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RR
30th August 2006, 11:41 AM
The Screen-Turners. Chapter 3 Part 2

KILL THRILL

A closer look at Sujatha’s literary attributes, Karaiyellaam Senbgapoo…and how not to make a thriller.

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What does it mean to say, "there's something about Sujatha"? And what does it mean to find that ambiguous adjective in chiasmatic symmetry and certainty with "comparing Sujatha to Bharathi is stretching it too far”? "Something" keeps its namby-pamby, and "far" gets the axe of cut-off point. Many possibilities Vs. Singularity.
Having read only three full novels by Sujatha, I'd be foolish to attempt a monograph of his life's work, so I'll just keep it at "here's what I know from what I've read."

First, let’s celebrate the multiplicity.

There is a stylistic modernity that flies right off the page, no matter what the subject or thematic preoccupations of the work. By 'stylistic modernity' I mean an engagement with language that is more than just purposeful on a "needs only" basis. Sujatha does not just play with words and syntax; he perseveres to make it all feel new and different. In a truly literary way, he exoticizes the familiar. For a reader, that discovery is both electric and erotic. S/he is already taken.

Something can mean Sex, or the possibility of. Sujatha's novels offer that, and lots of it. The repressed fantasies of his male characters lead them into some precarious frat-boy descriptions of the female anatomy, and Sujatha, aided by C. Jeyaraj (he with the pencil that puts the liss back in lissome) plays with the questionable politics of objectification with all the panache of a trickster. He challenges the prude and the crude in both of us. (Here's a scary thought: Reader as Character.)

Urbanity is Sujatha's playground. Even if the characters are located in a village between here and there, their worldview, their manner of apprehending everything around them in language, in parole, is urban. I'd happily put the three books I've read in the Metropolitan box. The witticisms, the turns of phrase and the narrative's momentum, all conspire to punch language in its face, and the books seem to hurtle to a finish, breathless, like rush hour commuters at Nungambakkam Station.

Dark Hilarity or Murder, most Casual? If the book is Karaiyellaam Senbagapoo, you can - in Sujathaese - kill the or.

Of course, these are all superficial and random gleanings of a reading list that has not moved to number four. As much as I'd like to get into things like "larger thematic concerns" or "narrative ambivalence," which would no doubt be interesting and illuminating, I cannot go there. Sometimes, ignorance just is. I have to accept that. Limited by my reading though I am, I would still go out on a limb and say that the features I have highlighted above are a good part of Sujatha's writing (including the purely genre undertakings such as Historical or Science Fiction.) There, I conjecture, the proceedings would be equally cunning in language and narrative, while at the same time striving for a register of authenticity.
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Let's take Karaiyellaam Senbagapoo. It falls under the self-admitted "thriller" genre, albeit with a rural twist. Right off the press, the book screams "formula," and there's nothing the matter with that. The tale is in the telling, after all. And Sujatha tells it with delight.
Kalyanaraman, a 30ish, sensitive, horny researcher arrives in Maempatti for fieldwork. The bigwigs of the village have arranged for him to stay at a locked-up "zamin" bungalow, and we can already hear the floor and stairs creaking at night. Maruthamuthu and Velli are the assigned house-help. Kalyanaraman records songs, conducts interviews and trains the village kids to sing in a chorus (Listen to "yeriyile.. elantha maram" (http://music.coolgoose.com/music/song.php?id=200286)). He lusts interminably for Velli.
And the floors begin to creak and cigarette butts are discovered on the flat roof terrace.
Ancestral ghosts getting their nicotine fix?
Maybe.
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However, claiming great granddaughter relative-ism, Snekalatha (“snake” for short) shows up at the “zamin” bungalow. She’s tall and fetching and such a tease. Maruthamuthu, Velli’s fiancé, falls instantly for her snakey charms. Velli feels left out, but she won’t let Kalyanaraman in. And Snekalatha is hell bent on seducing Kalyanaraman. This quartet plays itself in a quirky, and seemingly innocent way, until Snekalatha is found murdered. The very next day, Velli disappears. What links these bizarre turns?
That’s the story within the story. A story where a dried senbagapoo nestles next to a diary entry, a clue to a secret from the past, and a key to some serious gold jewelry. It would be unfair to give it away.

If every frame were one inventive stylistic turn of the novel, G.N. Rangarajan makes sure there are none on the screen by being entirely faithful to the text, page by page, yet intent on turning cheese to chalk. If one were to take “screen-turner” quite literally, the images on the screen follow the images in the text, in the same prosaic order, without any of the narrative’s jujitsu. I could swear I heard pages turn, and I knew which chapter we were on when watching the video. Sri Priya (Velli) Sumalatha (Snekalatha) Pratap Pothen (Kalyanaraman), a motley crew not a casting coup, turns in a listless, I-am-so-bored, but I am getting paid for it performance. Manorama’s Periaathaa is that much needed saving grace (for one does want to be charitable) in an otherwise dull, how not to make a thriller lesson. To be blunt, the film musters all the spooky suspense of a Vayalum Vaazhvum episode.

Ilayaraja’s score also seems indifferent. But to be fair, the director’s penchant for flatness over cinematic ingenuity could be to blame. It would help to bear in mind that Alaigal Oyvathillai, Aaraadhanai, and Enakkaaga Kaaththiru were all made in 1981, and Ilayaraja still owned the summit. Aeriyile Elanthamaram still holds brilliance in the choric parts, and Kalyaanraman Cookku Raman has a terrific opening. (Listen to "kalyan raman" (http://music.cooltoad.com/music/song.php?id=181946)) Kaadellaam Pichippoovu, the opener titles track sung by Ilayaraja himself, is adequately nondescript.

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Now back to the second part of the chiasmus: the “stretching it too far” bit. Revolutions and radical thought are contextual. Each cultural-wave both builds and demolishes artistic traditions that have preceded it. Bharathi’s idealism is not Sujatha’s; Sujatha’s times and themes are not Bharathi’s. And vice versa, and vice versa for every era defined artistic advance.
While it is easy to understand the urge to keep certain icons sacrosanct and distant, how can it hurt when the subject is the one that achieves the object’s standards of excellence? Bharathi is who Sujatha is measured against.

(C) Author 2006
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