar” tagline is pretty apt.

“Superstar” Rajnikanth – The biggest of them all – If ever there was a title that was more befitting of the star, I haven’t seen it. The word Superstar has become synonymous with Rajni and vice versa. With the title appearing in specially designed fonts before Rajni’s name, one could argue that its popularity is probably the biggest reason why more people are considering taking on such titles to improve their fan base (which in turn has directly lead to its deterioration).

“Ulaganayagan” Kamalhassan – Finally, we come to the master of all trades in Tamil cinema. Whether as an actor, singer, choreographer, producer or director, Kamalhassan has tasted success in any role he has undertaken in the world of cinema. And, more importantly, he has been excellent in each one of those roles in a manner no person before or after has. “Ulaganayagan” (roughly translated to “Hero of the World”) is a title Tamil cinema can be proud of providing to one of its greatest sons.

With the four biggies out of the way, we can move on to the next crop of actors, and this is where the line started to become really fuzzy. One of the most famous titles from this set is “Puratchi Kalaignar” Vijayakanth. Though I don’t recall any special meaning for providing our Captain with this title, it has stuck with him ever since, and has proven pretty useful in his political campaigning (which sees him described as Karuppu M.G.R, hence the usage of the Puratchi part of the title) recently. Apart from that, it has been pretty senseless and ill-conceived for the most part. With the likes of “Navarasa Nayagan” Karthik, “Super Hero” Sarathkumar, “Action King” Arjun (though there is a slight case to make for this one) just to name a few, the downhill slide for the ‘cool’ factor of such titles started in this era.

The popularity of adding these titles has really continued into my generation as well. “Ilayathalapthy” was seemingly added to Vijay in an effort to showcase him as the Thalapathy, i.e. Rajnikanth, for the youngsters. While it has become really popular, I have never really bought it. “Ultimate Star” Ajith Kumar is another whose fame should be attributed to the repeated usage even though it bears no special meaning to the actor in question. I could go on mentioning about how meaningless “Chiyaan” is for Vikram, or how irritated I have been about people calling Silambarasan “Little Supertar” and how adding the “Puratchi Thalapathy” title to Vishal was the last nail in the coffin for the custom of tagging our heroes with memorable titles; but, you get the point.

If you think this entire post is pretty unnecessary, it is partly true on some level. Why should I get into a hissy fit over somebody tagging a hero with a title? I remember myself mentioning somewhere in this post about the ‘cool’ factor of the special titles, and I am pretty sure that is the reason why I wrote this entry in the first place. There was always something cool about using “Nadigar Thilagam”, “Superstar” or any of the biggies in conversations about those particular actors that has been all but lost with the current generation. I recall countless talks I have had without mentioning “Rajnikanth” in a single sentence and that is mainly due to the coolness of the title that goes along with the star. I am afraid I cannot say the same of any of the later examples. No way am I going to interchange “Ilayathalapthy” or “Ultimate Star” or, God forbid, “Narpani Nayagan,” in place of Vijay, Ajith or Surya, and that is my point. (And I don’t even want to get into the taglines we associates with some of our actresses or comedians; that deserves a different topic altogether.)

In the end, all I want is a certain dignity and ‘coolness’ (yes, I am overusing it for lack of a better word) returned to what is one of Tamil cinema’s earliest traditional customs when it comes to idolizing our heroes. //End Rant//

Manchester United Summer Transfers - Thoughts

Now that the transfer window is closed for the beginning of the season, I wanted to post some long delayed thoughts on Manchester United’s summer signings. The reason I waited till the window shut down was to make sure I did not miss any late signings (though I was quite sure that there won’t be a repeat of last year’s tension) and gave my thoughts on the entire squad as it will be for the rest of the season.

Also I won’t be talking about the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Both of them parted ways from United for different reasons and while I don’t agree with the latter’s reasoning behind his moving on, I have since come to grips with a Man Utd squad minus both of them. Plus, I won’t be talking about any of the people that remain in the squad because we already know what they are capable of. Rather I wanted to cool my nerves (and that of other United fans like me) by talking about the potential in our signings along with some really cool videos of them in action.

Michael Owen (Free from Newcastle Untied)

Imagine waking up very late on a summer’s day only to find you have quite a few missed calls from your father and sister. You return the calls hoping that nothing is wrong and you are told that some footballer named Michael Owen is at Manchester tying up a deal with Manchester United. You are so stunned beyond belief that you visit every site in the whole goddamn world to make sure it is not a joke. (And by God it was not.)

The above paragraph pretty much summed up what I felt when I first heard about this most shocking of all deals I have seen Sir Alex pull off. Just a few days before Owen put pen to paper, he was being linked to Stoke City, and it looked like he was moving from one failure to another. And just like that Sir Alex had swooped to complete one of the transfers of the summer and, in doing so, resurrected the careers of one of England’s most storied strikers.

While I certainly don’t think Michael will be able to produce the kind of goal he scored against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup R16, he is still one of the best goal poachers in the country. What’s more, nearly everyone has something good to say about him as a person and how a move to one of those smaller clubs would have been the last nail in the coffin of a great Liverpool career (something that fortunately did not happen). I certainly was (and still am) a very big fan of Owen from his Liverpool days and the past 4 years have been very hard on him playing in a very poor Newcastle side amidst some really bad injuries. So when you put all that together, this move could not have come at a better time in his career. He is going to be playing for one of the best clubs in the world during World Cup year, with probably the best club medical team in the world (which should curb his injuries to a minimum) and with England’s No. 1 striker (Wayne Rooney), which is going to further his chances of making England’s final World Cup 2010 squad.

But enough of that, we all want to know how he will perform in the Red of United. And, from what I’ve seen of him in said red shirt (and from before when he wore a red we all very much hate), I am confident of him producing the goods. And, by that, I mean we can all expect a minimum of 15 to 20 goals from him this season in a very substitute-oriented role. With the kind of service he is going to be having from Carrick, Scholes, Rooney, Berbatov, Nani, Valencia and Obertan, all he needs to do is make his kind of runs (the kind which he showcased against Wigan in the 5-0 drubbing), and he has just guaranteed himself a ticket to South Africa next year.

Luis Antonio Valencia (From Wigan Athletic for 16 million pounds)

This capture was not nearly as surprising as Owen’s because we always knew it was going to happen when Ronaldo vacated the right-winger spot. Still, it would be worthwhile to see what he brings to the table at Man Utd, along with a video showcasing his talents playing for both Wigan and Ecuador.

So far, what I’ve seen of him at United has been pretty underwhelming. And that is a big understatement. For someone who has been playing in the EPL for the past two years, I expected him to get some basics right, but it has looked like he is a cat amongst lions. However, I don’t think he has quite gotten used to life at a club as big as United. The fact that he doesn’t know the language is also a factor and from what I read at the ROM blog, he has only Anderson for company outside of football, which is a bad thing to happen for a new boy. In time, I think he will be a very good signing and take his game to the next level playing for us.

Looking at his video (and I have seen him in action for Wigan quite a lot so this is just a small sample), we can take note of a lot of positives. And don’t expect him to be the next Ronaldo; that is just an insult to both their widely different abilities. He looks to be very strongly built which means he will use that upper-body strength to good use to get past players easily and will also be very effective in the air, making those long balls from Van Der Sar to the wings possible. By now, we pretty much know that he is one of the best crossers in the EPL; so with Owen, Rooney, Berbatov and Macheda latching onto his balls, our source of goals is going to change from when Ronaldo was here. Finally, he isn’t one to shirk off his defensive duties and tracks back after every possession, so Rooney no longer needs to be deployed wide left, which is going to make for a much more lethal Wazza up front.

Gabriel Obertan (From Bordeaux for 3 million pounds)

First of all, I haven’t seen enough of this guy to make long-winding statements about his usefulness to us. However, I am going to let this video do the talking and show that Sir Alex could have produced one of the coups of the summer, and made one of his best young buys in a long time. By the way, watching this video was the final proof I needed to confirm Sir Alex’s statement that we don’t need any more players.

A few things to note from the video: He has very good dribbling skills and is fast like hell and can play on either wing. That pretty much screams to me like he is a perfect match for us because we have always been about fluidity and the ability of a winger to switch sides is critical to that (Ronaldo was best at it). Like Valencia, he is no pushover and demonstrates some good upper-body strength in getting past players which is a necessity in the EPL. In a way he reminds me of youngsters our rivals have – Theo Walcott at Arsenal and Aaron Lennon at Spurs – and much more certainly of a little known footballer called Thierry Henry. He is also going be receiving tutelage from the best manager in the league which is going to make a big difference. It wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if he is where Ronaldo is at right now, top of the world. Yes, it is a very bold statement but we are allowed one of those once in a while and this boy certainly has the potential. I cannot wait to see him in action in October when he returns from injury.

Owen Hargreaves (From “injury” for free)

I promise I will keep this one short. The main reason why I believe Sir Alex did not plunge into the transfer market with the remains of Ronaldo’s 80 million (and whatever newspapers say, it has nothing to do with the Glazers’ debts) is because of the progress (we all hope) Hargreaves has made in his rehabilitation from a dual knee surgery. Insider thoughts from ManUtd.com pretty much confirms this fact and I cannot argue much. We all know what he is capable of and if anyone wants their memory refreshed, watch the videos of the 2008 Champions League semi-finals and finals to remember how much important he was in our European conquest that year. The sooner he returns (fully fit), the better.

In addition, we also have the likes of Adam Ljajic, Zoran Tosic (both of whom have skills but need to really develop on the physical side) and Mame Biram Diouf who looks to be an interesting proposition when he returns in the January transfer window. I don’t see a lot of reason to argue with Sir Alex’s assessment that he has got all the players he needs to go for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Barclays Premier League title (19th overall topping the scousers), a third consecutive Champions League final appearance (with the trophy to add certainly) and a few more trophies to the cabinet.

Let’s prove all the doubters wrong again (remember when Van Nistelrooy left in 2006, we weren’t given a chance, but we have won 3 consecutive league titles since then) and show that the Manchester United bus always moves forward no matter what happens.