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:

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mumbai Police

A crime is committed; you have identified the culprit and are about to reveal the mystery and then boom! There’s an accident and everything is wiped out of your memory and you have to start on a fresh slate, with your RAM totally clean and no one else aware of your condition, except for a couple of people. You see faces and are told who they are but you have no idea what these people mean to you – the culprit is probably sitting next to you but you haven’t the foggiest notion about it. People are out to kill you and you realize that you aren't the most popular guy around but you are powerless. Antony Moses has to figure out why, what and how it happened and no, this isn't based on the Bourne series!

The basic premise of Rosshan Andrrews’ Mumbai Police isn't entirely novel and amnesia is an age-old trick in the book of filmmakers but you’d have to admit that the movie is absolutely gripping and keeps you glued to your seat for a greater part of the journey. Yes, social networks have all focused on the movie’s climax and created polarized opinions on the movie, based on that. But such a line of thinking does no justice to a movie that has so much going right for it and I dare say, it is arguably one of the most satisfying police dramas that I have seen in Malayalam.

Mumbai Police has nothing to with the movie per se; it is just a name that the media uses to refer to three policemen – Antony, Aaryan and Farhan – who had at some point of time in their past worked in the Mumbai police force and are now stationed in Ernakulam. It is a bond of friendship that ties the three men – two of them are incidentally brothers-in-law but this is rarely spoken about and all relationships are just kept at the surface throughout the movie.

ACP Antony Moses (Prithiviraj) is entrusted the task of tracking down the high-profile murder of his close friend ACP Aaryan Jacob John (Jayasurya). Aaryan is shot dead in a felicitation ceremony and there is high pressure on the cops to get through to the bottom of the case. Antony is about to inform Police Commissioner Farhan Aman (Rahman) about the killer but at that critical moment, he meets with an accident and the case reaches a dead-end. Farhan insists that the memory loss be kept a secret and asks Antony to continue since he had already cracked the case and so the investigation starts all over again…

There are awkward moments that Antony faces as he slowly confronts the truth of his past. As the story moves in flashbacks intermittently, we realize that Antony is not exactly a man of scruples and is capable of extreme violence. He is nicknamed ‘Rascal’ Moses by the media but he’s a man who can produce results – a cop who can get things done, albeit ignoring the ethical dimensions of the job. He may be a rascal but is willing to give his friend the credit of an encounter (the thought did strike me fleetingly towards the end if this was a genuine gesture or a need to lie low to avoid being probed by the media, keeping the climax in mind).

The furious dare-devil cop Antony Moses A is in contrast with the brooding and silent Antony Moses B – he isn't even very sure which of this is his real self and so his emotions are all mangled up. In his own words, he is a man with no past or future and has to unravel the case to understand his true existence. The Dirty Cop turns over a Good Cop but it’s a transformation that he is unsure of and only when he identifies the killer of Aaryan, he is able to get a clearer picture of the past. (On a different note, if a memory loss can actually change the character of a man, it is interesting to see how one’s actions and deeds are driven by what one experiences in life and not where one is born into).

There are scenes that stand out in the narrative that moves back and forth between his two personalities. Take for instance, Antony meeting his sister in a restaurant where she wants to discuss about her husband. He’s partly shaken, unable to relate to her emotions and even when she touches his hand, he takes it back not knowing how to react. Yes, the world says that she’s his sister but is she really his sister? Take the scene when a man enters his cabin and invites him to his daughter’s invitation – there is awkwardness in their interaction and only later, he realizes that the stranger was the SP! The action sequences are well-orchestrated and Antony surprises himself when he fights off his attackers in the early scenes – his memory has been blanked out but not his inner police instincts.

A typical cop movie comes laced with a lot of bravado in its dialogues, political interference, corrupt cops and so many other lazy stereotypes but Mumbai Police avoids all these cliches. The cops even resort to hiring the services of local port workers in order to defend themselves against an expectant mob of unruly mob of navy fellas!

The clash between the police and the navy is a small but interesting segment in the movie; shows how the ego-clashes between Govt security agencies make them enemies of each other. The scene where senior assistant sub-inspector Sudhakaran (Kunjan) explains as to why he was drunk when on duty, after years of unblemished service is a rare out of place theatrical scene in an otherwise taut drama that doesn't waste screen space.

The thrills of the first half makes way to a more sober 2nd half, as Antony finally sets out to crack the puzzle in a way that defines his new personality. It is debatable if in a case with intense media scrutiny, Farhan can wait for Antony to return and take the gamble to put him on the task again, considering the situation he is in. Nevertheless, there is a greater eye to detail here, including a interesting perspective of a sharp shooter which  brings Antony closer to the killer.

Prithviraj stands out in an outstanding performance as Antony Moses A and B – as he transforms himself from a fiery cop to a subdued one. From an aggressive gait, he develops a less assertive walk and finds himself unable to comprehend his emotions with the situation around him. The new man is willing to pay for his cigarette, greet people with a smile and exchange his alcohol with coffee – a change that Prithvi incorporates easily, but haltingly.

It is courageous for him to take up a role that any mainstream actor in Kerala would hesitate to do (there were rumours earlier that Mammootty would do this role but it’s really hard to imagine that). The past one year has seen him in different kinds of roles in Molly Aunty RocksAyalum Njanum ThammilCelluloid and now this and still we have wannabe critics who have a problem with him, for the simple reason that he questions the superstars!

Jayasurya is at ease in a more light-hearted role as a reluctant cop Aaryan, whose friends are his biggest asset in life. The ever youthful Rahman (dubbed by Shammi Thilakan) supports ably and needs to be utilized more by film-makers. Backed by Gopi Sundar's excellent BGM (except at a couple of places like a bike chase) and Diwakar's intense, brooding lens, Mumbai Police is a must watch.

And finally, coming to the most-talked about climax of the film that forms the backbone of the story and bares it all. It isn't easy to review Mumbai Police without talking about the climax and also avoiding any spoilers. Yes, it shocks and it is arguable whether or not the director is able to pull it off convincingly. The biggest stumbling block in the finale is the manner in which one of the individuals in question is depicted in a wimpish stereotypical manner that ensures that the audience does not care for the character.

Secondly, does the director seek to explain the killer’s Alpha-male tendencies exhibited by giving him such an attribute or is it only Aaryan who interprets his behavior in that manner? It appears disturbing that the director insinuates that the killer’s behaviour is largely driven by this and makes it a guilty secret. Wish they had pepped up this segment a bit more and not reduced it this kind of stereotyping. Is the reason for the crime entirely reasonable? That’s a tough call to make – there does seem to be a justification for the killing , if you put yourself in his shoes and the impact of the expose but then would Aaryan ever reveal such a secret? It looks unlikely and so the motive for the killing looks weak, to that extent. But then truth is stranger than fiction in many ways, it is upto us whether we can accept it or not.

After an abysmally expensive turkey called Casanovva, the trio of Bobby-Sanjay and Rosshan Andrrews definitely restore their lost credibility with an intense drama like Mumbai Police. It isn't the easiest of movies to make and comments on social networks tell you how difficult it is easy for people to digest when movies take the road not taken and shake the ground of morality that we have managed to keep in balance.

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Molly Aunty Rocks

Benjamin Franklin had once said famously - In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. What does an ordinary man or woman do when faced with the wrath of the Income Tax Department that comes out to hound you? As somebody who was puzzlingly served an IT notice a year back, I can relate to the scare that Income Tax can create in one’s life.

Molly Mammen (Revathy) is an unlikely protagonist – a slightly elderly woman settled in US with her family, who comes back after a long leave to continue working in her small little job in a public sector bank in Nemmara in Palakkad (presumably only for the pension). She is a committed hardworking employee who can brook no nonsense and is willing to fight her way out of any situation, if she believes she is right about it. She manages to sell her husband’s ancestral property, take a voluntary retirement from her job and is about return to her family in the US when she runs into the iron hands of the Income Tax department and the battle begins to prove her innocence!

You first see Molly as she comes late for a religious family function and bangs her car onto the priest’s scooter, knocking it down (a symbolic rejection of conventions?). Family gossip marks her out as being unwelcome to the family and her sleeveless dress does not help matters. As the daughter of a Communist leader, rebellion is in her genes and she isn't someone who can be knocked around that easily. She is liberal-minded but fairly adamant and you’d have to admit that diplomacy is not her forte.

Molly isn't a firebrand woman out to change the world making fiery speeches or a staunch feminist but somebody who is willing to make the best of her situation and stand up for what she thinks is right. As her husband Benny (Lalu Alex) says, there is a Molly in all our families, in some form of the other who makes everyone around her insecure. There is no point in being upset about it and one has to adjust to the way she is.

As she struggles with many of her small-time problems in life, it acts as a mirror to many of the issues that we face in day-to-day life. How many of us have struggled in government offices waiting for hours, without any help at all. Even the slightest of help comes with a suggestion of short-cuts that we are forced to accept because there is no way out of the mess. Reminds me of my trip to the IT dept office last year where we spent more than a couple of hours just waiting for the man who sent us the notices to turn up but no one ever bothered to ask what we wanted when we landed in a placid Govt office.

Molly’s struggles are not always driven out of her conviction but also due to the simple necessity of doing things independently when alone. She is married to a large family headed by her matriarch mother-in-law KPAC Lalitha but finds no support when in trouble, except from her mother-in-law and a benign neighbour. It doesn't help that she has brought no dowry after her marriage and is an independent lady who has come down all the way from the US of A to this small lazy town, where her outgoing nature is a source of genuine bewilderment. Like Molly, haven't many of us Non-Residential Keralites seen our relatives think that we have minted money outside and that we are stingy for not spending money - the effort and toil just does not show!

As a single woman who tries to live independently in a small town in Kerala, she struggles with house owners, head load workers, nosey people, co-employees who are happy to keep away from work at the slightest of pretexts and of course, the ever roving eye of men who are keen to ‘help’ her whenever there is an opportunity. It isn't a world that Molly is unaware of having brought up there; she, however, does not go about bad mouthing the place and unlike many others, she is not willing to simple live with her problems.  

The women around her are more or less satisfied with the kind of lives that they live, living in a frog-in-the-wall kind of existence and being happy about it. Her neighbour Usha (Lakshmi Priya) lives a contended life of a teacher and is more obsessed with the progress of her TV serials than the world around her; she leaves it to her husband, Ravi (Krishna Kumar) the dentist, to handle things outside her house. Molly’s mother-in-law may be her only support in the family when in Kerala but there is a generation gap that cannot be bridged. Yes, they get along well and enjoy a rare sense of camaraderie but it happens with a sense of acceptance that exists between their worlds – a world where cooking and taking care of the house is a woman’s job and a world where women can stand up on their own and take the battle to men.

There is a subtle social commentary on the world around her in the small town in the form of bandhs, busy government offices and names that tell us a lot of the times we live in. New Generation lower caste names like Fleming Raj (with mother as Mulla Devi) which try to move away from the roots to a starry-eyed auto rickshaw driver with cine ambitions going by the name Gunesh Kuttan and an auditor called Paraman who is busier with making arrangements for the local festival than providing tax advice.

It is a mark of the changing times where the young priest Father Joby Matthews (Sharath) is a divorcee and is called in to settle a tax dispute between his parishioners! When Molly suffers a small fall on the road, the onlookers are keener to capture the scene with their mobiles than actually give her a helping hand. The bank manager is impressed by her abilities at work and is more than willing to be persuaded that the American system is wonderful; in an absolutely hilarious moment when she is down with an accident, he even wishes her a Happy Rest in Peace!

It is courageous of Ranjith to cast a young Prithviraj with a much-older Revathy as the central protagonists of this drama. Yes, it is evident that the plot demands such a casting but how many directors would be willing to take such a (perceived) risk? Also, kudos to Prithviraj for taking up this role which sees him play second fiddle to the central woman character. Mamukkoya excels in an unexpected cameo as Salim Mechery, Molly’s lawyer, who also dabbles in cartoons and plays (suspect that had Jagathy been around, he would have been a natural choice to play the character). It is Revathy’s movie throughout and I don’t think that for a minute that you’d think that she could be any different from the character that she plays – we need such strong female protagonists...

Prithvi as Pranav Roy is the haughty Assistant Tax Commissioner who goes strictly by the rule book and cares two hoots for the discomfort faced by the tax payer. He is honest and not driven by personal interests but knows that he has the power to make people bend and is willing to use his powers even if the situation does not demand it. It is a commentary of the sad state of affairs that bright officers are competent and intelligent but totally devoid of any sense of customer service. In a conversation with Salim Mechery, Pranav remarks that the money that should reach the poor is being siphoned away by NRIs like Molly only to be brought down to earth by Salim who reminds him that this money does not reach the poor but only the coffers of politicians.

But with all due regards to the director, I have misgivings over the way the movie peters out in a direction of morality that I find it difficult to digest. Call me a cynic but I have a problem with a moral angle being thrust in suddenly for no better reason than giving a sermon to us poor plebeians – something similar that I felt in the Ustad Hotel ending too.  Yes, we know that Molly cannot be dishonest and to expect a twist in the plot may go against her character and even Ranjith’s convictions as a director. But I’m sure there are better ways of taking an honourable exit, without cleaving in the morality clause.

Adv Salim finds glaring gaps in Pranav’s father’s tax returns and this could in itself have been used as a bargaining tool simply to drive home the point that even the best of men can be taken to task if somebody tries to really screw their lives (somebody like a Subramanian Swamy!). Molly’s defence of the expenses hidden from the Govt also do not cut any ice – when Pranav asks ludicrously as to why this could not have been shown in her tax statement, my mind was simply echoing his sentiments. What one presents in one’s tax returns is not in the public domain so her talk about shying away from publicity seemed far-fetched. And while she means well when she says that the taxes paid by her do not reflect into action by the Govt, it still does not explain her actions.

If you keep aside the contrived morality that seeps in during the end and a couple of scenes that appear out of place (like Salim’s entry into Molly’s house and the cringe-worthy spectacle of a tennis match), it is a warm movie that definitely gladdens your heart and reiterates Ranjith Sankar’s role as a director who thinks as the common man. His canvas for the film is not as large as in Passenger or Arjunan Sakshi but the situation is universally appealing; it avoids New Gen cliches and has a more traditional style akin to the old Sathyan Anthikkad cinema. His template of film making draws on the ability of ordinary citizens who rise to the situation when confounded with larger problems in life- what they do is not heroic but simple things that matter..

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez - 

Monday, January 07, 2013


You step into a Shyamaprasad movie, thinking here’s another angst-ridden story that you are going to experience. There are signs that your fears may be true – there is a lonely woman with a tragic past who has no expectations in life and is confronted by various men in her life, you are prepared for the worst but you are pleasantly mistaken. An almost breezy, under-played romance lights up your screen and while its culmination is a deviation from its initial path, the subject is not so heavy to make you squirm or twitch – it simply makes you reflect on what love could mean.

Arike, based on a Bengali short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay is a Basu Chatterjee-meets-Woody Allen romance that moves slowly peeling the layers of love that exist till it abruptly reveals that love isn't as simple an emotion as it looks like. A couple is in love and a melancholic friend facilitates their romance by playing the dove but when it collapses suddenly, you are struck by the same question that Shantanu (Dileep) asks Anuradha (Mamta Mohandas) – did Kalpana (Samvrutha Sunil) ever love him or was it just a passing fantasy? Honestly, the answer is not quite evident and it is upto the viewers to figure out where the fissures developed in their relationship.

Kalpana is a rich, brahmin girl who falls in love with a more modest Shantanu, a researcher in linguistics. Her parents do not approve of the non-brahmin man in her life while Anuradha, her best friend, helps in playing Cupid so that the two can spend time together. But eventually, there is a small twist in the tale and the pyramid is turned upside down (a bit too drastically to my taste). The two women are the central protagonists in the movie while the man plays a more ancillary part in the proceedings.

Anuradha has had a sour relationship in the past when her own cousin cheats her. It is a wound that has never healed; she yearns for love but no longer believes that it exists. She wants to be loved but is unable to commit herself to the thought. She resents the presence of the men in her life – whether it is a silent neighbour whose wife is ailing, a teenager who makes passes at her or the various men who keep looking at her as single and available and willing to be taken. She is resigned to her fate and there are moments of loneliness that are slowly eating her. For her, Kalpana/Shantanu manifest true love (ee lokathil avasaanathe kamuki-kamukanmaaru) and she thinks that she must help them be together.

Kalpana comes across as the practical, loud playful lady who knows what she wants and is determined to ensure that she gets it. So, it does come as a surprise when she walks out of a relationship at its peak – but then we know so less about love that maybe it should never surprise us. She has had her share of romances that have died away with time and does not carry any baggage of the past, unlike Anuradha. She’s strong-willed and is not about to accede to her parents’ wishes that easily, despite their apparent emotional blackmail but after all that bravado, she just as simply turns around and embraces a new life.

We don’t really know Shantanu, except that he is in love with Kalpana but he’s not entirely sure whether she really loves him. Maybe it is their economic disparities or his feeling of being overwhelmed by the first love that comes across in his life – there is an uncertainty and an almost sense of disbelief that he has and maybe, just maybe that explains his somewhat-rational response to his loss at the end.

There is a difference in the way we see Kalpana and Anuradha – well-lit open spaces in contrast to darker and more congested interiors of her house. There are very few-closeups and most of it is taken in long shot with soft visuals and a retro background music that plays when the couple meet. The close-ups exist only of Anuradha and we see what she wants to see – the romance between the couple, the leering men and dark world outside her life.

But did love really exist between the two? Did they invest in each other emotionally enough to take it to the next stage? We can only guess that neither believed that the final step would eventually happen and so the occasional delays in their marriage registration date. The greater the love, the greater the tragedy when it's over but when it eventually peters out and the outpouring of emotions is so subdued, you realize maybe that the tragedy is not so depressing after all, maybe the absence of love was not so apparent after all. Was there an element of sacrifice involved, in the sense, does Kalpana think that post-the accident, she is no longer the same woman that Shantanu loved? Does she think that he no longer needs her or even vice-versa?

Shantanu and Anuradha spend much more time together than he spends with Kalpana. Even Kalpana’s letters to Shantanu are written by Anuradha – the letters that make him feel closer to Kalpana than he is. When he falls sick and meets them after a few days, Anuradha notices it but Kalpana is blissfully unaware about it. Shantanu repeatedly wonders if he’s the right one for her and there is an indication that he may just be drawn to Anuradha but this is treated by the director with a degree of ambiguity.

Dialogues are not the high point in the movie but a brief conversation between Guruji (Madampu Kunjukuttan) and Kalpana's parents sparkles as he makes them understand the futility of their attempts to get her married off to someone of their choice. He wonders whether a celibate Guruji like him is an appropriate person to advise their daughter on her marriage choices! His arrival in the scene marks a change in tempo in the film and it picks up a few rough edges in the form of a building quarrel, an arrest and a game-changer accident – all signs of bad omen, keeping in mind the tone of the movie.

When Shantanu eventually interprets his feelings, we are not sure what it means for Anuradha. Has her quest for love been achieved or does it reiterate her position that true love does not exist in this world. After all, can love simply be transferred from one person to another, just so easily, the way Shantanu expresses himself? Can a man who is so much in love with her friend suddenly fall in love with her? She realizes that she had created a mirage of true love which eventually comes tumbling down but it ironically leaves with her with somebody who probably loves her.

After all the display of  affection that you see on screen, the ending can be perplexing, for the simple reason that no explanation is given. Maybe the movie moves largely from Anuradha’s perspective and so you see only the bright side of the relationship and so when it sours, you are left scratching your head to think of a rational explanation to it. Shyamaprasad leaves it to us to infer why Kalpana walks out of a sure-shot loving relationship but doesn't give us enough clues to wonder where it went all wrong.

Mamta Mohandas is clearly the star of the show, with her absolute restraint and melancholic brooding self, towering over all others in the movie and also the song Iravil viriyum poo pole, sung beautifully by her. But I must admit that her Malayalam accent does not jell entirely with the notion of a small town girl from Kerala. While Dileep does look the role of an unsure academician who is in love, I felt the performance was a bit strained and he was putting in an extra effort to appear that part (The difficulty of fighting against the image created by the likes of Mr Marumakan and Mayamohini!).

Critics would have admonished a lesser director for an abrupt twist in the last 10 minutes but we are generally more generous towards the classier ones. Was the last scene just an attempt to bind the loose threads of two young minds who have lost their faith in love? Arike which means so close has multiple definitions for everyone in the story - a couple is so close to getting married but they don't, friends who are so close to each other but still unable to understand each other, two persons so close to each other but don't realize that they love each other. Whatever it may be, the movie drives home the notion of love being an abstract emotion that defies all logic, just as Anuradha and Shantanu discover eventually....

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -