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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Requiem for the year that would soon 'was' be!

In the beginning was January...

and at the end... December of course! I don't want to stand on the Night of Dec 31 and write a Janus-faced post. That's too passé. So I jump the gun.
Of course I am sad that Michael Schumacher, Martina Navratilova, Andre Agassi all retired and Shane has Warned he would soon. But there are other things, on the more personal front that I am not so happy about! I just tried counting the amount of work I had put in Theatre as well as elsewhere. It shocks me to realise that I had done about 15 productions and events of various sorts in theatre in 2006 alone. It makes me happy, of course, to see that that involves a wide repertoire of what ranges from acting in other's production to figure in the scheme of other banners too! But 15??? That is worse than The Meaning of Life (which is 12 !!!)
So what am I proud of that I did in 2k6 that I would cherish in 2k7 and could possibly relish cherishing further than 2k7? Perhaps... Three@Twenty. When at a time other groups are thinking of figuring out what can be done to the future course of theatre in Chennai, I think we started doing something. It makes me happy to think that we were able to associate Masquerade (here I mean the folks who stood by Masquerade throughout the year, out of sheer conviction and commitment) with several new and first time playwrights. I am sure that spark of ignition would definitely make them look back and draw inspiration to write further works. Also, am glad that the year 2k6 was not solely a KK-walk at Masquerade, but others who took responsibilities in all walks of a production - through all the mainstream as well as Three@Twenty readings. And the planning is just about complete for 2k7.
I can tell you, it is going to be a very different year of presentations from Masquerade. If we don't end up redefining art or theatre in Chennai, we would be redefining ourselves. And I thank "small Medium @ Large" for that. It made us realise we are better off not doing those comedies. That I also feel is the current problem in theatre in Chennai. Every one seems to be convinced that comedy is the only way to go, if one wants to see better populated houses. Even when it is not one of thsoe western made to order box comedies, it still is a comic or light-hearted play. Why? I remember fondly Mitran's Anna Weiss and Bagyam's Senora Carrar among several other shows. Do we have to ham for our sausage and bread?
I wrote this little 600 word guest column in Simply Chennai recently. I had said some things that I accept are truths about the current trends in Chennai. But in retrospect, I realise why we are stagnating continually and are constantly unnecessarily soul-searching as to the Status Quo of Chennai Theatre. It is a syndrome that is part and parcel of contemporary liberalised India. Any thing that comes new to India... it takes a while to warm up. But once it catches up... it's like wild fire. No stopping, unless, having destroyed everything around itself, being left with itself, it consumes itself. Unfortunately, unlike the Phoenix, it never rises out of its own ashes. Take the case of Photocopying (or Xerox in familiar parlance), Electronic Data Processing, DTP, Colour Printouts, STD ISD PCOs, Pagers, Mobile phones... you see a saturation resulting from watering down of availability. I guess theatre is going through the same phase. By sheer unmoderated enthusiasm, we have watered down the quality of productions in Chennai. Every so-called actor as well as director is gotten greedy to perform, we have created a scenario of plentiness of performance that we hardly do what the classical musicians would call 'sadagam'. To quote Ranjani and Gayatri from their interview today in the Music Festival Supplement to The Hindu: Though we know the value of this festival, we are beginning to wonder if this kind of excess and performance orientation is the only way of preserving and nurturing our music. With so many concerts during the Season, how can any artiste do justice to every one of them? Similarly, if we perform so much, how can there be qualitative energy? I am surprised that even such a quality conscious person as Bala (for whose conceptions I have a high adoration!) has been too prolific in 2k6!
Also, I feel, instead of casting aspersions on the public's craving for entertainment as the public's craving for comedy on stage, if we start giving tighter and better narrative productions (that are not necessarily comedies), it would help us revision our audience for the years to come, vis-a-vis Theatre in Chennai. I am very convinced that all any entertainment-seeker wants is an entertainment that helps him/her forget the world he/she personally inhabits. The world on stage can be a familiar serious world, doesn't matter, but it has to be presented in such a manner without distracting the narration with unnecessary frills or comedy. So, for me, 2k7 is going to be all about evolving a definitive individual style of presentation and choice of scripts. Also to strive for tighter and well-honed productions than hamming comedies or going for numbers.
On the personal side - 2k6 was productive in its own way. I added quite a few new chapters to my Book of Life - how to gauge people better, who to keep distances and how to keep distances, how to not be politically correct at the risk of losing people, places, work, etc. Well, it does help to be honest and open even if one is branded as being rude or disparaging or whatever. And I managed to post little of my fiction than I have written. Only those I thought are absolutely read for public consumption has gone into Web-publication here. And I have met some nice and decent people both on the web/blogosphere as well as real-time. Hope their acquaintances blossom into something more worthy.
To end the post on the same note as it began, I would be sad to see several people retire after the 2k7 Cricket World Cup. But then, when it's time to go, one just has to go. Better to get out before fading ignominiously into a murky sunset.

The Lobotomy of Theatre

Having recently come through a full circle of what I consider to be my first incarnation as a theatre director, after 15 years of work, I ask myself what I have learnt.

One can take up art as a casual or desultory hobby; or as an intensely passionate pursuit. One can embrace art as an amateur or as a professional. It can be a paid vocation or obsessive pursuit involving satisfaction as the goal. In whatever form, once we take up to it, we are artists at some level or other. And we have duties.

First, whatever be the plane of involvement, we are bound by some rules and codes, ethics and etiquettes. Theatre especially is a team game always and ever. Part of the team is an actor. What defines ones frame of mind as regards amateur or professional is this recognition of oneself as a part than the dominant pie. An actor, to put it bluntly, is the most dispensable but most inclusive part of a production. We are not even talking about a performance in terms of a show. A work of production becomes a show only when the audience-factor gets involved. To an artist who is more concerned about the creative process of a production, the audience is/are dispensable as much as an actor. The fact of the matter is an actor could be created. An actor can be developed. Any body could be trained to act. But imparting - self or to other - the foundations or the basic underlying approach to perform a specific role alone does not create a complete actor.
What or who then is a complete actor? Not anyone who can perform, surely. Someone who understands his/her inclusivity, respects the ethics and etiquettes, adheres to the demands made on oneself in the team performance. I am not talking any management therapy here. All that is pure junk and gimmick talked aloud to cheat people into parting with their money in a suave way. If each sets his/her personal agenda secondary and within the group's primary objective, that is the beginning of commitment. The unfortunate part of theatre in most cases from wherever I have observed, especially one hundred percent in the circuit I work, is that personal agenda is so much more important that the primary objective is only impotent. Rather, is rendered impotent.
Should an artist work according to the desires of a director or impose oneself on the character or role that is being essayed? There are some truths which cannot open up to the conception of two schools of thought at all. There is the truth and it is the only one. In this case: an actor is being cast by the director out of various considerations and in Chennai, also out of various constraints. The director's comfort level in working with a person, the person's comfort level with his/her co-actor(s), comfort level in being expected to do certain actions or wear certain costumes, not to mention the importance of the role, which in most cases is defined as quantity of presence. That also shows the shallowness of the pursuit in Chennai. After the casting stage, after one has accepted a character, after one has decided not to desert the production ever till the last curtain call is taken after the first run, begins the actor's responsitbilities towards the play.
The play is all. The playwright is the creator. If the playwright intended the character to be performed in any which way, no one would write. Every piece of writing is born out of a need to express something, however frivolous it could have been conceived, it could turn out to be or it is. That being God's own truth, is an actor justified to change the way the role is played. Yes and No.
Who in the first place decides how to play a role? How flashy or less conspicuous... what right amount of admixture of emotions? Well, irrespective of the nomenclature of the play as a comedy or drama, what is being performed is a narration of sorts. A story is being told. And that is the paramount feature of arts. Everything contains a story, however abstract or real. If the story is not told first and foremost in the way the playwright intended it, then it is no more his. What right have we to tamper on someone's propriety?
When we build a house we do not first fix the chandelier or a sauna. Those are luxurious items that MUST come only after the basic electricity as well as water and sewage connection are provided. Similarly, to the No part of playing a role the way an actor wants, one must realise that the role has to be understood and the role's basic existence conveyed to the audience. To that extent, the actors are carriers and couriers of someone's message. There is no question of rephrasing the message or repackaging the acceptability levels of the luggage.
Once the basic allegiance and obeisance to the original plan of architecture is paid, then an actor can look to make the role his own. Even there, the work is to get into the skin of the role and become it than impose a certain way of playing so as to mislead the audience to think of the role in a particular way. Most actors do this. But then, most actors are not trained. Even those who are trained - self or by someone - are not trained to think a role. They are mechanised in alleged workshop atmosphere to practise exercises to tune (warm-up as the popular term goes) the body, breathe and speak through regulated and robotised inhaling and exhalation patterns. Learning to warm up or improvise or breathe and speak is only the technical part. What about the emotional sensitising of an actor? There is also a certain management-style theatre practise creeeping in some instances. If a person is sensitive enough to think of oneself as part of the whole, or - even if coldly stated - even begins to think I have given my time, let me go through it meaningfully and get out, having contributed what is expected of me, these so-called team-building exercises would not be required. This only shows how much amateurish is our thinking and why we still stagnate qualitatively even if lot of stuff is happening. An individual emotional sensibility is lacking.
At the end of the day, we are dealing with flesh and blood emotions on stage. And what of the cultural, political or social understanding, not to mention the economic and gender status of the character. Do we not have the sacred duty to create a verisimilitude of someone else on stage? Unfortunately one means people choose is to grow or cut hirsute appendages of the body and use make-up or costume to show a change from their real looks. Transformation is internal and not outwardly. All these cost time and energy. And all these are very much in paucity right now because of the cost factor than anything else. The cost to be paid for most people translates into party time or earning time. Since either the mind set more upon social jamming up before and after rehearsals or working in another job (career or not) which monetarily pays more than theatre could possibly afford, we have less trained actors and more mannequins whose brains have been lobotomised by hormonic surges 3 feet vertically to the bottom from their seat of thinking.
Theatre in Chennai may be a place of plentiful happenings, but in the wrong areas of performance. So what should one do to change this, you might want to ask! Nothing. Change must happen internally with every individual. They must think that life is not always one huge celebration of adolescence and that life has its share of responsibilities and commitments to whatever is done. And commitment, like trust, belief or love is 100 percent. You can't half-believe someone. You either do or not. Similarly, one must either do theatre or not. Rather not waste other's time. It is the responsibility of anyone who wants to do theatre in Chennai at the moment, given how much is suddenly happening. Do you hear? Stop backslapping and kissing frogs, seek the real Prince with or without the Kiss. Start now. Or quit.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Of Coffee, Cafés and Culture


Well, as Keats would have loved to Ode, ‘Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’! Not exactly mellow fruits! But definitely a bit of mist instead of dew on the grass on these early Marghazhi mornings would be romantic! And of course…. This is the season of music and coffee and culture. So I decided to pull this one up – I wrote this about three years ago for a local daily. I have touched it up to belong to this day and time. It’s about the inevitable coffee.

When you get to spell out the ABC’s of culture and the happening cities, C is for Chennai; definitely so without ambiguity now that Calcutta has become Kolkatta. Although considered by many aboard Planet India to be C for Conservative, C for Chennai and even C during December for Cutchery Season (Music Festival)… on the positive side C for Coffee and C for Chennai come up as well. And that is something the rest of India has to give it to Chennai, even if grudgingly. Somehow Culture, Coffee and Chennai have always been intertwined together.

I had this friend of mine from Mumbai, back a few years ago when I was in Germany, referring to my German friends who were going to travel down to Chennai with me… that I should take them to India Coffee House if they wanted to drive in, sit around like they do back in the West in the pubs and coffee houses. I was surprised. India Coffee House? We sure have our share of Murudi’s and Hari Nivases and other Udupi Bhavans famous for their coffee after Idli, Vadai and Pongals, to sign off, be it a morning breakfast or evening tiffin. We even had our share - between the late 70s to late 80s – of Irani Tea Shops ruling the roost and scoring over the famous South Indian Coffee and almost replacing the coffee drinking habit of Chennaiites. But India Coffee?

Being born and growing up as part of a generation that is always at the crossroads of cultural changes in the ever-bourgeoning social climate of India, I had heard about the practices of the 50s-60s generation of youths bringing their discussion times at coffee houses and Woodlands… May be my Mumbai friend, being a decade older than me knew it! I searched. And I came up a little to know of this so-called India Coffee House. Rather of this culture, not of this House.

I knew of all those vintage landmarks that once existed to give Chennai that unique personality: cinema theatres such as Globe, Ashok, New Elphinstone, Minerva, Paragon (and have seen the metamorphosing of some of them such as Melody) and have seen the shutting down or falling into bad times of those old favourites of ours such as the Casino, Pilot, Safire complex, Anand complex, Chitra, Rajkumari, not to mention the long list of those North Madras cinema halls that have vanished to give place to hi-rise commercial or residential complexes thanks to real-estate mania; I remember the time when Chellarams and Kuralagam used to be the watchwords in clothing merchandise; when Shanti Vihar and Rita Ice-cream factory were equally synonymous with Mylapore as much as Kapaaleeswarar Temple and Kamadhenu & Kabali (the Gemini-twins of Mylai’s cinema halls).

However, India Coffee House? Unless any ol’ timer responds to this article with the history of one such place, I am stumped. All that I know is this: there is one at the left hand corner of Burkit Road merging with Usman Road, opposite the T.Nagar Bus Terminus. But am sure that is not the one. If that is, well, it has fallen in bad times now.

That was yesterday, as the popular song goes. All you had to do a couple of years back was to just stroll by G.N. Chetty Road: you had both the Qwikys T.Nagar and the Café Coffee Day. Not too far away, at what has come to be known as IC (Ispahani Centre) another Coffee Day. Right next door at the Ebony, a Qwikys Island. Now of course neither Ebony nor those two GNC Road joints exist. But to show that the power center of Coffee Houses has shifted, we have KNK (Khader Nawaz Khan Road) housing the Barista and Mocha (that bordello-feel red building); and within a kilometer, in the road off Peters Road, the independent and unique Café Moca of the Amethyst. Driving down Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai (Cathedral Road for ol’ timers!), opposite Stella Maris College, Coffee? has another little location besides the one at Adyar; then another 200 meters or so we have Café Nescafe. Drive another kilometer and half down TTK Road (again, Mowbrays Road for Madrasis!), you have another Qwikys Island at Lifestyle! Just take a qwik - sorry, quick - turn through Eldams Road and hit G.N.Chetty Road back, you have come a full circle of about 3 kms radius and you have experienced more caffeine down your streams than ever in the history of Chennai.

Not enough… drive down to Besant Nagar. A little range war is shaping up. Café Coffee Day, in what I divine to be a-la Starbucks model, are already up with two outlets on both sides of Bessie Barista… and are apparently planning a huge outlet right next to Barista… to lynch, dry-gulch, what you may the competition. I presume it is the building coming up next to the Sri Krishna (or is it Ananda Bhavan?) overlooking the Bessie Beach, across Cozee corner. And the other Coffee Days at Indira Nagar or Cenotaph Road aren’t too far either. But none of these can take the cake come December. The beehive of activity among Chennai-ites would be Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha, MFAC, R.R. Sabha and other little havens of Classical Music and Dance. I know of a bagful of rasikas who not necessarily always land up at these sabhas to listen to Cutcheries… but to let their palate loose on the canteens run by Sakthis, Arusuvais and others…

What is this phenomenon? Chennai, Culture, Coffee… and now Cafés seem inevitably woven into the lives of Chennaiites and nostalgic Madrasis! In more ways than one, tracing the coffee roots of Chennai to its Tamil culture would not be wrong. The current in-term Coffee Pub is not far off target from the term they use back in Tanjavur for hotels – Coffee Clubs! And who can forget the mother of ‘em South Indian degree coffees all – The Kumbakonam or Thanjavur Degree Coffee. Now, one place people this side of Mylapore stretching towards Adyar go to today, to get their Kumbakonam degree coffee is the Sangeetha in Raja Annamalai Puram (known to young ones as RAP). And who can forget the coffee of Rayar’s Café of Cutchery Road, Mylapore.

Rightly so, given the conservative tag that has stuck to this city, Coffee seems to be the panacea and the redeeming equivalent of outgoing Chennaiites that Beer and Pubs are to Bangaloreans. Now in a way, Chennai’s fascination for Coffee has come in the form of Cafés to help the citizens shake their conservative, homeward bound label. Talk about our belief in rebirth and reincarnation.

May be some coffee outlets do not report as enthusiastic a crowd inflow at their outlets. But each of them – from the Qwikys of Sterling Road (Q I as it is known) through the Barista of KNK Road in Nungambakkam and Coffee Day of IC to the Coffee? and CCDs of Adyar, the outlets all have their customers, regular clients, loyalists, hangabouts and time-killers!

Inhabiting a Coffee House is not only a semi-fashion statement, but also an essential get-away for some from the younger generation. There is so much more to Cafés and Coffee Pubs of Chennai than just a Qjam or sound machine or a book corner or groups of youths. A whole horde of information could be gleaned and gathered. One could, upon haunting these pubs, develop a whole new network of business cards or friendships. One could even fine one’s life-partner, as I have good observed reasons to believe. The Coffee Pubs are Chennai’s equivalent of the book bazaars of the ancient Cordoba in Spain. The Coffee Pubs are also fast becoming haunts of some of Chennai’s musicians, artists, DJs, television stars and sportspersons. They are becoming quite ubiquitous and happening places… making them a far cry today from the hangout of raucous teens and young adults of a year or so back. And quite a lot of coffee is being consumed too.

Say Cheers to Coffee!!! And let’s not forget that haven of Coffee and Culture talk of yesteryears… it still rocks and is my fav place when I need to meet someone or kill time before an engagement in the vicinity – DRIVE IN WOODLANDS. May be not the best coffee, but a place Queen Anne of the 17th century Coffee Houses of England-fame would be proud of. I am starting to feel the itch for beans in my throat. Let me vamos.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

As old as Isolde - TRISTAN+ISOLDE

This is a review I sent to somewhere where it never got published due to various reasons of which length definitely was not one! Anyway, read on!

Movie Review:
TRISTAN & ISOLDE – Reynolds gets it Wrong!!!



Title: Tristan+Isolde
Director:
Kevin Reynolds
Cast: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell…
The Dark Ages of England’s historic past has held very many stories of war and intrigue. There are several that celebrate the war-lords and the feuds betwixt warring tribes across the English Isles – between the Welsh, Saxons, the Irish, the English, the Normans and the Brits! These have intermittently lent themselves to some sweeping productions on both sides of the Atlantic pond and also within the American continent.

All these films have some template gestures to them: a sweeping landscape, usually shot in the Scottish regions; Celtic and Ren-faire music to adorn the quiet richness of the romantic feeling evoked by the misty spread of mountains and the verdant woods through which many a horse or mule drawn wagon has clattered through, and arrows have whizzed past if they hadn’t found their human targets; muddy and slushy habitation areas which are a mere cluster of hutments and wooden buildings all encompassed with a huge wall with a chief who is the claimant to the title of Lord; a man of sword skill who in the course of time becomes stuff of which legends are made, achieved mainly through setting aside personal likes and dislikes and ambitions and desires for the sake of defending either the county or the honour of the chieftain Lord; period costumes, grimy faced support cast in the role of warriors, a pretty heroine. And there are several other more.

Then there are others. Several more. Some like the Lord of the Rings. Saga in the epic mould. Some such as Arthurian legends. But the recent trend English epic cinema (more as a lingual classification) has taken is to subjugate the Romance (meaning the Fantastic war and love of epic proportions where the nation comes first) to the romance (implying the personal and psychological side of the personae involved). King Arthur was one. The movie showed, more than the political, the human side of Arthur of Camelot; the film focused not on his rise to the throne, but on his struggle to keep his beloved spouse Guinvere and of the latter’s affair with Launcelot, Arthur’s second. On the heels comes Tristan+Isolde – another Kevin Reynolds directed movie (for all those who still adore Bryan Adam’s “Everything I do…” the name may ring a bell as the director of ‘Robin Hood – the Prince of Thieves’ or the other Kevin Costner starrer “Waterworld”). Strangely enough, the movie is titled more straightforward in the USA as Tristan & Isolde. The subtitle reads: Before Romeo and Juliet, there was… TRISTAN+ISOLDE. But that is all there is to it. The romance starts with warm bodies and ends in the title.


Responses to the movie have been wide-ranging from “Reynolds has again delivered a lavish adventure for audiences who like their entertainment earnest and their storytelling straightforward” by romance-o-philes who just go emotional over every movie of its ilk and genre to “A tepid, tinny modernist recasting of the epic romance...something like a WB Network twentysomething soap opera in medieval dress.”

If you’re not convinced, try this contrast: “Intensely romantic and artistically photographed, 'Tristan & Isolde' is a welcome quality release during the January movie doldrums,” feels the critic of Reeltalk Movie Reviews while another critic asks, “Do we really want less magic in our legends? And if these stories are stripped of their mythic aspects, are they even very interesting anymore?” Now, that is T+I’s problem. The heart of these legends is their mythic proportion of saga-making, which is their soul as well. Accepted, T+I is touted as the precursor to R&J; but then again, what it lacks is the most vital aspect of a tale of love and passion – the selfsame heart! There is too much confusion in the mind of Reynolds as to what must dominate.


It is a dicey affair to take a war story and focus on the romance aspects. A quick shot at the story would probably help you figure out why our review is leading towards defining T+I as “yadda yadda yadda”! Just read the synopsis I conveniently took from somewhere to save effort.

‘After the fall of the Roman Empire, Irish King Donnchadh (David O’Hara) brutally subjugates tribal England. There, young orphaned Tristan (James Franco) is raised by family ally Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell). As a young man, the charismatic Tristan leads guerilla attacks on Irish occupying forces, ultimately defeating King Donnchadh's elite warriors. Believing himself to be mortally wounded, Tristan requests a funeral boat that eventually washes up on the Irish coast. Discovered by Irish Princess Isolde (Sophia Myles), the two fall passionately in love. All too soon Tristan must flee back to the safety of England. Meanwhile, King Donnchadh invites the English lords to contest for Isolde's hand, hoping to cause further discord among the bickering English barons. Unaware of Isolde's identity, Tristan fights in the tournament as Marke's champion. Tristan is victorious but is devastated to learn Isolde's true identity. Lord Marke weds Isolde and prepares to become King of the now united England, ruining Donnchadh's plan. Despite their best efforts to stay apart, Tristan and Isolde eventually resume their affair. When King Donnchadh arrives in England for Marke's coronation, he deviously unmasks the affair causing an English rebellion. Lord Marke forgives Tristan and Isolde as they defend Castle D'Or from Irish troops. Tristan leads a battle against the Irish but is fatally wounded. As Lord Marke leads the reunited English troops to drive out the Irish, Tristan dies peacefully in Isolde's arms.’ And what of Isolde? A caption before the credit titles intimates us that she just vanished into nowhere.

You may see that the story has scope enough for a spectacular movie on par with BRAVEHEART or TROY (forget its faults) or even TITANIC, especially when you find out the producer is Ridley Scott! But what a let down!! The movie tries to use the sweeping landscapes and other elements that make British medieval romance legends and myths as a backdrop to ride on. If the junta that sit in the front row don’t get enough skin and erotic spills since the movie is touted as the ‘romance of romances,’ they’d at least have their fill of Celtic pipes and Scottish trots to the tune of swaying folk rhythms of England while getting cloyed of the brilliant camera pans of those never-enough landscapes and from-the-top of the mountain distant view of the oceans. But Kevin Reynolds gets it wrong. Where he does get it right is his casting. The top four are absolutely brilliant, even if their soul is found missing at times. James Franco delivers a wonderfully unruly lock of hair that would definitely get the teenage girls in the audience skip a few heartbeats even if the grown-ups would notice him struggling to get the British accent right.

Sophia Myles… ah, I watched my DVD three times and I couldn’t get enough of her! And then I watched Scene Selections where Myles is dominant. Could still not get enough of her!! Infinitely superior to even the recently crowned unredoubtable queen of beauty and acting Keira Knightley, Ms. Myles would provoke an in-the-grave dinosaur fossil back to virility. And her acting is in the classic British mould. Early years of interning on stage and television show as she eats the rest of the cast hands down with her acting. A face that could topple several cameras, she’s worth watching the movie for, as Seattle Times review concludes thus: While Tristan & Isolde, a competent but uninspired film version of the legendary medieval romance, will likely fade from theaters and memories quickly, Myles' lovely face and spirited performance should linger!

If only for Myles, my vote for the best actor in T+I would go 9 out of 10 to Rufus Sewell. I would definitely like to see him as one of the Nominees for Best Supporting Actor for 2006. As the warlord Marke, Rufus Sewell is everything I would die to be in a role. Suave, confident, vulnerable during intense moments of personal conflicts and eyes that act to define the word expressiveness, he holds the movie even when the second half starts sagging. Every movie has its moment of high that may come midway or three-quarters. Herein, it comes soon after the mid-point – Marke and Isolde get married and we are left to wonder what’s left of the movie, what of Tristan. From this point Rufus Sewell’s Marke takes over. Minimal in his verbal dialogues, we fear of an accumulating anger seething within, waiting to burst out melodramatically when the cheating lovers are bound to be caught red-handed… thereby spoiling what has been a very respectable presence… but - all Sewell’s Marke says is “Seize him” as he turns his horse away. And in the scene after… that single “why” preceded by his quotation of Franco’s earlier comment about Myles’ (Isolde) commitment to him (Sewell) seals the issue that if Kevin Reynolds the director didn’t get the movie right, he got his main cast to the tee!

To make a long story short, it may not be a bad idea checking Tristan+Isolde for what it’s worth. It’s not as bad as what is bound to happen when it is released in Chennai – a quicker than faster exit from whichever multiplex it would get released in! And the music, as always lingering to lend substance to the tale of passion, adultery, illegal love between the Queen and the King’s second… to quote Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “PLAY ON!” Admirable are the support cast – in this case they being photography, editing, mixing of colours, costume and make-up. If ever a movie there was where I was so aware of make-up, what it can do to enhance a story-telling, TRISTAN & ISOLDE it is! After all, as one review on the web summed it, “The boys get the action (and Sophia Myles); the girls get some solid tragic romance (and James Franco); the movie geeks will enjoy the cinematography and Rufus Sewell's excellent supporting performance.” But Tristan & Isolde would always remain a movie that could have been excellent!