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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Anger management at a Chennai cinema
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Anger management at a Chennai cinema

How Shoba Narayan queued up to watch the latest Tamil indie and dished out multi-coloured combs to aunties

Queue jumpers at a cinema in Chennai. Photo: Noah Seelam/AFPPremium
Queue jumpers at a cinema in Chennai. Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP

I tried my anger management technique when I was standing in line for tickets to Kaaka Muttai. The new Tamil film is a must-watch, even for those who don’t understand Tamil. The story is simple: Two slum boys want to taste pizza. How they achieve this goal forms the core of this heartwarming debut. Director M. Manikandan, who lists Iranian films A Separation and Children Of Heaven as his influences, and Nandita Das as the actor he would like to direct, keeps the story moving with assured restraint. No over-the-top Sivaji Ganesan-type histrionics that mark Tamil films of yore (but truth be told, I kinda miss those). Kaaka Muttai—the phrase means “crow’s eggs" and refers to the crow’s eggs that the two boys steal and eat—has already won several international awards. Hopefully, it will become a sleeper hit along the lines of Queen.

For a transplanted Tamil speaker, the film offers several pleasures. There is the sly Tamil humour—both hurtful and humorous. There is the effortless Tamil slang that fills the film and filled me with remorse. When was the last time I used the word peela here in Bengaluru, I thought, and how to convey the punch it carried to my genteel Bengalurean neighbours? Peela is slang for lying, and it was precisely what the grandmother behind me was doing.

We were standing in a long line outside Theyagaraja theatre (now called S2 Theyagaraja) in Chennai. I grew up in Adyar, at a time when theatres were named with panache. There was Jayanthi and Theyagaraja theatres battling it out beside each other. You went to Jayanthi for the night shows and Theyagaraja (with better fans) for the hot and torrid matinees. You went to Ganapathy Ram down the road if friends dragged you to so-so movies because you could nap in the oversized seats. Eros was for English movies. Each theatre had a distinct character (different from ambience), not like today’s soul-less, identical multiplexes.

Theyagaraja has become swanky but still attracts conniving Chennai mamis (aunties). This one, with her grey hair and starched Chettinad cotton, was angling to jump the queue all the way to the front for tickets. She professed faintness at first. “I am diabetic, you see," she said. We were unmoved. Then, she upped the ante. She said that her husband was a kidney patient and she needed to see the movie and get back in time for his dialysis. That story was so patently false on so many levels, none of us knew where to poke holes in it. Shameless, I tell you, the depths these people fall to. It was like a story I heard about the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California, during the time when it was impossible to get reservations there. People would apparently fax letters to the reservation desk stating that it was their child’s dying wish that they should dine there. I mean, seriously? You are going to put your child to death to get a restaurant reservation? Or invent a non-existent child and then kill her for a meal? Mind-boggling, I say.

Finally, one of my fellow queue mates took the bull, or in this case, Ambujam mami—for that was her name, she said on the phone—by the horns.

“Dei, maami peela vidaraa-da," he said. As in, “Hey, aunty is fibbing", but this is a ridiculously poor translation.

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Updated: 11 Jul 2015, 11:41 AM IST
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