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 ?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unda : The Trajectory Of A Well Aimed Misfire.

What’s Unda? No, its not a Malayalam movie that’s upholding an age old tradition by misspelling the Hindi word for “egg’. Unda ,apart from other things is also the malayalam for bullet, yes the one that goes into a gun’s chamber not the one that’s ridden. So much for disambiguation. Unda was in the news early on not just because it was a Mammooty vehicle. The man at the helm was Khalid Rehman, who impressed with his debut, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam. Moviegoers were obviously curious to see the result of the collaboration. Now that the shots have been fired, it’s time to check the target sheets to see if it’s a hit or a miss by Mammooty and Khalid Rehman this time around.

Khalid Rehman has based this film on a real life incident that he reportedly came across in a news column in a Malayalam daily, about a battalion of men from the Kerala Police who were sent to Chattisgarh to provide security for a leg of the 2014 Parliamentary Elections to be held in a constituency in a region plagued by Maoist insurgency. The men faced severe hardships in unfamiliar situations they’d never imagined they’d come across in their comparatively laid back duty days back in Kerala. The film, we were told, was supposedly a realistic retelling of the experiences of these men. Much of that is indeed true. Incidentally, the director’s debut film also had a cop character who was far removed from the regular movie cop, played by Biju Menon. That Khalid Rehman has a penchat for impeccable detailing in setting up complex scenes, as much in terms of the surroundings and enviornments that his characters dwell in, as the characters themselves, was more than evident in his debut film. Those skills come to the fore here again, when he takes the viewers on a journey with the characters into the jungles of Chattisgarh. He is extremely frugal with his actors and they deliver exactly what he demanded from them, in terms of screen space and dialgoues, nothing more nothing less. His greatest success as a director in Unda is the fact that this frugality is imposed on everyone from the realtively greehorn-ish Lukman to the Big M himself. There’s no contesting the fact that the script is king here and for me at least, ironically it’s the script that fizzles out in a whimper towards the end and let’s the film down ultimately. To draw from a fitting analogy, the movie follows a tracjectory in its narration that’s akin to that of a bullet, the eponymous Unda with it’s peak, crest and the inevitable drag towards the end. A slew of promising actors, namely  Shine Tom, Rony David, Arjun Ashokan, Lukman, Gokulan and Noushad make up the band of cops who are led through their ordeal by Mammooty and Director Ranjith, who features in an extended cameo. Asif Ali and Vinay Fort appear in scenes which almost had me thinking that the wong movie was being streamed. The USP of Anuraga Karikkin Vellam was that it came across as a consistent exercise in breaking cliches and stereotypes, right from casting to characters to the plot itself. Unda does that a lot, for most parts but it fails to sustain that motivation towards the end.

Unda is not a bad movie by any stretch of imagination, it is in fact a very good film, considering the fact that the lead actor’s last three releases in Malayalam were  the de-facto hit Madhuraraja, the-blink-and-you-miss-at-the-box-office Oru Kuttanadan Blog and that lingering assault on human intelligence that Abrahaminte Santhathikal was. This brings us to the definition, rather the redefinition of the idea of a “good film” these days. In terms of lead actors, these are films where the actors don the roles of regular human beings and doesn’t pack a punch or a kick that defies every known law of physics. Mammooty’s Mani in Unda is one such character but hardly throws him any challenge the entire length of the role. The man could play a character like this in his sleep. Then we have the politics of films. These days, every other movie is political in it’s narrative to the point that it’s almost obligatory. There has to be a mandatory addressing of some sort of discrimination for a film to be taken seriously and Unda does it bit too when it takes on caste here. Though this welcome change could very well be attributed to an increasing awareness amongst makers and viewers about the social realities and circumstances that we opt to turn a blind eye to for the sake of amity, in the absence of an adept screenwriter, this could take a toll on what makes Cinema or any fiction worth our attention, drama. This is even more truer for films based on real life incidents and this is where a film like Virus scores over Unda when it infuses gripping drama into its narration. For a realistic film dealing with real incidents, though I’m not privy to the details of the original incidents, I  felt that the film defeats itself when it opts for denial of ground realities ultimately and works to pan out it’s politics in a different direction entirely. This and the last couple of scenes did not work for me exactly which is why I feel that the movie is a well aimed misfire.

ISHQ: Yes, It’s Not A Love Story, It’s A Great Story.

Films named synonyms of the word love and with the tagline  “not a love story”, have almost evolved into a genre in the Indian film industry. As the title and the tag suggest, these are often films which start out as a run of the mill love story and then tries shock and awe techniques on an unsuspecting audience. To call them formulaic wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Ram Gopal Varma wreaked havoc with the idea in his heydays and his not-so-hey-days too, which is one reason why the tag has lost its novelty, more or less, I’d say. Bollywood loved the theme so hard and long that they now actually  have a franchise called Hate Story. Having said that, it was something that we haven’t seen much of in the Malayalam film industry though 22. Female Kottayam used the the same formula. But with Ishq, the first true not-love-story has made it’s debut in the Malayalam film industry,  it’s safe to say, and how.

Ishq at it’s core tackles a theme that has been explored by many films in the recent past, moral policing. We have seen versions of it in films ranging from Uncle to Varathan. Personally I felt that Ishq had shades of Kali too, but extremely light shades, I must add. Ishq is an artist’s reaction to the actions of some of the meanest and most depraved elements of our society, it is nothing lesser than a slap on the face of the moral brigade and the real news footages that run during the end credits is the most subtle yet fitting response to the perpetrators behind those acts of moral policing. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Michael Jackson’s scream in the iconic “They dont really care about us”, so to speak. But Ishq’s greatest success lies in the fact that it explores this malady in layered, complex ways. It builds an illusion that it’s just another film with simple answers but then it pulls a fast one on you and you end up loving the film for it. The film actually walks a tight rope and could have ended up being criticised for it’s male centric narrative but it redeems itself in spectacular fashion. Ratheesh Ravi tells us loud and clear that there’s more to him than Pullikaran Stara, in fact this time around, he has done a star turn as a writerFor a debut director, Anuraj Manohar has shown impeccable control over his craft and has paced the film perfectly. The writer and the director opens the film with some sweet moments and then builds tension on the screen into a crescendo towards the end.

There are no heroes in this film if you ask me, not in the conventional sense. Shane Nigam is supposed to be the actor in the leading role and he delivers in his inimitable style. It’s almost a role tailor made for him, that of the next door boy with a hint of derangement. Then you have a Shine Tom who is the antagonist and manages to garner the hatred of the audience almost effortlessly. Giving him company is a measured Jaffer Idukki. Ann Sheetal is the female lead and holds her own in this film which I felt is about vantage points,  where the victims are ultimately always women. That brings us to Leona Lishoy, who shines in her brief but lingering portrayal of an unsuspecting wife who ends up a victim too. Apart from these actors, the most notable presence is Jakes Bejoy in the form of his stellar background music. In Ishq, like in our lives, for the men it’s about hurt egos and retaliation and women are left to pick up the pieces. The film, I felt is also about the construct of the alpha male. It suggests that there are no alphas really, only circumstances. The male ego, the film shows, can take a beating from another male with an upper hand in a confrontation and even reconciles with it, but tends to snap when it’s questioned by a female. But that’s just my take. Ishq or Uncle or any other film on the issue is not going to change the society that we are part of. Renaissance had an impact on art, not the other way round,  having said that, in that sense, Ishq could be a sign too, of awareness, if not change. On a closing note, Ishq is instant gratification, and more.

 

 

 

 

Madhuraraja : The Black Hole Of Critique

That Madhuraraja debuted around the same time the world went abuzz with the news of the first ever photograph of a Black Hole is indeed one interesting instance of coincidence I can’t but help bring into perspective. Now, I do enjoy a good “mass” movie and I think I can tell when I see one too. These are movies, you are lectured every other weekend, where you go in just to have unhinged fun and not to dissect and deconstruct. Logic is not to be applied to anything you watch or listen to. Madhuraja goes one step ahead. In this age of automation and AI Madhuraja does all the work for you.  Like the black hole that’s at the centre of our galaxy it just pulls any and all reasoning into itself. It’s the event horizon for all criticisms. Madhuraja, to channel my inner Nolan, is the mass movie Vyshakh and Udayakrishna thinks you deserve, not the mass movie you need. Yes, I’am just venting, desperate to find justifications for having watched the film spending my hard earned money and time that cannot be reclaimed. But hey, then again I watched Vamanapuram Bus Route in theatres.

Madhuraraja opened to some impressively shot sequences, world class in fact I would say, gory too. Then the film went the Marvel way where it relied on self depreceating humor to take the tale forward and that’s when the movie worked the most. You had this impression that the film didn’t take itself too seriously and it was fun in parts too, though obviously Udayakrishna can’t do without crude jokes. Progressive thoughts, are they on sale on Flipkart? Nedumudi Venu and Vijayaraghavan reprise their roles in what are mere extended cameos, so does Siddique. Salimkumar is a pale shadow of himself and he tries real hard, it shows some it works some. But I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that it’s almost the lifeline of the film in the fist half. Then the film gets serious and you just can’t wait for it to end because you already know what’s going to happen on the screen from a mile away, despite Salimkumar screaming twist in every other scene. Aju Varghese looked like his character from another film. Anusree is good at screaming relentlessly. Jai of course is no Prithviraj but he did look good in the action sequences. So did Mammooty. The only trivial challenge the role threw at Mammooty was when he used his legendary voice modulation skills in an emotional scene where he speaks Pokkiriraja’s broken English which otherwise mostly serves for humor.

Now, I could go on about the inherent regressiveness in the writing but what’s the point ultimately. Udayakrishna picks up from where he left off in Masterpiece and takes potshots at recent attempts at female empowerment in the state and globally too. Vyshakh has the skillset and one wishes he would put it better use in the future. To be honest, I still haven’t figured out Pokkiriraja, and it’s success let alone this sequel to it. Mammooty playing a character that looked like Sarathkumar from one of his Nattamai outings of the late 90s , yeah that’s exactly what the audience and the actor needs today obviously, so be it I guess. This, imgaine, is what the makers are doing to the man who delivered Kottayam Kunjachan, Sangham, Rajamanikyam and yeah, Big B. 

 

 

 

 

Lucifer : When Personal Propaganda Takes A Ride On Unparalled Popularity.

Lucifer was destined and designed to be disruptive right from the day it was announced for reasons more than one. To put the origins of the title into context, everything about the film was biblical and on the opening day as well as the days leading upto it, the mass hysteria that it kicked up could be described aptly with no other word. A popular mainstream actor who in the past was the brunt of jokes for his views and opinions that were more or less alien to Malayalam Cinema was making his directorial debut with the biggest box office star in Kerala in a film penned by a script writer known for his ability to cook up complex tales and to irk, mock and insinuate too, backed by a producer whose name was eponymous with the star’s and the film was titled Lucifer. If this is not biblical in the tiny world of Malayalam Cinema, I do not know what is. Personally, as a fan who has been unapologetically yearning for the next big thing from Mohanlal on the lines of the alpha male trilogy of Devasuram, Aram Thamburan and Narasimham  or something that matched up to the quintessential anti- hero that Aadu Thoma was, Lucifer was indeed a beam of hope and I shamelessly indulged the fan in me right up to the moment I entered the hall for the evening show on the first day of the release.

When the Malayali filmgoer sits down to watch Lucifer, Murali Gopy offers a blue pill and a red pill, not much different from the ones offered to Neo by Morpheus in The Matrix. You either watch the film as a starry eyed fanboy or you watch as an unbiased observer with feet firm on the ground, who is not oblivious to the political undertones of the narrative. When you are in for the movie on the day of it’s release and can’t hold your horses, there’s no prize for guessing what pill you’d choose. I obviously chose the blue pill intended for the unflinching fan but the effects did start to fade towards the end. That the film was about politics was evident from the day the first look was released which had Mohanlal donning the khadar ,which also hinted that Murali Gopy had the UDF in his crosshairs this time around. But of course the big news was Prithviraj’s debut as a director with none other than Mohanlal. Though he was tight lipped early on, in the weeks that led up to the release, he promised a treat for the fans. Mohanlal the way he wanted to see him on the screen as a fan was Lucifer, said Prithviraj the director. And he has done exactly that. Lucifer is nothing but a walk in the museum of all things that makes Mohanlal the box office powerhouse that he is. The actor towers over the rest of the impressive cast in the role tailor made for him by Murali Gopy and envisioned almost flawlessly by Prithviraj. The man is on fire here and it’s an understatement when I say that he defies age in the action sequences. That’s not to take anything away from actors ranging from Tovino to Indrajith to Shajon to Baiju to Manju to Vivek Oberoi who holds their own in the characters that fit them like a glove. Saikumar represents the UDF and Shivaji Guruvayoor is the personification of Murali Gopy’s favorite punching bag, the Left. Prithiviraj downplays his presence to that of a glorified stuntman in his own film, which is more or less an ode by the fanboy in him to the lead actor. Prithviraj impresses with his frames, scale and style, as a director though he did falter and fumble towards the end. The “item song” stood out like a sore thumb.

The storyline is borderline over the top conspiracy theory and in a state as politically literate like Kerala, it’s a hard sell if you ask me, which is where the lead actor’s stardom that knows no bounds helps the film’s cause. Mohanlal had his first tryst with the devil in the iconic Spadikam but it was the vernacular chekuthan who found his way into the narrative there. Prithviraj’s love for the occult is more than evident and even by his standards, for a film that seemed to deal with political climate in Kerala, the choice of the title sounded a bit outlandish. It didn’t fit for some reason at least to me and though it made sense once I watched the film in whole, I have to say it was the impossible merging of two different worlds that the director and the writer tried to pull off here. Cinema is after all fiction and fiction is ultimately suspension of disbelief. Murali Gopi is no Ranjith and neither is he Renji Paniker, which is to say rousing dialogues are not exactly his forte, which is why I am willing to forgive the terrible nod to Pulp Fiction. He is but indeed a master of plots and weaver of complex tales. Even in a film that was more or less apolitical like Ee Adutha Kaalathu he unwittingly made a choice that prompted the audience to speculate up on his political allegiances. Left Right Left which followed, only helped cement the suspicions about the political agenda of his films and writing. Kammara Sambavam, which came before Lucifer was again a testimony to the fact that he had no love lost for the political leadership in Kerala, especially the Left. Past behavior, they say, is the best indicator of future behavior and that could not be more truer here, with Lucifer. At a time when the State and the Country are engulfed in election frenzy, Murali Gopy trains his guns on the two major political factions who have taken turns, albeit democratically to rule Kerala for the past 70 years or so. To me at least, most ironic was the ending note where the writer almost sneers at the Malayali for having surrendered to the two political ideologies, the left and what used to be the right. Then the audience erupted into applause. And that’s where his propaganda succeeds if you ask me, though his alternative, is conspicuous by its absence in the narrative.

കുമ്പളങ്ങിയിലെ യഥാർഥ മനോരോഗി ഷമ്മിയല്ല.#kumbalanginightsblues

 

 

നൗ ദാറ്റ് ഐ ലുക്ക് ബാക്ക് ഓൺ ഇറ്റ്, ഷമ്മി അല്ല ഷമ്മിടെ ചേട്ടൻ ആണ് പ്രശ്നം. ഹീറോയാണെന്നു സ്വയം വിളിച്ചു പറയുന്ന ഷമ്മി കാഴ്ചക്കാർക്ക് വില്ലൻ ആണെങ്കിലും ഒരു പക്ഷെ ശ്യാം പുഷ്കരന് വിക്ടിം ആയിരിക്കാം. ടോക്സിക്ക് മസ്കുലൈനിറ്റിയുടെ പ്രതീകമായ അവതരിക്കുന്ന ഷമ്മി ചിലപ്പോ അതിന്റെ ഇര ആണെങ്കിലോ? എഴുത്തുകാരൻ ഉന്നം വെയ്ക്കുന്ന സാമൂഹ്യ മനസ്ഥിതികളുടെ ഉടമ ശെരിക്കും ഷമ്മിയല്ല ഷമ്മിയുടെ ചേട്ടനാണ് എന്ന് ഇപ്പോ എനിക്ക് തോന്നുന്നു. ഷമ്മി ഒരു പ്രേക്ഷകൻ എന്ന നിലയിൽ എന്റെയും നിങ്ങളുടെയും വെറുപ്പ് പിടിച്ചു പറ്റിയിരുന്നു. മൂലയ്ക്ക് പോയി നിൽക്കുന്നത് വരെ. അവിടം തൊട്ടു വലയിൽ ആകുന്നത് വരെ ഷമ്മിയോട്‌ എനിക്ക് സഹതാപം ആണ് തോന്നിയത്. അവനു വട്ടാ എന്ന് സിമിയുടെ അമ്മയെ കൊണ്ട് ശ്യാം പുഷ്ക്കരൻ പറയിപ്പിച്ചപ്പോൾ ഞെട്ടൽ ആണ് ഉണ്ടായത്. അത് കൊണ്ടാണ് ക്ളൈമാക്സിലെ ഇൻസെന്സിറ്റിവിറ്റി ടു മെന്റൽ ഡിസോർഡേഴ്സ് എന്നെ ഡിസ്റ്റർബ് ചെയ്തു എന്ന് ഞാൻ എഴുതിയത്. അത് വരെ കണ്ട പുരോഗമന ചിന്തകളുടെ ആഖ്യാനങ്ങളെ ഒടുക്കം കാറ്റിൽ പറത്തി എന്നാണു എനിക്ക് തോന്നിയത്. എന്ത് കൊണ്ട് അത് ശ്യാം പുഷ്കരന്റെ തൂലികയിൽ നിന്ന് സംഭവിച്ചു എന്ന ചിന്തയാണ് ഒരാഴ്ചയ്ക്ക് ശേഷം എന്നെ ഷമ്മിയുടെ ചേട്ടനിൽ എത്തിച്ചത്. ശ്യാം പുഷ്ക്കരൻ സൂചനകൾ നൽകിയിരുന്നു എന്ന് എനിക്ക് ഇപ്പോൾ തോന്നുന്നു. ഷമ്മിയെ സ്വന്തം വീട്ടുകാർ ഒഴിവാക്കുകയാരുന്നു എന്ന് ഇപ്പോൾ ആണ് മനസിലായത്. ഷമ്മി ഭക്ഷണം കഴിക്കുന്ന പാത്രങ്ങൾ ഉൾപ്പടെ സിമിയുടെ വീട്ടിൽ എത്തിക്കുന്ന ചേട്ടൻ. അതെ ഒരു പക്ഷെ അത് ഷമ്മിയുടെ OCDയുടെ സൂചന ആയിരിക്കാം എന്നേ ഞാൻ അപ്പോൾ കരുതിയുള്ളൂ. ഭക്ഷണം കഴിക്കാൻ ക്ഷണിക്കുമ്പോൾ ചേട്ടൻ കാണിക്കുന്ന സ്നേഹശൂന്യമായ പ്രതികരണം പുള്ളിയുടെ വ്യക്തിത്വത്തിന്റെ സൂചന ആയിരുന്നിരിക്കാം. സ്വയം കമ്പ്ലീറ്റ് മാൻ ആയി കാണുന്ന ഷമ്മി പക്ഷെ താമസിക്കുന്നത് ഭാര്യവീട്ടിലാണ്. ഏകദേശം സ്വന്തം വീട്ടിൽ നിന്ന് അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ചേട്ടന്റെ വീട്ടിൽ നിന്ന് പടി അടച്ചു ഇറക്കി ഉപേക്ഷിക്കപ്പെട്ട അവസ്ഥ. ഷമ്മി അത് ന്യായീകരിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. ഗൃഹനാഥന്റെ സ്ഥാനത്തേക്ക് തീന്മേശയിൽ കസേര വലിച്ചിടുന്ന ഷമ്മി ഒരു പക്ഷെ തനിക്കു ലഭിച്ച പുതിയ സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിന്റെയും അധികാരത്തിന്റെയും സൂചന ആയിരിക്കാം നൽകിയത്.ചേട്ടന്റെ കീഴിൽ തനിക്കു കിട്ടാതിരുന്നത് എല്ലാം സിമിയുടെ വീട്ടിൽ ഷമ്മി നേടുന്നു.കല്യാണം കഴിപ്പിച്ചു സ്വഭാവ വൈകല്യങ്ങൾ ചികിൽസിക്കുന്നത് ഒരു നാട്ടു നടപ്പാണല്ലോ. ചേട്ടനിൽ നിന്ന് ഷമ്മിക്ക് ലഭിച്ചിരുന്ന പരിഗണന എന്തായിരിക്കാം എന്ന് സിമിയുടെ ഫോൺ കോളിന് ഉള്ള പ്രതികരണത്തിൽ നിന്ന് മനസിലാക്കാം. മനോരോഗിയായ സഹോദരന് അർഹിക്കുന്ന പരിചരണം കൊടുക്കാതെ വിവാഹം കഴിപ്പിച്ചു ഒഴിവാക്കിയ ചേട്ടൻ വില്ലനും ഷമ്മിയെ വലയിട്ടു പിടിച്ച സഹോദരങ്ങൾ പൊതുസമൂഹവും ആയാൽ ഒരുപക്ഷെ കഥയിൽ നായകൻ അഥവാ ഹീറോ ഷമ്മി തന്നെ ആയിരിക്കാം.

Kumbalangi Nights : An Ensemble Of Great Visuals, Great Characters, Great Performances And Great Moments.

The names Fahadh Faasil, Soubin Shahir, Shyam Pushkaran, Shyju Khalid, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi and Dileesh Pothan in the credits for a single film, now that’s something you don’t get to see as often as you’d like to, if you happen to speak this language called Malayalam and have a thing for movies too. Ever since Aashiq Abu broke new ground in Malayalam Cinema a decade back we have seen subsets of these names coming together in every other film with someone from this unofficial collective of like minded artists, at the helm. These artists have played a role is establishing Kochi as the hub of Malayalam Cinema in the new century too, I think. People from this school of filmmaking were part of the teams that delivered gems like Maheshinte Prathikaram, Thondimuthalum Drikaskshiyum, Parava and Sudani From Nigeria, to name a few.  Shyam Pushkaran’s writing was something that you looked forward to, as much as to watching Fahadh working his magic, in recent times. Kumbalangi Nights looked promising early on for these very reasons exactly.

Set in the island village of Kumbalangi, which to me is familiar only as a nameboard on “ordinaries” and “fast passengers”- the flavours of the State bus service on offer to the commoner- the film tells the tale of a band of brothers from another mother, and father, to put it bluntly. It would be nothing less than a disrespect to the film itself if I start with any other aspect but the cinematography. If Shyju Khalid were to shoot your weeded backyard with his camera and then show it to you, you’d believe him if he told you that it was from a cottage set in the Swiss Alps. His frames make even the most ugliest structures look magnificent. The night shots are exquisite. It’s almost as if he has some kind of spell over light. Saiju Sreedharan works his magic too. The last time I saw a landscape so beautifully captured was in the Turkish film Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. Shyam Pushkaran’s writing has never taken us anywhere as viewers because his tales are set in places you have walked around yourself, youre at home, literally. It’s always far removed from the homes and social circles that we have come to accept as the norm in Malayalam Cinema over the years. There are deliberate attempts to break stereotypes and to infuse progressive narratives throughout here too, which is why the film disappointed me towards the end for it’s insensitive portrayal of mental illness. But that’s just me. Maybe it’s because the rest of the film is almost perfect why the climax hit me the way it did. Life in Shyam Pushkaran’s Kumbalangi is idyllic. The lives of the main protagonists are much like the tiny islands and groves where the story unfolds. They are isolated and aloof for most parts but they’re still an ecosystem that sustains eachother and do not have an existence on their own. This is ultimately the essence of the tale, I felt.

Soubhin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi and Matthew Thomas play the brothers. Soubhin surprises us yet again with a moving portrayal. So does Shane Nigam. Sreenath Bhasi is subtle and effective. Matthew is the new kid on the block. But it’s Fahadh who is an enigma here. From playing lead in films as varied as Varathan and Njan Prakashan to playing second fiddle to a bunch of his peers here, that too as a character with absolutely no visible positive traits. He is indeed the antagonist here but you hardly notice that because you’re simply overawed by his performance. Debutante Anna Ben makes an impression in her girl next door avatar. Grace Antony plays sister to Anna’s and wife to Fahadh’s characters in a role that’s unlike that of the sisters and wives we have seen on the screen up till now, but are absoutely familiar with, in our daily lives. Madhu C.Narayan  makes his debut as a director and honestly, with names like Shyam Pushkaran, Dileesh Pothan, Shyju Khalid and Saiju Sreedharan aiding him in crucial departments, it’s too early to judge his skills as the man at the helm. There’s a Maddona and Child frame in the film at one point and if it’s indeed the director who actually conceived it, there’s promise I’d say.  Kumbalangi Nights is great cinema, almost.