The phrase God's Own Country is probably Kerala’s most successful tagline. Our chests swell in pride (not the 56’ one) at the successful marketing of the state’s natural beauty but privately many smirk at how a naturally endowed state has become a laggard, especially when compared to our immediate hard working neighbour. As a protagonist remarks in the movie which goes by the same name, Kerala was not coined as God's Own Country by the Gods but by fellow humans!
Considering that hyperlink movies have made a splash in new generation Malayalam cinema, it isn't surprising that many directors are attracted to this kind of story- telling. Here the focus is inevitably more on the narrative devices instead of say the emotional or melodrama moments that drives the plot in most movies. The obsession for the narrative obfuscates the real plot many a times but thankfully, Vasudev Sanal’s God's Own Country manages a fine balance because it has fairly well-defined plot lines that intersect at times but are very capable of standing as independent credible tales that take their own routes.
Fahadh Faasil is Manu Krishna, a Dubai-based NRI. He lands in Kochi with his baby daughter to pay the blood money that would rescue his wife Asha (Isha Talwar), who is in a Dubai prison after a car accident. Manu is supported by his writer-friend Abhirami (Mythili) to get the deal done but it all goes topsy-turvy when the money goes missing. The hapless husband with his crying baby and his friend spend the entire day attempting to recover this money.
Sreenivasan is Public Prosecutor Mathen Tharakan who is in charge of a sensational rape case of a minor (whose name is used freely in all public utterances despite the obvious fact this is not allowed in India) that has shaken the conscience of the State. Nandu as Ettumanoor MLA Vakkachan is one of the prime accused and Mathen enlists the support of Vakkachan’s wife Serena (Lena) to give crucial evidence that will nail her husband. It isn’t the easiest of things to do and the plot focuses on the day when Mathen smartly smuggles Serena out of her house and take her to court.
Lal appears as a taxi driver Mohammed who desperately needs six lakhs for the operation of his daughter. The surgery needs to be arranged the same day otherwise the hospital would discharge her; with no help in hand, he looks at the fastest way to raise money for the treatment, in this eventful day in all their lives.
Despite the presence of multiple threads in GOC, the script does not waver and sticks to its course, with very few roadblocks. The script is backed by solid performances, extending to the large supporting cast who have minor but important roles to play, whether it is the Tamilian lottery seller, the honest auto-driver and his partner, the gangster duo of Arjun and Zakeer or the cops.
GOC traces its DNA to Passenger and Traffic in the way the movie is shot and its attempt to weave a larger social picture to the happenings. At times, the attempt to provide social commentary is all too evident but thankfully, it doesn't act as a party pooper on too many occasions (except like when it brings in the licentious book publisher). Like most ‘social-cinema’, the screenplay has a soft corner for the under-privileged who comes off with much more credibility than the high and the mighty. The Tamilian lottery seller is looked down with contempt and suspicion but he turns out to be the most trustworthy and helpful man in the situation. The prostitute and auto-driver are traditionally the characters with golden hearts and they are no exception here but they manage to pull off their parts well, without necessarily fitting into this stereotype.
I am not too sure whether the idea of three protagonists, all of different religions was done deliberate but maybe it fits along with the overall social image of the film (Also interesting is that the actors who played these three roles are also of different religions themselves). Some of the social communication is deftly conveyed with brevity like the absence of family support for Manu/Asha because of their inter-religious marriage (Ummachi kuttiye Nair kettiyathu cinemayil kandappol ellavarum kayiadichu pakshe jeevithathil aayappol... – a nod to the presence of Isha Talwar in the movie), spending patterns of the average Keralite and the growing mistrust towards migrant workers while some messages are packaged more explicitly (even if less effective) like land re-settlement issues or the road accident menace in the state.
What unsettled me at a few points in the movie was the refusal of the director to underplay any of the scenes in the film. Take Abhirami’s accident scene which in her elaborate slow-motion tumble appeared rather grotesque – the impact of the scene is a lot bloodier than I think the director must have wanted to show. Or say when Mathen talks of the rape of the minor girl; there isn't really a need to show that the crime was done by focussing on her expressions and the bare backs of the men repeatedly coming in (though the scene was pretty brief). The point is that the rape is not the main theme of the movie and showing its cruelty is not relevant to the movie then the why the need to shoot the scene in that fashion.
Yes, this is a multi-narrative thriller and so all the links are not clear at the very beginning but over a period of time, as the story slowly unravels, the dots are all joined. But the director wants to be doubly sure that the audience doesn't really miss out on the connections and so there are deliberate explanations done – almost a kind of baby feeding that isn't really needed. Like when Mathen escapes by driving the car along the police station; the next shot of a muddy road behind the station clearly suggests how they escaped, then why the need for a slow motion explicitly showing the escape. Similarly, slow motion frames which show how the bag is stolen from Abhirami’s car or eventually returns to Manu’s hands could have been avoided.
For a film that did not intend to showcase Fahadh Faasil’s macho-presence on the screen, I was a little puzzled when the director filmed elaborate action sequences instead of quick encounters that would have produced the same effect. His fights with the money carriers and agents walking straight into their den was out of place while the final sequence with one of the henchmen (with a poor baby in hand) was way over the top. After all this, when Manu showers currency notes from the top of the building for the agitators below, I wasn't quite able to fathom the reason for this action.
GOC has 2-3 songs which do not distract from the flow, but the BGM disappoints and it is pretty loud at times. It scores in its well-orchestrated action scenes like Zakir’s chase scene and subsequent fight with the other goons but the same thing comes unstuck when it is done by Manu. The ending struck a mild false note, in my opinion. Considering that their family and friends had abandoned them after the accident that happened with the friends around after a New Year cocktail party, the final shot of them celebrating in another party did give a sense of déjà vu – a quieter gathering would have been more reassuring.
In all fairness, most of this criticism is not a deal breaker but what could have taken the movie a notch higher. The debutante scriptwriters Arun Gopinath, Anish Francis and Praveen have succeeded in making the movie a workable, edge of the seat thriller with the right dosage of social messaging that helps its cause. It might be overdone slightly at times but at the end of the day if the movie is trimmed by around say 15 mins, it is a fine effort alright…
Originally published in MadAboutMoviez: http://madaboutmoviez.com/2014/05/13/gods-own-country-movie-review-a-surprisingly-engaging-hyperlink-film/