Sunday, December 18, 2011


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.’

Beautiful is yet another New Generation Malayalam movie, continuing the trend of  Traffic, Salt N’Pepper and Chappa Kurishu – movies that are creating a new grammar in Malayalam cinema..Does the redemption of Malayalam cinema lie in its youth and urban roots?


  1. Well written review. Anup Menon has made some brave attempts to dig at false morality, and whats going on silently in Kerala society. Cultural policing comes out of frustration and jealousy about their own inability to achieve what they jealously observe. The absence of a good man woman relationship and the compartmentalization of man and woman from nursery classes, caused men to view women as sexual objects. Such kind of pervertism never exist in other parts of country, here people are deprived of sex, pleasures of life, to escape from the woes more and more men go to bars and take solace in drinking.

    The road rage experienced in Kerala is just an example of frustration of everyone coming to a rage and express it on the roads. Here everyone behaves like they are in a mad race, but race against what. Are they enjoying pleasures of life? Globalisation and dollar value increase has improved money power in Kerala society. But this money is not spent on creatively , women spend time visiting jewllery shops, saree shops whereas men spent it on liquor.

    The real man to woman friendship and relations never exists. Even in the bedroom husband and wife are compartmentalised and unite only for few minutes of love making. The spread of mobile phones and facebook, couple seek courtship and love from virtual sources.

  2. Thanks for the comment,Suseelan. I agree that despite all this media talk about Kerala being forward looking state, there is a lot of sexual repression in our society which reflects in the way we behave with woman in public and possibly even at home.

    Of course, I don't think this is a Kerala specific phenomenon but this is not being highlighted in the midst of all this gung-ho about 100% literacy and social development. The hypocrisy with which we deal with it is worse because we do not accept the grave situation but are happy to gloat about it in the name of pride in our culture.

  3. Beautiful is a good attempt,but it is not anyway near Traffic and Salt and pepper.The director had a good theme in his hand,but the end was too abrupt and the audience were left gasping.The last few frames were too fast as if he was in a hurry to finish the movie, and Anoops compulsion to kill Jayasurya was difficult to fathom.Even the resurrection of Jayasurya towards the end left the audience gasping..It is difficult to believe that Anoop did not recognize Jayasurya as his old classmate ,since such students are rare in a class and u are bound to remember or atleast guess.It would have been better if that revelation is shown as a shock to Anoop as he was about to kill him, and that lead him to go to Jayasurya and confess all,which finally made their friendship long lasting..I think there is a definite goof up in the end in the screen play which left the audience with no sympathy for the characters.One particular song - in the movie, Mazthullikal was outstanding-,the tune ,the rendering, the picturization and that was all the audience will remember about the movie at the end..

  4. Other than the fact that the motive for killing Jayasurya is not entirely established, I don't see much of a problem at all. There is no sympathy needed for the characters and neither did the director strive for that. The structure and narrative of the entire movie was immensely captivating and a couple of points which may have enhanced the logic of the plot do not mar it in any way. The audience here applauded the movie when it ended and it has generally garnered positive reviews everywhere but we will leave the audience to speak for themselves.

  5. May be I am little old fashioned..I like the story to be tied on all ends, and according to me a good movie is one which leaves a long lasting impression, so that u carry the characters with u for some, Thani avarthanam ,Kireedam, Pranayam,Salt and Pepper and the like... 

  6. May be I am little old fashioned..I like the story to be tied on all ends, and according to me a good movie is one which leaves a long lasting impression, so that u carry the characters with u for some, Thani avarthanam ,Kireedam, Pranayam,Salt and Pepper and the like ..

  7. Achcha, all ends tied is a good old way of story telling alright but there is an attempt by this young generation of filmmakers to move out of the conventional path and therein, I think, lies the success of their path. But that does not mean 'Beautiful' has compromised on the story - just that while story is very important, story telling is possibly more critical.

  8. PRADEEP@ What I meant was this: The way the movie unfolded, I was anticipating a grand finis..But as one says it started with a thunder,but ended in a whimper..After building up the theme one was expecting a series of encounters between Jayasurya and Anoop to catch the attention of the heroine,which finally terminating in to a climax..Instead what we got was an abrupt end with a series of cuts and flash backs which virtually chocked the movie..I definitely would have directed the movie with more scenes thrown in,and one fine morning, Jayasurya found dead in the bed..Though I appreciate that the younger generation was trying to cut a new path in story and story telling it still needs an experienced hands to chistle it to finality..

  9. Pradeep, as you can see, I gave in to temptation! This sounds very interesting, and that's enough for me to at least watch it before I make up my mind whether it's good or whether it's all a storm in a teacup. :)

    For that matter, I watched Salt n' Pepper in Kerala this summer - I thought it began well, but deteriorated into a cliche toward the end. I particularly hated Shweta Menon's character's justification. Let me rephrase that - the climax scene spoilt it all for me. Not that I wanted another ending, I wish they had paid closer attention to the woman's character graph. These are small quibbles, though. The theme is fresh, the treatment is fresh, and I liked both Lal and Shweta in it.

    I have the DVD of Traffic, which I'll watch sometime in the next year, I think!

  10. Anu, as they say "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it', so glad that you decided to stop by. Beautiful attempts to be different without trying too hard and gets you hooked onto it. Do let me know your thoughts when you get down to actually watching it, which maybe a few months from now, I suppose...

    Salt N'Pepper had a fresh texture and aroma that got everyone attracted to it and as I mentioned in my review here - - , it had the makings of a mini-classic and if only the director had let the second half coast along with the same fluidity and spirit of the 1st half, it would have been the Movie of the Year. But I am filling to forgive him for treating  us to such a sumptuous meal; Abu Ashiq was in a hurry to serve us the meal!

    Traffic was first of the lane among the movies that decided to tread on a different path.Make it a point to definitely watch it but why wait for a year? Busy with a huge list to watch, I presume...

  11. Excellent review, Pradeep. I loved the first half and literally was having the 'romanjam' when we reached the interval with thuvanathumbikal backdrop. Probably, as others mentioned, towards the end the climax seemed hurried up. Logically, the only flaws was when John was not able to recognize Stephen - just like someone commented already. 
    But why shud we talk about the negatives after seeing a marvelous movie? It was a wonderful experience, with just the optimal amount of dialogs and some amazing visuals. Although Cocktail, Salt N Pepper were nice, Traffic was not upto the mark, Beautiful certainly stands a bit higher in the list. For me, its a lovely movie and a delightgul experience. 
    Superb review, Pradeep.

  12. Thanks, Abhilash. Most good movies do seem to get the first half right but stumble in the second (Shikar was a rare opposite one) but I didn't have any issue with Beautiful the way it culminated. As I mentioned, I liked the sudden end without any dramatics - seemed quite natural to me. Most people have an expectation that the story should move along a certain direction with every step clearly paved and the moment there is a deviation, they are uncomfortable; almost as if the director needs to understand our vision and not the other way around.

    About John not recognizing Stephen, there is nothing to suggest that we should remember our classmates after many years, even if as in this case, he is differently abled or something like that. In my opinion, it should be a minor point of contention when compared to the director's deliberate efforts to manipulate us into seeking motives for each potential murderer.

  13. I heard the song Mazhaneer Thullikal and it is really good…. The write up make it more interesting now..While reading I can see that this movie has hit a chord with you, as you refer back to ur favourite movie (thoovanathumbikal) ;)

  14. Yes, Mazhaneer Thullikal is a nice little melody and has become pretty popular and I reckon that ‘Beautiful’ would make it to one of the Malayalam movies for the year but then art is too subjective for an absolute opinion. I liked ‘Chappa Kurish’ but Anil did not while I thought ‘Pranayam’ was wonderful but Priyan had a different opinion on that…
    Movies that keep referring back to ‘Thoovanathumbikal’ have a special appeal. Recently bought the novel on which ‘Thoovanathmbikal’ was based (Udakkapola) but a Malayalam novel will always take me more time to read and with Sanju also not around, there is no one to help me in case I get stuck in between with the vocabulary..
    Now that you are firmly entrenched in Canada, we can keep suggesting you Indian movies that you need to watch:)...

  15. With an excellent write-up such as this and spoilers galore ( :) ) in the comments section, I think I will make time to watch this, Pradeep. been catching static on how this too is yet another "masalafication" of an existing screenplay, but I think I will be the judge. Echoing Anu, I too watched SaltnPepper on DVD, and wasn't all that I conjured up in my mind of what it could have been.But, a breath of invigorating, fresh air, undoubtedly. Yet to watch Traffic too (ok, kick me :) ).Keep them coming..

  16. Cinematters, have edited a comment to add that there is a spoiler  there; nearest thing I can do:)
    I agree that modern Malayalam cinema is not a patch on its earlier self (am a fan of the 80s), 2011 has seen a few attempts to  move differently and I'm absolutely delighted to see that. Think you should also indulge in new movies now and not restrict yourself to classics. 

    Both Anu and I had a bit of a problem with the way the 2nd half progressed in Salt N'Pepper (not a very major problem); think she was more miffed by the character progress of Shweta Menon and the closing dialogue in the movie where she felt that her character was simply being pushed into a rather traditional stance.