Anoop Menon has a fascination for moral anarchy and his movies stretch the elasticity of marriage before releasing it just at the end to allow the institution to survive the stress of the demands on it. Just as an unmarried Stephen Louis (Jayasurya) questions the sanctity of relationships in his column in the women’s magazine he writes for, eligible bachelor Anoop Menon probes it on the larger screen – both of them have the benefit of objectivity while looking at it.
Mohan Lal in Pakal Nakshatrangal is extremely callous and skeptical about relationships, Anoop Menon in Cocktail looks for fun outside marriage while Jayasurya in Beautiful knows that he has no future in a marriage and Praveena suggests that ‘marriage is just a license for an extra-marital affair’.
Stephen Louis is a lonely millionaire who does not allow his physical limitations to undermine his state of mind. He spends most of his life on a wheelchair and knows that the people around him only care for his wealth but reckons that this wealth ensures that he has nothing to worry about. He does not ask for any sympathy and is content to enjoy the beauty of life in his own puckish and voyeuristic style, impishly smiling his way through it.
A chance encounter with a struggling artiste John (Anoop Menon) in a restaurant draws Stephen to him. John needs money to finance his music album and sister's education and he is willing to play the role of a singer-cum-friend but soon, they manage to cement a deep friendship. Their idyllic life goes on without ripples until the beautiful Anjali (Meghna Raj) appears on screen.
And what an appearance she makes! As Stephen and John watch Jayakrishnan visualizing the wet and beautiful frame of Clara amidst heavy rain and Johnson’s haunting music in the immortal Thoovanathumbikal, a rain-drenched Anjali makes an appearance on the screen that leaves them gaping in wonder at the sight of this enticing seductive woman. No words are exchanged and the silence says it all and the director breaks off for the interval followed by a funny reference to the song Anjali Anjali. Picture perfect!!!
Stephen and John share a wonderfully unique chemistry that is brought to life by the humour in the script. If Thoovanathumbikal brings Anjali, the director uses Sholay to welcome John into his life. The need for such a friendship is conveyed but there are no great words exchanged – it is simply implicit.
Their lives are a perfect contrast – a carefree differently abled millionaire who has no qualms about what the future has in store for him and a struggling artist who is worried about an uncertain future. One man’s need for company is matched by the other’s need for money but over a period of time, the relationship grows multi-fold and John is reluctant to tap his friend for his fiscal problems. Stephen demands no sympathy and is keen to love life in the company of somebody who can be trusted but John has his own demons to be exorcised.
Now this may have been a melodramatic tear-jerker or even a feel good story of touching friendship but the plot takes a quick turn towards the end turning into a crime caper. The movie has an airiness of a dark, quirky little short story set in a remote little town in Europe. Now transport this backdrop to Kochi and visualize the plot and it works quite well (the feel of a Coen Brothers film sans the violence).
The climax arrives quite suddenly reminding me of the Hitchcock classic Rope where the whodunit mystery is unraveled in the spur of the moment. (I am not comparing it to any Hitchcock movie but simply recording what I felt while watching the climax). However the film sputters when it tries to manufacture motives for different characters to commit a crime. The director makes a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience by playing up the troubles of the surrounding cast and their actions but this is not convincing. But to be fair to VK Prakash, the whodunit part is not the most important part of the narrative but just a culmination of events that drive the plot that far.
Beautiful lives up to its name as we soak in the splendor of a world that is extremely beautiful. The camera repeatedly stares at Stephen’s spotlessly white mansion which is lashed frequently by the spraying rain; John lives in a furniture shop but the interiors have a classy feel, the lens lingers lovingly over a ravishing Anjali accentuating her beauty, the music wafts gently on the surface (lyrics by Anoop himself) and the rain sweeps across unhurriedly creating an atmosphere that is at once dark but blissful.
It rains incessantly in the movie but the rain is not a disturbance, it builds the atmosphere gently and creates an aura of lush emotions which are unexplored and gentle (whether it is Stephen experiencing rain for the first time or when it caresses Anjali as it comes down). This external beauty is however in contrast to the moral ambiguity of its characters who have their own dilemmas and compulsions in life which mars their beauty.
The movie is sensuous but the sensuousness lurks in the background and the camera does not play Peeping Tom. Witness the scene where Anjali takes bath; we hear the sounds of the door opening and closing and the water splashing, coupled with a brilliantly rendered dialogue (Nee kulichivo da..illa..Njanum kulichitilla..Aval kuli thodangi...). Or when Stephen stares in anticipation at the maid Kanyaka (Tesni Khan in a nice little cameo) mopping the floor, the song Poykayil from Rajashilpi plays on the TV screen; no skin show or double meaning dialogues is used but the intensity of the male desire is conveyed effortlessly.
Beautiful is beautifully written and there is no torrential downpour of words when a drizzle is needed (in contrast to The Dirty Picture); infact, it is quite economical with words. Short pauses, lingering music and a moody background showcase the emotions. John and Anjali share very few words and even when he proposes, it is an abrupt on the spot reaction that is unanticipated. John, Anjali and Stephen form an odd little alliance, with sexuality bursting at its seams and when it finally ruptures at the end, there is a certain irreverence in the way it is accepted.
Through Beautiful, Anoop Menon cocks a snook at morality in Kerala, without being too judgmental. In his own words – ‘There are people who are still strung to obsolete principles of morality, about what should be welcomed and what should be ostracized. But we too have changed with time and the average Malayali too is aware of the switch in social scenario. The Malayali who has read OV Vijayan and VKN knows about all the shades of life. Only a minority sticks to the format of primordial morality and the rest are ready to face life as it is. For me Beautiful is a revolt against the moral norms set by this minority.’