Finding Rama

मन से रावण जो निकाले*

एक सर काटा तो उगा एक और,
न जाने कितने और सर उगेंगे,
इस मन की माया गुफ़ा से!
सोचा ‘राम’, तो भी बाहर निकला रावण!
सोचा ‘रावण’, तो निकलते हैं हज़ारों रावण!
रावण के भी थे सिर्फ़ दस सर,
मगर मेरे मन में हैं लाखों हज़ार!
इस विष‌ को मिटाने की शक्ति
 है क्या संजीवनी पहाड़ में,
या हनुमान चालीसा में,
या ‘जय श्री राम’ मंत्र में?
जैसे भी हो, मन से रावण निकालें हम,
और देखें प्रभुजी राम को हृदय में हम 🙏

Letting go of Ravana

An ugly one rears its head,
I cut it off and felt contented,
But soon popped another,
From my heart-string’s shiver!
I thought ‘Rama’, but out came ‘Ravana’!
When I thought ‘Ravana’, there came not one Ravana
But thousands and thousands in a row!
Caught in this stampede, where do I go?
Lanka’s mighty man had but ten heads,
But in my heart roar lakhs of crores of heads!
How to draw this poison out?
Will Sanjeevani Hills help me out?
Or the song of Hanuman Chalisa?
Or the mighty ‘Jai Shri Ram’ mantra?
Through one or the other, let’s drive him out!
And find our Lord Shri Ram within and without 🙏

ராவணனை நீக்கினால்

தலை தூக்கிய அந்த துஷ்டனை அழித்தேன்,
ஆனால் பற்பல தோன்றின! நான் திணறினேன்.
இந்த மாயையில் சிக்கிய மன குகை,
அதற்குள் இருப்பவை எவை எவை!
ராமன் என்று நினைத்தேன், ஆனால் தோன்றியது ராவணன்!
ராவணன் என்று நினைத்தாலோ தோன்றின ஆயிரம் ராவணர்கள்!
ராவணனுக்குக் கூட தலை பத்தே பத்து தான் அடி!
ஆனால் இம்மன குகையில் ஒளிந்திருப்பவை கோடானு கோடி!
இந்த விஷத்தை நீக்க மருந்துண்டோ?
அது சஞ்சீவினி மலையிலுண்டோ?
அல்லது அனுமான் சாலீஸாவில் உண்டோ?
அல்லது அந்த மகா மந்திரமான ஸ்ரீ ராமஜெயத்தில் உண்டோ?
இதன் வழியாக நீக்குவோம் அந்த ராவணனை,
காணுவோம் நம் இதயத்திலேயே அந்த ராமனை 🙏

*Inspired by the line मन से रावण जो निकाले from the song पल पल है भारी in the movie Swades.
Thanks also to Amita Singh for spell- and grammar-checking the Hindi version.

99 Songs and The Disciple

No Spoilers

It has been a weekend of watching musical movies: 99 Songs and The Disciple. As a listener and a rasika, music is one of the most precious things in my life. But where does the joy that we get as a listener come from? What does a musician go through to create such marvellous pieces? Is it all inspiration or perspiration? Is there a method behind what we may even perceive as madness? How does the life of a musician look like? How does the society perceive even today the life of an artist? Is there hope for a musician to pursue music in its purest form and make a livelihood? Can one make pure music without being driven by the name and fame? Is there some deeper Truth behind that pure music? Does music blossom out, come what may, if it is so destined? These are some of the questions that both these movies explore and how.

I could identify with 99 Songs completely as an echo of Rahman’s own thoughts and reflections on music and the life of a musician. How he goes about making his own music – trying to empty his mind of all ego and find the music at the altar of the Higher Power. Maybe the movie also echoes the struggles Rahman may have gone through to get to the point where he is able to make music this way.

Becoming an Indian Classical musician, be it Hindustani or Carnatic, has its own unique challenges. The long, focussed years of training that is a necessity. The isolation. And the lack of societal structure to support musicians in general. The Disciple presents a slightly bleaker picture but it too attempts to find that core of music – the pure, unadulterated music that has a deeper Truth and a soul of its own.

I wish there were more full musical pieces in both movies. The musical highlights for me from 99 Songs were Dum Digga Digga BGM (Rahman at his most playful, light, cool mode), The Oracle and O Aashiqa. From The Disciple, all the classical pieces were amazing. But the highlight was the tanpura sound (with the shruti) being used as background music at many instances. It depicted beautifully that the protagonist always had music in his mind. It is, in fact, said that musicians have their ‘aadhaara shruti’ fixed in their mind.

In these times when musicians and artists are struggling worldwide to make ends meet, both these movies pay a great tribute to them. May we all continue to find, through music from these amazing musicians, a lot of hope and love to face these difficult times and discover the hidden Truth.

Anxiety

This has been one of the predominant thoughts playing in my mind since 2020 – anxiety about the well-being of my near and dear ones, anxiety about how the world is going to cross this huge obstacle, anxiety about the future.

Let us examine the source of this anxiety. Firstly, there is the fact that things are going to be different in the future than they are now, and we have no idea how they are going to turn out. Furthermore, we also wish that that change should not be in an ‘unfavourable’ direction. Therefore, deep at the root of anxiety is uncertainty plus a desire for things to be in a certain way. When we examine this further, we notice that the desires in our mind have themselves changed over time so much. Our desires were very different when we were younger than they are today. And most certainly, they shall be very different in the future too. Certain desires are fairly constant over a long period of time though – for example, that we wish well for our near and dear ones. Therefore, the anxieties driven by those desires are perhaps harder to handle. The source of desire itself is something that must be examined, but we will come back to that later.

Next, what do we typically ‘do’ when we feel anxious? We try to do whatever we feel is in our power such that things go in a favourable direction. So, I have spent hours and hours over the last year telling my parents not to do this, not to go there, etc. because of my fear of Covid. So did the anxiety go away? Not quite, but it at least felt like I was doing what I could. This ‘responsibility’ and ‘agency’ that we feel about our actions drives us to do at many times even what feels like impossible tasks. Whenever we act with conviction, it can give a sense of satisfaction and relief that we are doing the right thing. Living in Sweden during this pandemic has been quite a challenge to say the least. However, every time I wore a mask, despite the stares, despite being an outlier in any setting, it still felt like the right thing to do. Still, with more responsibility that we feel about doing the right thing, we are in fact more worried about the results of our actions. This constant worry about the results, in fact, detracts us from doing something efficiently and in the right spirits. When do our actions feel effortless, natural? We feel like we lose ourselves when we get into a ‘flow’. This is the secret to work/action – doing it as selflessly as possible, without worrying about anything, with a clear (higher) goal. And often times, we can see that we are extra careful, efficient, and worry less about our own problems when are doing something for someone else or when we do something for God (for example, preparing prasadam for a puja).

But what if there is nothing that we can do or we have done possibly everything we feel we could do? In fact, that is when the feeling of helplessness accentuates the anxiety. That is when it is good to take a step back and observe the motion of things in this universe. For a certain action to happen, millions and millions of atoms have to move and change. My ‘intent’ behind a certain action is a tiny ‘event’ in this whole cosmos. In fact, when I think of an action as ‘I’ did it, I am only identifying with that thought. ‘I’ had very little to do with it. Call it nature, call it God, but it is not this little ego that runs this universe. And that fact can be most humbling, provide a sense of relief, awe, gratitude, and may even inspire a feeling of devotion. The moment we identify even slightly less with our ego and see ourselves as a part of this cosmos, there is a lightness and joy automatically. If we have some love for God in our heart, then that joy is even more palpable. Ultimately, the true devotees are supposed to surrender completely and revel in the Glory of the Lord, while the Lord takes care of the business of running the world*.

If all of that is hard, then there are some practical hacks that have come to the forefront more and more over the last century in the Western world, but which have been developed and practised in India for a very long time. There is a clear correlation between the state of the body and the state of the mind. If we exercise some control over the body and the activities of the senses and the breath, they automatically calm the mind down. Just sitting still with our eyes closed and observing the breath for a few minutes can also help. There are more advanced yogic practices as well. I haven’t been very regular in doing this, but even short stretches of time of doing yogasanas regularly give a feeling of energy and freshness in the body and mind.

All of the above can help immensely, but they feel temporary until the root cause of the problem is completely removed. We had narrowed down the root cause of anxiety to desire and difficulty in dealing with change/uncertainty, but it goes deeper than that. Advaita Vedanta says that the root cause of desire is ignorance – ignorance of who we really are. We feel that we are just this body, mind, and intellect. This changing mass of things. But we are not. We are the limitless, Infinite, All-pervading Existence itself. The ignorance of this fact drives our desires, because we feel like we are this limited being that has to be preserved and sustained. All our actions keeps ‘us’ in this incessant stream of changes, and we perceive this world as ever-changing and full of suffering. How blissful it would be to break free of the shackles of our mind and limitedness and rediscover ourselves! Every moment of suffering, in fact, has the potential to shake us out of identification with the ever-changing realm of things. As Swami Chinmayananda points out, when Arjuna is in a state of deep dejection and confusion, Krishna gives him the Knowledge of the Ultimate Reality and instructs on the paths to attain that. The clues to rediscovering ourselves exist in our very experiences. If we are the body and the mind, where do they go when we are in deep sleep? If the world is so real, where does it go in dreams? If the body, mind, and intellect keep undergoing changes all the time, why do we still associate with them and feel that we are a constant, unbroken ‘I’? Pondering these questions can open a window unto that Ultimate Reality.

P.S. This is an attempt to describe how to deal with the specific problem of anxiety using the ‘four-fold’ spiritual path of Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga prescribed by Vedanta. Swami Sarvapriyananda has talked about this clearly at many instances.

*अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जनाः पर्युपासते ।
तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् ।।
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9, Verse 22

Nerkonda Paarvai

Spoilers ahead..

I haven’t watched Pink, so this piece is only based on my viewing of Nerkonda Paarvai, which many people think is a faithful remake.

It is sad to see that even after nearly 35 years of Mouna Ragam, in which Mani Ratnam shows what consent is with a single scene (not to educate but show that that is an entirely normal scenario), this society still needs this movie where they actually need to spell it out as ‘No means No’. Well, these are the interesting times we live in.

It is heartening to see Ajith doing such a movie, given that so many young people seem to be following and hero-worshipping him these days. There are different angles to this movie – it deals with the core message of #MeToo at its heart, but it is also a courtroom drama (which satisfied the Perry Mason fan in me) and there are some ‘Thala’ moments for his fans in the first half. The first half wasn’t very well knit together in my opinion, but I guess it set the stage for all the action in the courtroom in the second half. Through it all, what an understated performance by Ajith! Shraddha Srinath was superb and most other actors were good too (including the Superwoman lady constable). Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background music was so subdued and never interfered in the proceedings.

As the first half rolls out, we go through the excruciatingly familiar moments of what happens when you get involved in a case against a powerful person’s family – threatening, blackmailing, molestation, shaming – all of which have been reinforced by the countless movies and countless incidents in our society. I was almost reliving all the news and incidents we have heard that branched off from the storyline of this movie – a victim committing suicide after all the shaming, not being able to afford a lawyer, not to mention all the family-targeted crimes against lawyers and policemen. The fact that this movie sails through all these possibilities to lead us to the sensible end it does brings some hope for the times to come.

I liked how the movie ends, not with a ‘judgement passed and all the bad guys will be put behind bars’, but the judge saying that the other cases will now be taken up. This is an ongoing struggle and battle.

I saw a meme about a possible inspiration for Bharat Subramanian’s name (Subramania Bharati, and therefore, Nerkonda Paarvai). Seemed quite apt. There is no need not to have a Nerkonda Paarvai or not to stand up to blaming and shaming and the double standards that we are regularly subjected to.

After the movie (and even at some points in the movie), it was sad to see that a group of guys were ridiculing the whole thing and making jokes. As I boarded the train back to get home, I chose a compartment as far away from them as possible.

Life is a game, play it.

It was not to be. It was not to be. If Federer had won one of the match points and won today’s Wimbledon final 9-7 in the fifth set, what a closure it would have been to the heartbreaks of 2010 and 2011 US Open semi-finals, both of which he lost to Djokovic after holding two match points. The semifinals this Wimbledon against Nadal felt definitely like a closure to that heartbreaker of a Wimbledon 2008 final. It really would have been poetic justice if Federer had won the final too today 9-7 in the fifth set, the same score by which he lost to Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final.

Those were my thoughts as I was following that game at 8-7 in the fifth set. Well, it didn’t work out quite that way. There was no closure. Then again, Federer isn’t one who plays for closures. Nor does he play to be the greatest. Nor does he play to chase and break records.

If we, as fans, feel so dejected after that loss, how must Federer feel? He looked really sad during that trophy presentation. Then again, there’s nobody like Federer to move on from losses. And therein lies his greatness.

There are many records that people talk about. Grand slams, winning streaks, match wins, titles, and so on. I am not sure if it is well-recorded how well a player bounces back from losses. Federer will be right up there. As I had written earlier too, there were so many times he bounced back by winning the next tournament he played after a big loss. An excellent proof point would be those few months leading culminating in winning 2012 Wimbledon after the heartbreaking 2011 US Open semifinal loss.

He is probably the best long-termist and short-termist when he needs to be so and that balanced approach to everything in his life including tennis makes him who he is. He has always planned for a long career and he has always been a short-termist in dwelling on losses. In a match too, the short-termist point-for-point mentality, as they say, is required and so is the long-term endurance and mental fortitude to battle through a five-set match.

As the saying goes, Life is a game, play it. And Roger knows only too well how to do that.

FAQs: A career in research

It can be a challenge explaining what it is to be a researcher to one’s family and friends who do not have much background in the same. This blog is a kind of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs) on a career in research (more relevant to research in the engineering discipline) that would hopefully be enlightening to both non-researchers and students who may be interested in pursuing a career in research.

1. Does research mean ‘dreaming up new stuff’?


Wish it was! All one has to do would then be to sleep uneasily and dream a lot 😉 Jokes apart, there are research hypotheses to be formulated, then there is the real hard work involved in establishing whether they are true or not and an even harder job writing it all up convincing a bunch of people that your research advances the knowledge in that area.

Depending on whether one is a researcher in the industry or in research institutes/labs or in the university, the final goal of the research may be varied. It could be the development of a new product or improving the efficiency of a current product in the industry. It could be simply developing new theories with hitherto unknown applications or the discovery of a new material (or an algorithm or a new ‘particle’ and so on) in the university. In a research institute setting, it can span the entire range of purely applied to purely theoretical research.

2. Do you really get paid to ‘read’ and ‘think’?! (This was often asked during my stint as a researcher in the industry)

Well, yes. These are some key ‘activities’ that a researcher does.

3. So what exactly does a researcher/scientist do?


Though the goals may vary depending on where one is, at the end of the day, a researcher still has to do research. There is much that is unknown about this physical world – complex connections between human beings and our surroundings, natural phenomena, cutting-edge technology that is constantly changing this world around us. A researcher’s job is, in some sense, to identify, validate and communicate these deeper connections that exist but are hitherto unknown. There is analytical thinking involved, good communication involved, a lot of perseverance and a lot of inspiration too. One can be trained in the first two, and, hopefully, with enough training and a lot of perseverance, some inspiration starts striking too! In more simple terms, let’s say there is a task in a factory that is to be performed, like drilling a hole in a tool. Then the researcher’s job could be to find out what is the size of the hole and the exact geometry of the hole to be drilled that can give the best performance of the tool. Or it could be designing a new drill that can do that drilling much more efficiently.

4. How does one identify if one has a passion for research? 

This is a tricky one. I read an article recently that talks of passion – https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/well/mind/the-right-way-to-follow-your-passion.html
It brings up some very useful pointers, the key one being ‘self-reflecting on your passion rather than looking for validation only from external outcomes, which may be misleading’. In any case, if you want to find out, you have to take the plunge and find out for yourself how it feels. If it doesn’t work out, there are always other opportunities. A research experience, even if it doesn’t lead to a degree, is considered valuable, as it fundamentally changes the way one approaches any problem. Moreover, one can gain research experience as early as during Bachelor study, once one has gained some knowledge in the area of specialisation.

5. Is a PhD for me? Do I need a PhD to pursue a career in research?

PhD is a long-term commitment and if you are sure of pursuing a career in research, it may be better to do a PhD than not. However, after having had a taste of the Nordic culture where titles and degrees are much less important than the skills that a person has, I would say that it is still possible to pursue a career in research without a PhD degree, though one may not have gone through the daunting but highly rewarding task of writing a PhD thesis and learn more ‘on the job’.

6. What are the career options after PhD? How much money can I make?

If you would still like to stick to research after PhD, there are the three typical paths – industry, research labs, academia. Before I go into those, I should also mention that there are some other less conventional choices too – becoming a science writer or a full-time scientific editor, or a policy-maker, or a teacher in a college with little or no research involved.

As far as research jobs are concerned, industry can be a great place to see ‘research in action’ where most of the work one does is actually used by someone else. This is rarely the case in academic research, where most work ends up in research papers that only a handful of people may ever read. Research labs offer a wider range of options in the kind of research one wants to do. However, it is expected that one becomes more independent with more experience as a researcher and is able to get one’s own funding. This becomes extreme in the case of an academic career, where one is virtually left on one’s own. As a postdoctoral researcher (a post-PhD temporary position in academia/research labs, which is my current position), there is still some ‘safety net’ in terms of a professor who would be a supervisor, but one is expected to perform research almost independently and mentor others in the research group (PhD and Master’s students). On becoming a professor (typically starting out as an assistant professor), one is entirely responsible for building one’s own research group, attracting funding from government funding agencies and industries, teaching and being involved in administrative tasks at the university. This also means that one is almost free to choose one’s scope of research.

The money one can make is really variable depending on the field of research, the industries involved and how wide one chooses to expand one’s network and attract funding. Moreover, it requires a lot of patience since it would be several years before one would get a fairly stable job.

7. On mentioning my ambitions of becoming a professor, the oft-asked question is ‘Oh! You want to become a teacher?’

True, teaching is an essential part of being a professor, but it may not even be half of the professor’s job. A professor is most often simultaneously a researcher, a teacher, a project leader, a mentor, an administrator, and there is further scope to be an industry collaborator and an influencer in the scientific community. In that sense, teaching is a relatively small part of the whole bargain and there is certainly no question of two-month-long summer vacations and ‘college timings’ working hours.

Being a professor would be a lot of work. Moreover, being highly competitive, both in the selection process and  in eventually getting a permanent position (which may not even be guaranteed after five years of starting the position in countries like the US), it may not be for everyone. Though many start their PhDs with the ambition of becoming a professor, less than 5% actually manage to do so.

This blog is most relevant to research in the engineering sciences. Pure sciences may require much more creativity and may involve an even more challenging career path.

Outcast

Show me a person who has a well-paying job, good health, a loving family complete with a loving spouse/parents and siblings/happy children, a house to boot, who is gracious to people, and happy and peaceful because of it all. Isn’t this the society’s and, at times, our own estimation of how one’s life should be? But is there a single person who has this ‘perfect’ life? Is there a single person who is not an ‘outcast’ one way or another? If the quest for this perfect life motivates us to do all our actions, we would never really be fulfilled. There would always be something that is lacking, because the list is not static – it keeps growing with attaining each thing to attaining the next ‘better’ thing.

The struggle is within, not without. And no fulfillment shall ever come from only trying to fill the gaps, trying to acquire that one or more things that one thinks one lacks. The external circumstances have zero correlation with inner peace. The external circumstances just give us something to talk about. And it isn’t really hard to make out each person to be an outcast when we view our and their lives through this ‘list of perfection’. Ah, how much the mind loves to dwell on the list and this concept of outcast.

There is only our own limited mind that stands between us and God, between an unfulfilled life and unconditional inner peace. Through this life, there is only the promise of attaining inner perfection, and realising the eternal Bliss that we already are supposed to be. Nothing else was every promised. And there is no way we are going to attain inner peace chasing only the ‘list’, viewing ourselves and others as outcasts, and depending on external circumstances and other people for our inner peace and happiness.

பிராப்தம் – Destiny

Here’s my attempt at translating the powerful song ‘Praaptham’ from Chekka Chivantha Vaanam:

The raindrops wonder unknowingly,
As they gravitate uncontrollably,
‘Which piece of life shall I touch?’
On a seed falls a drop bringing new life,
On a burnt pyre the other ending another life,
Destiny it is, no control as such!

Here, there, everywhere,
The crimson red liquid flows,
This bloody time waits nowhere,
Drowning every path, delivering blows.

The fiery desires forging life on earth,
Reddening the sky and the shattering earth,
Seeping into the waters on earth,
Only to pour red and again kiss the earth.

Here, there, everywhere,
The crimson red liquid leaves nowhere.

Every victorious glow,
Every fatal blow,
Every bloody ending,
It’s destiny singing.

The earth incessantly going around the sun,
Darkening half the day – it’s no fun,
Giving this blessed life of a curse,
Where every joy of a verse,
Is not really an epiphany,
But simply destiny.

 

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

Minor spoilers ahead…

The Prelude

Twenty four hours to go before I would get to see ‘A Mani Ratnam Film’. The latest Mani Ratnam film. The excitement. The anticipation of smiling to myself (it would have been turning and smiling at my sister or father if I was watching the movie with them!) when he does his magic. The curiosity to discover the new element he has tried to incorporate in his latest work. The level of excitement that is proportional to my current distance from Madras, at which every little feeling about home gets magnified. And to me, Madras is synonymous not just with family and friends and school and college, but with Mani Ratnam, A R Rahman, Sanjay Subrahmanyan and so much more. As I begin this next phase of life that brings with it its own challenges and things to look forward to, I feel grateful that I get a chance to see Mani’s magic again, thanks to his continuing passion to create and to the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Europe who help release Tamil movies in this cold cold land far far away from home. The first trailer, the songs and my countless re-watchings of all his old and new interviews have all provided enough buildup. I didn’t even watch the second trailer. I simply can’t wait to watch the film now. It’s going to be a challenging twenty-four hours trying to do stuff other than dreaming of watching the film!

I finally set out to watch the movie alone with the anticipation of smiling to myself. And then I happened to come across a classmate from school whom I had last met 15 years ago. And destiny it was that we had the seats next to each other and his wife proved to be as Mani Ratnam-crazy as me (which is probably the reason that they had also booked tickets as soon as the bookings opened and asked for the best seats in the theatre – the last row middle ones). So I did not smile to myself, but kept smiling at her!

The Film

Gangster movies keep coming out regularly from film industries across the world. There is just so much scope for action, which Mani Ratnam thinks is tailor-made for movies on the big screen. The last gangster movie that I enjoyed watching was Vikram Vedha. We had Mani Ratnam doing Nayagan years ago, but after watching Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, that one now feels more like a movie about a Varadaraja Mudaliar-like character and what that character thinks and why he acts and emotes the way he does rather than a ‘gangster film’. In Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, Mani takes every gangster plot tried and tested and turns it upside down. Just when you think you are getting a hang of the characters or what the film is about, he surprises you. Again and again. The first half was so so gripping that it flew by like a breeze. Or like a bullet. Every character spoke in a way that was not expected. In the initial few scenes, it seemed to have been laid out what the motive of every character was. Yet, the suspense would not die until the very end.

The casting was simply perfect and what a set of great performances irrespective of the screen time (which was very well-balanced as was said during the audio launch – one of the very few things anybody involved with the movie was willing to say. The buildup and PR for the film has been simply amazing, building the intrigue to the right level). Though I generally find STR difficult to watch, his dialogue delivery style and mannerisms actually fitted this particular role. Arvind Swami that we are used to in Mani Ratnam films is quite different here. An intense performance from him and Jyothika. Vijay Sethupathi is growing on me. His casual dialogue delivery takes the cake and when he launches on his ‘story’ towards the end, it was reminiscent of Vikram Vedha. It was good to have some fresh faces in the form of Aishwarya (I haven’t watched any of her films) and Dayana. Jyothika does a great job playing the strong yet vulnerable character. Jayasudha is a veteran and that one scene where the bandage on her head is being removed is enough. Prakash Raj is such a convincing actor in any role. One of the few bits of the Mani Ratnam-esque human relationship scenes that we see are between Jayasudha and Prakash Raj after they are back from the hospital. Didn’t know what to expect from Arun Vijay, but he did well in the weakest character of all. Aditi Rao’s ‘fussing around’ when STR is in her house is quite funny and looked very ‘natural’ on Aditi. One character I couldn’t buy into was Siva Ananth playing the uncle role. I simply couldn’t get out of my mind him playing Adi’s brother in OKK and the Telugu officer in Kaatru Veliyidai. The makeup wasn’t convincing enough to fit him in this role maybe.

Mani Ratnam checklist. Classy cinematography (is the climax location really Cudappah? That place was breathtaking, with the ‘semmaN’ enhancing the Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. Couple of brilliant long shots – with mirrors in the beginning and Ethi in search of Varadan in Rasool’s house). Check. Music interweaved into the film. Check. Great performances. Check. Trademark subtle humour. Check.

What I missed and something that is so synonymous with Mani Ratnam’s movies is his handling of human relationships. There’s so much emotional investment that usually happens into his characters that they stay with you long after the film. That opportunity is not there in this film and the stars of this film are really the plot and the action. Just when you start to think that in the second half where it threatens to get slightly emotional, which would have been out of place in this film, there is more action and some more. In this respect, this movie is more like a Thiruda Thiruda, where it’s not so much the human relationships but the plot and the action which are key. After predominantly making relationship films recently, it was a surprise to see Mani making this kind of an action-oriented movie again. And what a pleasant surprise it was.

Mani Ratnam wanted to make Aayitha Ezhuthu without songs but succumbed to having songs when Rahman gave him such outstanding music. This movie is the closest it can get to a Mani Ratnam movie without songs. All songs could be heard only in bits and pieces as background score throughout the movie (with a couple of extra pieces that have not been released). Yet, I didn’t feel the lack of songs and every bit of music enhanced the movie. Who would have thought that Bhoomi Bhoomi would have been first used during that moment in the film before the intermission. Sevanthu Pochu Nenje keeps ringing now in my ears long after the titles finished rolling. It now feels like the theme of the film, along with Bhoomi Bhoomi.

This is an almost-perfect film in this genre where the unpredictable plot twists and misleading hints keep one guessing and a rewatching is required to follow the full sequence after getting to know the ending. Add to it the slick editing that Mani and Sreekar have perfected over the last few films. It was such a tight film. There was almost no extra emotion, extra dialogues, extra music or extra dwelling on anything. There was indeed much violence and, therefore, it’s not a ‘pleasant’ film to watch.

Right now, I am simply in awe of Mani Ratnam creating yet another masterpiece. If his screenwriting and filmmaking abilities can give us this new benchmark for a gangster film, I just wonder what the result would be if he dabbles in other genres as well. Moreover, it looks like this movie may appeal to more people than most of his recent films. That’s a happy feeling and worth celebrating!