Review Raja
January 5, 2013 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Review Raja Review Raja doesn’t share his real name with anyone, but he is happy to share the unlikely story of how a white guy who was born in Tweed and grew up in Belleville became Review Raja, a connoisseur of Tamil films, or Kollywood, and a celebrity in the Tamil community in Canada and abroad.
posted by modernnomad (8 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
His youtube channel, with the reviews.
posted by modernnomad at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kamal Haasan is one of those who transcend language. I don't know Tamil but this has never failed to make me cry. Nayakan is worth watching, as is Bombay.

Reading the article, however, I note how much his friends have to do with his productions - see the note about the Gangnam style video. So, how much of this is Raja's own interest and how much the sheer marketing potential of the concept? It will indeed be interesting to see how Raja fares in good old Kodambakkam.

Thanks for a very interesting story, modernnomad.
posted by infini at 3:51 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the Gangnam Style video mentioned in the article.

Having friends who can lead you into another culture is fantastic. In college, I watched a lot of South Korean and Chinese movies with friends who brought them back from visiting their families. I miss that now.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's true, filthy light thief, and I should relook at my ever increasing cynicism. After all, it was my college friends in Bangalore who introduced me to South Indian cinema - particularly Tamil and Malayalam, often considered far better than Bollywood when its at its best with directors like Mani Ratnam (the movies linked in my earlier comment)

Otoh, I wait with bated breath for the cydonian's observations...
posted by infini at 4:29 PM on January 5, 2013

The Tamil community may have migrated north and east a little in the city (up near Steeles by the Rouge) in the last decade, but there's still a small community where I am. Amma, the little at the end of my street, is always busy, with wall-to-wall Kollywood on the TV. It looks like compelling viewing, so maybe I'll pick up some DVDs from the local rental place.

(Maybe we should have the next Toronto IRL at a Tamil resto. It will be the spiciest food you've ever eaten, leaving Mexican and Korean way behind ...)
posted by scruss at 4:33 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well :) , to give a non-Indian perspective, Mrs C made the valid point yesterday that this guy wouldn't have been this well-known had he not been gora, so there are some obvious questions of neocolonialism and all that cross-racial stuff. My personal reaction is a little more indulgent than that; clearly, he enjoys his stuff, and wants a deeper engagement with popular Tamil culture, by apparently wanting to learn Tamil and such. :)

South Indian movies in general have a panache for the absurd, a fascination with over-the-top kitsch, a desperate need to pack just about everything under the sun into a single movie viewing, an urge best explored by while 'analyzing' the last Rajnikanth epic, Enthiran, in equal parts, India's most expensive movie ever made and its highest grosser.

Based out of Chennai's Kodambakkam area, Tamil movies have always had their own flavour, but it never was uniquely Tamil. All the film studios out there have traditionally been at least bi-lingual, i.e., Tamil and Telugu, or even tri- and quadra-lingual, to include the odd Hindi and Kannada flick they used to make. It is only recently that they've been becoming mono-lingual, what with the Telugu and Kannada movie industries having moved to Hyderabad and Bangalore respectively. Even there, there's been some cross-linguistic fertilization; Ramoji Film City outside Hyderabad is fast becoming a center for Telugu and Hindi movies.

Collaborations between Hindi, Tamil and Telugu movie-dom is, essentially, the story of the Great Indian Movie Magic in a nutshell, as personified in the life-story of LV Prasad, a "pampered" child of landed gentry from somewhere deep in the Godavari delta, who having gone to Bombay to find his fortune, works his way up from being an errand boy, to having starred in the first ever movies in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil, Alam Ara, Bhakta Prahalada and Kalidas respectively, and in due course, establishing a huge movie empire.

Curiously, all three movies were apparently shot in the same sets - I suppose there are only so many royal-style sets you can make, whether for Parsi fiction, Hindu mythology or historical biopics - and all were seemingly were blockbusters: if "police aid had to be summoned to control the crowds" for Alam Ara, for Kalidas,
"When the film reels were brought to Madras, thousands gathered at Madras central railway station and followed the reel box to Kinema Central. Crowds showered rose petals, broke coconuts and burnt incense in the procession of the reels of the film, all along Walltax Road from the railway station [...] Tamil magazine Sudesamitran wrote a favourable review for Kalidas on 29 October 1931 even before the film was released."
All three were heavy on music; while Alam Ara had hit songs "recorded live with musical accompaniment of a harmonium and a tabla", Kalidas had fifty songs in Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu and Hindi, everything ranging from (the Sanskrit poet)Mahakavi Kalidas' own original Sanskrit compositions to "Vande Mataram and one featur[ing] the hero singing songs on Gandhi while spinning the Charkha in prison". The hero spoke to the heroine in Telugu, who replied in, and presumably sang in, Tamil, while the temple priest, played by LV Prasad, apparently replied only in Hindi.

So the answer to the question everyone might have been wondering - how did Tamil movies become so over-the-top? - the answer is, they haven't. If anything, they're more realistic now. They don't have processions from the airport to the theaters in Singapore anymore, only coconuts, incense and paalabhishekam - ritualistic cleansing of pictures with milk - in front of Rajnikanth's cutouts at the theaters. And yes, the police still needs to be called in, not just in Chennai, but also KL, Singapore and New York. :)

(All quotes from the movies' respective wikipedia articles)
posted by the cydonian at 10:21 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Prasad Labs, iirc we sold them their first ever kit of Silicon Graphics Iris workstations ... OMC Computers were the first, only and last specialized IT firm in them those days, serving up CAD/CAM in such indigenous flavours as DraftPak before unlocked copies of AutoCAD killed the market and the company.
posted by infini at 10:28 PM on January 6, 2013

cydonian, reading that wiki link on Enthiran makes me curious about the political undercurrents involved here, what with Kalanithi Maran's production, Dengzongpa and the Bachchan bahu's roles et al... fascinating line up.
posted by infini at 10:32 PM on January 6, 2013

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