Chennai 28 II Innings — the post-Pa.Ranjith Venkat Prabhu

The trailer was foreboding to say the least. I still went to watch the film because I had a duty to fulfil. You cannot simply ignore the sequel of a film that was so close to you that you knew each dialogue by heart. You do not simply shun the sequel of a film that depicted an essential part of your childhood on-screen.

The sequel was a bit amusing here and there, but overall it’s a typical Venkat Prabhu film post-Pa.Ranjith. “Post-Pa.Ranjith” is a phrase I’d like to use to indicate how Venkat Prabhu films have steadily spiralled downhill and lost the nativity that was so essential to the freshness of Chennai 28. Chennai 28 wasn’t about cricket. It was about “kirikett”. It was about the problems caused when a family shifts to a house that’s closer to “tation”. It was about the pride with which a youngster says “Sharks” but an elder, who doesn’t care much about it, compares it to socks.

Most of the characters from Chennai 28 have been retained in the sequel, but if you listen closely to the way they speak, you can clearly make out, that their original three-dimensional characters have been plucked out and put through a processor called “generic cinema”, out of which drop “generic youths”. These generic youths are defined solely by their need to drink booze, help a friend in need, whine about their wives and play some cricket. Even the way they speak doesn’t retain the flavour it did in the original film. Listen to the way the ambulance driving Arumugam speaks in the sequel. All the wives are so generic, the girl’s dad is generic, her uncle is generic. Kudumbame generic. It’s clear that Pa.Ranjith isn’t in the team!

There are further symptoms of the “post-Pa.Ranjith” too. Although the film is titled, “Chennai 28 II” most of the film takes place in Theni. That’s okay but was there a single element in the film indicating an aspect of Theni? Could the film have taken place in any generic village? Could the boys have been from any part of Chennai? The answer is sadly yes.

“Why does the film need nativity?” you may ask. That’s the core of the original Chennai 28. Gully cricket. Cricket that’s played with any kind of ball even without the most essential items like stumps or umpire. Cricket that’s played in every available nook and cranny of the city. That’s a very very specific, native thing. And when you make a film about it, nativity is essential.

This lays bare the fact that Venkat Prabhu is essentially not a writer. He can stage a few gimmicks. He can have a few tricks up his sleeve and play them. That’s it. Every film need not be art. Films can choose to play tricks with you. Our dear Nolan and his “are you watching closely?” being the best example. But, are Venkat’s tricks guessable? When the family has gathered outside the girl’s house and Jai asks the girl to come out, are we biting nails wondering what’s going to happen? Don’t we know? When Jai runs towards Vaibhav in the climax as if he’s going to mow him down, don’t we know what’s going to happen next?

The sad part is Chennai 28 wasn’t this way. Things weren’t predictable. The characters weren’t flat. Cricket was not life for these youngsters. Friendship was. And none of this was explicitly spelt out to us. We got it. But, weirdly this film has dialogues like “Cricket avangalukku life da” and “Chennai la dhaan namma rockers. Inga naama Chennai sharks!” Did Samuthirakani give dialogue suggestions by any chance? And I don’t get this whole phenomenon of CSK representing Chennai, Dhoni and lion becoming a symbol of Chennai. How long are we going to fool ourselves by claiming a corrupt, non-existent entity as the identity of our city?

Sequel evlo kashtam theriyuma?

I’m hearing many people say that no matter how Venkat would have made Chennai 28, people would have found faults with it. And that the pressure of the phenomenal success of the first film hangs heavily over this one. Okay. But, that doesn’t justify in any way not giving your best effort in scripting the sequel. You must focus on what’s the essence of the sequel and then build on top of it. The problem is there’s no solid core in the sequel. It’s like what Mysskin said about Mugamoodi. “Spine romba weak sir. Adhu mela enna vechaalum nikkadhu. Vizhundhudum.”

Online reviewers and generic social media bashing

It’s hilarious to see how generic and how childish Venkat Prabhu’s criticism of social media is. He’s supposedly worked it into the plot of this film that people say bullshit on Youtube reviews by making one of the characters a reviewer. The subtext is “Ivanukkellam cinema pathi enna theriyumnu ivan James Cameroon pathi pesuraan?” He also shows us how Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp spoil a guy’s marriage and future. Grow up Tamil society! Learn how to use technology. Vivek declared this long ago. I was telling a Malay uncle recently about how the issue of a writer’s criticism of Singaporean Tamil literature created a furore. And the uncle told me, “Let me tell you something. You know when people get angry? When there’s truth in the criticism. You get me or not? If you really good and you got no fault, then criticism cannot bother you, you know.” That uncle hit the nail on the head. And about this angst that some filmmakers seem to have against self-proclaimed critics, Selvaraghavan gave a befitting reply, when he said, “We ask what qualifications do social media critics have to criticize our films. But, what qualifications do we have to make films?”

Makkal oda entertainment kaaga…

I don’t get this “makkal entertain pannanum. avlo dhaan” attitude. Everyone from Sivakarthikeyan to Vijay to Venkat Prabhu keep reciting this. They say this as if it’s their life’s goal and they’re giving it their all to do this. Mysskin gave the best retort for this. “Naan enna massage parlour ah sir nadatharen?”

What’s entertainment? If tomorrow, majority of the people vote that they’ll find fucking a pig entertaining, are these stars and directors going to do it? This was the question Bala’s Thaara Thappattai raised. The folk dancers, facing a decline in revenue, are forced to perform crass songs and dance. But, the guy never claims he’s doing it to “entertain” people. When Sasikumar confronts him, he clearly says that he’s doing it for a living and he doesn’t know what else to do. So be clear. You want to make money. Don’t hide under the garb of “we’re doing it for people’s entertainment.” There’s Netflix already. And there’s Youtube. There are far more talented people doing far more original, creative and “entertaining” stuff than you. So shut yourself in a room and question what you’re doing and why.

The most under-utilized emotion

I found the potential for a terrific drama in the most under-utilized scene that was completely out of place in this film. The so-called “performance scene” for Nitin Sathya. He breaks down and tells his wife that he’s playing the game for himself. He’s clueless what he’s chasing by trying to find a job in foreign countries. He’s tired of running around to provide a better life for his family. He wants a break. Why not a film about this man’s life struggle? Why not a film in which the wife talks back, “Can I say the same thing? Can I say I’m fed up of running around the house doing chores? For a single day, I’m going to live life on my own terms and go on a road trip to Goa with my women neighbours?” Why not a film about a couple who’re bound by their duties but want to break free? Why not a film about a couple who’re running without rest throughout their lives and without a day to sit back and reflect on what exactly they’re chasing? But no. It’s impossible for Venkat Prabhu to make such a film. There’s no scope for an item song. There’s no scope for booze.

A true artist must be observant. Aware. Empathetic. I still find it amazing that while the Chennai 28 team was partying in Malaysia, Pa.Ranjith saw what people were undergoing and it troubled him enough to birth a script. That’s the benchmark of a true creator.

Chennai 28’s sequel is not by a creator. It’s by someone who wants to shut his eyes to the outside world and dive into the bottle of self-delusion. “Bottle ulla nee dive adi da! Ini eppodhum ending illa house party dhaan!”

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