AN OLD FRIEND
‘’THE DIG WANTS TO MEET YOU”. For a brief moment Manikam’s eyes speak a different language. All the bottled up emotions conveyed through those powerful eyes. It’s an uneasy situation but he plays along like an innocent man filled with fear
The DIG waits in anticipation. Who is he going to meet? An old friend or foe or a stranger he never knew. The past flashes before his eyes as he taunts the stranger. How is your new Job ? He asks hoping to peel off the mask but Manikam doesn’t give it away. He retains the tone of innocence and acknowledges the person in front on him without giving too much away for us as an audience. We are left wondering the nature of their relationship.
But what has always fascinated me as a fan was the next question. I hope your kids and wife are fine ? In hindsight it is nothing but a simple query but Manikam’s answer gives us the first hint of how lethal he could be if he wants to. He just answers I am not married yet which implies everything is the same as before.
Nothing has changed. He would not hesitate to re-visit the past if he wants to.
The commoner walks back like the king he once was even as the DIG flips the first page of a glorious past. The fear in the policeman’s body as that Iconic name is uttered. He’s long dead? Why do you want him now? Is he? Let’s wait and watch for the impressions of the past always come back to surprise us.
THE FIRST GLIMPSE
Baasha to me is one of the greatest commercial flicks of all times. A movie which would re-write the masala movie template. Ever since Baasha happened both Tamil and Telugu cinema has shamelessly thrived on pale imitations of our Superstar re-using the same post interval transformation again and again. Ajith’s vedalam is the most recent re-hash. I don’t know how many more we are going to see in the coming years. Where did it all begin?
That iconic discarded scene in Hum.
A dejected sister. Her aspirations of becoming a doctor shattered. The brother intervenes to alter a foregone conclusion. He doesn’t resort to melodrama or over the top dialogues. He begins almost casually teasing his unprepared opponent with Enakku Innoru Per Iruku. And then Suresh Krishna cleverly uses film negative to give us a glimpse of his dark past. The anticipation soars even as we yearn for a full view. In fact the entire film thrives on the clever usage of black and white film negative images to showcase transition and transformation. Cut to the present and the dynamics have changed. A shell-shocked opponent is rendered speechless while our Super Star uses subtle changes in body language to convey the character switch. If this isn’t acting what is ?
The scene closes out with the iconic Naan Oru Thadava sonna or so we think. But in hindsight the closure is attained when he steps out. He steps in and Steps out as Manikam. The brief transformation happens behind closed doors. The chairman doesn’t reveal the truth neither does Suresh Krishna. He keeps the glorious reveal under wraps until that awesome interval block.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
There are numerous tales of theaters being torn down when the Superstar gets beaten up. I want to travel back in time to see the audience reaction for this particular sequence. It’s your demi-god and the one you look upto and he is being beaten up.
The interesting part – he isn’t forced into submission. He volunteers to be the sacrificial lamb on behalf of his younger brother. You want him to fight, to give it back but he doesn’t. holds back even as nature cries on behalf of us.
One particular line “Easu Pola poruma paru”. It’s vanity and a bit of indulgence but you don’t care. Even the fact that his innerwear changes colour with every frame doesn’t bother you as an audience. You yearn for a retaliation which never happens.
The crushed glass piece in the hands of his right hand man, the silent glimpse of an aid from the past or the sheer helplessness of being mere spectators as the master retains his simple childlike smile. The entire sequence is done and dusted but yet again Suresh Krishna gives a glimpse of what is to come with a simple question.
Do you ever get angry? And what happens after that is absolute beauty. The star answers with his trademark iconic laughter. A laughter which conveys a milion other hidden emotions. Is it even possible to do so but Rajini does it with so much ease. The calm before the storm.
One of the greatest achievements of Suresh Krishna is how he constantly brought out a perfect amalgamation of the actor and star who lies hidden within the Superstar and Baasha will always remain his greatest achievement. The fact that a discarded scene in the North found such a powerful voice down South is perhaps one of celluloid’s greatest Miracles and the perfect ode to those Commercial Potboilers down South. The fact that the same plotline has been re-hashed N number of times without much success is testimony to the charisma of the star.
In hindsight Baasha works because of the way it successfully teases and taunts the viewers throughout the entire first half with carefully placed applause worthy sequences and best part is the way the negative is used to go back and forth and the film doesn’t even need it’s antagonist to make a statement who comes into the picture only in the second half.
A film always has liberties to tease, taunt and haunt the viewers until the big reveal. The reveal which could transform a Superstar into a Demi- God and a man of the masses. For most of the first half Rajini constantly shifts between a softer feminine side and the dominant alpha male with remarkable ease pulling the entire audience into the narrative. We are all prepared to wait and watch and when the wait is finally over it’s sheer ecstasy on screen.
The way the pre interval sequence pans out is an interesting lesson. He doesn’t come into the picture until that pivotal moment when his sister lands in his arms with blood on her face. The mask doesn’t come off on it’s own. It’s pulled out by force and he’s left with no choice but to retaliate and bring out the animal instinct within him. The mask transforms into a shield of protection as the Alpha male takes over. The tone shifts from mockery to bewilderment and awe as the volcano within Manikam explodes. Years of hidden fury is revealed as he utters “ Ulle Po”. How easily do those eyes shift from fear to anger in a split second? Hell breaks loose. Does it end here? No absolutely not. It’s the beginning. It’s payback time.And what a payback it is the wait is over for him and us as gives it back in the only way he can. The look of joy in the face of his comrades as they kiss his hand after a worthy duel is priceless. The king is back to claim his throne. Baasha is back. But there’s more to this tale than what we have seen so far.
The final flourish the grand finale to set up for the events of the second half. A flourish which continues to reverberate ever after all these years.
Lights fade, the noises die down as the Camera focuses on the Superstar and his fans alone. Everything else becomes inconsequential it’s him and us alone as the voice utters those iconic lines.நான் ஒரு தடவ சொன்னா, நூறு தடவ சொன்ன மாதிரி.
Ah here it is! The moment of ecstasy and awe. A once in a lifetime amalgamation of the perfect culmination and preview as one of the greatest pre-interval blocks come to an end.
How do you define Swag, Style, Magnetism and Energy ? Is it even possible to merge all of these in a single frame to give a different shade to a forgotten past ? That’s what happens when our favourite don decides to reveal himself. Even as his own sibling bombards him questions Manikam retreats to reveal the untold secrets.
He closes the door of illusion to re-open the real world. His world which was forged on the foundation of friendship. And just when he thinks he could thrive in this world with his dear friend and family. Fate forces a re-vamp and thrusts him into the limelight by pitting him against an unlikely enemy – Mark Antony.
And to win against his all conquering opponent he needs a dual identity. An identity which could effectively merge two personalities into one and give him the aggression that he seeks. Mannik Baasha is born – a voice for the oppressed. The crowd has a new leader to root for. A leader who put an end to the reign of terror and signal a new dawn.
That moment when the negative fades to reveal the real person is when the euphoria begins as SPB goes full throttle with Baasha Paaru. The command and poise in the walk of our favourite hero is still unmatched. A never before seen celebration begins. A celebration which would last till Kollywood decides to wind up.