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That Four Letter Word : Y-A-W-N February 22, 2007

Posted by Anand Ramachandran in movies.

That four letter word

I wanted to like Sudhish Kamath’s new film. I really did. I wanted it to be hip, intelligent, and interesting.

Sadly, it isn’t any of those things.

I’ll begin with the good stuff. The fact that Kamath has completed the film on a VERY tight budget, and it ended up looking as decent as it does is to be commended. By leveraging his popularity as a journalist to draw attention to TFLW, he’s done independent Chennai filmmakers a service by opening up possibilities for their films as well. It takes determination, courage and a great deal of patience to be a pioneer, and, in a sense, this film makes Kamath one.

That’s why it’s unfortunate that the film itself fails so badly.

That Four Letter Word begins with what is essentially a decent enough ( if hardly imaginative ) premise, and quickly descends into tedium. The story meanders along. The acting is sometimes passable, sometimes atrocious. The screenplay fails to grip. And the less said about the dialogue (in particular, the try-so-hard humour) , the better.

Very ordinary characters sleepwalk through very ordinary situations spouting bad lines and looking rather disinterested most of the time. Only Cary Edwards shows any signs of enthusiasm – and actually manages to be likeable the few times that the contrived dialogues allow him to be.

The music and visuals actually strive manfully to liven up proceedings, but in the absence of any other good stuff – story, dialogues, acting – to support them , they simply cannot salvage enough to make TFLW even moderately fun.

The upshot is this – there’s nothing in this film that makes you even remotely want to continue watching it. Other than the vain hope that it can only get better (it doesn’t).

In failing to make a film that is worthy of taking the opportunities he has created with his smart marketing, Sudhish Kamath lets himself down. This could have been the film to provide a much needed fillip to independent Chennai filmmakers, but instead it ends up as forgettable and simply boring cinema.

At a recent press screening at Sathyam Cinemas, Sudhish rather charmingly said to the audience : “You can tell us it sucks.”

Sorry, mate, but here goes : “Sudhish, it sucks.”


1. Anand - February 22, 2007

Thou art very polite! But seriously, it takes all sorts to create an ‘indie’ film culture in Chennai.

2. Gowri Ganesan - February 23, 2007

Welcome back!

3. aravind - February 23, 2007

have you earned your right….what say…..

4. Self - February 23, 2007


While i agree with many of your comments, i think that you missed the point… You have assumed that it can be treated on par with “normal” cinema, and you have based your comments on that assumption. Sudhish Kamath has already made it clear that you must leave behind any preconceptions and expectations you may have when you watch his film. The truth is, the film is just a front. It is really an announcement to the world: “WANNABE, KNOW-IT-ALL CRITICS who JUST DON’T GET IT have finally found a WORTHY LEADER”.

I don’t think “the pioneer” has done any service to the independent industry… I feel its quite on the contrary. Prospective investors will simply be too scared to put their money on independent ventures, for the end results could be something like this. INDUSTRY KILLER!

I feel the actors tho’ could have come through with less dignity than they did if “the pioneer” had been more effective… I actually felt sorry for them… But they should feel relieved and happy now, their lives will be better, their worst nightmare is over.

Of particular note in the film is the romance in the restaurant between Isha and Vishal. I have never felt so much physical revulsion while watching ANY scene from ANY film. CRINGE CITY!

I feel it should be compulsory material for film students. They should have an idea of how things can turn out. Kudos to “the pioneer” for setting the benchmark for bad art.


5. Anand Ramachandran - February 23, 2007

Anand and Self – All I’m saying is that Sudhish Kamath has done most things right in the way he has marketed his film, got it screened at a quality city cinema, managed a well attended premiere, and got celebrities to say nice things about the film – a good blueprint for others with similar goals. I’ve never seen it done this well by a Chennai filmmaker before – though, admittedly, Sudhish’s name being well known does give him an edge. Yes, Sudhish will not create an Indie film culture on his own – I’m not even sure he intends to – but efforts like these are important to spark something. Too bad the film wasn’t better.

6. Anand Ramachandran - February 23, 2007

Update – Sudhish Kamath has been large enough to actually link to my review from his blog . It takes a genuine sense of fair play to do that. Appreciate it, Sudhish.

7. Self - February 24, 2007

Sudhish in his blog says:

“For all the films I ripped apart when I was little, maybe this is poetic justice. As they say, what goes around, comes around.”

“If this works, anybody will be able to make a movie and find an audience. For a market to emerge, we need to cultivate it. Support indie cinema. Support fresh thought.”

Had I known him capable of such humility, the tone of my previous post would have been different… I guess I was reacting to something on his blog that said that you have to “earn your right” to criticize his work, which i found sufficiently ironic, to be vocal about.

If this is an effort to create something new by a first timer who is looking for opinions, then here goes: The movie was an absolute drag, and i only stayed till the end because i had other reasons for not leaving mid way, than wanting to know what happened next. The lip sync was very poor in many places, as if the dubbed dialog was different from the dialog on camera. I could not understand the reason for the random alternating with lo-fi black and white visuals (maybe theres a reason there tho’)… The characters don’t look very convincing and and there is very little depth to the screenplay… events just seem to occur at random, like the completely unnecessary drag race with the very convoluted indian “homie”.

On the positive side, the camera work looked pro (to me), which is particularly challenging to accomplish using lower cost digital technology. The music worked for the film (tho’ i doubt very much if it is original for the most part… to get an orchestra of that quality for one session would probably cost more than the entire budget of the movie), the comic-y interludes were quite funky, the actors were all likable and the concept is quite original (at least i have seen nothing exactly like it). Last but not least, it takes guts and perseverance and a tremendous amount of work to accomplish this… all very commendable, i think.


8. kishore - February 24, 2007

Gautam Menon, Suriya and Revathy have all had only nice things to say about the movie. You are disputing?

9. Suderman - February 25, 2007

Yes, “earn your right to criticise” is something all of us expect out of our critics. I’m sure you won’t take criticism from someone you hardly know or someone who hardly knows you. More so, when they are anonymous. I’m sure you don’t care what some passerby thinks of the way you dress up. But, it would make a difference to you if your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend has a problem with it. And it certainly won’t matter to you if the person criticising you has an awful dressing sense himself. My only point about the post was that we all take criticism only from people we respect. And I said, if you want my respect, earn it.
Anand earned my respect the way he presented his criticism. Your first comment did not make me feel the need to respond. This one does. That’s exactly what I mean when I say “Earn my respect”.
Maybe it was a drag to you because you couldn’t relate to it anymore. There are people who can. This movie probably was made for them.
Lip sync was a technical problem that cropped up one hour before the show. The entire film was outta sync. They rectified nearly 80 per cent of it in an hour. We’ve set it right now.
The visuals: I didn’t think my target audience would find a colour change intriguing but it was something we were tripping on at the editing table because we thought the film needed that feel.
Since you want to know, the film was designed as a bridge between life and film. (The tagline goes: Boy meets girl. Fact meets fiction. Reality meets fantasy. Life meets film)
Everything you should know about the film is right there.
Boy meets girl is your typical romance genre.
It is Fact meets fiction, for obvious reasons. It’s borrowed from life and exaggerated (and hence the comic book technique to alienate and facilitate a willing suspension of disbelief and also to establish right at the beginning that you are not going to know too much about these guys apart from what you need to know)
Reality meets fantasy is that journey we all make from dreaming to actually going and getting it.
And films are about fulfilling your fantasies. We go to the movies to see the hero win, boy get the girl, good triumph over evil because these things don’t often happen in life. We like the escape films provide from reality.
This is based on real people alright, but is clearly not a docu-drama. It is all about elements borrowed from life meeting elements that happen only in film.
The film tries to build a bridge between dreams and reality, between the boy and the girl (we specifically leave her mysterious till the end so that anyone watching that movie from Sunil’s shoes can fill in his dream girl in that blank we’ve created.)
So if you try to represent life, what are the techniques you would use cinematically? Hand-held camera, surely. What else? Hidden cameras (candid camera like we used for the car), CCTV (the voyueristic camera in Zebra’s room, at the beach during the six minute scene)… Did you realise that CCTV footage is black n white?
When you try to represent film or what is larger than life, cinematically, you tend to use saturated colours to create a sense of alienation and manufacture willing suspension of disbelief. What are the other colour schemes that films provide us? The immediate connect would be the black n white Chaplinsque feel.
So when you build a bridge between dreams and reality, fact and fiction, life and film, you deem it fit to cinematically represent that bridge through a colour scheme that represents elements from both life and film. So the film tends from reality to fantasy, using another colour scheme associated with surrealism. We chose blue to create that surreal feel and complete that palette that ranged from black n white of video (that represents life) to scratched black n white film (that represents film).
Life is always full of those moments. The real, the surreal and the larger than life. We carefully picked scenes that represented these elements and painted them with the colour code. Because all romance movies are about boy getting girl. We used the classic coming of age setting for this love story/stories of the lead guys, created willing suspension of disbelief with the comic book feel and then went on the life-meets-film trip.
We knew not everyone would understand but hey, the artist in me insisted that we had to use this palette to be true to the spirit of our narrative.
That’s why this is independent cinema. We tell stories that we want to tell, in a way we want to tell and to an audience we want to talk to.
That’s also how it differs from mainstream cinema that caters to a mass. That’s also why this is a multiplex film, a niche film, intended for a specific audience.
That’s also probably why you and Anand did not relate to it.
The screenplay’s depth and what we wanted to tell you about the characters too was by design. We didn’t want to give them surnames because we didn’t want to get into their ethnic backgrounds. We wanted to keep it as general and as global as possible and that’s exactly why we use the additional comic book narrator. A comic book will tell you Superman flies with a blue cape in his underwear outside and not bother telling you why he does so. because, it’s a comic book and it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
The events were made to look random to give it that feel of life in itself. The drag race was to illustrate that Prashant has tried to talk to Vishal before but Vishal being the guy who lives by the moment, is more interested in the challenge the moment presented him with, rather than the one posed by life itself. (yes, I agree that exchange did come out corny but there are wannabe homies all around, the guy who dubbed had lived in the US for 12 years, we couldn’t find an American)
And we had to show Prashant make at least one attempt to talk to Vishal before that huge six minute conversation right in the middle of the film (the scene for introspection, as Sunil calls it).
Basically, if these guys have been friends all along, why didn’t Prashant tell vishal what he did during that scene before?
Because, Vishal wouldnt listen, he would race or do something else that the moment had in store. Or he would just ask him to calm down and chill, like he did in the pool table. Prashant is the voice of reason, the personification of mind. Vishal is all heart and just cannot relate to the way Prashant lives his life.
That’s also why Prashant figures that what he has to tell Vishal, he can only tell by addressing Sunil. So when prashant tells Sunil, he’s not expecting a drama King like Sunil to listen, what he tells him is actually directed at Vishal. And Vishal understands that, which is why he shoots back at Prashant and talks in defence of Sunil.
The nuances are all there. Every scene is there in the film for a reason. We would’ve rewritten the script over a thousand times in five years before we shot this version.
I urge you to watch the movie again [since you didn’t have to pay the first time around :)], with an open mind. What I mean by an open mind is: Don’t go in trying to like the film or hate the film… just take it one scene at a time.
I can vouch that the music is original for at least 80 per cent of the film because I sat with him when he did it… I told him exactly what I did. The last bit of orchestra in that Vishal-Isha climax is from some copyright-free sampler and the chase music is a popular jazz piece that’s copyright-free too. These music directors have a collection of everything from Hans Zimmer’s guitaring samples to computer generated loops. Apparently, the chase music was also used in Monsters Inc opening credits. I found this out one week before release and hence couldn’t do much about it.
The camera work actually is by freshers (except the Vishal-Isha climax which we shot with a very experienced cinematographer).
I normally wouldn’t have bothered explaining. I just got back from a party my friend threw for the film and I’m high!
After having typed so much, I might as well rewrite this as a post.
Thanks for your feedback.

10. Anand Ramachandran - February 25, 2007

Sudhish – That’s a pretty spirited defense. Respect. I can vouch. too, that Self does not intend to offend. It’s a vocal, strong opinion – but nothing personal. He feels the same about George Lucas, Iron Maiden, and Angelina Jolie’s work in third world countries.

The ‘Monsters Inc.’ coincidence is rather unsettling, to say the least (it’s not exactly and obscure film). Your music director, in my opinion, should have noticed that, and at the very least, should have informed you of the fact well before one week before the release, so that you could have taken a call on using the piece.

Also, I believe that once you’ve put something out for public consumption, you’ve got to be prepared for the brickbats, however uninformed or ‘un-earned’ you deem them to be.

And, about Supes’s costume, reams have been written about it, especially in the excellent Superman : Birthright. Some interesting thoughts at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_and_abilities_of_Superman#Costume

Self : I honestly didn’t think Sudhish would actually read our humble blog. Ball in your court.

11. kishore - February 26, 2007

Thanks Anand… and self (and susan, and the kid from IE) , i almost got carried away and said something about the movie. Now i won’t. Mr Kamath might hunt me down, slash my tires and force a retraction. Or worse, he might reply in his characteristic 9000 words. In fact i may have forced his hand already.

12. Self - February 27, 2007

hey sudhish kamath!

I must say i am quite surprised by your elaborate response. I didn’t expect you to come forward and take my opinion positively.

That said, I’ll excuse myself from this discussion with one final suggestion: It does occur to many people including myself, that your (negative) comments in your reviews sound very patronizing… It almost sounds as if you think that most of the movies you review would have benefited from YOUR direction. Which is what makes one react particularly harshly to your creative efforts… AND things like “you shit heads had better earn your place to criticize me”, particularly after YEARS of YOUR questionable quality of criticism (to be polite :), WILL NOT go down well, no matter what your reasons be.

All best wishes for more engaging results with your next endeavour.


13. nilu - March 7, 2007

yeah awful movie..sudish meeds to dig a hole and bury himself for making an awful movie..further i request all wannable directors to watch this movie so that they can learn how to make a bad movie

14. hater_of_blogs - March 9, 2007

A few things guys don’t know about film making….

1. It is no big deal to make a movie…a digital camera for filming is available for renting at less than Rs. 1500 a day. Yes, in Chennai. (Don’t ask me where. Just give a small advt in classifieds in one of the papers.) The guy who loans you the camera also sends you a escort to ensure that you don’t damage the equipment. You have to just feed the guy and give some minimum pocket money. So that’s it about the cost.

2. Next comes actors. If you’re a journo with a big publication, there will be guys who would like to act gratis. There will be other chaps music, art , editor etc.all willing to chip in….you never know….it always helps to have a journo’s mobile number in your contact list…If you and I try to make a movie..no one will touch you with a barge pole….that is why, movie making even though is no big deal…not many venture into it….

3. And as for writing a script….well,…This is BIG deal…you need someone with some REAL talent..someone who can write stuff that can fare well in comparison with higher stuff……….that is why you get Knock Knock I Am Going to Marry ..like crap multiplex movies….(I am yet to see TFLW)

4. As I said before, it is no big deal. So, I really wonder why the movie cost 4 lakhs!!

5. I saw Kramer vs Kramer the other day..how much do you think that movie would cost in digital film making assuming that the stars Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep..act for free…

6. 20 years back…it was considered hip and happening to be a book or magazine publisher…now…after the advent of TV channels, people’s opinion of journalists have come down drastically….so, presently…the zeitgeist is film making and fashion designing….

I rest my case….

15. Vishal Bharathraj - April 29, 2010

Watching TFLW was an exercise in torture. The film was shabby at best,…mind numbingly irritating at worst. I would’ve rather jabbed a q-tip in my ear, over and over again. I get the whole thing about this being a maiden venture and the actors all being frickin noobs. But seriously, lack of experience is no excuse for a film to suck THIS badly. Those are 80 precious wasted minutes of my life, i’m never getting back. Burn in hell, SK!

16. Vishal Bharathraj - April 29, 2010

PS – You just reinforced the American stereotype on the Indian accent, son.

PPS – Sunglasses inside closed buildings are NOT hip or cool. More like obnoxious and asinine!

PPPS – And what the FUCK is up with that gorilla guy’s hat??

17. Shanna - September 16, 2013

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like to send you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

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