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 -