Friday, December 31, 2010

Manmadhan ambu poster

As lovers of technology, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we love films. We generally tend to prefer western film productions (the higher budgets allow for more realistic productions) over Indian productions, but now and then, an Indian film comes along that makes us re-think our own opinions of Indian films. (Only for a short while, though – for every good Indian film released, there’s atleast 50-100 bad, unwatchable films) Even the big-budget high-profile films, have technologically mind-boggling ideas which are quite far-fetched. Like the superstar who uses voice recognition to login to a Notebook computer (which appears to have some form of Artificial Intelligence!) or builds a robot with a 1 Thz processor (there are robots out there with a smartphone processor… It’s not the speed; it’s the Artificial Intelligence logic that counts) or even Hollywood films which take technology for granted – such as the ease with which a casual person hacks into a Linux-based supercomputer (trust us, just getting around a Linux computer’s interface is a huge task – leave alone hacking one)

Then there are some films which actually make the technology believable, even if it’s far-fetched – such as the Matrix trilogy. Such happenings may not be possible in today’s (or tomorrow’s) world, but the explanation provided in the film fits within the requirements of the film’s make-believe world.

Finally, you have films which take today’s technology, and work it into a believable form in the film. This is the category under which we would place Manmadhan Ambu. There were still a few glaring technology misses (or mistakes) but we like the fact that it got many technology aspects right.

Spoiler alert : Continuing past this point could lead to spoilers of the plot of the film. If you haven’t yet watched the film, and if you’re waiting to watch this film, we suggest that you read this article later, after watching the film. Thanks!

We’ll take apart the technological hits in the film, and point out several things that just worked. We’d like to begin with something that was thought to be a miss at first. There’s a flashback at the start of the film, which portrays the actress Trisha’s character during a shooting scene (Yeah, she plays an actress in the film). Clearly, her phone was the Nokia E71 (or E72 – we couldn’t get a decent look at it). A few scenes later, in France, while on holiday, she pulls out an iPhone (we’re guessing it was either the 3G or the 3GS – both use exactly the same case and external form) and we were like “Wait a minute… Wasn’t she having a Nokia E71/E72?” Upon discussing this after watching the film, we realised that there was a time gap of around 3 years between these two incidents/scenes. And three years ago, the E71/E72 was a top-end mobile phone. Currently, the iPhone could be considered a top-end mobile phone, something that actresses would carry. So in a subtle move, the makers of the film have tried to stick to a sense of realism. When we realised this, we couldn’t help but want to write this article.

The next part – video calls over the Internet. Kamal Hassan’s character uses two systems, his own personal Apple Macbook Pro, and an HP Touchsmart PC at a net center (or the Cruise Liner’s Internet center) to contact a friend in the hospital in Chennai, who is using a Sony Vaio Notebook PC. Generally, such scenes create technology-mahem, as in the interfaces won’t match, they wouldn’t be realistic, etc. Here, the Macbook Air had a Mac’s OS X interface, the Sony Vaio and the HP Touchsmart PC had Windows 7 interfaces. Again, a subtle but well-rounded touch to the whole film.

Mobile phone 2

One of the most subtlest flourishes that just simply worked was the fact that when Trisha was talking to her family back in India from France on holiday, they actually told her that she was wasting money on ISD calls. Also, when Kamal Haassan’s character was talking to R. Madhavan’s character – again, from France to India – he is asked if he has sufficient balance. This is a far cry from the usual fare in films, where the hero/heroine just seem to have infinite balances on their phones, and it is just not mentioned/talked about in the film. Subtle, but realistic.

Let’s now briefly take a look at the technological misses in the film. The most glaring one was the fact that the Major, Kamal Haassan’s character in the film, was using his Blackberry Storm 2 from India, in France. And there’s this close-up of his phone once, which clearly shows that the phone is on AT&T. As far as we know, AT&T Mobility is a US-based mobile network services provider. Was this anomaly because that scene was shot in the US? Or was he using a US-based SIM on roaming? Or, more simply, were they using a simulated screenshot of the phone for that portion of the film? We don’t know. Whatever it was, the scene delivered a smile.

And in trying to introduce a bit of comedy and humour, R. Madhavan’s character actually drops his phone into a urinal. He then proceeds to wash it down with water, and use the hand-warmer to dry it – all while a call was active. Your phone may be a Blackberry from RIM QWERTY-slider phone from Nokia, (thanks to Praveen Emmanuel for pointing out this error) but it’s not going to withstand that without atleast switching off, or disconnecting the call. Of course, if they had used a Motorola Defy (which isn’t available in India, yet) or a similarly built phone, which is meant to be handled roughly and can take a good bit of water without giving up, then we’d be fine with it. We would actually applaud that as a marketing move to showcase the sturdiness of such a phone. But with a standard Blackberry – it’s a huge fail.

If you’re looking for a bottom line to our thoughts – it’s this. In a world where cinema tends to just mercilessly use technology in a way that it can’t be used in real life, a film that introduces certain technology-related aspects realistically is welcome. Yet, cinema has a long way to go before they can fully address technology realistically. (On another note, why don’t they just hire a geek to review the technological aspects of the film during filming? If they did hire a geek, they need to hire a better geek!)


Praveen Emmanuel said...

Lol... Nice article... :) You guys/girls have a good eye for detail. I'm not too sure if the Nokia E71/iPhone was intentional but well noticed.

One correction though, the phone that Madhavan drops in the urinal and blow dries is NOT a blackberry, its a Nokia (the one with a horizontal slide-out keypad). Remember, previously by the swimming pool of his house in a fit of anger he smashes the Blackberry on the wall by pool and the next scene even shows the broken pieces on the table with his mom and 'morae ponnu' looking at it. Either way, no matter if its a BB or a Nokia I'm sure it wouldn't have survived a fall in the urinal and a wash. But, it's good to note that the filmakers made sure he uses a new phone post the swimming pool incident.

From a technological perspective MMA is the first Tamil film to use a 'live sync audio'. A feature which is so common in films made in Hollywood. Live audio records the voices and ambiance as shot on location. Even though it's sometime weak and not clearly audible it still adds authenticity and makes you believe that you are there with the characters. Kudos to the cast for speaking in Tamil without the use of dubbing artists.

The Indian Geek said...

Thank you Praveen!

We're glad you stopped by and provided feedback. Yes, the Blackberry was broken - which evoked a few tears... People shouldn't break their smartphones when there are folks without smartphones in this world.

Anyways, we're updating the article to reflect the facts. Also, live sync sound is pretty cool, but this is not the first Tamil film to use it. The Trisha and Madhavan starring 2004 Mani Ratnam film, Ayitha Ezhuthu, used it.

Again, thank you for taking the time. We really appreciate it!

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