FRI, JUL 10 2015. 03 44 PM

Anger management at a Chennai cinema

How Shoba Narayan queued up to watch the latest Tamil indie and dished out multi-coloured combs to aunties


I tried my anger management technique when I was standing in line for tickets to “Kaaka Muttai,” the new Tamil film.

Kaaka Muttai is a must-watch, even for those who don’t understand Tamil. The story is simple: two slum boys want to taste pizza. How they achieve this goal forms the core of this heartwarming debut. Director Manikandan, who lists Iranian films ‘A Separation’ and ‘Children of Heaven’ as his influences, and Nandita Das as the actress he’d like to direct, keeps the story moving with assured restraint. No over-the-top Sivaji-esque histrionics that mark Tamil films of yore; and truth be told, I kinda miss those. Kaaka Muttai—the phrase means ‘crow’s eggs’ and refers to the crow’s eggs that the two boys steal and eat– has already won several international awards. Hopefully, it will become a sleeper hit along the lines of “Queen.”

For a transplanted Tamil speaker, Kaaka Muttai offers several pleasures. There is the sly Tamil humour— both hurtful and humorous. There is the effortless Tamil slang that fills the film and filled me with remorse. When was the last time I used the word “peela” here in Bangalore, I thought, and how to convey the punch it carried to my genteel Bangalorean neighbours? “Peela” is slang for lying, and it was precisely what the grandmother behind me was doing.

We were standing in a long line outside Thyagaraja theatre in Chennai. I grew up in Adayar, at a time when theatres were named with panache. There was Jayanthi and Thyagaraja theatres battling it out beside each other. You went to Jayanthi for the night shows and Thyagaraja (with better fans) for the hot and torried matinees. You went to Ganapathy Ram down the road if friends dragged you to so-so movies because you could nap in the oversize seats. Eros was for English movies. Each theatre had a distinct character (different from ambience), not like today’s soul-less, identical multiplexes.

Thyagaraja has become swanky but still attracts conniving Chennai mamis (aunties). This one, with her gray hair and starched Chettinad cotton was angling to jump the queue all the way to the front for tickets. She professed faintness at first. “I am diabetic, you see,” said she. We were unmoved. Then, she upped the ante. Said that her husband was a kidney patient and she needed to see the movie and get back in time for his dialysis. That story was so patently false on so many levels– none of us knew where to poke holes in it. Shameless, I tell you, the depths these people fall to. It was like a story I heard about the French Laundry in Yountville, California, during the time when it was impossible to get reservations there. People would apparently fax letters to the reservation desk stating that it was their child’s dying wish that they should dine at the French Laundry. I mean, seriously? You are going put your child to death to get a restaurant reservation? Or invent a non-existant child and then kill her for a meal? Mind-boggling, I say.

Finally, one of my fellow queue mates took the bull, or in this case, Ambujam-mami—for that was her name, she said on the phone—by the horns.

“Dei, maami peela vidaraa-da,” he said. As in, “Hey, aunty is fibbing,” but this is a ridiculously poor translation.

This being Chennai, tempers got heated. Everyone started yelling in Tamil about how old people were jumping the queue and how slow the ticket office was. That’s when I pulled out my trusty combs (not comb in singular but combs in plural). I had bought them on South Mada street in the street-shops surrounding the Mylapore tank. You see, I am trying a social experiment in anger management.

Whenever there is a scuffle around me, whether it is at the RTO or the movies, I calmly pull out combs in orange, yellow, green, and purple and pass them around. First, it forces the people to pause in bemusement, wondering what the heck I am doing. This pause is all I need. “Why don’t you comb your hair?” I say. “But use your non-dominant hand.”

I have to explain what non-dominant hand is—which is quite tiresome. It is the opposite of the hand you normally use. If you are a rightie, it is your left hand and vice versa.

Eighty percent of the world is right-handed. Scientific–and wild–theories exist as to why this is so. Some say that people are right or left-handed based on the position of their liver, or how they were positioned in the womb. If the right side faced outside, it received at the most stimulation, turning you into a left-handed person. That’s the theory anyway. One consensus is that the right and left brain control the opposite side of the body. The right hand therefore, is connected to the left brain, which is the seat of language, analysis, intellect, and reasoning. The left hand is connected to the right brain, which is the source of creativity, insight, spontaneity, and feeling. Several celebrities and leaders including Narendra Modi, Ratan Tata, Amitabh Bachchan and U.S. President Barack Obama are purportedly left-handed.

Most of us go through life, unconsciously using the hand that we are comfortable with. Using your non-dominant hand however, has fascinating repercussions, according to recent research. It improves your willpower and self-control. It controls your anger against queue jumpers like Ambujam-mami. The effort involved in using your non-dominant hand equalizes the brain hemispheres and evens out your temperament.

“Why this kolaveri di?” said someone.

“Enda saavu-cracki. Vettila sollittu vandhirukaya?” I replied. (Saavu cracki is untranslateable. The next line means, “Have you told your folks at home?” That you are not coming back is the unstated threat.)

Thank God this is an English paper and I can swear in Tamil. After letting loose a spirited string of Tamil expletives, I proceeded to calmly comb my hair.

Try it. If you fly off into a rage, try using your non-dominant hand throughout the day. It may help calm you down. It could be simple things: stirring a cup of tea with your non-dominant hand, opening the car door, or brushing your teeth.

As for Ambujam-mami, she combed her hair all the way to the top of the queue. As for me, thanks to letting the mami pass ahead of me, I didn’t get a ticket to Kaaka Muttai and ended up going to Ganapathy Ram to watch Papanasam, another new and quite wonderful Tamil movie. Remade from the original and superb Malayalam movie, Drishyam, also forthcoming in Hindi, Papanasam features Kamal Haasan and Gowthami. It’s raining good Tamil movies. Just make sure you take some combs when you go to the movies—for anger management. PS: I watched Kaaka Muttai the following day.

Shoba Narayan favorite hair tool is a Mason Pearson nylon (not the boar bristle) brush.

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