Trance : Complex Questions, Simple Answers And Everything In Between.

Trance. Brings blinding lights and electronic music to my mind, and the viva voce sessions from my final semester at the University. Anwar Rasheed’s much anticipated film definitely has the former  elements but if you ask me if there’s more to it , I might as well go into a Trance. This is the second Fahadh Faasil film that I have had a hard time figuring out, in fact I haven’t .This is also without doubt Anwar Rasheed’s most complex film to date and the most ambitious in terms of content. Anwar Rasheed turned legend from a promising mainstream director with just one film, Ustad Hotel. My personal favorite remains his debut though. Then he turned producer for another millenial sensation, Bangalore Days. Trance had big names associated with all departments of filmmaking from the production to the cast to the technicians. The only novice was the writer. The most exciting factor was that Fahadh Fasil was teaming up with Anwar Rasheed. You don’t need more reasons to be entranced as a viewer, considering they didn’t take you for granted. Did they ?

It’s a  bold film, someone told me, when I asked for an initial response. Indeed it is. It attacks the many evangelical churches who have turned belief into business without mincing rather beeping words. But if the film hoped to turn controversy into business and do another Padmavat, the people on whom the cameras are trained here have turned out to be a bit smarter than their counterparts up North. It has to be the shrewd Malayali mind at work here when the film is being greeted with a rather cold response in terms of the blowback it expected to trigger. But then, these organisations have always operated incognito.Personally, to me, the movie was a visual and auditory experience that left much to be desired in terms of writing and content. In fact it looked like a derived version of Bradley Cooper’s Limitless. No, it’s not just the pill-popping that makes me feel this way. The protagonists may be totally different in their professions but the themes and the arc of the storylines and the fates of the main protagonists are indeed very similar. Then there was that scene right out of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which had a Malayalam version already with Dileep and Jagathy doing the honors.The film primes the audience with some complex questions and situations for most of its running time and then settles for some real simple cliched answers. Now I may have missed something too, but Anwar Rasheed is not that kind of a filmmaker, who is into ambiguous endings and storylines, which brings me to the writer again, of whom I know nothing about. There are questions that remain unanswered for the average audience when the movie endd and it shows on the rather empty halls, considering it’s a Fahadh Fasil vehicle.

Fahadh Fasil holds the film together with his performance and one would be tempted to say that he carries the film almost entirely on his shoulders if it wasn’t for Amal Neeras’s work as DoP and Resul Pookkutty’s immersive work in the sound department. I was curious early on as to what Pookkutty’s association with the film was all about. He more than just does his bit here, even when the writing falters. Aiding the writer also is the background score by Sushin Shyam, though it invoked the James Bond theme and another film which i took a note of can’t recall as I write this. Will save that for another update down the road. Gautam Menon as the baddie makes quite the impression though he fizzles out as if the writer just hit a block with the character. Dileesh Pothan is a changed man here and his character is the only one the audience could relate with, I felt, that of the quintessential middleman. Soubhin as a news show host looked odd early on but  he returned to his bumbling on screen self quickly.  Nazria remains an enigma, much like the film’s second half. You could always blame the audience for not getting a movie if you are from the Lijo Jose Pellissery school of filmmaking and just say that you have no plans to change and impress, which is an oxymoron if you ask me though. But then yeah Anwar Rasheed produced this film and spent his own money, but so did I when I purchased the ticket. Where’s my closure as a viewer ?

 

 

Varane Avashyamundu : About New Kids On The Block And Old .

People often talk about how Mohanlal the actor was bogged down by larger than life roles since the dawn of the millennium for most parts but little has been said about the fate of the third superstar of Malayalam industry, Suresh Gopi. The actor was restricted to a spectrum of characters that always ranged somewhere between his iconic cop from Commissioner and the quintessential Achayan of Lelam, thanks to a slew of unimaginative filmmakers. The only time one got to see him in a different avatar was in Randam Bhavam and that film bombed at the box office. Then he got to a point where the audience had the impression that he himself had lost interest in his career as an actor and was focused more on other pursuits in the sphere of public life. Being the only actor to ever truly come out of the shadows of the big Ms of Malayalam and to make a mark of his own, you always looked forward to news of his return and the trailer of Varane Avashyamundu looked promising for more reasons than one. I can’t think of a Sathyan Anthikad- Sureshgopi film off the top of my head and I’m going to risk courting an accusation of ignorance when I say that Anoop Sathyan has done what his dad never did in his illustrious career, with his debut film. He also managed a casting coup of sorts by pairing Sureshgopi and Shobhana along with Dulqer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan. Maybe Karan Johar could remake this with all the star kids he knows and all the stars he hangs out with, at least Anoop Sathyan spares us the nausea.

The film took to a sputtering start, at least for me and for a minute I felt that Anoop Sathyan was doing the Malayalam version of English Vinglish. The props were in place and looked like “inspiration”, the favorite sentiment amongst our crop of filmmakers these days. The scenes with Dulqer and KPAC Lalitha early on didn’t help either. Maybe I was just too eager to see Suresh Gopi and Shobhana running into each other. They do eventually and that’s when the film starts rolling into your hearts. Anoop Sathyan is indeed his father’s son when it comes to filmmaking considering the themes he tries to explore here. Sathyan Anthikad films of the past couple of decades have been templates mostly. You have a wayward inconsiderate character or characters who encounter someone who has had a traumatic experience in life which almost always involves a parent and is eventually transformed into a better person. Throw in couple of jokes and tearjerker scenes and there, you have it. This one’s no different but the writer-director has tried to imbibe factors that cater to the sensibilities of the progressive crowd out there. The lifeline of the film is indeed the on screen chemistry of the lead pair. The Shobhana- Sureshgopi pair have been defined by two films if you ask me, Innale and Manichithrathazhu . And when you  are watching Varane Avashyamundu, Anoop Sathyan is relying heavily on your subconscious to invoke your memories of those roles and scenes. He even goes the extra mile and crams in the Gange! line. The film is unconvincing and cliched when it explores the dynamics of the relationship between the characters played by Dulqer and Kalyani. Urvashi plays a character that’s indeed different from the kind of mothers that we have come to see in Malayalam films.But in the end, it is indeed a feel good film that’s easy on your eyes, ears and mind.

The greatest revelation in Varane Avashyamundu is Johnny Antony. He simply excels here with his timing and performance. I would recommend the film just for his scenes with Suresh Gopi. Lalu Alex helps with the nostalgia factor again and is as endearing as ever. Suresh Gopi reaches back into his pre – Thalasthanam days to deliver a fine subdued performance. Shobhana is elegant and restrained though one wished it wasn’t Bhagyalakshmi who we heard when every time she spoke on screen. Now, I have nothing against Bhagyalakshmi, but as Lalettan once said, who does’nt love change. KPAC Lalitha is the lucky charm of all Sathyan Anthikad films and Anoop Sathyan most probably doesn’t want to jinx it. Dulqer is his charming self and manages to make you emotional too. Kalyani Priyadarshan holds her own though there’s no real on screen chemistry with Dulqer  considering they have been paired here, but you could blame that on the writing. But then that would be unfair in a film where you end up taking a liking to Major Ravi even. That’s not too bad for a debut writer-director if you ask me. On a personal note it was a nail biting finish for me as far as the climax was concerned because I hate films that leave you teary eyed when the lights come on. Anoop Sathyan did spare me there, just.

 

The Irishman : A Scorcese Batch Reunion Gets Hijacked By Pacino.

Martin Scorcese needs no introduction in the world of Cinema, nor do Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. If you’re inclined to think that a movie that featured all these names on the title card should’ve been named The Italians, you wouldn’t be entirely in the wrong, considering the collective cinematic history of these gentlemen and their ethnicities too, if I may. While De Niro and Pesci were part of Scorcese’s cinematic textbooks on the workings of the Mafia on more than one occasion, Pacino found himself being part of the most iconic films on the mob ever, The Godfather Trilogy, along with De NiroDe Niro and Pacino did face off again on screen in their prime in the magnus opus of that other master of urban thrillers, Michael Mann. That’s Heat I’m talking about yeah and plotwise, De Niro gets his cinematic revenge here in The Irishman, so to speak. Now, who would’ve thought that these stalwarts would come together to make history – or so we are told – in what is being marketed as almost a swansong, on a streaming service, the home video entertainment of our times. I’m not being elitist when I say that I’m absolutely cool with Adam Sandler doing originals for Netlfix but when you add Scorcese to the list, I must say, I I do have my reservations. Is Netflix getting bigger by the year or is Scorese diminishing himself here, I can’t but help wonder. I do binge shamelessly on Netflix but I’m a bit old school too I guess. But then again when you realise that despite the kind of original work he had to his name, it took a remake to win Scorecese that elusive Oscar of his, nothing should come as a surprise to you about the man and his work anymore.

The Irishman, in keeping with the tradition of Scorcese gangster movies, relies on first person narrative tell the story. And that story being that of Frank Sheeran and his buddy Jimmy Hoffa. The film, we have been told, is based on a book I Heard You Paint Houses, about Sheeran’s life and times as a mob enforcer incognito. De Niro plays Sheeran and Pacino plays Hoffa, a union activist with links to the mob and Pesci plays Russel Buffalino, who happens to be the certified mobster, of the three lead characters. Hoffa disappeared in the mid 70s and the movie explores Sheerans claim in the book that he had executed Hoffa on behalf of the mob. This tale obviously presented Scorcese with ample material to explore his favorite themes and when you find out that the movie  is his longest at 200 odd minutes, you know the man has indulged himself here. The film tells a story that spans across three timelines which brings us to the much talked about digital de-ageing of the lead actors. Pacino looked the youngest of the trio and no de- ageing software could hide the fact that De Niro kicks like the old gentleman he is, but it works. In an interesting twist, there’s digital ageing at work too, we get to see a much older Domenick Lombardozzi, whom I saw most recently, playing his age in Mrs.Fletcher. Maybe deepfake just got legit here thanks to Netflix, for all I know. A time when digital versions of your favorite actors star in roles and attain immortality in digial Valhalla is not afar, if you ask me. The Irishman apart from being the most CGI laden of all Scorcese films ever is also his most political one to date. Had this movie come out in the ” pre-post truth ” era, it would have raised more brows than it did today, considering the tantalising suggestions it makes about a most pivotal moment in American political history as we know it. But I guess the internet has beaten Scorecese at the shock factor game, he should just try sticking to his usual routine of blood and gore next time maybe. At the core of the film are the themes of loyalty and  redemption, rather the lack thereof. The moral compass of the film, i felt was the character of Sheeran’s daughter and it explores the dynamics of the relationships the three main protagonists had with her.

Though De Niro and Pesci do get their moments in the film that does justice to their reputation, it’s Pacino who is on a roll here – pun unintended. He is on fire and trust me, it’s not any de-ageing software at work here. His character is almost the good guy  in the story and has been written as the most dignified of the lot. Hoffa was a leader apart from many other things and Pacino truly transforms himself into one convincingly on screen and in fact the role has earned him his first Academy Award nomination in close to three decades. Pesci is almost adorable in his mobster turn for the first time but he does bring the meance from his heydays to the screen briefly , with a restraint that comes with age I guess, which also brings me to the writing by Steven Zallian. The man has an impressive resume indeed and he might very well pick up his second Academy Award this time around for his work on The Irishman. Though I have lost count of the times De Niro has played a mobster Frank Sheeran has to be his most uninteresting gangster character. I mean, considering the fact that the man played Capone with such viciousness, a young Don Corleone with such intensity and Noodles with a touch of sensitivity, Sheeran is too one-dimensional a character for the actor, i felt. Aleksa Palladino plays Sheerans first wife whom he leaves for his second, played by Stephanie Kurtzuba. Anna Paquin plays the older version of the daughter. Scorsese may have tried to portray the contrasting lifestyles and attitudes of the wives and the daughters I think. The wives are more or less oblivious to the nature of the professions of the husbands but it’s the children who are shown to be affected. Coming back to the lead characters, one could almost draw a parallel with Matt Damon’s corrupt mole of a cop from The Departed to De Niro’s Sheeran. They do what they have to do and you are not exactly sure if they are remoresful though they expect to be forgiven for their acts. Pacino’s Hoffa in the same breath is an endearing and vulnerable character, much like Di Caprio’s undercover cop in that film. At the end of the day, this film is indeed a one of a kind cinematic event on many levels and aspects and any movie afficionado worth his salt would swear by it. Scorecese and Co. may have mellowed, but they definitely havn’t lost steam.

 

Mamangam: Of Lost Glory, And Opportunity.

The tales around the Mamangam script were as intriguing as the tales of the eponymous historical event on which it was based, right from the day it was announced. Hailed as a once in a lifetime script by the industry insiders associated with the film early on, it was claimed that the writer- director who was making his debut had spent 15 good years researching the tale. This was something rather unheard of in Malayalam or in fact  Indian Cinema, for that matter. The announcement that Mammooty was part of the project accompanied by the obvious, unavoidable din on social media, piqued interests. The average cinephile had his doubts, considering the investments in terms of money, creatitivity and collective efforts,  in that order, a tale of this scale demanded from the makers. In fact no one, not even that past master of period dramas from Malayalam seemed to be up to the task when you actually thought about it. Pazhassi Raja worked, but to speak of it in the same breath as Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha is nothing less than blasphemy in the tiny world of Malayalam Cinema if you ask me. But that’s another debate for another day. Then came the controversies in the wake of the ouster of the writer-director along with a change in the original cast and crew, and as a viewer you just hoped for the best. The visuals from the songs and the trailers came out eventually and to be fair to the makers, did help set the expecations just right.

Mamangam the movie tries to trace the rather unrecorded history of a period in Kerala, through the story of three warriors from Valluvanad who are destined to fight at the Mamangam which is held every twelve years on the banks of the Bharthapuzha hosting traders, artists, warriors and rulers from across landsThese warrors who are heading to certain death consider the opportunity an honor and their intent is to behead the custodian of the festival, the Samoothiri, the king who in his conquests supposedly took the rights away from the ruler of Valluvanad, the Konathiri. It’s the tale of two nephews and two uncles, with their own reasons and convictions which decide the course of their lives and hence the story itself. To quote the original writer, only two of these characters have a historical reference and the rest are entirely figments of his imagination. Mammooty plays uncle to Unni Mukundan and Unni plays uncle to newbie Achuthan. The script is as much an ode to the lores of courage and battleground feats as much as it’s an introspection into the workings of the complex themes of revenge, honor, sacrifice, loyalty and mindless violence that’s almost always associated with those concepts, in all corners of the world. What holds the film together is indeed the writing despite the mediocre visualisation that’s almost criminal, considering the avenues of exploration the script opened up, for the right creative visionary of course. Historical accuracy goes for a toss here, when it comes to costumes and backdrops, except when lower castes are portrayed on screen, well almost. The makers could have taken a cue from any of the period dramas on the multitude of streaming platforms around. No one’s asking for a Viking or a Last Kingdom, but we almost certainly did not ask for a rerun of Asianet’s Kayamkulam Kochunni serial. And I’m not discussing the action sequences here, No.

Mammooty has little to do in the film but he is indeed the leading light here though the makers have obvoiously overlooked his stature as an actor and a star you can’t but help feel, given the fact that they’re pitching it as a pan Indian movie, as some of the  sequences unfold it’s hard not to cringe. Unni Mukundan is an adequate physical presence but it’s the boy Achuthan who surprises you with something that could be labelled a restrained performance, maybe it’s just the Malayalam cinegoer in me who’s used to watching overenthusiastic child actors who almost always speak and behave in ways that defy their biological and on screen age. Siddique is at ease playing Sherlock when the movie  goes into Rashomon mode briefly. The debates early on between the matriarchs played by veteran female actors Valsala Menon, Kaviyoor Ponnamma and Nilambur Ayisha set an interesting premise. Kaniha, Anu Sithara, Sajitha Madathil make customary appearances and disappear quickly. Iniya and Prachi Tehlan stay around for a song or two. Sudev Nair is back again in a period drama though he does not exactly get to play a king in exile this time around. And I’m divided when it comes to Manikandan, is he being typecast or is it actually representation?  All things said, done and watched, Mamangam is essentially a lost opportunity. A pan Indian film does’nt have to be a Bahubali or a KGF, a Virus can be one too, thanks to streaming platforms, Aashiq Abu would agree if the grapevine is to believed. I hear the original script is out as a novel, maybe I should check that out, for closure.

 

 

 

21 Bridges : Boseman Bridges All Gaps In This One.

21 Bridges was exactly my kind of Cinema, the trailer said, which was why the reviews wouldn’t’ve mattered in the first place, for me that is. Manhunts and extended chases overnight seems to be quite the rage these days, at least from where I am sitting, and globally too because this film hits the screens close on the heels of the South Indian “airtight” actioner, Kaithi and yes, the visceral Asuran – in spirit. And like Kaithi, 21 Bridges too has it’s share of tributes and inspirations or just loads of plain old deja vu, if nothing else. The film reminded me most of the Bruce Willis vehicle from a decade back, 16 Blocks, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s almost a rework of the script with some contemporary cinematic sensibilites thrown in.

21 Bridges should have been actually called 21 bridges, three rivers and four tunnels, because that’s the whole list of what the NYPD cops shutdown to box in the bad guys in Manhattan, and hey no spoilers here because that’s already part of the trailer. Apart from other things, 21 Bridges was also a quick lesson in geography  for me and though it is indeed laden with tropes and cliches we have seen too often in movies from the genre, it does make more than a good job of holding your attention, considering. I could count at least three MacGuffins that took the tale forward at various juntcures and that’s without counting the brdges. That could indeed be a first. Untouchables had it’s bound ledger, 21 Bridges makes do with MS Excel and thumbdrives. The film ticks all the boxes right when it comes to representation, in keeping with the times and also finds space for that perennial American character, the troubled soldier, in the story. The title and the premise does give you an impression that there’s something on a Roland Emmerich scale in the wings, I mean you’re talking about shutting of Manhattan from rest of NY but the film opts for a minimalistic approach and acutally decides to focus on emotions and short but intense action sequences, which works quite well for it’s cause too, that’s to entertian the audience, ultimately. You get to see a splendidly shot on foot chase and though you do end up guessing most of the twists ahead,  Brian Kirk the director does set up some gripping scenes and manages to keep the proceedings taut through out the running time.

Holding the film together despite whatever shortcomings it has in the writing department in terms of novelty is an ethereal Chadwick Boseman who looks and talks as if he walked off a screen where  Black Panther was playing, right into this film. He redefines the term menacing in the scene where he knocks down one cop and stops his partner in his steps with a glare and a scowl. If in Black Panther it was Michael B.Jordan who stole the show with his performance opposite Boseman, here it’s Stephen James who   tries to repeat history. Tayor Kitsch is efficient in turn as a bad guy with a heart. For a supposedly trigger happy cop, Boseman actually is seen doing a lot of talking with the gun drawn, more than once. A thoroughly deglamorized Sienna Miller plays a narc who joins Boseman in the hunt for the cop killers. Throwing about orders in the middle is J.K.Simmons. Those are the most familar faces but with the amount of streaming content that you have at your disposal these days, you can’t but help feeling that you have seen every other actor on the screen in one show or the other. All things said, this one might evoke nothing more than a duh – to channel my inner Billie Eilish – from the millenials but if you’re a so-called 90’s kid, this film just might work for you. And don’t me wrong when I tell you that the best and most talked about scene from the film is that of a drone shot of a synchronised salute by a bunch of cops, it’s just a technical observation and is seen in the trailer too. Duh ?

 

 

The Writer, The director or The Actor ? : A Whodunnit Of The Cinematic Kind.

Murali Gopy’s most successful work in terms of box office numbers, as a writer is also his weakest turn as one if you ask me. In Lucifer the narrative is functional yet downright bland and totally devoid of any real intrigue and complexity in comparison to what he achieved in films like Ee Adutha Kalathu, Left Right Left and Kammara Sambavam. But there’s one scene that caught my attention and I’m divided because I can’t quite figure out if it was Murali Gopy the writer, Prithviraj the director or Baiju the actor who is to be credited here.

At one point in the tale, the conspiracy theorist played by Indrajith is kidnapped by Baiju and his men and is locked up in a mental asylum. Indrajith kicks and screams when he is being pushed inside and that’s when you see Baiju displaying emotions that you wouldn’t ideally associate with a henchman. Baiju does this in around ten seconds or so and you hardly notice it. I for one did miss it in the theatre entirely and it was by pure chance that I happened to take note on Prime. The emotion conveyed is empathy I presume and the attention to detail here is quite impressive because at this juncture in the film you’re not sure who the bad guys are.

What intrigues me the most about the scene is if it was written to the dot by Murali Gopy or if it’s Prithviraj’s vision as a director at work or sheer improvisation by Baiju who is “staying in character”, so to speak. In any case, while taking nothing away from the writer and the director, the fact is that at the end of the day the onus is on the actor to deliver on screen and Baiju walks away with all the glory here. Malayalam Cinema’s search for the next great character actor, as they’re called in our part of the world could very well end here.

Kaithi : Road Rage.

A semblance of truth and human interest are all it takes for a reader to suspend his disbelief and overlook the implausibility of the narrative, proposed Samuel Taylor Coleridge two centuries back. In Kaithi the director applies this to Cinema as he knows best and thought fit.

Kaithi at the core is essentially your generic Tamil hero vehicle. Lokesh Kanakaraj who impressed with his debut Maanagaram, for obvious reasons have indulged in the trappings of an out and out South Indian commercial entertainer intended for the masses. The director finds inspiration from a multitude of films, namely Con Air, Assault On Precinct 13 and The Departed which itself was a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs.

Kaithi is a decent thriller but not without failings, which brings me to Coleridge again. Kaithi is also Karthi’s glorious return to the road after Paiyya, sans songs this time around but. The whole premise of the film basically rests on a top cop’s fear of the media which to be fair is not hard to fathom in these times of prime time media trials. Which is why it’s odd that for a plot that’s all about cover up in a small town, the absence of OB vans and frenzied journos stand out like sore thumbs given the number of explosions and mayhem unleashed on screen, but then again, you have chosen to suspend, your disbelief that is.#kaithi