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Chennai-Toronto express


Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil films have made him quite an online sensation.

Apart from the fact that he works in an IT company, there is nothing remotely Tamil about this young man. The 24-year-old Canadian, who looks like onesixth of a boy band, tries hard to make up for it though. Every now and then he tosses a cigarette into his mouth, rubs his neck with a chequered kerchief or grows a moustache that meets his stubble. This Toronto-based business analyst has even had marriage proposals flung his way by Chennai girls who do not know his real name. For them, his wannabe-Tamil actor alter-ego, 'Review Raja', is marriage material enough.

For about a year now Review Raja (who refuses to divulge his real name) has been posting video reviews of Tamil movies, in English. Each of his videos begins with a carefully crafted intro where Raja dons a costume in the style of the chosen film's protagonist's costume and enacts prominent bits of the storyline. His intention, he says, is not to ridicule, only to imitate. So, for instance, his review of Sivaji: The Boss begins with his mimicking Rajinikanth's dual avatar. His chocolateboy looks and rolled 'Rs' may interrupt his transition into Rajinikanth but his modulation compensates even as he moves to his verdict on the film.

Supposedly the only Caucasian video reviewer of Tamil movies, he stood out as an oddity right from the start. In a way, he's the reverse of fellow Canadian YouTube sensation, Wilbur Sargunaraj, a Tamilian who goes around the world unearthing weird cultural nuggets. Today, Raja's success - his Viswaroopam review got over 4 million views - transcends geography. He got mobbed both in Chennai, where he saw the opening show of Viswaroopam recently, and in Toronto, which has the world's fastest growing population of Tamils.

Raja's curious journey - he grew up in the small Canadian town of Belleville in Ontario - began when he realised that the difference between Hollywood and Kollywood was largely the question of hysteria. "A year ago, I had gone to watch the Ajith-starrer Billa with my friends," he says, and watching a theatre erupting in applause with whistling as soon as actor Ajith entered the screen changed his worldview. "I wanted to introduce Tamil cinema to the world," declares Raja now. But his online searches for reviews of Tamil films in English threw up very few results, so he enlisted the help of four Tamilian friends and started posting neatly crafted YouTube reviews every week. Raja watches every film with subtitles on the opening night itself and takes copious notes throughout. There are times when he does not understand some of the nuances and has to seek help from friends. For instance, Tamil jokes simply didn't seem funny in English but Raja has now grown to understand the comedic sensibilities of the south. "Comedian Santhanam is very verbal whereas Vadivel is more expression based," he says. The reviewer even has a Tamil Gangnam parody to his credit where he can be seen running toward Indian landmarks in Toronto as a Rajinikanth song aptly calls him "white Tamilian" , . He says he loves how "each actor comes with his own unique persona". In his world, if Tamil heroes had Hollywood counterparts, Kamal would be the versatile Harrison Ford, Ajith would be the calm, slick George Clooney, Vikram would be Johnny Depp as he takes on unique roles, while Vijay, the populist entertainer, is Jason Statham.

His friends, of course, think Review Raja is crazy but end up watching the latest Tamil films with him out of curiosity. "I have had several friends within the acting segment of my reviews, " he says, adding that getting them involved is one of the ways he tries to open their eyes to what he sees in the industry. "And I have an unbiased stance as far as actors and directors are concerned which makes my reviews very fair," adds Raja, who tends to downplay criticism in his reviews.

"He does not take sides and tends to sugar coat his criticism which is a good thing," says Coimbatorebased Prashanth, the first major Tamil film reviewer to do video reviews in Tamil. While vouching for the fact that there is no pretence to Review Raja and that he isn't doing it simply for money, Prashanth, who follows Raja's videos keenly, does admit that the Candian owes 60 per cent of his popularity to his reviewing skills, and 40 to his ability to entertain. "In the future, I would like him to come up as a hardcore reviewer," adds Prashanth.

Though his criticism may be subdued online, Raja is well aware of what ails Kollywood. "I do think that the industry does not need to always focus on the love plot as in depth as they do," he says, and adds that Tamil cinema tends to exaggerate emotions unnecessarily. Besides, many production houses, he feels, want to spend small amounts of money to increase their return on investment. He is relieved, however, that Tamil cinema is not obsessed with love-struck vampires, yet.

An unforeseen byproduct of his fame is that some of his international fans contact him to help them find jobs in Canada or to give them advice on college admissions there. But he's waiting for a different sort of call. From a casting director perhaps? "I would love to act in the Tamil industry," he says.

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