By Vijay Kumar
March 26, 2012
Browsing through NetFlix’s online streaming collection is not unlike those late Friday nights spent browsing through the movie maze in your local video store. The search for that perfect movie is often tricky. Sometimes you have to deal with a fuming partner and/or a melting tub of ice-cream in the car. The pressure is compounded by a listless, unhelpful store clerk in some cases. This column aims to be that clerk for NetFlix Instant Watch – maybe just a little less listless and little more helpful. This is what I waded through recently – at NetFlix.
Went Looking For…Believe it or not, I sometimes do have a predetermined playlist while browsing for movie titles. Generally, there is a week between my adding them to the playlist and actually watching them.
There aren’t many Tamil (some prefer Thamizh) movies on Netflix streaming. What is typically branded as Bollywood are movies in the Hindi language but there is an equally bigger market in the southern states of India where the predominant dialects are Thamizh, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Thamizh and Telugu movies are known for their blockbuster-like qualities, while Malayalam is more about content. Kannada movies have a far lesser success rate in the bigger scale than the other dialects.
Muran (The Variant) is one of those movies from Kollywood, the Thamizh movie industry, which has made it to Netflix streaming. Before Muran, the only representation was Kannathil Muthamittal (A peck in the cheek). Muran’s story isn’t an original one – it is based on the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train. In fact, it is an effective retelling of the classic. People expecting the typical Bollywood musical might get disappointed – there is only one musical number towards the end of the movie, forced into the narrative and seemingly surprised by its own lack of Bollywood clichés.
For the global audience, the interest in the movie will be akin to those interested in remakes like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Infernal Affairs (The Departed). This is of course in the opposite direction – a faithful recreation of a Hollywood classic in a foreign language.
The plot is pretty much the same as SOAT with some minor modifications. Two strangers enter into an agreement . Well, one manipulates the other into an agreement. Arjun is a rich playboy who has a bone to pick with his father. He runs into Nanda, a jingles composer desperate to get out of a loveless marriage. The narrative includes flashbacks revealing the people in their respective lives and why they might want to get rid of them. Arjun has a plan and the narrative keeps us guessing if Nanda will step up to the plate.
The quality of Thamizh movies and the genres being tackled have been impressive in recent years. Here’s hoping that Netflix adds more of these movies to its lineup.
The Chaser (Chugyeogja))
The Departed helped put the limelight firmly on Asian cinema. The Departed, of course, was Martin Scorsese’s retelling of the Hong Kong movie Mou gaan dou (Infernal Affairs) and to date is the only remake of a foreign film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. South Korea’s The Chaser is touted to be the next big adaptation. It belongs to the genre of “the bad lieutenant,” where the main protagonist is dirty to begin with, gets worse and gets a semblance of humanity only after meeting someone worse than him. That absolute gem of a man in The Chaser is Joong-ho, a pimp and former detective. The problem he is trying to solve is the disappearance of his girls. He is not worried about their welfare but is concerned that someone is hiring them and selling them elsewhere. He literally crashes into Young-min, who, it transpires, has a “heavy” hand in the disappearance of the girls. I was surprised that the two meet each as early as they do in the narrative. In most scripts that and the ensuing chase would easily form the movie’s climax. That is not the case here. The real cat and mouse game starts from that point on and it is a compelling narrative.
The story is quite stark even when everything is not shown explicitly. Quite often, what is implied is more horrifying than what is actually enacted. While the pimp, Joong-ho, is a monster in his own rights, he more than meets his match in the demented Young-min.
The background to this tussle between two evils is the comical world of the police. Their collective ineffectiveness helps Young-min prevail longer than he should and definitely paves the way for Joong-ho’s redemption.
The script teases the viewer with many instances when the worst outcome can be avoided but then presents that very same outcome. You will find yourself cringing when it happens but this is in line with the "no easy route" narrative.
Netflix seems to have a whole list of movies from the part of the world that gives us The Chaser. It would be prudent to put enough hours even days between watching these movies.
Coming back from a hiatus, I am still sampling what to watch next. Stay tuned.