Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tamaar Padaar

Quite a few films suffer from a mysterious cinematic ailment called ‘Curse of the Second Half’, which practically means that a movie that floats around steadily with some promise in the initial phase rapidly nosedives in the second half – apparently, the director has a story in mind but is at his wit’s end on how to bring it to a grand finale and eventually, it takes the easy way out and embracing a conventional ending.

But there are also a few exceptions here – the ones that carry the rare disease of the ‘Curse of the First Half’ and ‘Tamaar Padaar’ is one such film. (Reminded me of Padmakumar’s Shikaar which had a limp 1st half but an engaging latter portion making me wonder whether the two halves of the movie were directed by two separate men, except ofcourse that TP doesn’t qualify as engaging by any stretch of imagination!).  Essentially, the First Half Curse movies have just a concept in mind but not the craft or the writing to create a 2 hour long drama with the script – so they move randomly sometimes aimlessly meandering (like in Tamaar Padaar) or like in a few others, playing safe and pandering to audience tastes till eventually the director wakes up and thrusts his vision (or lack of it) in front of our eyes. It must be told though that TP wakes up far too late to sustain any interest in its on-going drama.

In terms of a cinematic structure, the first half is entirely devoted to the shenanigans of two of its protagonists, Jumper Thambi (Baburaj) and Tubelight Mani (Chemban Vinod). Thambi is a solo circus performer attempting dare devil feats; he is a family man but lives a vagabond life and ventures to his family once a while. Mani is another street performer who is smitten with a prostitute, Valmsamma (Srinda Ashab) and tries to win her over into his meaningless existence. For about an hour or so, we are entreated to their story but the audience is left scratching their heads wondering what the fuss is all about. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear people walk out after the first half; this was clearly taking the audience for granted.

Is there a story waiting to be told? Are there any twists or turns around the corner? We are well and truly disappointed. There is absolutely nothing in the 1st half (except maybe a joke about celebrities getting away with animal slaughter) that keeps you even remotely engaged or tells you that the director has any tricks up his sleeve. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Prithviraj film or were we conned into paying to watch a guest appearance by the actor who has lately had a much more interesting selection of movies (with the exception of the disastrous London Bridge)? At the intermission, there is a small sigh of relief in the audience when he makes an appearance and a hope that the proceedings will show some life and thankfully they do (which of course isn’t really saying much considering the low benchmark set by the 1st half).

Post-interval, there is a bit more going in for TP, atleast when compared to the insipid first half. For starters, we know that there is a story waiting to be told and a slightly decent one too. It turns out that Dileesh Nair (the director) probably has in mind a black comedy dealing with bumbling cops, government officials, media, national security, capital punishment and what not instead of a ridiculous boring meandering caper of two street performers. In every sense of the word, Prithviraj is the hero of the movie as he literally rescues it and brings some sense of urgency to the plot or whatever is remaining of it.

Prithviraj is ACP Pouran who as a kid is inspired by the Suresh Gopi-blockbuster Commissioner to become a cop who will rid the city of evil, except ofcourse Bharath Chandran lived in another era where policemen ruled the city mercilessly while cynicism rules the current world. Pouran may be an IPS Officer but he isn’t the smartest of blokes and his attempts to do something substantial only result in failure. He goofs up while trying to nab the infamous Sukumara Kurup in a nice underplayed scene and paints himself a loser in the hands of the public when he stops a fleeing thief who apparently is accused of stealing 3 idlis!!! The disillusioned man makes blunders, including a major one involving Thambi and Mani, this is the turning point of the movie and he finally gets his redemption by sorting out the mess smartly.

It is fair to say that Pouran’s misadventures are far more entertaining than the lackadaisical events of Thambi and Mani. But it is far too late in the day to really redeem the movie that manages to successfully bury itself deep in a hole in the initial phase. I would have assumed that the movie has nothing to offer after a tepid beginning but the 2nd half progress makes me believe that the film could have worked a little if its structure were tweaked. Pauran’s story should have been the foundation of the plot interspersed with flashbacks of the vagabonds – this would have injected far more cohesion in the movie and connected the dots much better than crafting 2 halves which do not talk to each other. Of course, not to suggest that the movie would have emerged a winner by overhauling its flow but you could then presume that the creators atleast have the thread of a proper storyline which could be treated better in more capable hands.

One of the norms of movies that perceive themselves to be quirky is in the names of its characters and so the first check box is ticked by the script writer. But there isn’t really anything beyond that the script has to offer when it comes to the lives lived by Thambi and Mani. The day-to-day events in their existence do not really have any bearing on either their fate or that of the movie. Their characters do not really need any development that requires more than 60-75 mins of the screen space spent on that but the director is still more than happy to waste valuable time on it. Did the budding romance between Valsamma and Mani (including a song!) or the family life of Thambi mean anything at all to us?

Considering that these folks are hardly even present in the second half, why is there an attempt to create any emotional space for them? Isn’t it strange that the first half mainly deals with two persons and they are practically absent in most of the 2nd half. They may have just been two people whom we don’t even see and it would not have mattered even a bit. I don’t even want to refer to the silly scenes involving men visiting a temple in Kollam dressed as women or Thambi’s drinking binge or Mani’s goon friends. I, for one, am not able to figure out even remotely what was the idea behind the sloppy script and why Prithviraj would ever want to waste his time in such a movie which does not know what to say?

Nevertheless, even when he has a better grip of the storyline, Dileesh doesn’t appear to be sure as how to position the movie – as an absurd look at the system or an understated political satire. Prithviraj still manages to make you smile even when you feel a sense of disjointedness from the proceedings – like a scene where he goes to Thambi’s house after his arrest and it is only the way he handles it that injects some humour in it; something that works on screen but unlikely to have been funny on paper. For the kind of story that it eventually ends up being, I suppose it should have been treated as a wild over-the-top comedy (like Peruchazhi which should have been a satire instead) and it could have done better. There is a real lack of focus in what is to be shown and while there is a sense of relief that a story exists, it doesn’t really mean much – the cat has already bolted the door…

It does appear that the writers were trying to pull a con job on the poor audience (and maybe even Prithviraj) by making this movie and promoting this as a comedy (seriously?). Since Salt N’Pepper, Dileesh seems to moving rapidly downhill and TP underscores this in bold letters…

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bangalore Days

As the opening lines of Anjali Menon’s enchanting Bangalore Days tells you, Bangalore is the utopia every Malayali youngster wishes to escape to in search of his dreams, away from the sluggish pace of Kerala. Shyamaprasad did appear to sell a similar idea to us in a rather morbid and clichéd form in Rithu but Anjali Menon’s film is far more promising in its portrayal of the so-called Bangalore crowd, making the characters far more likeable and easy to relate to.

Family is a recurrence in Anjali’s works. In her own words – “Friends are the family we choose is a theme in the film – in this case they happen to be cousins”. With cousins, there is a blend of friendship and family bonding and the nostalgia of growing up together in Kerala but lo behold, as time flies, life takes a much serious turn because all of a sudden, you have grown up. Yes, I take it that the intensity of this bond diminishes rapidly later on in life unlike in movies, where such friendships are perpetually renewed.

Three youngsters with a world full of expectations arrive in the city - Krishnan PP urf Kuttan (Nivin Pauly) who lands a software job in the city, chirpy Divya (Nazriya Nazim) who bids goodbye to her MBA dreams to settle down with Das (Fahad Fazil) in Bangalore and the enigmatic wanderer Arjun (Dulquer Salman) who is a graffiti artist-cum-bike racer and wants to keep his past firmly behind him. Life takes its own diversions and they find their lives thrown out of gear in contrasting ways until these detours help them discover their destiny.

Love in the city comes in many forms – For the naive Kuttan, it is an ephemeral emotion through the seductive charm of an airhostess who breezes her way into his life high up in the skies only to bring him down crashing with a bleeding nose. That is a nice little piece of writing involved here when Meenakshi (Isha Talwar) appears in front of ‘Cute’ Kuttan just the way he wanted his dream girl to appear. He later on discovers, in his own words drunk in the intoxication of cola (the cola reference brought back college memories!), that Love is like Santa Claus – a chimera that people create desperately in hope.

For the carefree Arjun, it is in the mysterious form of a paraplegic radio jockey, Sarah, through whose voice he discovers the true joys of life. This relationship is captivating and chimes quietly in our hearts as they feel the pulse that brings light to their lives. At no moment, is there an attempt to underscore her handicap and when she ambulates in her wheelchair, clutching his hand, you know there is nothing more to say and that the man now knows what he wants in life ("I don't want to walk behind you, I want to walk beside you"). It is wonderful to see a confident, young woman whose disability is not thrust on your face – think again and you realize he needs her emotional support more than she does. A positive differently-abled protagonist – when did we last see that?

In Divya’s case, the stars never give her an opportunity to fall in love before marriage – it is something that she has to discover for herself in a marriage with a man who confesses his inability to forget his past. She is the extrovert girl next door who is bursting with energy while Das is the dour, workaholic private individual whose space is extremely sacrosanct – whether it is a room that is always locked or even his computer password that he doesn’t share. There are rare glimpses when he drops his stoic guard like when her window painting brings in the early morning colours but it is a cold relationship and he does not allow her to enter his private space. In contrast to the freedom that she enjoys in the company of her cousins, there is an almost claustrophobic feeling that engulfs her, as she tries to overcome the loneliness created by the vacuum of Das’ emotional absence in her life. When he asks her cousins what was her age when she tried to pull a fast one on her mother, it brought a smile to my face – I liked the way the subtle admonishment is conveyed, without spelling it out.

The title Bangalore Days is misleading – it does not invoke either the city or urban life or nostalgia associated with it; place the three folks anywhere else and you would still have the same impact. The city does not have a presence or a character of its own say unlike Trivandrum in Ee Adutha Kalathu or Kozhikode in Ustad Hotel but I suppose the landscape must be an attempt to break away from the traditional outlook of the past which Kerala appears to represent and what better than to locate the story in a city that represents a lot of Malayali aspirations. Unlike Anjali’s Manjadikuru and Ustad Hotel which looks at the youngsters as they trace their way back to their roots, Bangalore Days represents a progression away from their past. Considering that most movies create a beautiful nostalgic feel of Kerala, such an image exists here only in the computer images of one of the principal actors.

There is an attempt to crack stereotypes and maybe creating this movie in Bangalore gives the film maker the freedom not to be bound by the conservativeness of the state. I loved the way that Anjali allowed Kuttan’s parents to free themselves from bondage. His parents find their calling in different ways; this part is real hilarious and delivered in an absolute nonchalant way – a father who wants to breathe after suffocating for years in marriage and a mother who finally gets an opportunity to break free from the confines of a tiny village and enjoy the thrills of living in a city, with television, kitty parties, pranayama and all the vagaries that urban life can present. This segment could have fallen flat in its execution but is deftly adapted on screen; especially enjoyed the scene where Kuttan reads and re-reads his father’s letter – how a perspective can change lives! This could easily have wound up as a tragic set of events but thanks to Anjali’s script, this becomes refreshingly funny and manages to break the parental stereotype in Malayalam in more ways than I had ever imagined.

Essentially, every youth film revolves around discovering one’s true love or is a coming-of-age movie. To that extent, Bangalore Days does not deviate from this template. It is an out-and-out youth film but there are no candy floss moments that litter many juvenile romantic takes or that BINGO moment, when the hero wakes up to his responsibilities. Love is in the air but it seeps through gradually without being over-burdened by the exuberance of the youngsters. While the early 20s can be fun, as time grows and people go their own ways, the same thrill of being with friends and maybe even alone is replaced by that pensive feeling of being burdened by the need to be mature and responsible in life – as Divya and Arjun gradually realize with their life partners or Kuttan discovers in the transformation that his parents undergo.

With Nivin and Dulquer getting the best lines in the movie, there isn’t any doubt who the show stealers are. Nivin has the funniest moments in the film and reminded me of Saif in Dil Chahta Hai, with his impeccable sense of comic timing. You positively detest Fahadh in the first half but empathize with him later on – he is an enigma, always taking on the not-so-liked characters but still managing to stay with us – the man has a knack of selecting good roles! Nazriya, possibly in her last film, is the perfect fit for the vivacious Divya without overdoing it (you know the Kareena-types) but I was pretty impressed by Parvathi Menon’s mature performance. Despite this humongous star cast, I was pleasantly surprised by her arresting presence in the film (a future star alert!).

For all the breezy nature of the film, I felt that the writing was uneven and inconsistent at times. The seriousness that was vested in dealing with the relationships of Arjun and Divya are absent in Kuttan’s case – his illusionary balloon of love and relationships is burst and presented in a light-hearted way but there is no real culmination of his feelings. I felt that the writing appeared to juggle intermittently between a lighter side and serious side, a little unsure at times where to navigate to.

Das’ background story is significant and the way it is eventually dealt with it is nice but the past did have a cinematic feel. Maybe, slightly less dramatic and it would still have worked just as well. Sure, the cousins are close but I am still reluctant to accept the close proximity (especially physical) between them – that’s the kind of stuff that I have seen only in movies. Arjun has very little contact with his parents and no proper source of income but his appearances hardly reflect this – an almost Wake Up Sid moment that! At 173 minutes duration, this is a fairly long movie but truth be told, this isn't much of a problem. You could snip a few minutes here and there and the songs, trim some of the racing moments, but that’s all.

For a movie that sets out to be fun and entertaining, there isn't much more that you can ask for and looking at the audience trooping in large numbers at the theatres, Anjali Menon has definitely struck gold here…Do we have the Kerala equivalent of Dil Chahta Hai here finally?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Old Are You

Manju Warrier is back and how! Rosshan Andrrews' How Old Are You brings back Manju to the silver screen after a decade and half and one of Malayalam cinema’s most-loved actresses makes a spirited return as a middle-aged woman restoring her identity and finding new direction in life. This easily is one of the more anticipated movies this year and to that extent, there is a sense of mild nostalgia, coupled with a sense of satisfaction that her re-launch vehicle is the perfect one for the occasion.

How Old Are You (HOAY), follows the ‘boring’ middle-class life of Nirupama Rajeev (Manju Warrier), a 36-year old UD clerk in the revenue department. Her life comprises a run-of-the-mill government job which she has been doing for the past 15 years, her family and colleagues, after she settles down and adjusts herself to the reality of a post-marital life. Her husband Rajeev (Kunchacko Boban) who works with All India Radio, and her high school daughter Lakshmi (Amritha Anil), have big dreams in life and want to migrate to Ireland to carve a new life for them.

Like most women who have sacrificed a lot of their dreams for their family, Nirupama has also undergone a transformation. From Susan (Kaniha), Nirupama’s one-time friend and now a high flying private employee, we know that she was a fiery young woman during her college days, who invited the wrath of the college authorities and even police during her protests but never backed down. Her old teacher recollects that she had expected her to scale new heights and her college autograph book which she often reads out to her daughter is testimony to the accolades and expectations of her friends.

Again, like most women, while she may have sacrificed her dreams, it isn't something that her husband or daughter really appreciate. It is treated as a matter-of-fact thing that all women have to do and so she finds herself reduced to an embarrassment for them, who can be dispensed with– Rajeev feels that his wife is too intellectually-challenged to contribute or appreciate his work while Lakshmi doesn't think too highly of her mother’s caliber either.

It doesn't help that when situations arise where she can contribute, she panics and allows herself to be made an object of ridicule. She collapses when she plays badminton at her daughter’s school due to high BP or  faints when she goes to meet the President of India (Quiz Master Siddhartha Basu in a cameo), who sends her an invitation to have breakfast with, after he is impressed with one of questions asked by her daughter in school.

Bobby-Sanjay’s script hits a lot of right notes in observing and highlighting Nirupama’s dilemmas, even though they rush it up a bit in completing the orchestra. Nirupama’s boredom is not conveyed in her words – she troops in late to office or is untouched when she sends away a pensioner without getting his work resolved. A stand-out scene is where Nirupama visits an old woman (Sethulakshmi) whom she meets every day in bus. They don't even know each other’s names but one day Nirupama turns up at her house when she knows she is sick. When the old woman talks of her loneliness, she probably imagines sees herself in that situation years later. Another that comes to the mind is the sharp exchange between the couple when Rajeev returns to take her to Ireland because they are unable to manage without her– she tells him to expect from her only what was given to her and she cannot be a free backup for a maid.

What works for HOAY primarily is the fact that as an audience, we can easily relate to the happenings on the screen. Nirupama’s travails in life are not just hers but also that of many women who have given up a lot of their dreams, to build a safe nest for their family. It is a grossly under-appreciated role that she plays in our lives but which we take for granted. She may not be the principal bread-winner but hers is a silent invisible presence that ensures that we can go about in our lives, without being too concerned of what happens at home. As Nirupama says, the price of vegetables may be an irrelevant topic of discussion but it is important to her; if one day, there is extra spice in her husband’s food, the same innocuous food would become a matter of concern.

While the first half underscores her issues in life, there is an entertaining but ambling flow in these trivialities. The entire Meet-the-President routine is genuinely funny, especially her mother-in-law’s innocent queries on the nature of the meeting, her attempts to cash-in on her new-found celebrity status to make others’ jealous, her dazed sojourn into the Presidential suite and finally her collapse after the President greets her.  Amidst all these funny moments, there is also the heartburn of realizing how little respect she commands in the eyes of her father and teenage daughter.

The second half, however, goes a bit more pedantic and eventually HOAY becomes a nice feel-good film, with a liberal dosage of cinematic moments that are not very convincing. The transformation into a more confident women is fine but the events around her gallop more briskly than you’d accept and while this ensures that the scripts keeps a fast pace, it does leave one asking for more credibility in the rapid turn of events.  While she makes a spirited speech for organic vegetables in an Architects’ conference and the Minister is more than impressed to offer her the stewardship to run such a campaign across the state, there isn't anything shown to convey her ability to manage any of this.  Also, it isn't as if Kerala hasn't really heard of either organic vegetables or terrace farming, so the reaction of the people around her goes rather overboard.

Manju Warrier easily seeps into the character of Nirupama who has lost her individuality and self-confidence as she struggles to juggle between a teenage daughter and a husband who takes her for granted. Her makeup however is a bit more conspicuous and never for a moment, do you actually see a freckled or worn-out Nirupama – would appear that Manju was peeping out of the screen sometimes, instead of Nirupama.

Manju retains a lot of her impish charm that won over many hearts in Kerala and she is the heart and soul of the movie. She remains Malayalam cinema’s favourite actress and the audience is sure to warm up to her performance as she tugs at our heart strings. Her moments of despair, her meekness and self-doubt are all experienced by us too but it begs a question as to whether parts of this film actually mirror her real life! When Susan asks her where her confident old self has gone, it does appear that this is a question that is being asked to the real and not reel Manju Warrier.

It is a pleasant surprise to see Kunchacko Boban appearing as a proper MCP husband who is over-shadowed entirely by the charming Manju.  There might be a few who might think that Rosshan should have cast someone who looks a bit more elder to her but that looks like a conditioned response by the audience (would appear that the dialogue where an elder woman in the bus asks her if Rajeev is her brother was inserted in anticipation of such an observation). Eventually, there is a bit of a cop out because while he uses her at every juncture (when his car meets with an accident or when he emotionally blackmails her to come to Ireland), there is no scene indicating his final acceptance or understanding of her position in the family. I would have been happy to see the writers give enough space where she is able to communicate her dreams to both her husband and her daughter and they are able to see it.

Thematically, HOAY bears a strong resemblance to Sridevi’s English Vinglish, in terms of a woman’s struggle to assert her identity, amidst a family that under-values her.  But that’s where the similarity ends and this is by no means an ‘inspired’ work – each woman brings to the fore her own efforts to recognize and make her own way through her inner conflicts. You could call it a women-centric film but then the thought pre-supposes that gender rights and equality are topics relevant only to one gender. Yes, the thrust is on women but the rights of both partners matter and her final decision to stay back and work is a courageous decision that is conveyed with brevity. Personally, I think this is a movie you must go along with your wife and not just alone; there are a few moments that every family will relate to.

As a woman, she has never questioned the status-quo and her position in the family but when faced with a real opportunity to come out of her cocoon and excel, she fumbles initially but recovers thanks to the support from multiple quarters and emerges a stronger woman. The question How Old Are You is no longer relevant now…

Thursday, May 15, 2014

God's Own Country

The phrase God's Own Country is probably Kerala’s most successful tagline. Our chests swell in pride (not the 56’ one) at the successful marketing of the state’s natural beauty but privately many smirk at how a naturally endowed state has become a laggard, especially when compared to our immediate hard working neighbour. As a protagonist remarks in the movie which goes by the same name, Kerala was not coined as God's Own Country by the Gods but by fellow humans!

Considering that hyperlink movies have made a splash in new generation Malayalam cinema, it isn't surprising that many directors are attracted to this kind of story- telling. Here the focus is inevitably more on the narrative devices instead of say the emotional or melodrama moments that drives the plot in most movies. The obsession for the narrative obfuscates the real plot many a times but thankfully, Vasudev Sanal’s God's Own Country manages a fine balance because it has fairly well-defined plot lines that intersect at times but are very capable of standing as independent credible tales that take their own routes.

Fahadh Faasil is Manu Krishna, a Dubai-based NRI. He lands in Kochi with his baby daughter to pay the blood money that would rescue his wife Asha (Isha Talwar), who is in a Dubai prison after a car accident. Manu is supported by his writer-friend Abhirami (Mythili) to get the deal done but it all goes topsy-turvy when the money goes missing. The hapless husband with his crying baby and his friend spend the entire day attempting to recover this money.

Sreenivasan is Public Prosecutor Mathen Tharakan who is in charge of a sensational rape case of a minor (whose name is used freely in all public utterances despite the obvious fact this is not allowed in India) that has shaken the conscience of the State. Nandu as Ettumanoor MLA Vakkachan is one of the prime accused and Mathen enlists the support of Vakkachan’s wife Serena (Lena) to give crucial evidence that will nail her husband. It isn’t the easiest of things to do and the plot focuses on the day when Mathen smartly smuggles Serena out of her house and take her to court.

Lal appears as a taxi driver Mohammed who desperately needs six lakhs for the operation of his daughter. The surgery needs to be arranged the same day otherwise the hospital would discharge her; with no help in hand, he looks at the fastest way to raise money for the treatment, in this eventful day in all their lives.

Despite the presence of multiple threads in GOC, the script does not waver and sticks to its course, with very few roadblocks. The script is backed by solid performances, extending to the large supporting cast who have minor but important roles to play, whether it is the Tamilian lottery seller, the honest auto-driver and his partner, the gangster duo of Arjun and Zakeer or the cops.

GOC traces its DNA to Passenger and Traffic in the way the movie is shot and its attempt to weave a larger social picture to the happenings. At times, the attempt to provide social commentary is all too evident but thankfully, it doesn't act as a party pooper on too many occasions (except like when it brings in the licentious book publisher). Like most ‘social-cinema’, the screenplay has a soft corner for the under-privileged who comes off with much more credibility than the high and the mighty. The Tamilian lottery seller is looked down with contempt and suspicion but he turns out to be the most trustworthy and helpful man in the situation. The prostitute and auto-driver are traditionally the characters with golden hearts and they are no exception here but they manage to pull off their parts well, without necessarily fitting into this stereotype.

I am not too sure whether the idea of three protagonists, all of different religions was done deliberate but maybe it fits along with the overall social image of the film (Also interesting is that the actors who played these three roles are also of different religions themselves). Some of the social communication is deftly conveyed with brevity like the absence of family support for Manu/Asha because of their inter-religious marriage (Ummachi kuttiye  Nair kettiyathu cinemayil kandappol ellavarum kayiadichu pakshe jeevithathil aayappol... – a nod to the presence of Isha Talwar in the movie), spending patterns of the average Keralite and the growing mistrust towards migrant workers while some messages are packaged more explicitly (even if less effective) like land re-settlement issues or the road accident menace in the state.

What unsettled me at a few points in the movie was the refusal of the director to underplay any of the scenes in the film. Take Abhirami’s accident scene which in her elaborate slow-motion tumble appeared rather grotesque – the impact of the scene is a lot bloodier than I think the director must have wanted to show. Or say when Mathen talks of the rape of the minor girl; there isn't really a need to show that the crime was done by focussing on her expressions and the bare backs of the men repeatedly coming in (though the scene was pretty brief). The point is that the rape is not the main theme of the movie and showing its cruelty is not relevant to the movie then the why the need to shoot the scene in that fashion.

Yes, this is a multi-narrative thriller and so all the links are not clear at the very beginning but over a period of time, as the story slowly unravels, the dots are all joined. But the director wants to be doubly sure that the audience doesn't really miss out on the connections and so there are deliberate explanations done – almost a kind of baby feeding that isn't really needed. Like when Mathen escapes by driving the car along the police station; the next shot of a muddy road behind the station clearly suggests how they escaped, then why the need for a slow motion explicitly showing the escape. Similarly, slow motion frames which show how the bag is stolen from Abhirami’s car or eventually returns to Manu’s hands could have been avoided.

For a film that did not intend to showcase Fahadh Faasil’s macho-presence on the screen, I was a little puzzled when the director filmed elaborate action sequences instead of quick encounters that would have produced the same effect. His fights with the money carriers and agents walking straight into their den was out of place while the final sequence with one of the henchmen (with a poor baby in hand) was way over the top. After all this, when Manu showers currency notes from the top of the building for the agitators below, I wasn't quite able to fathom the reason for this action.

GOC has 2-3 songs which do not distract from the flow, but the BGM disappoints and it is pretty loud at times. It scores in its well-orchestrated action scenes like Zakir’s chase scene and subsequent fight with the other goons but the same thing comes unstuck when it is done by Manu. The ending struck a mild false note, in my opinion. Considering that their family and friends had abandoned them after the accident that happened with the friends around after a New Year cocktail party, the final shot of them celebrating in another party did give a sense of déjà vu – a quieter gathering would have been more reassuring.

In all fairness, most of this criticism is not a deal breaker but what could have taken the movie a notch higher. The debutante scriptwriters Arun Gopinath, Anish Francis and Praveen have succeeded in making the movie a workable, edge of the seat thriller with the right dosage of social messaging that helps its cause. It might be overdone slightly at times but at the end of the day if the movie is trimmed by around say 15 mins, it is a fine effort alright…

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Left Right Left

Man is part DNA, part unknown and part what he sees and goes through as a child – this message that rolls out in the opening credits forms the core philosophy in Arun Kumar Arvind-Murali Gopy’s fabulous political narrative that sketches the lives of three individuals, with the backdrop of Kerala’s red landscape. The duo take-off from where they left in Ee Adutha Kaalathu but this is a vastly different film and will surprise anyone who enters the theatre keeping EAK in mind.

The movie traces three men who grow up with a sense of loss, death and bitterness as each of them carves out his own path. One becomes a fire-brand Marxist leader Kaitheri Sahadevan (Hareesh Peeradi), another becomes an idealistic true Leftist ‘Che Guevera’ Roy Joseph (Murali Gopy – assuming true comrades exist outside cinema!) while the last one becomes an unscrupulous cop ‘Vattu’ Jayan (Indarjith) who cares two hoots about any ideology. They are bound together by the viciousness of the politics of the land that swallows them.

Sahadevan has seen his father and uncle slain by oppressors and has grown cold-hearted as a fiery leader in the RPM. He is convinced that the way ahead is not to fight capitalism but embrace it whole-heartedly (Boorshe jayikkan boorsha aayittu kaaryam illa; boorshayude achan aavanum). He isn't a villain in the truest of sense – when Jayan visits him to have his job back, there is no petty vengeance (paavam police puzhua, vittayikku), no insult, no big dialogues, just a matter-of-fact instruction on what is needed - an apology to the cadres. His loyalty is towards the party and it is the support of the party and its workers that give him the legitimacy to become one among its topmost leaders. It is another matter that despite Sahadevan being one among the three man characters in the story, LRL does not give us an opportunity to know him personally - it is as if the man never existed outside his political attire. Unfortunately, it robs him of the empathy that an audience could have felt for a principal character who is this way because of what he has gone through.

Roy Joseph may have been a ‘Che Guevera’ Roy once but he’s a much chastened communist ideologue now who still has faith in the communist cause. He agrees that the RPM has its faults nevertheless; it is the only true voice of the Left in the State and so he is not willing to shake its roots even when needed. He is naive enough to think that the party can weed out its deficiencies and grow but for those in the party, he is merely comrade Varghese’s son who is out of touch with the ground realities of politics. The brutal world of campus violence incapacitates him, leaving him with just his conscience to stand up for. This probably explains why during these later years, he is more inclined to speak a Gandhian language of compromise than a Che Guevera form of resistance against the leadership. It is ironic and symbolic that it is his left side that is incapacitated in this struggle to stand up for the cause that he believes in!

Jayan’s childhood experience when he loses his sister convinces him that to live in this unjust world, one needs money and has to be a policeman and he eventually becomes a madcap cop. He is a product of a much later era and has no faith in politics of any kind and is stupefied that Anitha (Lena) whom he considers has his sister would marry an incapacitated man like Roy. He is obsessed with a manipulative young nurse Jennifer (Remya Nambeesan) who is fleeing from an abusive husband. For all his brutal ways, the closest people in his lives are all women – his mother, Anitha and Jennifer. The angry young man has a soft confused side that he allows only the audience to see and you root for him, despite his shortfalls.

LRL is a lament on the fall of the Left from its presence as the party with a difference and the conscious-keeper of the state. The party has abandoned its old principles and is willing to bed the same bourgeoisie that it had loathed at one point of time. It brooks no dissent and has been reduced to just another political party whose aim is only to secure power – the end justifies its means. While the movie does not explicitly take sides, it blames a lot of the violence and bloodshed of the era to differences within the Left groups of the state itself and by doing that, it kind of absolves the other parties of their role in the polarized world of Kerala politics. For a movie that is so deeply entrenched in politics, I suppose it is difficult for the film-makers to be fence-sitters and be non-partisan. The writing is anti-Communist but am more inclined to look at as an expression of anguish and bitterness of a lost hope rather than critical of the movement perse.

More than the script what makes the movie memorable is the presence of real flesh and blood characters who remain in your mind for a long time. It isn’t just the three lead characters but the supporting cast, especially the long-suffering women, who carve a niche for themselves in the film. Whether it is Anita who has sacrificed a more comfortable life to be Roy’s soul-mate, Jayan’s mother who stands tall and bold despite facing turbulent situations in life, Jennifer who uses Jayan to escape from an abusive husband or Deepa (Anushree) who has to bear the brunt of her husband’s decision to expose Sahadevan, all of them are strong women characters capable of holding their own. As Anitha says towards the end, these fighting women ‘..are the real communists, We are brave, we are alone’.

The emotional landscape is harsh and unforgiving but there is tenderness in the relationships that unfold. For all the recklessness of Jayan, he shares a warm relationship with his mother – the emotions are not expressed but deep down you know that there is deep bond that binds them. Roy and Anitha have a difficult life as an idealistic couple but they carry each other in all situations, acting as shade to each other’s problems. It is an atypical political film – it is the individuals that matter, the demagogues are not archetypal villains but products of their experiences. 

In a movie that draws too many parallels from real life, there are bound to be questions as to the extent to which it borders reality. It escapes no one that VS and Pinnarayi are two leaders who are shown in the movie and neither of them comes across with a clean slate (especially Sahadevan as Pinnarayi is too close to real life). While Sahadevan is shown as being driven by the urge to secure power at any costs, SR uses the corruption allegations leveled to merely settle scores with Sahadevan and the one who suffers are the poor whistle-blowers. The character of Roy is also possibly inspired by the brave Simon Britto but with such similarities, is it ok to fictionalize events and show the Lefties as the villains while being silent on the role of the other parties?

One area where LRL succumbs is its temptation to act as a mirror to too many evils around us. This works at times like when it exposes the myopic nature of media stories as it stumbles from a high-profile corruption case to a murder case within a span of a few hours (urumbu chathal thavala chaavum vare, thavala chathal paambu chavum vare, paambu chathal parunth chavum vare) but Suraaj Venjaramoodu and his mythology serials add no value to the proceedings. Roy and Anitha may be ‘yathaartha’ communists but does it have to be at the expense of showing the doctor as a contrasting character, who earns in crores? Ahmed Sidhique (of KT Mirash fame) as the travel agent also only serves the purpose of raising laughs.

If I were to zoom at that one specific scene (s) that hooked me totally, it has to be the conversation between Sahadevan and Roy near a remote tea stall on the highway.  It is a well-composed sequence which begins with a long shot of cars moving and a figure of a solitary man trying to stop the convoy. What follows is a long, drawn out conversation, accentuated by a throbbing BGM as Sahadevan passionately extols the reason to think beyond communist ideals in order to survive in this tough world. Haresh Peeradi sparkles in this tete-a-tete (rather a monologue); he believes in a pragmatic philosophy (Idathu kaalu kondu panthadikkanamenkil valathu kaalil nilkkanam) where the passive communist resistance of Roy has no relevance. As a scene, I think it goes beyond what must have been written on paper and makes you feel more intensely involved with it.

The climax of the film also is filmed unusually as it blacks out the final assassination that culminates the proceedings. The murder isn't unexpected but the way it is shot, you are left asking for more. This finale is presented merely as a political murder, simply eliminating the emotional outage that the audience could experience with the death of a lead character. Jayan achieves a sense of redemption and happily traces his path to the gallows while life goes on for the people who survive the impact of those last few days. Even as he seeks his redemption, it is worth asking whether the killing really achieves anything concrete or whether even in this salvation, he merely ends being a pawn in the hands of the party cadres who are inimical to the leader!

LRL is a movie bursting with very powerful acting performances and Indrajith as 'Vattu' Jayan leads the pack with a bristling performance as the audacious cop who's taken for a ride. Hareesh Peeradi is a surprise element as he muscles his way through with minimum effort, even though he has a few scenes only to make a presence felt (the dialogues and BGM also contributed immensely in his performance). Lena continues to shine in new age cinema with the the various roles that she performs but the real surprise performance of the film comes from Sethulakshmi as Jayan’s mother, as she buries her grief and accepts the realities of her distressed life as a strong brave women. Take the scene how spontaneously dead pan she reacts to Jayan’s query after he weeps his tears and emerges from the bathroom.

Murali Gopy has come a long way from Rasikan and after EAK and LRL, there isn't an iota of doubt that Malayalam cinema has found a scriptwriter to reckon with. I found his performance in EAK a little over the top but he has an assured and quiet presence here – the actor in him is here to stay while Gopi Sundar also exploits his singing skills in his rousing rendition of the stunning viplava LRL anthem, Kaal Kuzhanju. The film would have not had the kind of tremendous impact that it has now, without Gopi Sundar’s outstanding BGM score (especially loved the note that accompanies Sahadevan whenever he enters the scene).

You may question the intention of the film-maker who does not mince words in his criticism of the Left but then I suppose why should the intention of the director matter anyway? Aren't our perceptions also clouded by our preferences, then why demand neutrality from an auteur? He has put in his perspective and it is definitely works for me. Left Right Left is an intensely political movie and it is impossible to look at the characters without viewing them through their political affiliations. Nevertheless, like the other famous Red Movie Lal Salaam, LRL deals first and foremost with individuals and not politics. You can replace the Communist Party with the Right or the Congress and still tell the same story but there is a sense of nostalgia and lament that Keralites associate with the Left which no other party enjoys….

Tail piece: It appears that there is an unofficial ban on the screening of LRL in parts of Kerala, especially the Malabar region. The movie has been taken off after a couple of weeks in quite a few places in North Kerala despite strong word-of-mouth publicity and critical buzz surrounding it. While there hasn't been any protest of any sort against the film, there are rumours of the possible role of the Left parties in arm-twisting theatre owners into taking the movie out of theatres.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Time is a ubiquitous presence in Alphonse Putharen’s delightful romantic entertainer Neram.  A sand clock constantly appears on the screen telling you how a young man Mathew (Nivin Pauly) is in a race against time to save himself from all kinds of disasters, battling among others a loan shark, a lousy cop and a gluttonous brother-in-law. It also represents the good and bad times in life as Mathew keeps sinking into quick sand as the difficulties start mounting.

It kicks off with the butterfly effect coming into play when a top boss’ bout of flatulence in US renders Mathew unemployed in a company in Chennai. Needing to finance his sister’s wedding, Mathew and his friend John (Wilson Joseph) turn to ‘Vatti’ Raja (Simhaa), a money lender thug. He has four months to repay the money or face the inevitable. Four months pass by and the fiscal situation goes from bad to worse, shown nicely in a series of shots that begins with him travelling in a car to eventually going by bus.

At the same time, his unemployed status prompts his girl friend Jeena’s (Nazriya Nazeem) father Johnnykutty Kalathilparambil (Lalu Alex) to call off their marriage plans. His brother-in-law (Joju George) also demands the remaining amount of his dowry money to start a new business and so when the D-day starts, all these problems come to a head – it is the last day of the loan repayment; Jeena leaves her home to be with Mathew and the cops are after him and his brother-in-law lands in Chennai to collect his money.

Romantic comedies, steeped in unemployment, were a favourite theme in Malayalam cinema in the 80s till they ran out of silly jokes and superstar movies took over. There is a reference to the best of those movies when Mathew quips that this was the place Dasan and Vijayan had landed, when headed for Dubai. But the modern era demands more irreverence and so this is essentially a Guy Ritchie meets Sathyan Anthikkad set in Chennai, with the new age sensibilities that have made Tamil cinema so popular and topical in the last decade. And yes, there is a nod to Taranatino, the poster boy of unconventional cinema as the opening credits says - I steal from every movie ever made.

Mathew and Jeena form a cute couple and their strand of romance forms a very small portion but is enjoyable. They are at school together but Cupid strikes much later - as Mathew says cherupathil bhangi illatha pembalar valithu aavumbol udakkatha bhangi aayirikim. Jeena is courageous and independent enough to take her own decisions unlike Mathew who is the laid-back guy, with no plan in tow. When she’s about to leave her house, he asks her to think again because it is the most critical decision in her life and she should not regret it but all she that says that she will wait for him near the bus stand. 

The film tagline states - yathoru pratyekathayum illatha malayalathile aadya chitram. This must be a statement of anticipatory bail from the director but you’d have to admit that for Malayalam, it is an unusual structure and serves as a perfect time-pass. You have a pretty couple, a bright supporting cast, peppy-music, great camera work, lots of humorous scenes and dialogues and a fluid thriller with irreverent jokes – can’t ask for more from a movie that wants to entertain. Nevertheless, there are passages when you expect to be funny but nothing happens and you wonder if you missed out on something.

It is a short movie but even then it is a little stretched and after some time, the repeated slow-motion sequences start to get annoying. Repetition of scenes through multiple viewpoints also looks to be a duplication of efforts that don’t add any value. Past sequences through flashbacks are repeated far too often in slow motion and so the impact is not as expected. I left the theatre thinking that it could have been so much funnier than it eventually turned out to be.

In keeping with the trend of new age multi-linear narrations that have caught the fancy of film makers in the South, Neram pieces across scenes sporadically even though there is one major story that goes on. The supporting cast has a more arresting presence in the movie and it helps that there a lot of newcomers who build a good team. It is inevitable that such movies have a lot of side characters who have a larger say in the scheme of things than the main players. Unusual names or nick-names often mask the real ones and so we have a Vatti Raja, Ukken Tintu, Lighthouse (because he’s tall?), Kaalan, Ray Ban etc here.

This large colourful supporting brigade fit into the narrative well and steals the show from the lead duo. Vatti Raja and his two henchmen – Karuppu and Vellai – form an odd ball gang with their jokes, especially the one on touch screen phones being expensive but without any buttons. The poor fellas also are indebted to their boss and will marry only after they repay him. Manikkunju, brother of a bigwig Ray Ban (Manoj K Jayan), calls himself Manik and prefers to converse in English, with mixed results (the humour here works and does not use the cliché of the ‘Mallu’ English accent). Manoj K Jayan plays a cameo at the end and steals the show his overbearing personality insisting on singing Harimuraleeravam as a lullaby for his brother in the hospital; his conversation with Mathew on his academic qualifications and his company name also raises laughs.

Shammi Thilakan is SI Ukken Tintu, a sub-inspector fond of Carnatic music and his dialogues are interspersed with references to it. He is a cop alright but his name lets him down and he is stuck in a dilapidated police station which is being painted for a few days now, leaving very little space for him to run the station. His encounter with Johnykutty as he comes to the Mandaiveli police station or when he rounds up the suspects in the area has to be mentioned. Mathew’s brother-in-law has no role so as to say and his presence does not actually make a difference except add a couple more funny scenes like the one when Mathew and John cough up whatever pennies they have to pay up the hotel bill.

There is a certain eye to detail and an attempt at symbolism too though some of it might act as a distraction. Take for instance, the repeated shot of buffalos when an auto bangs into one of the characters and he dies; was there an intention to forewarn us hinting at Yama’s vehicle? I reckon Johnykutty’s irritation at finding the police station name wrong was to show a man with less patience and he adds on to it by repeatedly calling up SI Tintu on his mobile, asking about his daughter’s whereabouts. It must be apt that even in the midst of this humdrum, you have a world-cinema instructor in this midst talking about Citizen Kane and Seven Samurai – must be the first time that you had such a profession being shown in a mainstream movie!

Special mention of Rajesh Murugesan’s music and Anand Chandran’s cinematography in the movie; the hugely successful boisterous Pistha song that went viral is used to good effect in the action and chase sequences and the background music creates the mood well. BGM wasn’t one of our strengths but new generation cinema has incorporated this aspect nicely in movies.  

I hesitate to call Neram a romantic thriller because there isn’t sufficient tension, especially towards the end to justify this tag. The finale has far too many co-incidences and is not gripping enough and the irreverence quotient removes the thriller portion of it. Not to suggest that the director chickens out but the attempt at humour drowns out whatever tension that could have existed in the movie. This would have been fine if the jokes had sufficient meat to stand on their own but they don’t always, so there is a missing factor there. But at the end of the say, it sets out to be an entertainer and it definitely scores on that front and yes, these are good times to be a Malayali film viewer too…

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez - 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


After the success of Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic, there have been a host of movies that have tried to replicate the success of multiple narratives but very few have been able to strike a proper balance, an exception like Ee Adutha Kaalathu notwithstanding. So, it is with discernible apprehension that I approached debutante director Sunil Ibrahim’s Chapters only to be surprised by a taut well-structured movie that holds your attention.

The film is structured in the form of four chapters telling different stories but interlinked through a few characters. The narrative is spread over a period of two days and a night when these multiple characters cross each other’s paths, in seemingly unrelated ways. While these are stories that intersect at different points in the movie, it does not entirely follow the standard patterns of hyperlink cinema like going back and forth in time or jumping between the beginning and end. To a certain extent, there is a linear progression in the story, so it is devoid of many standard gimmicks (or techniques whichever way you see them) that you see in these movies.

The first chapter talks about four unemployed friends, Krishna Kumar (Nivin Pauly), Anwar (Hemanth Menon), Joby (Vijeesh) and Kannan (Dhananjay), who are struggling to get a decent break in life. There is anxiety in Krishna Kumar’s family where the son is unemployed, daughter is unmarried and the father (Sadiq) is a Gulf-returnee who has not been able to save enough with his overseas job. None of the friends are in a position to help and are just as desperate. Frustration is in the air and quick money is the need.

Finally, they arrive at an exotic plan to make money for Krishna Kumar’s sister’s wedding and it goes along smoothly till the very end when the plan goes all awry. It is an air tight plan; everything is checked and finalized but the man who holds the key to its execution, Chandrappan (Pattambi Manikandan) disappears at the critical moment leaving them high and dry. The promised dream evaporates in thin air and there are left holding only lost aspirations that count for nothing and as if that was not good enough, it ends in an O Henry-like finale which defeats the entire purpose of the plan. It must have been a better idea if the group were hunting for something less exotic than a Naga-Manikyam to make the entire search more believable. The very mention of such a stone and it being located so easily makes you believe that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Chapter Two shifts to Sethu (Sreenivasan), an employee at a travel agency, who is waiting for the last bus to town. Clearly, not in the best of spirits, he is joined by an old lady (KPAC Lalitha) and they strike up a conversation during the journey. Both are beseeched besieged (as pointed out by Anu in the comments) by parental woes – she reveals that she is headed to the town to meet her son who is in jail while he is carrying cash to go to the hospital, where his son awaits a surgery.

There is a palpable sense of suspicion in their minds and you are not entirely sure as to whether they are both telling the truth. Neither seems entirely convincing and the camera and quiet BGM adds to the suspicion. Sethu’s face darkens when he sees a set of cops enter the bus but he meekly explains it as a fear of them questioning about his money. Along with the late night crowd, there are also a couple of mysterious characters whose body language suggests that there is something amiss. This is the most ambiguous section in the movie and it plays on in our mind with our attention wavering on the various characters who board the bus. The quieter narrative also keeps you wondering if there is something that will spring into the frame from somewhere.

Chapter Three focuses on six youngsters – Arun (Vineeth Kumar), Vinod (Shine), Kaanu (Aju Varghese), Jincy (Riya Saira), Shyam (Rejith Menon) and Priya (Gauthami Nair). They are headed to a hill station to register the marriage of Shyam and Priya, who have eloped. Vinod is Arun’s friend and is rechristened by Arun as Choonda and introduced to the group as a criminal in parole. His looks and criminal past is meant to ensure that the plan goes smoothly without any hindrance.

Choonda’s rugged and uncouth looks ensures that he plays his part well in taking care of the obstacles that they face during the journey. In the midst of all the reverie surrounding the trip, they take a break to catch fresh air, only to return and find a body in the car. In the ensuing melee surrounding the attempts to dispose the body, the group is separated.

In the fourth and final chapter, we see an anxious Annie (Lena) by her son’s bedside in the hospital awaiting her husband’s (Sreenivasan) arrival. Their marriage is an inter-religious one and the couple is struggling with his meager income and no family support, while trying to handle their son’s illness. She is surprised when he arrives with the money needed for the surgery but convinces her husband that the money that he has brought is best returned.

As the final chapter comes to a close, the truth is revealed. Nothing very dramatic has happened and things, to an extent, return to a sense of status quo as at the beginning of the movie. But in the interim two hours, their lives have all changed profoundly in some way or the other. Families have re-united and friendship remains intact while a couple starts a new journey.

Multiple narratives face the challenge of dealing with a large number of characters across myriad locations and these need to be connected some way or the other. Sometimes, the stories are far too many to give it a proper coherent workable structure, like Lijin Jose’s Friday. Or the script is unable to do justice to a stellar star cast and gets bogged down by its needs like in Salam Bappu’s Red Wine.

‘Chapters’ succeeds primarily because three stories (not four) come together seamlessly, without any forced attempts to join them. The structure of the plot is interesting – chapters 1 and 3 are deeply intertwined at one end and 2 and 4 at the other end. These two main plots are intermittently linked by a couple of characters and small devices in the plot – like when Jincy says that she’s booked rooms for the trip, a little later Sethu mentions four rooms being booked. Or KPAC walks out of the bus and hands over a bagful of money to the people in the same car that had come to meet the boys in the first chapter.

It may be a multi-linear narrative but each of the chapters can stand independently except to a certain extent the last one which primarily serves to join the dots. While all the principal characters are actively involved in the drama, KPAC’s character who has a pivotal role in the second story stands out as an odd presence as she does not figure in the overall scheme of things. There are also a couple of scenes which do not totally jell in the script like when there is an apparent attempt to mislead the audience in thinking that the parents are embarrassed by their son’s actions at the end of the first story or when the group of youngsters get into a tussle with another group and Choonda comes to the rescue, as if to explicitly explain to us why he was needed in the story.

While there is no over-riding theme that connects the stories, there is an underlying presence of parental trepidation that comes across in all the stories. A father who hopes that his son will take up responsibilities in life, a mother who yearns to meet her son and give him a life, parental shock at seeing one of their children eloping quietly and another frantically trying to raise money for their son’s treatment (after in turn marrying against parental wishes).

What stands out other than the obvious screenplay of Sunil Ibrahim that serves to link these four episodes is the music by Mejo Joseph. It has a quiet moving effect and brings a certain leisurely pace to the screen, especially in the second story featuring Sethu and the old lady. The 2 songs could have been avoided and add no value to the movie, though.

It is nice to see a set of young men and women come together and put up such a convincing show. This isn’t restricted to the acting department alone and the entire conceptualization was brought about by a young team. Chapters has been produced by Shafeer Sait in conjunction with CampusOaks which is an entertainment company, driven by students of the 1995 batch of NSS Engineering College, Palakkad. Watch out for Sunil Ibrahim and Campus Oaks’ ventures in future – there is another talent in the horizon….

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez: