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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top 20 Malayalam Film Songs of 2016: A Compilation

As 2016 comes to a close, there are familiar rumblings in the Malayalam film world about new film releases with the distributors, producers and theatre owners slugging it out leading to no releases on a Christmas weekend! This is a familiar scenario for Malayalam cinema buffs but let’s hope this perennial bickering gives way to new releases waiting to hit the road, for an industry which has perked up a bit recently in the mainstream space. Meanwhile, I decided to spend time to look at the audio tracks this year and see how they stack up.

*** Before I start, just a quick disclaimer - I lend a keen ear to Malayalam songs but have no knowledge of music in any way, so this is just my personal favourite listing of the top 20 tracks of films released in 2016. Also, I have tried to condense the selection to only one song per film to cover a larger breath of the audio scene this year.

2015 was a fabulous year for Malayalam music with the likes of Premam, Ennum Ninte Moideen and Charlie but I cannot really place any track this year as that real outstanding stand out album that would have kept me glued for a long time. This is not to suggest that we did not have great music this year but in comparison to last year, I think this list definitely falls short. The large pool of musicians and singers has also democratized the audio scene to a great extent, so the sounds you hear are quite numerous and varying in nature. While the earlier generations have hibernated, P Jayachandran and MG Sreekumar still managed to make an impact this year, as the new generation stayed on top. Curiously, last year’s topper – Bijibal, who started with the fantastic ‘Maheshinte Prathikaaram’ went quiet after that and had a very limited presence and Shaan Rahman was probably the winner this year with 3-4 tracks topping the charts. Also, despite Vijay Yesudas’ excellent year last year, there were many others taking on the lead this year, namely Haricharan and Vineeth Sreenivasan. 2016 also saw a lot of musical debuts like Vishnu Vijay (Guppy), Sooraj S Kurup (Valleem Thetti Pulleem Thetti), Sachin Warrier (Aanandam) and the trend of multiple film composers for a film (Kismath, Guppy, Kavi Udeshichathu?).




Top audio tracks in 2016 (with links to their Jukebox):


·         Maheshinte Prathikaaram (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJLsgEWGYNA)
·         Aanandam (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtTdiRLyPFg)
·         Jacobinte Swargarajyam (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtAVUq9000)
·         Kismath (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICtdRsEF1WY)
·         Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lH7OjbXDsc8)

My 2016 Top-20 Malayalam Film Songs Listing
[Format - Song (Film): Music Director - Playback Singer - Lyricist]


1.       Idukki (Maheshinte Prathikaaram): Bijibal - Bijibal - Rafeeq Ahammed

Bijibal delivers in this beautiful monsoon soaking ode to Idukki, made even better by the visual appeal of the video. In this song where you feel the atmosphere, Bijibal leads the vocals, with some excellent harmonic backing from the chorus.

               


2.       Thennal Nilavinte (Oru Muthassi Gadha): Shaan Rahman - Vineeth Sreenivasan/Aparna Balamurali-   Harinarayanan B.K.

The reliable Shaan Rahman-Vineeth combo works magic in this melody, with a gorgeous violin backdrop, with Aparna Balamurali supporting it suitably. Again, the retro like feel and visuals make it more appealing.



3.       Pularkalam Pole (Valleem Thetti Pulleem Thetti): Sooraj S Kurup - Haricharan/Madonna Sebastian - Harinarayanan B.K.

Haricharan and Madonna Sebastian rock in this debut composition of Sooraj S Kurup, with a classic fusion of Carnatic music and folk percussion. Pity that the film was quite a damp squib.

              


4.       Oonjalilaadi Vanna (Action Hero Biju):  Jerry Amaldev - Chinmayi - Santhosh Varma

Veteran music composer Jerry Amaldev returns after 13 years in this retro album, creating this lovely soulful melody by Chinmayi. However, since the makers did not release an official video song, this probably went unnoticed.



5.       Innaleyum (Kavi Udeshichathu?):  Vinu Thomas - Arun Alat - Rafeeq Ahammed

A gentle romantic melody that flows beautifully, especially a couple of places where Arun builds the momentum of a crescendo but surprisingly hasn’t really found too many takers.



6.       Neelakkannulla (Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coellho): Shaan Rahman - Vijay Yesudas/Shwetha Mohan - Vayalar Sharath Chandra Verma

A throwback to the 80s melodies by Vijay Yesudas and Shweta Mohan, with captivating visuals.

                 


7.       Payye Veesum Katte (Aanandam): Sachin Warrier - Ashwin Gopakumar /Sneha Warrier - Anu Elizabeth Jose

Singer Sachin Warrier makes his composer debut in this peppy youthful album. Here Sachin’s sister Sneha Warrier and Ashwin Gopakumar carry out the playful lightness of the film delightfully.



8.       Ee Khalbitha (IDI): Rahul Raj - Suchith Sureshan - Manu Manjith

Suchith Sureshan pushes the strings nicely with the melodious Ee Khalbitha, another guitar dominated background song that keeps the flow moving.

               


9.       Thiruvaavaniraavu (Jacobinte Swargarajyam): Shaan Rahman – Unni Menon/Sithara - Manu Manjith

Unni Menon’s Onam special ‘Thiruvaavaniraavu’ literally creates the nostalgic feel of an Onam at a faraway land and the visuals enhance that feeling. Wonderful to see the underutilized Unni Menon back.



10.    Kisa Paathiyil (Kismath): Sushin Shyam - Sachin Balu/Suchith Suresan/Sushin Shyam - Anwar Ali

Sushin Shyam (of ‘He will screw you’ fame in ‘Thattathin Marayathu’) makes quite a debut in ‘Kismath’. This is a short but real soulful song, where the haunting instruments dominate the vocals.

               


11.    Nila Vanile (Shikhamani): Sudeep Palanad - Vijay Yesudas/Swetha Mohan - Shibu Chakravarthy

A rather under rated song this year and unlikely to be in any of the hit lists, probably for the simple reason, that the film sunk without a trace.

                


12.    Thaniye (Guppy): Vishnu Vijay - Sooraj Santosh/Madhuvanthi Narayan - Vinayak Sasikumar

Another debut, this time flautist Vishnu Vijay is the composer. Thaniye starts on a low note, almost a silent whisper and gets Sooraj Santosh to give an energetic push to the higher notes, amidst some nice little guitar music.

               


13.    Medapoompattum Chutti (Karinkunnam 6S): Rahul Raj - Najim Arshad - Vinayak Sasikumar

Rahul Raj continues his tryst with melodies with Najim Arshad shining in a low pitch soft melody, with a beautiful strumming guitar guiding the flow of the song.

               


14.    Manogatham Bhavan (Anuraga Karikkin Vellam): Prashant Pillai - Haricharan/Mathangi Jagadish - BK Harinarayan

Prashant Pillai pulls of a composition that is flavoured with a fusion of classical and Western music and Mathangi makes quite an impact.



15.    Minni Chinnum (Kolumittayi): Sreeraj Sahajan - Sreeraj Sahajan - Lakshmi Ennappaadam

Sreeraj Sahajan makes his debut in this children’s film and composes a fine, slow paced melody that bears strains of Malargale (‘Love Birds’). But the romantic nature of the song does not sit in well, with children as the backdrop.



16.    Chillu Ranthal (Kali): Gopi Sunder - Job Kurian - Harinarayanan B.K.

  Gopi Sunder was quite busy in Telugu in 2016 and this was one of his rare tracks in Malayalam. With  Job Kurian at the helm, this jazzy song was a special one by Gopi.

                


17.   Kathangal Kinavil (Darwinte Parinamam): Sankar Sharma - Haricharan - Harinarayanan BK

             Sankar Sharma’s debut has an interesting collection of songs, probably let down by the film makers. Here, Haricharan gives life to Sankar’s nice little tune.



                 


18.   Kuruthakedinte Koodane (Paavada): Aby Tom Cyriac - Jayasurya - Harinarayanan B K

             It is unlikely that you would expect a Jayasurya song to be in any top songs list but he does full justice to this energetic foot tapping drunkard song in the film. The idea of Jayasurya singing for Prithvi was an inspiring one.



                


19.    Raavu Maayave (Vettah): Shaan Rahman-Shaan Rahman/Rinu Razak - Manu Manjith, Shaan Johnson

Director Rajesh Pillai’s last film ‘Vettah’ did not live upto expectations but Shaaan Rahman does a top job in this short album, especially in this lovely melody whose co-lyricist Shaan Johnson (Johnson’s daughter) who passed away a little later.

               


20.    Chinnamma Adi (Oppam): 4Musics (Jim Jacob/Biby Mathew/Eldhose Alias/Justin James) - MG Sreekumar - Madhu Vasudevan

MG Sreekumar literally makes a comeback in ‘Oppam’ with who else but Lal in this album composed by a group of young musicians. With a nice naadan percussion driving the song and a Carnatic touch, this is a winner.

               

Honourable Mentions:


21.    Oru Vela (White): Rahul Raj - Shweta Mohan - Rafeeq Ahammed

             


22.    Podimeesa Mulakkana Kaalam (Pa..Va): Anand Madhusoodanan - P Jayachandran - Santosh Verma



23.    Ee Yathrakal (Oozham): Anil Johnson - Anil Johnson - Santhosh Varma

                

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez: Top 20 Malayalam Film Songs of 2016: A Compilation

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Waiting


Two strangers meeting in a hospital waiting for their beloved partners who are in a comatose state, is a perfect subject material for melancholy with a capital M inscribed all over it. But director Anu Menon’s tragically witty, humorous take on grief and desolation ‘Waiting’ is strangely uplifting and philosophical, without at once being pedantic or languorous. Beautifully described by a critic as a cross between 'Lost in Translation' and 'The Descendants', it is refreshingly restrained (a bit more restrained than maybe what it should have been).
Tara Deshpande finds herself suddenly in an alien city Kochi at the bedside of her husband who has been badly injured in an accident when at work in Kerala – a place quite remote from the bursting life of Mumbai. It is an unfamiliar even stifling setting that she finds herself in, armed with nothing but just the knowledge that her husband in a bad shape. Her best friends have their own busy lives and can’t spare time for her in this cathartic situation.

Shiv Nataraj makes his daily trips to the hospital to see his ailing wife who shows no signs of recovery but he can’t give up hope. In his words – khaana, sona, nahaana, yeh rukna nahin chahiye. Yeh ruk gaye to sab kuch ruk gaya samjho – and so keeps himself going. But words can be empty – you see him dumping the food his friendly neighbours make for him and when at 6 AM every morning, he is awake unfailingly; you wonder if he needs the sleeping pills that he offers Tara. Is his disciplined and regular schedule his way to handle his emotional trauma? Maybe if we were to allowed to spend more time in his solitude, we would know better.

Anu Menon sets up a clear contrast between the two central characters – One is a man, the other a woman. One is a retired professor, the other is a young media savvy lady. One is a gentleman who measures his words (only a gentleman reads Wodehouse, no?), the other is a brash foul-mouthed woman. One marriage has ‘lasted’ (not lasted as Shiv points out) 4 decades, the other has just completed 4 weeks. One accepts the situation on the outside but is still not willing to let go off the partner, the other does not wish the partner to suffer. But what is common to both is the sense of grief they are forced to come face-to-face with and the lack of external support systems to handle this emotional burden – one has no children and the other no parental support for their marriage. Both these absences are choices that they have made and it isn’t something that troubles them.
The plot is sparse and depends on the heart-to-heart tete-a-tete between the protagonists as they ruminate over their emotional struggles to take it ahead. It is easy to go the whole hog and reduce the film to an emotional tear jerker with the audience weeping buckets, seeing two loners venting out their frustrations. Maybe even add dramatic music to heighten their isolation but Anu shows remarkable subtlety to pull back and not stretch any moment to squeeze our tear glands. A couple of instances that drive home this point - Tara’s best friend comes down to visit her at the hospital but she has to leave in some time and there is no one left by her side to help her out in this situation. It could be an enticing thought to show the audience the fickle nature of modern friendships (already heightened by the Twitter conversation) but you genuinely sense that there is only a limit to which a best friend can do in this situation and she also has a family back home to take care.

There is often a temptation to paint the medical fraternity with a negative brush when dealing with such a situation in films but thankfully here, they come off as likable characters who have to balance sorrow and their professional duties. Dr. Nirupam Malhotra (played by Rajat Kapoor), the chief neurosurgeon, has the difficult task of empathizing with his patients but at the same time, be pragmatic enough to take the awkward decision of drawing the line between letting the patients know what is right for them and being entirely honest about their state. It isn’t the easiest of situations to be in but the doctor does this unenviable job and educates the younger ones to play ‘God’ when the situation arises because (in his words) God cannot come in for the daily 9 AM rounds, so they are his substitutes.
There are a couple of conversations that stuck to me even as I left the theatre. The first, an exchange between Dr Nirupam and Shiv, when the doctor remarks that it is futile to keep his wife Pankaja (Suhasini) this way spending lakhs and asks him whether this is what she would have wanted. And Shiv, in his emotional turmoil, says – Aap apni biwi ke saath discuss karte hai har sham ki darling agar tum coma main jaogi toh kitne din life support main rahna chahogi?. Brilliant! It wasn’t just the effortlessness of the repartee but it struck me for a second, how unprepared we probably would be to cope if faced with such a catastrophic moment in our life. Do we ever discuss death until it stares at our face and mocks at our mortality? At the same time, it also raises that uncomfortable question on when is the right time to pull the plug on a loved one's life? Can you ever say that enough has been done and one can now bid adieu? The director could have left us to ponder over that thunderbolt of a dialogue from Nasser but a moment later, she brings us face to face with the practical and possibly deeper issue why Shiv wants to keep fighting - Dr Nirupam tells Shiv that he wasn’t doing this for his wife but for himself because in her absence, he wouldn’t know how to go ahead in his life. Letting go isn’t easy at all – you may have fight with yourself multiple times but the heart is scared of being alone.

Another one is when Tara says she has 1500 friends on Facebook and 5000 followers on Twitter but at this moment, there is no one with her. And Shiv nonchalantly wonders what Twitter is? There is a delightful explanation of what it is – a fuc**** ‘notice board’ for people to rave and rant. And as she tries to explain this to him, she realizes how hollow it appears. Again, a powerful moment to look back at the futility of it all – the narcissistic world of social media magnifies your friendships - and Shiv rightly tells her – This is your grief and yours alone. They are at different stages of grief in their lives – she, in that dark zone of depression, and he in that Zen like state of acceptance over a period of time; it is a journey that takes time.
I am also glad that at any point of time, the director did not succumb to the idea of allowing the camera to linger lazily along the beauty of Kerala – something that a lot of directors tend to do. The camera largely settles down at the hospital corridors and takes a back seat, allowing the conversations do all the action. I presume that there was a deliberate attempt to underplay the visuals and let the humour in the dialogues dominate so as to prune down the morbidity of the place and the situation. Grief has many dimensions and one cannot always be in the same state of mind – humour is a space that is needed to provide some relief in dealing with it.
Did the film miss out on anything? I think it had scope for its ‘Lost in Translation’ moments by juxtaposing the two leads in a place, in a language alien to them. The absence of familiarity and the contrast between their cities could have been used as a device to showcase their sense of loss more acutely. Maybe, if we had more interaction with the people around, instead of just the two of them, it would help us in understanding them more. What is it that drives Shiv to keep going back and forth to the hospital for more than 8 months, even when hope keeps sinking? Wouldn’t we want to know the man more so that we feel his pain more intensely? Both the stories have minor flashbacks (shown twice) but neither of them gives us any further knowledge about the two couples. Somehow, I think, in the attempt to focus solely on the chemistry between the lead pair, the film misses out on telling about them as individuals and their family stories.

Rajeev Ravindranathan amiably enacts Girish, the company man who has the onerous task of taking care of all arrangements and ensuring that Tara isn’t too troubled while Rajat Kapoor as the exasperated but detached doctor who has our empathy strikes the right notes. With top notch performances by Naseeruddin Shah as the philosophical Kochi professor and Kalki Kochelin as the young temperamental woman from Mumbai, Anu Menon has whipped a warm and thought-provoking film that deals with its heavy handed theme with dignity and humour and there is not a dull moment till its open-ended climax. Backed by Mikey McClearly’s lovely soundtrack (especially the haunting Zara zara and Tu hai to main hun) and soft visuals, ‘Waiting’ is easily, my favourite movie of 2016 so far.

The only thing that puzzled me as I came out of the theatre is how come the film received an ‘A’ rating? Anu mentioned in a tweet that this was because of the liberal sprinkling of swear words in the film. This is true but shouldn’t the Censor Board rate a film on the basis of its impact and not evaluate individual scenes and base their judgement? ‘Waiting’ is a beautiful, independent film that needs more audience but the ‘A’ rating keeps away family audiences and truth be told, it is their loss…. 
Originally published in MadAboutMoviez: Waiting Movie Review: An Anatomy of Grief

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…