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Jan 9, 2012


As a topophiliac I am partial toward movies with place name titles. Changes in geography shaped and reshaped under the wheels of time interest me to no end.  Madrasapattinam made me look at the origins of the so-called authentic Tamil name, Chennai which became Madras’s official name in 1996. Wikipedia says Madrasapatinam and Chennapatinam were two different but nearby places. Madrasapattinam was a fishing hamlet near Portuguese fort St. George and Chennapattinam was the settlement which sprang up near the fort. Both their histories go back to 15th century. Between the two how did the administration decide which one was more original? 

Madrasapattinam, the movie favors Madrasapattinam over Chennapattanam. It is sort of like Tamilian’s Titanic cleverly adapted for pre-independence era Madras. There are telltale signs of Titanic strewn through out the movie starting with the old lady, the necklace, the old lady’s grand daughter, flash back to a doomed and fleeting love story and a handsome self sacrificing hero who never gets old. Like Titanic – the movie, Madrasapatinam was created to ride the box-office waves, not to sink without a trace. It has romance of the most forbidden kind – gori mem falling for a dark skinned dhobi, in the backdrop of the simmering Indian freedom struggle almost nearing its date of fruition.

Arya and Amy Jackson play the roles of lovers separated by class, race and political tensions. One of the positives about this movie is we do not have Indians in crusty pancake makeup and blond wigs playing the role of the British. Although twenty first century British dialogs sound Dickensian, viewers’ misery due to this strait-jacketed language is restricted to a few opening scenes.

The city of Madras plays itself. The director had me in his pocket when he showed the transformation of Coovum river from a scenic serene waterway to a narrow channel between trash heaps in the present day Chennai. CGI although not seamless as historic Hollywood movies, is definitely better than Salman Khan’s Veer a period piece from Bollywood with more money and CGI.

Madrasapattinam has a lot of flaws in the script and story department if you go at with a magnifying glass. Most of the public who spends money to watch this movie in Chennai’s cinema halls won’t be having such a glass in their possession. This is dreamy movie for the underdog, about someone who attained the unattainable, with a strong thread of love and related emotions binding it together, movie success at the box office is a proof that we Indians always fall for that time tested trick.