What is a cliché? Something that is used so often by so many people that it has become boring predictable. When we say ‘cliché’ about something in a movie, we tend to think that it is bad altogether. But, something we should consider is that a usage becomes a cliché only because it is very good. Only something that is very good gets used repeatedly by people over a period of time after which it is branded as a cliché. So, it is the usage or application that is bad, rather than the concept itself. But, that is besides the central idea here. Tamil cinema needs its clichés; the audience is simply tired of clichés; so, how do film makers use clichés without irritating audiences?
The answer is there in many recent movies. Whenever a cliché gets unavoidable, the latest technique employed is to use a bit of self-deprecation, admit that you are going to use a cliché and then go ahead with it. In simple words, the director has a good laugh at himself and the cliché before the audience gets a chance to jeer. It is the cloak of humor that makes a cliché acceptable or even enjoyable in many ways. For instance, let’s look at Vettai.
Lingusamy has used a decade old cliché in the movie; the American maappillai. It has been used enough number of times to make audiences groan whenever it is introduced. But, in Vettai, Lingusamy employs humor to make it acceptable. The moment he is received at the airport Aria says, ‘Ethana padathile paathiruppom’. That makes us giggle and accept the cliché in good spirits. The self-deprecation used by the script and director works as an excuse to let the cliché pass into the story without the audience feeling bad about it. Again in Vettai, there are scenes where clichés have been used without this subtle coat of humor. The perfect example is the scene where an emotionally charged crippled Madhavan jumps out of his wheelchair and climbs a 6 meter long fence to reach his injured brother on the other side. Wow, haven’t we seen that before? Numerous films in the past have had characters jump out of wheelchairs, break chains, come out of coma, have their memory restored and have many such miracles happen to them without an explanation. Now, that is a classic cliché and the audience knows it too. But, Lingusamy chose to keep the ‘wheelchair scene’ as serious as possible without using the humor of self-deprecation card; the result, the audience were either cat calling or hold their bellies in laughter; the scene worked in exactly the opposite way to what Lingusamy intended, we believe.
Its not just Vettai, we have seen this technique in other recent films too; even Nanban. Just look at the ‘Asku Laska’ song. Shankar understands that the audience these days may question the need for an over the top song picturisation in a movie where there are absolutely no heroic clichés at all. But, he also wants to add a grand song for the visual appeal. So, he resorts to the self-deprecation trick. 5 minutes before the song, he has Ileana say about the graphic imagination in his movies; ’Idhellam Shankar padam graphicsila dhaan nadakkum’ and when the song actually begins, he opens each segment with a clap board proclaiming the kind of scene being shot; ‘Foreign Song’, ‘Modern Song’ and things like that. Here, Shankar has a jolly good laugh at himself before employing his favourite cliché, the grand song. We laugh along with him and enjoy the song without thinking about clichés or anything related.
Now, this is not something new that started with Vettai and Nanban. It has been here for almost a good couple of years now; especially after Thamizh Padam. It was the movie that exposed all clichés in Tamil cinema and taught audiences to have a hearty laugh at them in addition to clapping. From then on, any film maker using a cliché runs a risk of being jeered at heavily. That is where this method of self-deprecation has become very popular. Goa used it a bit here and there, Uthamaputhiran had fleeting instances, Ethan made fun of some age old cinematic techniques and now we have Nanban and Vettai; signs that even the leading film makers have accepted this technique.
The one thing we understand here is; clichés became clichés because they were good story telling instruments in the first place. Most clichés are unavoidable in cinema and they will continue to be used, but they will come with a cloak of humor and self-deprecation in future.
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