KV Anand and his never-ending love for cinematic ‘twists’

Filmmaker-cinematographer KV Anand’s signature style, in the films he directed, was the trademark climatic twists that gave the audience a high

In the post-Shankar phase, one could perhaps say that KV Anand and his love for masala cinema with a liberal scoop of social consciousness, resulted in commercial potboilers that were racy and ‘massy’ and starkly different — both in terms of packaging and style, often carrying what is now known patented as the KV Anand twist.

The acclaimed Tamil director and cinematographer died early on Friday morning in Chennai following a cardiac arrest. He was 54.

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More than understanding the “pulse” of the audience, Anand’s biggest achievement was the manner in which he wrote the screenplay (along with his frequent collaborators, SuBha) while being aware of the audience he was catering to, and the way he placed and paced his scenes — like when should an interval block arrive or how should one kill a primary character (Ayan, anyone?) that would alter the course of the film. He described his creative process akin to “cooking noodles” to this writer once and insisted on making “unintentional errors” at the scripting stage. “I learnt this quality from Shankar. You shouldn’t critique your own work, especially when you are writing. You have to accommodate ideas that are illogical, nonsensical and pompous at the same time. Let it flow…”

The writing did flow, but Anand’s modus operandi seemed to have been this: to ensure that audiences left the cinema hall on a high. Adrenaline rush, as he would have liked to call it, sort of reflected from his very first work, Kana Kanden, an oft-neglected film in his filmography.

The charm of Kana Kanden — excluding the couple played by Srikanth and Gopika — was Prithviraj, or rather, the way KV Anand wrote the character of a soft-spoken, kind-hearted villain who would wax eloquent but at the same time, slit your throat when you are asleep, became the selling point when the film released. The character’s dual nature was not even a subject of consideration for viewers and the “twist” worked largely to the film’s advantage.

A still from ‘KO’  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Anand went completely bombastic with Ayan (2009), his finest work and one of the all-time great masala films in Tamil. A fast-paced thriller about a smuggler from Chennai, with mouthwatering twists and turns, there is not a single scene in Ayan that looks dull or wasted even today. But the film’s success has to be attributed to its interval block, one of the best written “twists” in Tamil cinema, when Deva (Suriya) finds that his dear-friend Chitti (Jagan) ratted them out. It is the kind of twist that a filmmaker would be wary of writing, for, it could have gone either way. But that definitely was not the case in Ayan. In fact, it worked for the better and the ‘two friends going either way’ template retained the emotional core of the film. Needless to say that the box office, too, was charmed by Anand’s inventiveness, like the audience.

Perhaps Ayan’s phenomenal success must have forced Anand to ramp up the “twists”, which by now became his signature style, when he made KO (2011), a film about a photojournalist which is how Anand started out in his career. Starring Jiiva and Ajmal, the film, which took on modern-day politics, had one of the best climax twists when a prominent character is revealed to be the film’s antagonist, just minutes before the end credits. The film ultimately ended up becoming a money-spinner at the box office.

With these three films, KV Anand established why he is a class apart when it comes to toying with the audience’s perception with his “twists”. So much so that you would see audiences walking into the theatre, hoping for the trademark KV Anand twist. Since then, every film of his had at least one sequence that would shift the narrative gear — maybe not as effective as his previous films.

A still from ‘Kaappaan’  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Like, for instance, Maattrraan (2012), in which he collaborated with Suriya yet again, had an outrageous twist in the climax that later became a subject material for trolling. Anegan (2015), too, had a climax twist with Karthik Muthuraman being revealed as the villain, in his twisted film about past-life. The filmmaker tried to replicate his success formula in later films such as Kavan (2017) and Kaappaan (2019), with little to no impact. Perhaps the audiences became too familiar with his signature.

For someone who built a successful career out of a bag of tricks and turns, Anand’s untimely demise must have been the biggest plot-twist that nobody would have foresaw. It is not something that fans would dearly recall.

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