Friday, October 4, 2013

The genius of Trivikram Srinivas

After I received a lot of flak for telling people I hated Attharintiki Daredi, I went back to watch a few of Trivikram's old films to truly understand what I mean when I said his earlier films were so much better. And though, straightaway,  I realised Attharantiki Daaredi was his worst writing assignment, I also knew it wasn't as bad as I initially made it out to be. It was probably just that Trivikram's set such a high benchmark for his writing skills that what would seem mediocre efforts for other writers, seemed well below the par for a Trivikram film. As I spoke to other Trivikram fans and they told me that they shared similar feelings, that the quality of his writing had been definitely on a decline since Khaleja, I wondered what exactly was going wrong, why we weren't remembering his dialogues as easily as we did with his earlier films and why his characters were beginning to seem so ordinary. So, I thought I'd do a little analysis of his comic style and characterization.

If we were to compare the comic styles of two other Telugu filmmakers who are well-versed in the genre of using protagonists as comic actors, Srinu Vaitla and Puri Jagannadh, it makes us easier to understand what makes Trivikram's brand of comedy so powerful but also so enduring. His comedy is evergreen, contrary to Edward De Bono's theory that a joke is funny only once. How does it work, over and over again?

Srinu Vaitla's comedy is about the revenge of the underdog. In his films, unimportant characters and cunning men, laugh at the expense of our heroes, who eventually find ways to give it back to them in the end. Dramatic irony is the cornerstone of his comic structure; we know it is only a matter of time before arrogance is punished. In Puri Jagannadh's films, the protagonist is the outsider, the guy who's reactions to the most commonplace incidents are so unanticipated that it takes us by surprise and makes us laugh.

Now, when you see Trivikram's comedy, across all his films, he doesn't dumb his characters down for the audience to laugh at their expense. Ofcourse, comedy needs someone to be made fun of, usually the comedian, but in Trivikram's films, the audience laugh at themselves. How does that work? The answer lies in the most famous charge levelled against Trivikram- All his characters speak the same way. Yes, on the surface level it might seem like everyone's cracking off punch dialogues but right beneath it lies the secret. Trivikram's characters are not ludicrous. They are normal people, living by their set of ideas and ideologies, but elevated to a higher plane of intelligence. Unlike other writers, his supporting cast is not at the service of the hero; a fiercely independent streak runs through all of them.  And we laugh simply because we are stunned at the audacity and intelligence of his characters who don't mind taking jigs at the lead. Trivikram's practically thrown the rulebook out as the tongue-in-cheek dialogue in Nuvve Nuvve suggests.

"Ikkada punch estey evadu veyyali ra?"
"Mari nuvvem cheyali ra?"

Another probable reason behind his incomparable success as a writer has been his ability to distil dialogues to their essence, so lacking in Atthaeintiki Daaredi. Trivikram's characters choose the straightest past, saying as little as possible yet revealing a lot about themselves, to keep the story moving forward. Which is ironic because he's not the Maatala Mantrikudu like his fans claim. He does not write flowery language for beautiful imagery nor take a tangential route just because it's cleverer, something Tarantino does really well. His language I think, with all respect and admiration, will be how robots talk when we finally teach them how to talk.

 If someone else wrote dialogues this flat and bereft of emotion, with extreme lack of flair and romanticism, we'd boo them out. Now, here comes Trivikram's magic. His dialogues are sparse but his scenes are dense. His films are so packed with wonderful characters that if any other director tried to replicate his writing style, they'd be making 5 hour movies just to do justice to all those colourful people. He and Sukumar are the finest screenplay writers in the industry now. But while Sukumar's screenplays use very original and maverick characterizations, Trivikram's power is in making the ordinary man seem extraordinary. Banthi, Paddu, Balu ( Brahmanandam in Malleswari ), Bunk Srinu, Pandu, Ramana (I'm beginning to realise how well he writes Sunil's characters ), Naidu among others are characters very similar to what we've been seeing all along. But what makes them so memorable is that Trivikram spends time with them, lets them talk, respects their intelligence and identity.

What was the whole point behind all that I've been saying all along? I don't really know, I just had to say it I guess. Why do some people write critical pieces on the work of other artists? Is it to show admiration or to find loopholes in the work of others out of envy? When we aren't making stuff anyway, do we have a right to critique others'? What exactly are the responsibilities of being a critic? I guess I'm figuring that out but I've been writing opinion pieces lately because I want people to start talking about art. Critiquing cinema is a noble profession, an art at that; read Roger Ebert or Raja Sen or Baradwaj Rangan or PS Suresh Kumar. And like those folks helped me see films from a totally different angle, I write for that one kid out there who's head is buzzing with questions on the nature of art, conformity with the masses, tools for objectivity and the auteur's intention behind the making of every shot. True, watching cinema is a solitary experience but discussing it can be an enriching one.


Anonymous said...

aithe ippudu emantav vay? Trivkiram genius..anthe kada! yes.. trivikram genius!

Venuturupalli Murthy said...

well said...Bunch of applause for your deserve to be called critic.

neo said...

Nice to read a different take on AD. As an avid Trivikram fan, I can understand where you post is coming from. Couple of years ago, i wrote two articles on Trivikram in my blog.

Sweety said...

Baaga chepparu