Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Ranjith was a name synonymous with larger than life super star personas and macho characters until a low budget film named Kaiyoppu came by. Yes, Nandhanam and Mizhi Randilum were soft romantic movies which went against the audience perception of the man but these were largely conventional works rooted in a familiar Kerala cinema milieu. It was Kaiyoppu that broke away from the Ranjith school of film making and made him a director whose craft begged to be taken seriously.

Kaiyoppu positions itself primarily as a creative struggle engulfing the protagonist Balachandran’s life as he overcomes his writer’s block. He is on the threshold of completing a novel that is expected to change the face of Malayalam literature but his mind goes blank and he is unable to complete the novel.

As his mind wavers in a sense of restlessness and frustration, he meets Sivadasan (Mukesh), a struggling publisher who is in search of a novel that can help his company to stay afloat. His book house Kilippattu Books survives primarily on school children guide books, cookery and environment books but his love for literature leads him to Balan. Sivadasan realizes the potential of the novel and nudges him to complete it with the help of Balan’s erstwhile lover, Padma (Khushboo).

The writer’s block serves as a stumbling block for the emotions that are embedded deep inside him; the words that have deserted him slowly return to his grasp as the tender relationship between two very lonely individuals, connected by the world of books, warms up. Padma, his college sweetheart, has gone through a divorce after an unhappy marriage but philosophically accepts the failure (Manassu ozhinju veedu pole shantham she says after the divorce) while Balan has never got around to get married in his struggle for livelihood. This is in sharp contrast to the viplava dampathi kilikal Sivadasan and Lalitha (Neena Kurup) who elope and get married and start a publishing house with the gold that Lalitha steals from her home while running away.

Balan is a loner who owns neither a mobile nor a clock and lives in a sense of timelessness with only his books for company. He lives in a small lodge surrounding himself with the sweet smell of books but works as an accountant in a fertilizer factory amidst the stench of heaps of filth and garbage. He has no great notions about his literary ability; in a nice little scene, Sivadasan wakes him up late at night to praise him for his brilliant work but realizes that Balan has scarcely registered the approbation and has gone to sleep again. Even when writer CP Vasudevan gushes about his work, he is reluctant to bask under the accolades.

When Balan and Padma bond again after many years through a series of phone conversations, they realise that the fires of the past may have been extinguished but the smoke that emanates from it has not yet died. A romance that was quietly shelved away due to class differences about two decades back remains just as fresh, without a hint of remorse from the past. As they open up to each other, the initial doubts vanish (Balachandran becomes Balettan within minutes) and they realize that they have a second chance to fill their moments of solitude with love.

The romance is delicate and mature befitting the age of the protagonists and the soft music that plays whenever they converse tugs at our heart strings gently. The silent, introvert Balan jokes and laughs in her presence while she opens herself to him about her failed marriage without a trace of uneasiness; no great words are exchanged but the glow on their faces says it all. In a delightfully composed song sequence, Ranjith pays a tribute to Talat Mehmood's haunting melody Jalte Hain Jiske Liye by getting Padma to sing the same song on phone just as Sunil Dutt had sung the original song to Nutan in Sujata; the voice that sings has aged but so have the ears that hear the song.

Towards the end when he plays a Good Samaritan and sells his land to fund a poor Muslim girl’s operation, Balan refers to this act as a proclamation of his new-found independence. He has found his Muse and is no longer constrained by geographical boundaries because his mind is now free. He has Padma by his side and the world looks differently through this perspective. It is to Ranjith’s credit that he re-discovers Khushboo who has a quiet elegance and dignity that ensures that both the characters are evenly matched. (I can only think of Urvashi and Khushboo who can still hold their own against the 'aging' superstars and appear convincing for that age.)  

While the writer’s block forms the crux of the movie, Kaiyoppu also strives to be a gentle critique on Kerala society and the social and culture norms that have made us what we are. Without being preachy, the movie sets an ambitious social agenda for itself, hinting quietly at the Malayali’s attitudes towards literature, marriage, roots and the terror around him. It takes potshots at the Kerala society with its skimming observations on politics, suicide and alcoholism. We have given up our literary moorings and embraced technology (Mobile phone illatha Malayali parayunna pole rare aayi pustakam vayikkuna Malayali) and have no time to indulge in the world of books. All that matters is money and even if sleaze makes money, then we are glad to embrace it (Aminnu paal kondu paysam vere undakki vilkunna bheekara Malayaliyude specimen).

Ranjith’s scenarist roots are the foundations of his work and so Kaiyoppu is largely a literary film with the writing leaning on to the world of literature for support, which is probably the reason why the movie is not scripted by him but by a writer like Ambikasuthan Mangad (in fact this is the only movie which he has directed but not scripted). 'Writer's block' is a term bandied about frequently but it must have been a challenge for a writer to sense of vacuum that he finds himself in. It is very easy for a movie that is set in a literary atmosphere to walk into a trap of self-importance and masquerade as serious cinema where characters start speaking in a verbose and complicated manner, filled with 'meaningless' pauses.The initial scenes involving CP and Balan discussing Pamuk or people in a road stall discussing Israel-US relations makes you wonder whether the movie is trying too hard take itself very seriously, but thankfully Ranjith is aware that he has a story to tell us.

Nevertheless, the essence of literature remains in the dialogues; sample the scene when Balan tells Padma that his dedication to her is not a A Hundred Years of Solitude or when Sivadasan compares their destiny to Shelley's or when even the caretaker Babu talks about Jameela’s autobiography – the references are not forced but flow along with the overall theme. But I find it curious that most of the literary references are to foreign writers only and the Malayalam sahitya world is given a miss. Maybe the idea was not restrict the concept to a local milieu but give it a more universal feel.

The movie falters in the last 15 or so minutes when it tries to cleave in a terror angle into the plot. On paper, the twist in the plot is possibly appealing but when translated onto the big screen, it finds itself on a slippery ground. The tone of the movie changes abruptly to a harsher one but I don’t think that the transition comes through as smoothly on screen. Wasn't there an attempt to thrust in a moral in a plot that did not need one?

Mammooty is impressive as the struggling writer but looks out of place and almost unsure on how to pull off this last moment twist by Ranjith and it spoils the texture of a carefully crafted movie that was walking unhurriedly towards its destination. When Balan is manhandled by the cops and he breaks into some sort of a soliloquy, it looks like a contrived attempt to reach out to the audience and gain their sympathy. For somebody who’s written a novel that Sivadasan describes as karutha haasyathinte itihaasam (a nod to O V Vijayan’s Dharmapuranam?), Balan comes across as a rather naive character who’s not at ease with the ways of the world, especially in the final scenes.

These are probably minor quibbles in a movie which was a landmark movie for Ranjith and his first step in his journey to re-invent himself. When Balan quotes Pamuk and says I read a book one day and my whole life was changed, was it Ranjith speaking to us explaining what prompted him to alter his cinematic style?

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez-


  1. Aah, you've caught hold of my problem with this film! The last 15 minutes, which were so, so unnecessary. Until then, it was a mature, gentle, love story, and a wonderful, wonderful one at that. That last couple of reels made it seem like the Malayalam films of yore, where, unless you had a tragic ending, the film was not considered 'good'.

    Love, love, love Khushboo - such a fine actress, so wasted usually.

  2. Yep, such a wonderful mature love story that suddenly decides to get politicized at the last minute and move to a tragedy, as if for old times' sake.

    Pity that Khushboo is so under-utilized but she's making her presence felt occasionally in Malayalam and informing us the paucity of fine actresses here.