Friday, June 20, 2008

Johnny(1980), a review

Johnny or Johny or Jani is a Tamil film starring Rajnikanth (Rajni or Rajini) in double roles and Sridevi as the female lead. The outline of the movie is the intertwining lives of the two Rajnis, with them turning over a new leaf, not always for the good.

However the wider messages intended are very subtle - and as with movies of the past, there are many stories and sub-plots embedded.

The first Rajni(Johnny), shown stealing a car, swindling a jeweller, duping a sale, is actually looking to repay his father's losses in business caused by the 'other' wife's family, notwithstanding the fact that his mother, i.e. his father's second wife, did not give as much attention to them. Johnny explains this benevolence to his mother's love for her husband, even though his father didn't reciprocate it.

This relationship with his father had a deep mental effect on Johnny, making him behave with indifference to women. Enter Sridevi - with a voice of a nightingale, with Johnny going to her concert with deception in mind, only to be smitten by her performance, captivating him, making him listen to her songs on a recorder. Their relationship slowly goes beyond friendship, atleast for Sridevi. She makes advances, asking him to marry her.

The scenes between Johnny and Sridevi are amongst my favourite of all time, because of their wonderful acting. The beach scene, where she chances upon him listening to her songs. Then they walk along, talking to each other. I believe it is to the director's credit that Rajni and Sridevi delivered their dialogues as though they were in a real life conversation. This is attested by Sridevi tripping yet continuing, hands in pockets, flying hair... This unique style continues in all the scenes featuring Rajni and Sridevi, like when Sridevi discovers its Rajni1's birthday and the outing(when the lilting music plays). The highlight of the film is when Sridevi tells him to marry her.

This scene draws out the dramatic best of the two performers. Johnny, vary of any commitment, tries his best to gauge Sridevi's intentions, while she, assuming his innocence, pushes to make the relationship permanent. Ultimately, the intimate emotions of a woman break him down, not after he deliberates and realises he must come clean on his actions. The slow, one-to-one dialogues adds to the suspense with Sridevi turning from happy and expectant to sad and Johnny from being defensive to grudgingly accepting.

On the other side is the character of Vidyashankar, a stingy, lonely, introverted barber living his own life. Maintaining a house 'in harmony with nature' and a wonderfully 'audited' garden, he seems to enjoy his lacklustre clockwork job at a star hotel. Until, that is, a car crash sets him up with a life-changing opposite. She, Bama, a casual worker, finds her way into his life, after rescuing him from the crash, by appealing emotionally to him. She slowly becomes part of his life, doing his chores, cooking, rearranging his house... The degree of intimacy(Vidyashankar's involvement rather) is such that he buys her clothes, in the belief that she would be his partner.. forever.

This is another example shown, of the effect of women on men, how men are at the recieving end(hey, it happens in the film, don't frown at me!). Vidyashankar's relationship is soon on the rocks, when he realises that the woman who he thought would be with him ditched him for a guy with a seemingly higher status in society. She says, having their children recollect their father to be a barber would be such an embarassment, she wouldn't like to live with it. Vidyashankar is deeply disturbed at this rebuttal, all he has are words of advice, very true ones too. He advises that it was a barber who paid for her clothes, and even reminds her that she too 'was' a labourer. These hold good for us too, because we have to remember that we cannot deny who we are, we have to accept who we are, never speak ill of others.

And so when Vidyashankar sees his love going away with the other guy, his once solitary life, made solitary again, although with so much pain, he kills Bama and the other guy.

The rest of the movie follows the path of the two men, with Vidyashankar being mistaken for Johnny by Sridevi, and the former, courtesy the treatment he recieves, comes to change his recent opinions that all women cannot be trusted. Seeing Sridevi's true love, he decides to give himself up for the sake of Johnny, taking up all his sins.

Two different interactions with women, with stark results. One woman attracted by character, another by the lure of big money. A cheat is ready to surrender for love, another surrenders to love and takes things into his own hands.

The experience of the movie is exemplified by the music, not only the songs, but also the bg score, by the maestro Ilayaraja. Nattu noted that after watching 7/G he was left wondering where he had heard that film's theme somewhere, then noting that it was in this film which kindled his memories. Of course, Nattu is so passionate about Rajni. There are especially two pieces of music which linger in your ears, both also are played in the climax, which a good samaritan has uploaded to YouTube(along with the Johnny-Sridevi drama scene mentioned above). Who can forget the infamous scintillating dance routine in Aasaiya Kathule... Ooooh...

The comedy relief is nice, and I must say, though there aren't too many supporting actors, they do a great role - supplementing the storyline with a convincing presence. I specially refer to Sridevi's helper, Johnny's sidekick and the rich Gulti guy.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie because it was a throwback to the days when Rajni actually did drama roles before he did his present day flambouyant characters. Johnny is the original Rajni in play, Vidyashankar is a cautious role, expecting order and always critical of his surroundings. Sridevi did awesome, such a perfect portrayal.

Thinking of it, making a movie like this will be difficult today, least of all because such a down-to-earth script will not be accepted by anyone, also because finding the right cast will be very very tough. I am pretty sure remaking this movie today will not be possible simply because finding actors who can deliver a powerful performance despite being modest, is easier said than done.

A rare classic from Rajni.

Gaffes.. a few here and there. Ooty and Madras are a couple of kilometres away, the recorder disappears from Rajni's pocket after the beach scene, the moustache on Vidyashankar seems to be a paintjob, Rajni briefly enters the frame after his scene when he is selling the house to the Gulti. I loved the dog on Vidyashankar's bed, it sits there motionless, which is a great feat since that dog didn't seem to be a trained dog. It was so cute.


RAJA said...

very good review.. actually i didnt find it as a review whereas i felt like watching the movie again.. as for as the movie is concerned, it was a different cinema more of commercial essence tried by the great MAHENDRAN, but it only panned out as his usual one because his feel for the realism in cinema never ends..

krishna said...

nice review da. i was infact taken aback to find a old movie review by you. u've done an excellent job. Btw the lucid description of all the scenes shows how much u've liked and been engrossed in the movie. good one indeed. try to do similar justice to other movie reviews in future as well.

Arvind said...

good review of an excellent movie.... yes i've watched johny too but failed to note all these details.... now i'll watch it again! :).... by the way its hard to read your blog.... can u make the text a bit thicker or something?

NoeL said...

This is in response to your comment in my blog. You may delete it after reading...

Hi Charlie..

I completely agree with you! But then, i found it interesting and informative... and hence worth sharing it. I dont want to take away the credit from anyone else.. No way.

If you can direct me to the original author, i am more than happy to quote him in my blog.

By the way, i would like to know you! If u please.. You can mail me at the email address in my blog!


ray said...

Hi ,

I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be wow.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘the inside person’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


tt_giant said...

Wonderful movie and nice rumination!

I really enjoyed this movie and was telling my wife that THIS is the real rajini.