With unapologetic entertainers, KV Anand rescued audience from drudgery of everyday life
There are only two ways to read KV Anand’s work — you either suspend the last shred of disbelief and let yourself have a ball or be the pedant who stays dissatisfied. There is nothing in between.
Once upon a time, my friends S, R, and I went to watch Anegan (2015) at a near-empty theatre in Bengaluru. We chose to sit in the first row, even though we had the pick of the lot. R, who was new to mainstream Tamil cinema, was struggling to make sense of the onslaught on screen; the tone, tempo, style, even the story making somersaults every 30 minutes. S and I, on the other hand, were enjoying the film like we would a circus, dancing in our seats to 'Danga Maari Oodhaari,' whistling for Karthik, hooting during the climax, essentially having the time of our lives.
These are the only two ways to read KV Anand’s work — you either suspend the last shred of disbelief and let yourself have a ball or be the pedant who stays dissatisfied. There is nothing in between.
To understand Anand’s career as the director of eccentric mainstream films like Kaappaan (2019), Kavan (2017), Maattrraan (2012), and Ayan (2009) among others, you need to understand the cinematographer he was before that. An assistant of PC Sreeram, he began his career working on the cinematic successes of this era like Thevar Magan (1992), and ambitious failures like Thiruda Thiruda (1993). Still in his 20s, he won the National Award for his debut film Thenmavin Kombath (1994). He made interesting choices and produced arresting work.
Kathir’s Kadhal Desam (1996) gave Anand the chance to shoot the city of Chennai in fanciful ways. The song 'Hello Doctor' capturing his imagination, he threw together quirky visual effects, silhouettes, and fluorescents, all of which would become recurring motifs in his work. Soon enough, the lavish budgets of Shankar’s films gave Anand a bigger canvas for his penchant for grandiosity, something he would come to embrace more wholesomely in his own work.
He loved shooting humungous set pieces: 'Mudhalvane' in Mudhalvan (1999), 'Adhiradi Kaaran' in Sivaji (2007), and the entire album of Boys (2003) are all testimony to his ability to make the infamous song sequence into a visual delight. He also liked his Daedalian action sequences, be it the inciting incident in Mudhalvan or the climactic fight in Sivaji. Anand, through those years, honed his craft for capturing visuals you cannot look away from.
It is this that he carefully carried to his own filmmaking. His films were simply a treat for the senses, aimed only at the box office, which more often than not appreciated his efforts. He did not create cinema that is entirely new either. He drew his strength from borrowing a little bit of something and adding a little bit of himself to create something pleasurable. Take Anegan, for instance. He brought veteran actor Karthik back to screen for a role that made the most of his already well-established persona, adding a delightful twist in the end. In Kavan, it was T Rajendar’s turn to be rediscovered by the audience through Anand’s eyes.
When he is not pulling a casting coup, he weaves films out of ideas that most of us would have trashed in the first draft. Take Maattrraan: Conjoined twins in a science fiction film, which is just your average potboiler. Or Kaappaan: An organic farmer who is also a military man, who joins the SPG to protect the prime minister. Anand sometimes took ideas laughably too far, perhaps because he did not fear failing, which he did once in a while.
His best work, in my opinion, is Ko (2011). Without the pressures of visual grandeur or casting coup, Anand produces a highly entertaining mainstream film. Whatever your disagreements with it, Ko works as a piece of cinema, the rhythms intact. You simply need to watch Ko 2 — a sequel in name only — to see how superior Anand’s work was.
Anand was not above faults though. His films regularly relied on remarkable set pieces, and its actors to cover the weakness of its writing, despite his renowned collaborators. His work was peppered with the casual misogyny and paternalistic ideas commonplace in Tamil cinema, which he never saw the need to question. Sometimes, he was so focused on the box office that his films hardly demonstrated any understanding of the issues it takes up; Kaappaan is case in point. But I am being a pedant here.
For the audience, Anand created the kind of entertainment that gave them relief from the drudgery of everyday life. On days that I am too tired of the world around me — there have been more of those days in the last year — Anand is exactly the kind of filmmaker I want for my evening show. He made not-making-sense palatable.
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