Halal Love Story : The Ele-friend In The Room.

All of us must have had that one particular friend in school, who was nice to us and cordial but never really got down to roll in the mud with us, so to speak. This person was most likely a stickler for rules while we we were completely oblivious of the existence of these very rules, we rather chose to stick to the bare minimum that was necessary to keep us away from any punitive action from the teachers. This also made that person a “model student “ before the teachers and we distrusted or for that matter even disliked this person. These circumstances prevented us from getting close to this person beyond a point and to be fair to us, it was exactly how that person wanted it to be too. It was just how things were, you didn’t bother as long as they didn’t bother you. Growing up and turning an adult in India exposes you to the society as a whole like in any other country but here we also get to learn to navigate the invisible cultural boundaries set not just by religions but also by the complex dynamics of caste. Despite the inherent pluralistic nature of the dominant religion, it’s a fact that the practice of caste made sure that an individual who belonged to that community was no different from someone from any of the other religions that practiced exclusivity and the rules that came with it. Halal Love Story if you ask me is the cinematic avatar of that student from school whom I talked about initially. The movie, to it’s credit is as real as it is honest. It’s not a bold statement, rather it’s a gentle affirmation of the status quo. Every thought needs to be voiced at some point, just as every story needs to be told and that’s where dialogue, conversations start in any sphere of human interaction. Zakaria has started one in Malayalam Cinema. And why should he not? It’s the reactions to the film rather than the film itself that prompted me to sit down and write what I have, to be honest.

Halal Love Story produced by Aashiq Abu’s OPM and released on Amazon Prime opens to TV footage of an event from two decades back that changed the world as we know it and the ramifications of which are felt even today and very well maybe the reason why the movie exists too, if you think about it. Halal Love Story is told against the same idyllic backdrop that we have come to associate with Zakaria since his debut as a director in Sudani From Nigeria or with Muhsin Prari the writer in KL10. If in Sudani the writer and the director told you the tale that you, the audience wanted to hear, here in Halal, they are telling you the tale that they want you to hear. Ultimately this movie is about making a movie but it’s not exactly Bowfinger and neither is it The Aviator. It’s not a spoof of anything either. Basically it’s about the efforts of a bunch of aspiring artists who are part of a religious organisation bound by the decrees of that particular religion, to make a feature film. They call themselves a progressive organisation and the movie appears to hold the view that the stances the organisation have taken on major events and issues in the recent past were not different from that of the Left Front in the State, politically. That’s where the movie provokes ever too subtly if you ask me. While one significant scene in this context has the members of the organisation at a recital of poet Murugan Kattakada’s “Baghdad” which was used by the Left front as an anti – imperialist anthem back then, another has the organisation’s office walls adorned with calls for Coca Cola boycott as backdrop, another anti – capitalist campaign entirely associated with the Left again, in the State. That in fact is a recurring “motif” almost, you even have a scene where the members refuse the Cola used as prop -on screen alcohol – in a shot for the movie within the movie. One is tempted to speculate if the writers were taking a dig at someone or indulging in a proud display of core ethics, here. The characters who set out with the initiative, to make a movie on behalf of the organisation they’re a part of, in keeping with the sensibilities and norms that they strive to uphold in every aspect of their lives, look up to Iranian Cinema as a source of inspiration. For the makers, but a classic from another cultural setting is apparently problematic, as depicted in a scene that looks contrived to say the least, the sole purpose of which, it seems is to establish a rather simplistic, unidimensional, moralistic perspective of a highly contextual and complex art form like Cinema.

The titular love story between a husband and a wife as they discover certain aspects about each other through the course of the making of the film within the film, is as halal as it gets and to the credit of the writers they have managed to hold the average OTT viewer’s attention with whatever little drama they could manage to generate considering the limitations of the plot, while getting their point across too. The pre -mobile- internet- social media era setting helps the writers here, while it could disconnect an entire generation of viewers. Indrajit is at home as the unassuming husband and Grace Antony ups her game here as the wife who is a loyal member of the organisation. The writers also set a rather suggestive and contentious premise with a subplot involving another couple who in fact have no love lost between them because the husband chose to walk a path that’s not halal, to sum up. Joju Joseph is in his elements as the husband who also happens to be the director roped in by the organisation to helm their movie venture. Unnimaya Prasad is the estranged wife. Sharafudeen impresses again as the young blood in the organisation, the fixer with practical solutions to instances that present a crisis of faith to the novice filmmakers. He is the one who navigates the big bad world out there armed with his beliefs.Though younger in age, he is the one whom Nazar Karuhedath’s character turns to, to get the ball rolling for the movie venture. The major conflict in the plot as the the movie and the movie within the movie draws to an end, revolves around the shooting of an act as simple as a hug between the married couple. If that sounds absurd, consider this, Valsalyam, the gold standard for “family drama” in malayalam cinema does not have a scene where the lead actor, presented as an epitome of character and values, shares a romantic moment with his wife. That’s the sort of unrealistic normalcy our movie makers have infused into our collective psyches over the years. Yes, Bharathan and Padmarajan have been honorable exceptions and they are revered precisely because of that too. Come to think of it, our movies have always been halal, whether you like it or not, thanks to the efforts of makers from Balachandra Menon to Sathyan Anthikad, the stalwarts of family dramas in Malayalam Cinema. To put things in perspective, this is why a Nayanthara donns a bikini in Billa and a sari in Bhaskar the Rascal. Forget movies, us Malayalis as a whole, across communities, are not a people who believe in open display of affection. It’s simply not part of our culture. So to raise red flags when a Zakaria comes along with a counter narrative of a movie is hypocrisy, to put it mildly. John Cassavetes apparently asked Martin Scorcese to make films about things he knew about, and he ended up chronicling the life of Italian Americans in the United States. Zakaria and Parari are doing just that, if you ask me. If it’s the politics of the organisation that the movie rather flaunts with a calm assurance that bothers us, it wouldnt be too far fetched a thought if I were to say that an iteration of scenes as the ones we see in this movie would be present in a movie about a movie venture by any of the two leading political parties in Kerala. Again on a closing note, I’m not quite sure why we should have a problem with Thoufeeq that we didn’t have with Baputty, who chose to stay outside the gates for the sake of sanctity.

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

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood : Tarantino’s Tribute To Tate.

This is not a review, simply because it’s impossible to review a Tarantino movie in the conventional sense of the term, no matter what the critics might tell you and then there’s also the conflict of interest factor, me being a self-confessed fan that is. Tarantino indulges, like no other filmmaker but he is celebrated world over like no other too. You have to be a movie buff to appreciate the kind of cinema that Tarantino makes, I feel because this is a guy who started making movies out of pure love for the medium and draws his obsessions and inspirations from all kinds of Cinema, from what’s branded B- Grade to relatively unknown Italian action movies to forgotten Hong Kong flicks from yesteryear, to speak of a few. When you see an actor in a Tarantino movie, you know that he wrote the character with that particular actor on his mind and that the actor was part of some little known TV show or a movie with a cult following from yesteryear that Tarantino grew up watching. Everything has a reason and a reference in a Tarantino movie which you could almost always trace back to some other movie or a show. Legends and lores are galore amongst fans about Tarantino’s uncredited works from his days as a writer and even after his turn as a writer-director. The “Silver Surfer” bit from Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide is what comes to my mind first when I think about one such tale. Pulp Fiction remains the movie that defines him as a filmmaker the most and that’s where you start if you’re discovering Tarantino just now, if you ask me. You will either end up a fan or dismiss him entirely, this, you can be absolutely sure of.

In his 9th film, Tarantino indulges like never before. Considering the fact that the premise of the film is all about what Tarantino loves the most, movies, actors and Hollywood, he hasn’t digressed much. Yes, he pays ode to himself in more scenes than one but in many ways this is a new Tarantino too. Set in the fag end of the sixties, 1969 to be precise, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is primarily a tribute from Tarantino to Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family on the fateful night of August 9th, 1969 in her home, in cold blood. Tarantino uses two characters to tell this story, an actor who is at a crossroads in his career played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his stuntman, played by Brad Pitt. They’re to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood what C-3PO and R2D2 were to Star Wars. They have absolutely nothing to do with the central plot but are the devices through which the story develops rather flourishes here. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is Tarantino’s favorite toy in this film. An actor at a crossroads in his career, trying to reinventing himself to stay relevant and not forgotten, Dalton gets most of Tarantino’s attention in the film. Dalton shoots for spaghetti westerns playing the bad guy and Tarantino uses it as an excuse to squeeze in a mini western right in the middle. Tarantino experiments with just the camera in the age of CGI and the shots where the camera tracks and pans during takes and retakes in the film inside this film are displays pure of craftsmanship. Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt on the other hand is the quintessential embodiment of “Amercian Cool”. He is unperturbed by any situation or intimidated by any individual. He comes with a mythical backstory too, like most Tarantino heroes and is an enigma. Then there is Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate and I’m having a hard time figuring out who Tarantino’s new muse is, Robbie or the late Tate. Unlike the fictional Dalton who is literally riding into the sun on screen as far as his career is concerned , Tate whose life ended tragically and mindlessly is discovering fame and elusive success. This has to be the most delicate and touching portrayal of a character, rather a person in any Tarantino movie to date. A slew of other actors too make an appearance in roles that would be otherwise reserved for extras only because it’s again, a film by Tarantino.

Tarantino’s adoration for Sharon Tate as an actress and a person is more than evident from the way he has written and portrayed the character. Tarantino loves performers the most, and one gets an impression that he has the utmost respect for Sharon Tate the actor and he takes the effort to vouch for it before his audience five decades after her passing. The only reason Tarantino made this movie was to travel back in time and put the Manson Family on trial for their horrific act, I feel. Cliff Booth ultimately turns out to be the personification of the rage that Tarantino harbors for the members of the Mansion Family for what they did to Tate. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a true artist’s reaction to a thoughtless act which brought an end to the life of another artist with stars in her eyes, literally. This is revenge, and Tarantino metes it out like he knows best too. Then there’s the controversial Bruce Lee bit, surprising too because Tarantino obviously reveres Bruce Lee and paid him tributes in his Kill Bill movies in the past. The argument that Bruce had to take a beating to establish Booth’s physicality doesn’t hold water for me because that doesn’t quite explain the almost satirical take on the martial arts legend considering Tarantino’s history of fascination with the legacy of Lee. Personally I feel that it’s Tarantino in an introspective mood, demystifying his own personal heroes, and I wonder if the Weinstein fallout has anything to do with it.

Thannermathan Dinangal : Pure Gold.

Human creativity knows no bounds I’m convinced without an iota of doubt, now that I have watched this stellar piece of cinema called Thannermathan Dinangal. No matter how hell-bent popular media is at convincing us with everyday news that it’s a depressing and bleak world out there, I now have faith that mankind will find answers for everything that’s wrong with the world ultimately. Except for the producer, the editor and the cinematographers, everyone else involved from the director to the scriptwriter to the actors, all are relatively newcomers, and it doesn’t show one bit. There are no stars in the film, in fact there are exactly three established actors in the film. Thannermathan Dinangal is the new guy at work who’s so good at what he does that he makes his colleagues insecure from the word go, so to speak. Above all, it’s pure bliss. It’s a time machine for the viewer who is instantly transported back in time to his school days. Your cheeks would most probably hurt like hell by the time youre done watching it, because you just couldn’t stop smiling through the entire length of the film.

Gireesh A.D and his writer Dinoy Poulose who proved their mettle in the bustling short film scene before their feature film debut, belong to the same school of new wave filmmaking in Malayalam Cinema as Lijo Jose Pelliserry, Alphonse Puthran,Dileesh Pothan,Shyam Pushkaran and Basil Joseph. In fact the influence of Ljio’s groundbreaking Angamaly Diaries is more than evident in Thannermathan Dinangal on a visual plane and one can’t but help wonder if the title was influenced by another sleeper hit of the year, Kumbalangi Nights. Was one of the houses in this film featured in  Premam too? ,I have my suspicions. There are but irrelevant observations and takes nothing away from the originality and creativity that has gone into the conception and execution of this film. The writer plays one of the characters too but the film owes a major part of its success to the charm of another find from Kumbalangi Nights, Mathew Thomas. The boy is on a roll here and carries the film with ease on his scrawny shoulders. Nalsen K.Gafoor’ who plays Melvin,  partner in crime to Mathew Thomas’s Jaision plays a significant role in keeping the proceedings on the screen interesting. The talented Anaswra Rajan makes a mark again here.Vineeth Sreenivasan plays another significant character and is one of the three recognised actors apart from Irshad who discovers his funny bone again here and Nisha Sarang who plays a mother who every mother from our part of the world could relate to, though she hardly utters a word. Sabareesh Varma makes a brief appearance The rest of the cast are familiar faces from the writer-director duo’s short films that went viral on social media platforms.

Thannermathan Dinangal is unlike anything that we have seen ever on Indian screens and the only thing thats close in comparision is the American show from yesteryear, The Wonder Years. The film’s charm lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to be a film that’s trying to tell a story about school life in any of the thousands of schools across the State rather it works almost like one of those found footage videos. It’s almost as if a camera was left running at the school.  The greatest success of these first time filmmakers is that they have managed to extract some real natural moments from the untrained ensemble cast. This is one of those films that speaks to every single member in the audience and has to be experienced in a theatre too. Cinema, as I’ve reiterated to the poing of being redudant, is ultimately a universal language that’s capable of bringing people together and Thannermathan Dinangal does it with elan. Imagine a process where couple of filmmakers conceive a particular scene that’s performed to perfection by the actors, which elicits the exact same response from a bunch of stangers in a darkened hall. That’s is why cinema exists in this world as an enduring expression of human creativity and gems like Thannermathan Dinangal are amongst the finest examples of this art form. You need to stop everything youre doing and ring up your friends from school and watch it together and trust me, it would be an experience to last a lifetime. This one’s an instant timeless classic, if I’ve ever seen one.