Odiyan : V.A Shrikumar Passes, Not With Flying Colors Though.

Wouldn’t blame V.A Shrikumar if he is tempted to think that his personal D-Day at the Box Office was as bad as the one the Allied had on the beaches of Normandy. On the eve of the release a hartal was declared and fans unleashed their wrath on the social media pages of the political party in question. The makers went on to announce that the shows wouldn’t be cancelled and social media was rife with jokes in no time. Today as i write this, the jury has been out since the wee hours and I woke up to a spate of distasteful comments on the social media pages of the movie and the director though even the most vile of detractors would think twice before doing that on the lead actor’s page considering the kind of clout and sway he holds over the Malayalam film industry and the viewers at large. But the fact remains that the box office is a different beast entirely, impervious to any kind of influence. Most of the comments blamed the director of sky rocketing expectations with the pre release hype. By the time I was in for the film, people were talking about how the movie should be  inducted as a case study in business schools. Well, did you expect an ad-man -turned – director to not market his debut film with the biggest star in Malayalam using all the tricks in his bag?  Dude’s got brains and you have to hand it to him and I for one do not feel that he has taken me on a ride, having watched the 10 am show in the UAE today.

The movie starts off in Varanasi and wastes no time in presenting an aged but heroic Odiyan Manikyan before the audience. Mammooty then takes over during the titles narrating a brief history of the Odiyan clan which ends with the return of the dreaded Odiyan to his home, the rustic Palakkadan village Thenkurissi. Most of the story is told in flashbacks which takes us to a time when electricity had still not reached the lands. The odiyan relies on darkness and the psychology of fear to practice his “art” as he prefers to call it. To put things in perspective for the uninitiated, the odiyan is not too different from the Batman Nolan presented before us  in Batman Begins but unlike Batman, odiyan’s services are on sale for those in need and that’s how he makes his living when he is not helping in the household of Prabha, played by  Manju Warrier. Batman again was trained by Ras Al Ghul in Ninjutsu while Manikyan is trained by his grandfater, an odiyan himself. The much hyped younger avatar of Mohanlal dominates most of the screentime in comparision to the aged odiyan. The makers have tried to portray the craft of the odiyan realistically here. Though V.A Shrikumar claimed early on that the CGI would be world class, you can’t but help notice that not much of it has gone into the depiction of the actual odi act, which is not a bad thing if you ask me and more importantly the director and the writer have taken care not to insult the intelligence of the viewer. You would find yourself thinking that maybe this is indeed how the legendary odiyans went about their profession, in the dark. You see a deliberate choice on the part of the makers to stick to reality and to not cross over into the realm of fantasy for most parts, though there are indeed some conflicting sequences. In addition to electric bulbs, playing the antagonist to Manikyan is Prakash Raj as  Karuman Nair who is obsessed with Prabha. The references to the color of the skin are borderline racist and I wouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t go down well in this age of political correctness. Shammi Thilakan interestingly dubs again for a Tamil actor playing villain to Mohanlal and is obviously a deliberate tribute of sorts by Shrikumar to the iconic Devasuram. There is some unforced humor in the film mostly delivered by a restrained Siddique.Sana Altaf and Kailash have done justice to their roles too.There are more than a couple of songs and the one that stands out most is Kondoram. Though a bit untimely, its the most beautiful in terms of music and visuals too,  thanks to a stunning Manju Warrier. It is indeed refreshing to see a leading lady on the other side of forty giving the younger crop a run for their money, and how.

The story proceeds at an even pace and there are quite a few number of scenes where Mohanlal and Manju Warrier get to flex their acting muscles. The younger odiyan is all smiles mostly but the aged odiyan is someone who regrets his actions and is weighed down by guilt. He believes that he bears the curse for the actions of his ancestors. Mohanlal has translated this shift in odiyan’s perspective in his inimitable style, in the most subtle of ways, so much so that you wouldn’t realise this until long after you have left the theatres. The action sequences might not blow you away but are decently executed. Mohanlal briefly engages in a stick fight reminiscent of the Kilukkam dhobi ghat fight. While most of the movie worked for me, the climax came of as a bit disappointing and gave the impression that the director lost his vision and rushed through the proceedings towards the end. Despite Peter Hein the final showdown doesn’t quite work. The movie deserved a better ending and this could be attributed to Shrikumar’s lack of experience in feature cinema but then again it’s uneducated speculation on my part. The movie is indeed a tad too long, at three hours but hey, I’m not complaining. Having said that, V.A Shrikumar has made more than a decent debut if you ask me. Yes, the movie is not Narasimham but that was almost two decades back and even I have moved on , as a fan. Believe me when I tell you that the film certainly did not deserve the kind of onslaught that was meted out early on, literally. By the time the first half of the film was over, I was angry and relieved, for the right reasons. But given the events in the recent past that rocked the Malayalam film industry which involved the major names associated with the film, there’s always room for malice. The movie gets cocky too when it takes a dig at Communists. That might not go down well especially when the leading man’s political ambitions are a topic of hot speculation  in the state. But none of these factors should stop you from finding out for yourself, after all I am a self confessed fan. Not a fan boy though.There’s a difference but I’ll save that for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.0 : They Have A Marvel, We Have A Shankar.

That’s improvising on a Marvel quote but nothing could be more truer. Shankar once made a love story that had two Aishwarya Rais romancing two Prashanths and he brought in a dinosaur in the climax scene just for the heck of it. This was in 1998 and I still haven’t figured out what that T Rex was doing in the film, but it was indeed as good as Spielberg’s dinos. Dinosaurs that looked life like were quite the rage back then thanks to breakthrough CGI in Jurassic Park and The Lost World and Shankar just had to have one in his film. A perfect one that looked like it walked off from one of the screens where The Lost World was playing and decided to check out Shankar’s Jeans. That’s Shankar for you. Remember how as a kid you had your favorite toy and did all sorts of stuff you could imagine with it? That’s all Shankar’s doing with Rajnikanth. He tested the waters with Sivaji and showed us a spectacle in Enthiran. Now in the Enthiran sequel 2.0, he has just gone bersek with his imagination. He in fact wanted none other than Arnold Schwarzenneger to play the bad guy to Rajnikanth. That failed during talks but how’s that for thinking big?

2.0 is not Shankar’s best in terms of content but it is indeed his most ambitious in terms of  vision and execution. He has focused all his attention on delivering the grand action sequences, so much so that the rest of the film is almost a rush of customary proceedings reminiscent of his earlier films and  I’m not complaining because he just doesn’t give the viewer the time to do that once the film starts rolling. After all, you need to think, to complain. It’s one CGI extravaganza after the other till the end credits roll. The CGI is indeed the best we have ever come across on Indian screens and given Shankar’s imagination even Hollywood studios would have budget concerns if they were to bring them to screen flawlessly. Lyca has done more than their best here I’d say. Almost all Shankar films to date have a core vigilante theme around which he builds the rest of the story. Here that core belongs to Akshay Kumar.No, he owns it.And one wishes Shankar had spent more time on that character.The back story of Akshay Kumar’s character was poignant and compelling which evoked a sincere and touching performance from the actor too. The sensitive enviornmental threat being discussed here is indeed true , confirmed by reports from the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Yes, Shankar takes more than a few liberties and resorts to his hat when science can’t explain the proceedings on screen. He throws quite a fair share of bull about 5th force at the audience but I don’t recall anyone complaining about Adamantium or Vibranium. Just saying in case you can’t live without logic,ironical though considering you’re in for a movie. Though it’s unlikely that the system or the people in charge would change for good, the disturbing message when passed on a scale as large as this is something that lingers, even if it’s only for a short time.

Of the actors, Akshay Kumar is the one who stands out. The appearance of his character seems to have been heavily inspired by Salim Ali , India’s greatest Ornithologist and Akshay Kumar has played the role with conviction, I felt. While Rajni lights up the CGI laden scenes with his moves as 2.0 , Vaseegaran is almost colorless. The mood of the film changes when 2.0 makes his entry and he even does the goat baying thing which rocked the audience in Enthiran. Rajni is at his entertaining best when he plays bad guys.He did that in Chandramukhi with Lakalaka. He manages to do that here too despite the mind boggling CGI Shankar throws at the viewers. Amy Jackson plays a robot and she is at home in the role. No, her jokes dont work but you hardly have time to squirm when the next big CGI scene is always around the corner.And yes you have to watch this in 3D. That takes the experience to a whole another level. ARR is at his best as always with Shankar.For a first in a Shankar film, you hardly have any song sequences except for the one with Akshay Kumar and his birds and the one at the end credits. Pullinangal is vintage ARR with minimal orchestration, a throwback to his Rasathi (Thiruda Thiruda ) days for me. Shankar is an entertainer and he knows commerical cinema inside out.He doesn’t need CGI to hold the viewer’s attention. In his debut film Gentleman, the hero played by Arjun is engaged in a fight mid-heist with an old cop. The cop knocks Arjun down and coughs before he signals Arjun to get back up. He’s just an extra but the scene and the stuntman stay with the audience for eternity .That’s the Shankar we love and miss. Shankar has had his inspirations too here in 2.0 I couldn’t but help notice and that brings me to the fact that in a movie this big that hopes to give Marvel a run for their money, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the smallest one. Find out what I’m talking about for yourself. You may not love it but you definitely cannot help liking it.

Joesph : Joju George Is Joseph George In A Gorgeous Thriller.

The gold standard for crime thrillers in Malayalam Cinema is undoubtedly Oru CBI Diarykurippu which spawned an entire series that refuses to go away even today, though purists might argue the case of Yavanika which is absolutely justified too. That both featured Mammooty in unconventional cop avatars is more than a mere coincidence I’d say given the actors penchant for expirementation. Apart from rather lacklustre sequels which rode merely on the legacy of the first film,  CBI Diarykurippu also set a rather pedestrian pattern for investigative thrillers in Malayalam to follow. As we have witnessed in Malayalam movies in the genre, the climax is almost always a witness parade where every plot twist until then is discussed in what’s nothing less than a lecture by the lead actor, be it any of the  CBI sequels to Jeethu Joseph’s debut thriller to the many insignificant  Sureshgopi crime thrillers.This was even seen in Ranjith Sankar’s Pretham. For an audience conditioned  to such banality in the past couple of decades Joseph is novel in more ways than one.

The teaser of the film had set keen movie afficionados talking for a couple of reasons, Joju George’s look and the air he had about his self. Joesph scripted by a police officer is as much an emotional drama as the procedural it is at the core.  Personally I felt that Joseph owed its pacing and narrative style to the Scandinavian and Spanish thrillers that we have come to love. In fact I almost had a sense of deja vu towards the end and I still havent shaken that feeling off, to be honest but  I have gone ahead and written what I am writing becasue Joseph is exactly the kind of movie that deserves to be talked and written about. M. Padmakumar who dished out various versions of Devasuram at the start of his career has ventured into more or less unknown territory in terms of genre and has found sweet success. And the fact that the gamble with the lead actor also paid off must add to the high the Director deserves to be on. Joju George is the single most focal point of the film and there is hardly a frame without the man in it. M. Padmakumar deserves an award for just visualising Joju as Joseph. In the scene where he rides a Bajaj Chetak to a crime scene early on with one hand on the handlebar, smoking a beedi stub with the other sans a helmet on his head had the screen cluttered with all kinds of statuatory warnings and you still can’t miss the lazy elegance and the ease at which he stays in character in that simple sequence. Few minutes later there was random applause  in the theatre when he delivered a salute to his former superior. He is an actor for the longer race and the USP of the film. That is not taking anything away from the brilliant screenplay and masterful direction.Giving Joju company are a bunch of actors from Dileesh Pothan to Irshad to Sudhi Koppa. Athmiya is the only actor who gets to make an impression amongst the female cast.

In an otherwise taut and watertight script the only time I winced was when, as is the custom in Malayalam, rather Indian Cinema the makers chose to carelessly throw in the term hacking. No, they dont resort to vappachi’s legacy here but they could have been a bit more careful given the detaling to most technical aspects of a modern day investigation the film depicts. All they need is a season of Mr.Robot, for perspectives’ sake when it comes to hacking. The film also tries to address a social menace that we are indeed aware of but has little exposure as general public to, in the mainstream newsmedia.The film has also explored the dynamics of  relationships and the concept of a family in ways that are far removed from the conventional ones that we often come across in Malayalm Cinema. The greatest success of the film is that despite the disturbing central theme and the slow burn narration it’s the character rather the actor who remains in our psyche. You will cease to wonder why the film is named Joseph and start wondering why it isn’t called Joju.

 

 

 

Oru Kuprasidha Payyan : Madhupal Turns Grisham.

It took his debut film as a director, Thalappavu for the general Malayali audience to finally accept Madhupal as a serious film personality. Then he further cemented his position with his second film, Ozhimuri. He had finally shaken off his percieved image in the collective psyche of the Malayali film going crowd, that of a man with sinister intentions thanks to his acting debut decades back  in the Suresh Gopi vehicle Kashmeeram. After a string of insignificant roles on the same lines as his debut, Madhupal finally found his silver lining and broke through with Thalappavu as a director. Both Thalappavu and Ozhimuri drew inspiration from historical and social events which had left scars in Kerala’s past and questioned our claims of progress and enlightenment. So it was only natural that Madhupal was as much the reason as the leading man Tovino why Oru Kuprasidha Payyan was one movie to look forward to.

Unlike his earlier films Oru Kuprasidha Payyan is almost entirely commercialised to cater  to the needs of the box office and the persona of the rising star it’s leading man is. Author   Jeevan Job Thomas turns screenwriter with this film and is again based on a real life incident. If a genre has to be named the film would definitely fit the description of a legal thriller though it unintentionally reminds the viewers of many recent movies namely Visaranai and Saira Banu. The writer and director have tried to explore how the enforcers of the law treat the individuals on the lowest rungs of our society. Tovino  who is on a roll with consecutive hits has plenty of scenes to test his emoting skills. Madhupal has tried to infuse comedy though it’s short lived in the shape of Balu, who on the otherhand gets a chance to explore his serious side as an actor. The actor who takes the cake here is Nimisha Sajayan in a role that’s performed and has been written with equal brilliance. It’s not exactly the kind of character that we come across in Malayalm Cinema everyday and Nimisha has proven again that she is a talent to look out for. Her choice of films too speak of her approach to the art, I feel. Every story that’s told in a movie with commercial intentions needs an antagonist  whose purpose is to act as the pole against which the viewer’s moral compass aligns and here that mantle has fallen on veteran actor Nedumudi Venu. Anu Sithara plays a character that’s a bit more than the regular romantic interest. Saranya is at home in the pivotal role she plays.

Oru Kuprasidha Payyan is not the most cinematically perfect movie by Madhupal and doesn’t compare artistically to his earlier works but it has succeeded in delivering some of the most realistic court scenes we have ever come across as viewers in Malayalam Cinema. The sequences would have made John Grisham proud. Jeevan Job Thomas’s scripting of the court proceedings and the detailing which reflects his scientific temperament is complemented by Madhupal’s visualisation. Veteran producer Sureshkumar turns actor here and maybe it’s a deliberate choice given the impact in terms of novelty the depiction of the judge character he plays has on the court scenes which almost entirely make up the second half of the movie.  Oru Kuprasidha Payyan is ultimately the tale of an underdog who is betrayed intentionally by some and out of helplessness by others. Ironically it’s the judiciary who comes to his aid here when he almost loses himself in the penal system. In the movie hall when the lights go off almost all of us root for the underdog though it’s another question if we would do that out in the real world in the harsh light of the day.

 

 

Thugs Of Hindostan : Swashbuckling, Indian Style.

No, that’s not what I meant. Indian film industry has never shied away from giving every genre out there a desi twist. While Feroz Khan was dishing out curry westerns to the Hindi speaking audience, down South the likes of Rajnikanth were seen in cowboy gear, replete with spurs.Now, what exactly was a  cowboy doing in the land of Periyar, I’ve absolutely no clue. Bollywood of yore even found a desi Native American in Danny Denzongpa.Well, where there is a will, they say. Not too many desi swashbukcling films come to my mind but, they did do a desi version of Zorro in the mid 70s. Two of the most influential individuals ever in Tamil  Nadu, MGR and Jayalalitha came together on screen for the first time in the swashbuckling saga Ayirtahil Oruvan. As long as it was our favorite stars who brandished the swords and swung from chandeliers, we never really cared for the cultural, geographical or historical accuracy of the story or the settings and that’s precisely what Thugs Of Hindostan was banking on.

YRF, Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, not necessarily in that order, are reasons galore for the audience to barge into the theatres and when it’s a period drama touted as one of the most expensive films ever in Hindi, expectations were expected to skyrocket and hype to go through the roof in ways that would turn Elon Musk green. Vijay Krishna Acharya who had helmed the third Dhoom movie for YRF with Aamir was back in the director’s seat and also had written the film. Aamir was seen flaunting his look for the film as is the custom since his Lagaan days. The shoot, we were told was progessing in exotic locations like Malta. Making videos released few weeks before the release showed the time and effort put in by the crew, behind the scenes. Actual ships had been built in Malta and that’s where and how the film was being shot.The trailer gave an impression that what’s on offer was a desi version of Pirates Of The Caribbean but that turned out not to be entirely true.

Thugs of British India were murderers who snuck into travelling groups and strangled people for their belongings. William Henrey Sleeman was the British Officer who was credited for suppressing the Thug menace in India. Other than this tryst with the law the Thugs were never known for fighting the Brits for the sake of anything or anyone, independence the least. Vijay Krishna Acharya here has taken the liberty of turning the titular thugs into freedom fighters of sorts, who rebelled against the ruling British. Aamir Khan is seen scheming with some actual thugs to rob some travellers but he ends up persuading them not to strangle their victims to death. Acharya’s writing and direction is the weakest link in this film that struggles to stay afloat upon the screen presence of Bachchan and the charisma of Khan. Big B gets to growl to his heart’s content and still looks good in the action scenes though the costume threatens to weigh him down. Aamir is at ease as the sneaky Firangi. He must have been well aware of the comparisions his role would draw to Depp’s Sparrow and has tried his best to stay original though its evident that Acharya was indeed heavily inspired by Sparrow when he wrote Firangi. For a movie that aspires to set ambitious visual standards the plot and the progression of the tale follows the age old formula of Bollywood revenge movies. Some of the plot twists are downright silly and forced. In his pursuit for excellence in the action scenes, Acharya seems to have lost his grip on the tale being told. Fathima Sana is either angry or sad while Katrina Kaif is around looking for excuses to break into song and dance. Watch this for Aamir, Amitabh and the ships, in that order.

Kanalkaattu : A Late Night Rendezvous With Some Lohitadas Characters.

Kanalkattu is just one of the many movies in Malayalam which I have never watched in full to date. Maybe it’s the character played by Mammooty which was totally removed from the conventional concepts of a typical leading man of the 90s. In 1991, the year Kanalkaatu was released, Mammooty appeared in roles as diverse as the iconic Achu of Amaram to one of his most remembered police avatars, Inspector Balram in the eponymous film. He played a politician whose family ties strain against his political ones in Nayam Vyakthamakunnu and thrilled the audience with his outing as an advocate in the murder mystery Adayalam the very same year. Neelagiri, his second film with I.V Sasi that year didn’t make waves but remains a personal favorite for reasons I cannot put a finger on. Another Mamooty vehicle that I havn’t watched yet, Anaswaram too hit the screens in 1991.

Even today when I chanced upon the film on TV late into the night on Surya, over a quarter of it’s total runtime had passed. The scene playing when I switched channels had Mammooty’s small time crook Nathu Narayanan squirming before Mohanraj’s Karim Bhai, not exactly the kind of role you’d expect an actor to play at the peak of his career as one of the reigning stars. Few scenes later another stalwart of Malayalam Cinema, the quintessential embodiment of defiance, Murali was seen joining Mammooty on the screen. The exchange between the characters set me thinking. The roles played by the actors and the words they spoke had the signature of none other than Lohithadas. See, at that moment I didn’t know for a fact that Lohitadas was the writer of the film but there was this gut instinct that told me that these men and women  who were disavowed and disowned  by their closest of kin but found solace in the company of eachother couldn’t have come to life from anywhere else but the pen of Lohitadas. These were people who spoke about the pleasure in sleeping on pavements, individuals who exist and thrive in the spaces between the edifices and compounds owned by the priviliged. Wiki confirmed that it was indeed Lohitadas, few minutes later.

Nathu is more or less an orphan who left his home as a child when his father was killed and his mother remarried. He is a small time crook until he turns murderer accidentally. He has a brother from another mother in Murali’s character with whom he has practically grown up and is willing to bleed for. Another character who bears the Lohitadas signature is that of KPAC Lalitha’s. Her Omana lends comic relief for most part until Lohitadas turns the tables on the viewer with a scene that’s performed by KPAC Lalitha like only she can. In one scene you see her practically trying to push an autorickshaw over and the next she leaves the viewer with a lump in his throat. Emotional rollercoasters, Lohitadas scripts are. What was more surprising was the discovery that the film was directed by Sathyan Anthikad because while it did bore the stamp of the writer, it had no resemblance to any of the movies that we have come to associate Sathyan Anthikad with as viewers. Movies are rarely known in the name of their writers unless of course you’re M.T but even M.T had a perpetual Hariharan tag to be honest. Lohitadas, I guess left his eternal tag on all the scenes and characters he has written.

Bodyguard | S01 Netflix | BBC

Twenty minutes. That’s all  it took for Bodyguard, the BBC show that debuted on Netflix the other day, to get me hooked. And I presume I’m not the only one, if the rave reviews and ratings the show garnered on it’s original release on the BBC network are anything to go by. In fact those  very twenty mintues are all it took again for none other than Theresa May to switch off the show too, as she herself told the Press. Now, that should add some perpsective if you’re looking for some. Whatever you have heard or read about the show is entirely justified I vouch, now that I have binged through the six seaons of some very  British intrigue and thrills. Come to think of it, from Sherlock to Line of Duty to The Night Manager, the BBC have proven time and again that when it comes to the very serious business of classy thrillers and gritty police procedurals, they are past and reigning masters.

For a show that moves at the pace it does, Bodyguard  touches upon on a range of issues from PTSD to xenophobia while telling a decent tale of intrigue. Hollywood has used all variants of PTSD to set the cash registers ringing right from the Vietnam War days  to the American campaigns in the Middle East and around but it’s not everyday that you get to see a troubled British war veteran on screen. In fact I’d go so far as to say that David Budd, the central character played passionately by Richard Madden is nothing less than a modern British version of  John Rambo, that quintessential poster boy of PTSD, on celluloid. Bodyguard was fearless too I felt for most part as it did not stick to stereotypes and shunned prejudice early on but it has to be said that it turned out to be a deftly played card of a plot twist which was indeed disappointing to an extent. Reminded me of the regular Dan Brown template for thrillers where every major instituition as we know it is attacked  and portrayed as agents of evil but the actual acts of crime turns out to be the doing of one deranged  mind. The writers have obviously heavily borrowed from current day British politics and the PM in Office currently was interestingly the Home Secretary too earlier, which is one of the main characters here, played by a short-haired Keeley Hawes. In a curious gender reversal of sorts the incumbent PM in Bodyguard resembled Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary is the one who is after his job here, deft sleight of hand by the writers indeed.

Apart from the writing, much of the intensity on the screen owes it to the performances of the lead actors, namely Madden and Keeley Hawes. Richard Madden who made a name for himself as the short lived but much loved Robb Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones is the mainstay here and has delivered a moving and engaged performance. Keeley Hawes plays a character that has shades of the one she played in Line of Duty, to an extent and is most probably the reason why she was cast in the role of Julia Montague, the Home Secretary. Other actors who make more or less silent entries early on but go on to make their mark towards the end. Nina Toussaint-White, Ash Tandon and Anjli Mohindra stands out in their roles and something tells me we’d be seeing more of them in the future as actors. Recent BBC shows have displayed active engagement in the cause of diversity when it comes to casting and is essentialy a reflection of the British society at large too I feel. Bodyguard is not without faults entirely but it makes for an engaging and intelligent watch. One thing I like about the BBC shows is that they are short but intense affairs in contrast to epics like Breaking Bad. Unfair, unnecessary and pointless comparision I agree but that’s just me and trust me I’m not complaining.