Month: December 2019

Queen

“Will you be my Queen?” asked GMR.

“Yes,” she replied.

And, the rest, as they say, is history.

This is a review of the TV series, Queen, directed by Gautham Menon and Prasath Murugesan, which is based on the book, Queen, by Anita Sivakumaran. The book itself is loosely based on the life of the Ex-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. J. Jayalalitha.

The TV series has what it takes to ensure the viewer binge watches for hours on end. Though, at points, it seemed necessary to fast-forward the show to cut to the chase. The drama quotient is high. The cinematography is a healthy mix of old school and the modern. It’s old school in that it has the tried and poorly tested acting style of overacting. But it has the modernistic style of cinematography in that most frames are carefully choreographed, and, as an added bonus, the make up and lighting is subtle.

The storyline is largely based on the true story of the former CM. However, there are some obvious deviations in the interest of creative ingenuity, and for the sake of averting too much scrutiny by having a “fiction” card pinned to the sets. In the TV series, it is the story of Shakti.

Shakti is the State Topper in her 10th boards. After that, she’s forced to quit studies to slip into a career of acting, to support her family, after which she didn’t get the opportunity to return to her apparently true calling, which was academics. She hung on, especially after her crucial and much talked-about career with GMR (acronym comes to mind?), the megastar of Tamil Cinema of the 70s. She is shown as someone who excels at everything she touches. She is shown to be a person who is constantly yearning for the simple joys of friendship and family. Her turbulent relationship with her mother is much reason for her worries in life. Soon after the hold that her mother held on her were released, she was caged under the close watch and overwhelming “care” of the superstar that she pledged her life’s course to.

Love, betrayal, trust, disloyalty, are the underlying themes. Feminism is at the core of the narrative, which was highlighted by the excellent acting by the three leading ladies, Ramya Krishnan, Anikha, Anjana Jayaprakash, who play Shakti. The idea that a woman can be “controlled” by others, is displayed and dispelled within the same season. The panache and smoothness with which the character transitions from being a pawn to being the Queen, is stunning.

Though I’d rate the show high for satisfying a long standing need felt in the “decent Tamil TV show” niche, I’d still call it out for some of its shortcomings. The biggest one, as mentioned previously, is the overacting by the otherwise capable actors. Likewise, some storylines within the show went unstitched, like that of the friendship with Alamelu, which was all important in Episode 7, but fully forgotten by Episode 10 (and replaced by Suryakala (ahem)).

While the idea behind the episodes and the various sequences may have been to highlight the nuances of Shakti’s life, the highlighting was rather skewed, I thought, to allow the protagonist to play the victim card rather than to celebrate the achievements she made despite the odds. For example, we know too much about her schooling, and almost nothing about the political decisions she made, save for a couple teasers that the show offered. Not enough, Gautham Menon. The feeling that Shakti is an enigma is still abound, and that has to go if she should be likeable, and isn’t that the point of a (fictionalised) biopic? If not, then, well, haven’t we found ourselves a little piece of treasure in Tamil TV?

I’m looking forward to Season II, and hope to fast-forward less. Shorter and crisper scenes, and less sermoning by the protagonist, please. I don’t want the gyan, I want to know what happened, how, and why.

So far so good okay. 3/5.

PS: I hope the title makes more sense, in the context of our democratic polity, in the coming seasons.

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars

How many books have you read of trans people? By trans people? Good ones?

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom stands out for its distinction of being one of its kind (which is unfortunate). But it also stands out for being lovely and brave.

The memoir is dark, but written with so much brightness that it made me forget how rough her life has been. The aliases she uses, and the fantastical descriptions of events and places are reminiscent of bedtime stories. In reality, it is like the Grimm’s Brothers’ stories – distressing and disorienting, but fashioned in palatable and affable ways.

The poetry in between is poignant. It’s about a pocket knife and the inevitability of having to have one. There’s also a poem about being femme. It reads like a song.

This one is one of those kind of books that affects one’s belief systems. Did you know how very normal it is to be exploited for surgery, for trans people? It was described so casually in this book, that I felt ashamed, illogically and idiotically.

My only grouse is the extent to which she goes to shroud all places’ names. So while the memoir is a real story, it’s also under velvety wraps, with names like “City of Gloom” and “City of Shadows and Lights”. Sigh.

A short read. A good read. One of those kinds that you wish was longer. 4/5.