Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chandramukhi: Getting to know Rajnikanth

Some people told me before I watched Chandramukhi that this wasn't Rajni's movie. Were they kidding me? I understand the bit about Rajni not being the prime mover in the flick, but the entire movie is built around Rajnikanth. And I mean Rajnikanth as in The Superstar.

In the opening sequence of Chandramukhi - which actually starts with a highly amusing shot of about 20 ambassadors driving down a bridge for no ostensible reason other than perhaps the director thinking it was cool - a man is chasing a number of abla naaris. He runs into something - we're not sure. But the impact is seismic. He gets thrown a few dozen feet backwards, crashes into the windshield of a car and crashes out from the back.

Seconds later, we are introduced to the blockage - its a foot bearing sneakers with an orange sole. And behind it is the smiling face of Rajnikanth.

In Chandramukhi, Rajni plays a psychologist. But not just any shrink. He's phoren returned, winner of gold medals in the US(!), trained by Dr. Bradley(!), capable of short range read-only telepathy and prone to occasional lice removal via a previously never before seen technique of tapping the offending insect and tweaking the infected's ear. He's not just any doctor - but a rascal doctor, bow-chick-wow-wow.

After that rather delirious opening sequence, Chandramukhi sort of falls apart as a movie save for one gorgeous kite flying song (which ends with the kites forming the words "Superstar" in the sky). The reason is really in the execution of its genre: horror-comedy.

The scares are absolutely third-rate - copious tired POV shots are interwoven with some terrible acting and blaring music. The set design is chuckleworthy. It doesn't play well even as schlock. The comedy often seems entirely centered around Rajni's love bunny status with women - a singular joke that can't sustain a whole movie. But that reminds me: I didn't watch this movie for its art, but for Rajni.

So back to our man. With dancing skills in Amitabh Bachchan territory, Rajni nevertheless has this wonderful little smile going that sits really well below his curiously feathered wig. Its a knowing smile - as if to say: I know I'm like a bad habit you can't break, so here we go. He also has a rather terrific slit eyed look which he sadly under utilizes in this movie.

Somewhere in the middle is a confounding taming of the shrew sequence. It works like this: Rajni acts like a juvenile and annoys the heck out of a young village belle (Nayanthara) in a song. This includes twirling a fake CGI kite on his finger and placing it on Nayanthara's head.

Later he bullies her by disrupting her music class. The next day he sends all her students off to the movies. When she stops by to complain he ridicules her by informing her that he's brought off all her musical instruments. Girl storms off only to be stopped dead in her tracks by some highly melodious singing and peti music. Turns out Rajni is quite the singer/songwriter/musician. Girl regrets. Girl cries. Girl apologizes to Rajni with folded hands. Instead of taking the peti to his head, if you ask me.

Fortunately Jyothika is around to rescue us. She looks devastatingly good in a saree and choti and acts deliciously over the top which give this movie legs to tide it over the times when Rajni decides to prance off the screen.



Anonymous said...

"Chutiya", u mean choti, not chutiya, isnt it? Chutiya is a gross word, son.

Anonymous said...

Hail Rajni,

East or west Superstar Rajni is the Best.

Unknown said...

Fair enough, I corrected it mostly because I don't want a bunch of people stopping by the site for the wrong reasons :)

But I wonder if I had spelt it chuttiya, would it have been ok? Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, did you write a post on Chandramukhi without mentioning the true horror of this movie: Jyothika's dancing?

Goose lover and dance ignore-er... why, Aspi, why?!

ppl said...

Wow, is this the movie that bhool bhulaiya was inspired from? Regardless, anyone in that loony psychologist role would have been less annoying than Akshay Kumar.

I have only seen Rajnikant in Hindi movies, namely Chaalbaaz which I really liked him in. You are right about the angelic smile, Aspi, very endearing inspite of the hairpieces.

Do enlighten us on the horrors of Jyothika's dancing, Amrita. Is there a clip out there somewhere?

Never Mind!! said...

Missed this movie. I did see BHool Bhulaiyya and heard Akshay Kumar is not even half as good as Thalaivar!

Unknown said...

leera, the final Jyothika dance in Chandramukhi that Amrita is referring to can be seen here. Watch at your own peril.

Although you have to love Prabhu's WTF expression whenever he sees his wife.

Anonymous said...


this is heroism WAY beyond the call of Duty! I'll probably get lynched or something, but Rajni I CANNOT stand, in ANY movie...unfortunately, married into a family which thinks he is God! :-D (I understand he is a very nice person IRL, and have no issues with him as a person otherwise!)

Amrita, I actually thought Jyothika did fine in that role...including her dancing (lack of!) - seemed to fit the role well..but then, I love Jyothika in anything she does....

BTW, if any readers want a good Jyothika movie, watch Mozhi (Tamil) - very nice movie, done well.


Anonymous said...

O haha Jyothika's dance was sad! I thought Vidya did a great job in the Bhool Bhulaiyya song.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Bitterlemons. I clicked on the Kite song and was watching and enjoying it till Rajni showed up. After about two seconds, I clicked out of YouTube. I just can't stand to watch the guy. I honestly don't get his appeal on screen.

And speaking of the dance.
Shobana in the Malayalam version

and Soundarya in the Kannada one

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best movies.Every body performed well. I think this was one of the best performance of Jyotika. One thing about Rajni movies is the dialogues he delivers. Most of them are like hitting 2 birds with one stone. Like in movie "Muthu" he asks where the Lady of the house is? The servants tell him that she has gone to temple. And in that movie the Lady had a small temple in her courtyard. So Rajni says God is right in her court yard and she is looking for it outside.Well Aspi you definitely deserve a praise for venturing out and watching other state movies.

Anonymous said...

Leera - after watching Jyothika, watch Shobhana. You shall see the diff.

Bitterlemons - yeah, i've never been able to get on the Jyothika bandwagon although Chandramukhi was the first role of hers where I went "wtf?!" Thing is, I saw Shobhana in that role first and she casts a loooong shadow. she totally nailed that imagination/reality thing and of course, she's shobhana!

Aspi - watch Manichitratazhu!

Anonymous said...

Good to see Shobhana. Haven't seen her since Mitr my friend. I think she is one of the most beautiful indian faces. She looks beautiful even in the crazy act.

I actually enjoyed BB and Vidya's role. The hindi version is the only one I have seen. It is very interesting to see a scene acted in different languages by different actresses.

ppl said...

Wow even with the warning the Jyothika clip made me jump up and spill water all over my lap. Ramsay brothers are you watching?

I am with you Amrita and joules, Shobhana wins this one hands down. That was the only one that realistically looked like a mental illness. Vidya was good but both the hindi and the tamil ones suffered from too much shock value in their potrayals.

Unknown said...

I must thank Amrita profusely here - how could I have missed that tremendous dance, I must have fallen asleep.

Now that I've see it - I'm going to watch it again on DVD.

Thanks for the other links everyone - its fascinating to watch the other versions.

Anonymous said...

Hillarious review. Esp. enjoyed your captioning the mysogynistic dialogues.

One piece of errata...I thought Rajni played a psychiatrist, an MD doc, not a psychologist, (i.e. a Ph.D.) Regardless, the film butchered shrinks. The whole thing about literally "reading minds" was SOO ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, you've adopted regional cinema in big way :) - waah, hilarious caps esp. the jyothika -prabhu one. the self-referential character of Rajini's films is his signature.... if you can't enjoy it, well then like bitterlemons, u'll hate his films ;). i think somewhere you'd asked abt "athey, athey" ("that is it, that is it" in tamil) being repeated - that's part of the so called rajini style. there's usually a line/catch phrase that becomes the refrain for his character in every movie. plenty of tamil heroes build their careers around the cult of personality usually as a prelude to a political career, but no one more so than rajini in terms of sheer exuberance and audacity. But i can see why it doesn't fly with a lot of folks. bitterlemons, i thought rajini made a pretty credible villain in his early balachander films.

all told i agree with mind rush: this is a pretty sorry excuse of a movie. not sure if the depiction of mental illness and psychiatry is simply laughable or also insulting!

as for the various leading ladies - as a dancer it isn't even fair to compare shobhana with the others. shobhana is a trained bharatanatyam dancer who is still at the top of her game. usually i like jyothika just fine, but in this movie, got to agree with amrita, she was just awful.

aspi, i'm curious which version u watched - tamil or telugu. u've linked us to the telugu version for the opening sequence and to the tamil version for the kite song. fm yr perspective i guess its all the same - they're both subtitled in English.

Unknown said...

sidekick, thanks for the explanation. Given I heard "Athey" its probably the Tamil version. But I had no idea what I was linking to - I can't tell the difference yet. Hopefully one day :)

But I'm glad you pointed that out - a nuance I would have missed.

What is the deal with getting Tamil movies subtitled around here? I don't like watching dubbed flicks so its a real loss for me.

Anonymous said...

i saw 5 mins of this movie and cudn't stand it anymore.maybe bcos i love the malayalam version too much.Shobana was fabulous!

Anonymous said...


you're right, Rajni as villan is way better than Rajni as hero..and yes, the whole Rajni cult thing irritates the heck out of me, which contributes to my irritation at his acting.

Amrita, OK, I'll grant you Shobana over Jyothika any day for dance skills, Shobana *is* a trained dancer :-) And yes, the Malayalam version of the movie is the best one around. There is also a Kannada version.

I think the progression was Malayalam -> Tamil -> Telugu -> Kannada -> Hindi.

Aspi, not sure what your comment abt subtitles in Tamil movies was - do you not get them subtitled? Ayngaran DVDs have very decent subtitles as a rule, not sure which other DVD makers subtitle Tamil movies. I haven't seen movies in languages that I don't understand, so kudos to you for trying to watch with subtitles!


Unknown said...

Well, most of the stores I go to say they don't have Tamil movies with subtitles. So not sure why now that you tell me it shouldn't be an issue.

I've always been extremely fond of South Indian films. Now I have the means to do so - and more importantly some great recommendations from all of you.

But in general, the infusion of culture (from an emotional perspective) is always the fascinating aspect of watching any phoren language film.

For example, it astonished me how Guillermo Del Toro made Pan's Labyrinth and I can't imagine say a French director making it with the same sensibility even though the movie is Spanish and France is closer to Spain than Mexico is.

So if you watch a lot of movies like me then you get jaded enough that you want to look for something different. However I stick with fairly mainstream movies when dipping outside Hindi/English. I'm not hugely arty per se - although that interpretation might vary.

Unknown said...

Oh, forgot. I think Pan's Labyrinth is one of the finest films I've seen (and I didn't even get half the metaphors) and might even go down as one of the great films made in our times. But unless you have a cast iron stomach for gore - I would recommend skipping it.

Its the reason I kept it away from the Drift memsaab and watched it by myself.

Anonymous said...

Pan's was amazing! Ajit and I saw it the day of its release and it was just breathtaking. And oooo the lead actor was sooo yummy looking :-D What is it about men in uniform? :-p

Anonymous said...

Count me amongst those who loved Pan's, although I watched large parts of it thru the cracks of my fingers! Given that I love getting to the creative impetus, I found this interview terrific and if you liked the films of the 3 mexican amigos that year, then you may also enjoy this one.

Unknown said...

Terrific link that interview. You have to love that earthy Mexican humor which leaves Charlie Rose confounded on more than one occasion.

And yes, many scenes in Pan's were watched from the cracks of my fingers. Particularly that one where one character stitches his lips (how DID they do that?)

Anonymous said...

Yep, that lip stitching scene still brings shudders.

Also meant to rant on my big peeve (among many!) with Chandramukhi/BB on how poorly classical dancing is depicted. I get that Bollywood dancing is hugely popular and has evolved into its own form, but really when the script calls for a classical dancer as in this case would it be so hard to shoot it authentically? --- a proper 4-5 minute Kuchipudi piece in Chandramukhi and an Odissi one in BB.

Granted it isn't easy to find a Shobana who can both dance expertly and act splendidly but surely it is possible to shoot top shots of hand movements which these actresses can do and then the footwork separately by trained dancers. Also long shots with real dancers for some of the flow. In all fairness, in BB there was some of this and it got much better when Vineet who is classically trained joined Vidya in the dance. In Chandramukhi though there wasn't even a pretense of getting Kuchipudi right.

Unknown said...

I can't tell whats Kuchipudi and whats Bharat Natyam (although I can pick out Odissi because the Drift Memsaab used to dabble in it). But I enjoyed the lesson.

But I feel BB has the most sophisticated camera work of all the flicks as far as that dance is concerned and it probably goes a long way in making the dance look good. They've actually put their dolly to good use unlike the other picturizations.

Anonymous said...

Collection of Actress Nayanthara Photos and Videos ,Gallery, Wallpapers,
Latest movies, only at

Unknown said...

ramesh, man, she looks so different on that site compared to the movie.

Wish some of the links were functional on that site - I always enjoy linking to fan sites of actors/actresses instead of wikipedia or IMDB entries.

Anonymous said...

Collection of Actress Nayantara Photos and Videos ,Gallery, Wallpapers, Latest movies,

only at

Anonymous said...

Always mallus have pride in them and can never accept facts. Original is always best but the fact that Tamil audience are very much different compared to Malayalam audience is to be understood before criticising.Many of those who cannot stand Rajni are the ones who goes and sees his movies but their pride does not permit them to accept. Just one question to these I....s Do they think they are more brilliant to guage the talent of Superstar than Balachandar,Sridhar,Bharatiraja,Shankar and ManiRatnam ??????? and the enormous number of fans worldwide irrespective of religion,caste,education, status and so on.
Just shut up.

Unknown said...

Man, I liked it better when people stopped by and forwarded us to pictures of Nayantara.

Anon, you took this too seriously yaar. Instead tell us which Rajni movie I should watch next. I'm always looking for recommendations.

Anonymous said...

To the criticizers of the various versions - Dont forget that the orginal version in Malayalam(Manichitrathazhu) came in 1993. that was more than 10 years before the remakes. And ofcourse the technologies in movie industries have advanced a lott. The remakes have that advantage.