Malik : Once Upon A Time In Trivandrum.

To be compared to all the gangster saga epics that came before it, Malik was always destined to be. From the mother of all, The Godfather to Once Upon a time in America to the most recent Scorcese homage to himself, The Irishman. Then we have the Indian tributes to The Godfather from Nayagan to Sarkar. Mahesh Narayan has went on record that he had confided in none other than Kamal Hassan that he was mulling over his own version of The Godfather.Interestingly Kamal Hassan has to be the only actor to appear in two adaptations of the Coppola classic, Nayagan and Thevar Magan. Mahesh hasn’t shied away from talking about the influence of Nayagan either. It’s evident that more than anyone Mahesh Narayan himself would have been aware of the burdens his film was ultimately destined to carry. It doesn’t help a filmmaker’s cause these days that most people respond to the responses to a film rather than the film itself. As if these crocodiles in the proverbial moat weren’t good enough to lose his sleep over, the writer-director chose to set the story against the backdrop of an incident in the history of the state that even the government doesn’t want to remember. This could only be one of these two things, sheer courage or plain stupidity. The jury is still out it seems, if Mahesh Narayanan ended up making a Quixote or a Lancelot of himself.

Like Take Off, Malik too is a sound film technically. Mahesh Narayanan belongs to the Joshy-I.V Sasi school of filmmaking where scale and ensemble cast are the norm, within the constraints of Malayalam Cinema of course. The film is closer in structure to Godfather Part II where there are two parallel narratives though it pays more tributes than one to Godfather I and also borrows heavily from Nayagan when it comes to some aspects of the plot. For instance, I was wondering why the assassination of Chandran was so elaborately staged when I was watching it, it was only later that I realised that it was a direct reference to the scene from Part II where Vito Corleone chases and Don Fanucci over rooftops. The feast in the opening scene and the retaliation during the funeral are allusions to scenes from Godfather I. Presuming that the title of the film is a reference to the stature of the main protagonist in his immediate soical surroundings, the writer fails to capture the growth of that very character from a small time smuggler to the revered figure I felt. Maybe instead of focusing on the mechanisations of Suleiman’s trade the film should have spent time on his growing influence in the community and present the audience with a more credible reason for his falling out with the State too. From his initial exchanges with his wife we get to know that the ultimate sacrifice he made, that of his son’s life played a role crucial in cementing his position as a leader of the people. In Godfather I while on exile in a town in Sicily, when Michael Corleone asks about the men of the town, he’s told that all of them died in vendettas. The Godfather saga is as basically about that culture of vengeance within an ethnic group who are almost tribalistic when it comes to their rituals. It’s not a story for the modern ages and despite it’s cinematic aesthetics, remains a regressive tale. Coppola maybe have been aware of this and this could be the reason why chose to close Godfather I with the shot of Micheal Corleone shutting the doors of his office to his wife. Mahesh Narayanan on the other hand has brought in the perspectives of a mother, a wife and that of a daughter in an attempt to sensitise the film for a contemporary audience. Personally, I felt that the film should have explored Roselyn’s perspective as a mother a bit more. But then, to pack all of these themes into a film under three hours is quite an asking task too. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the film was being woven around a real life incident which involved tensions of the communal kind. Mahesh Narayanan indeed turned Lancelot when he presented Suleiman Ali as an unapologetic believer of a leader, a rarity in these times.

Fahad’s portrayal of the older Suleiman Ali was a bit too verbose for my liking but that’s again on the writer I guess. They should have probably gone with a rather quieter, contemplative Suleiman Ali like Amitabh’s Subhash Nagre in Sarkar. Fahad has had four major OTT releases since the pandemic wreaked havoc and he has played four distinct characters in each of these films. So the attention he grabs on a platform with a global reach at a time when even critics are running out of films is rather expected and well deserved too, I’d say. Nimisha pitches in with an earnest performance and I wished that her character had more to do with the narrative that it meets the eye, once I was done watching the film. Vinay Fort as the friend turned foe was functional but there was no real chemistry between him and Fahad but here again the writer is to be blamed. Jalaja returned to the screen after almost two decades and was totally at ease and what I took note of was her voice. She has to be one of the very few actors from that era who didn’t speak on screen in Anandavally’s voice. Interestingly, the younger version of her character was played by her daugher and Mahesh Narayan also got Salim Kumar’s son to play the younger Moosakka. Joju has been spending a lot of time inside police stations and government offices these days and here again his character was under written I felt.. If Indrans had walked off the sets into any police station in Kerala, he would have fit in right away and no one would have raised a brow. Chandunath who played the younger police officer is an actor to look forward to. So is Sanal who played Freddy. Dileesh Pothan again delivers precisely what the role demands of him. Parvathy Krishna was impressive and the scene where she makes a hurried entrance at her workplace reminded me that acting is not just about emoting but also about blending into the surroundings effortlessly. She was a natural there. Malik is not a perfect film or even a great film but it has it’s moments. It’s not an easy film to write or make. There are some real neat instances of filmmaking unlike anything that we have seen before in Malayalam Cinema. The execution of the assassin before the prison and the other long take where Suleiman goes in search of his son were remarkable . Malik may have turned into an indulgence in the excercise of filmmaking at some point, to the makers. Despite Mahesh Narayan’s justifications there are views from serious students of Cinema that the opening long shot was a bit too forced. Malik is indeed an engaging watch at the end of the day and a sea apart from the usual fare in Malayalam Cinema. Of course you could debate the politics of the film till kingdom come. History I think, would be kinder to Malik.

malik #AmazonPrimeVideo

മാലിക് : റമദാ പള്ളിയിലെ യഥാർഥ ഇര ആരാണ്?

Spoilers! Quite a bunch of ‘em!

മകളെ അടിക്കുമ്പോൾ റോസ്‌ലിൻ പറയുന്നുണ്ട് നിനക്ക് വേണ്ടിട്ടാടി ഞാൻ ഈ വീട്ടിലേക്ക് തിരിച്ചു വന്നത് എന്ന്. പാസ്പോർട്ട് കൊടുക്കുമ്പോൾ സുലൈമാനോട് പറയുന്നത് അമീറിനെ കരുതി പോയിട്ട് വരാനാണ്. എല്ലാം നിർത്താൻ റോസ്‌ലിൻ നിർബന്ധിക്കുമ്പോൾ അബുവിനെ പോലുള്ളവർ നാട്ടുകാരോട് എന്താണ് ചെയുന്നത് കാണുന്നുണ്ടല്ലോ എന്നും റമദാ പള്ളിക്കാർ തന്നെ വിശ്വസിച്ചാണ് ജീവിക്കുന്നതും എന്നും സുലൈമാൻ പറയുന്നുണ്ട്. അപ്പോൾ റോസ്‌ലിൻ തിരിച്ചു ചോദിക്കുന്നത് നമ്മുടെ മകനെ കൊടുത്തിട്ടല്ലേ ആൾക്കാർക്കു വിശ്വാസം ഉണ്ടായതു എന്നാണ്. ഒരു പത്തു ദിവസം മകനെയോർത്തു പോയിട്ടു വരാൻ റോസ്‌ലിൻ അപേക്ഷിക്കുന്നു. വിശ്വാസമാണ് സുലൈമാനെ നയിക്കുന്നത് എന്ന് മറ്റാരേക്കാളും നന്നായിട്ടു അറിയാം റോസിലിന്. അതേ വിശ്വാസം സുലൈമാനെ കാത്തു രക്ഷിക്കുമെന്നും ഒറ്റയ്ക്ക് ബസിൽ പോകുന്നതാണ് കൂടുതൽ സുരക്ഷിതമെന്നും സുലൈമാന്റെ സഹചാരികളോട് റോസ്‌ലിൻ പറയുന്നുണ്ട്. ഒരു പക്ഷെ ആ വിശ്വാസം മാത്രമേ സുലൈമാനെ നേർവഴിക്കു കൊണ്ടു വരു എന്ന ചിന്തയും റോസിലിനെ നയിച്ചതാവാം എന്നും ന്യായമായി ഇവിടെ ചിന്തിക്കാം. റോസിലിനെ പ്രേക്ഷകർ ആദ്യം കാണുമ്പോൾ തന്റെ മകളെ നോക്കി ഉത്കണ്ഠയോടെ നിൽക്കുകയാണ് അവർ. ഇവൻ ചതിച്ചിരിക്കും എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞു ഡേവിഡ് പള്ളിയിൽ നിന്ന് ഇറങ്ങിപോകുമ്പോഴും പള്ളിയിൽ നിന്ന് തന്റെ കുട്ടിയെയും കൊണ്ടു സുലൈമാന്റെ കൂടെ കുടുംബത്തെ ഉപേക്ഷിച്ചു ഇറങ്ങുമ്പോഴും അതേ ഭാവമാണ് റോസിലിന്. മകനെ അടക്കി കഴിഞ്ഞു വീട്ടിൽ തിരിച്ചെത്തുന്ന സുലൈമാൻ മകളെ എടുത്തു അകത്തേക്കു പോകുമ്പോഴും സമാന ഭാവമാണ് റോസിലിന്. തനിക്കു തന്റെ അച്ഛനെയും മകനെയും ഒരേ ദിവസമാണ് നഷ്ടമായതെന്നും സുലൈമാന്റെ കൈയിൽ ചോര മണക്കുന്നു എന്നും റോസ്‌ലിൻ തേങ്ങുന്നു. മറ്റൊരു റോസിലിനെ കാണാൻ ആവുന്നത് മിനിക്കോയിൽ മണിയറയിലേക്ക് കേറുന്ന നിമിഷത്തിലാണ്. അത് വരെ പുഞ്ചിരി തൂകി നിൽക്കുന്ന റോസ്‌ലിൻ പെട്ടന്ന് പൊട്ടിത്തെറിക്കുന്നു. എല്ലാം ഉപേക്ഷിച്ചു സുലൈമാന്റെ കൂടെ ഇറങ്ങി വരുന്ന റോസിലിനെ കാത്തിരിക്കുന്നത് വീണ്ടും നഷ്ടങ്ങളാണ്. തന്റെ അപ്പന്റെ മൃതശരീരം കാണാൻ വരുമ്പോൾ അവർ തന്റെ മകനെ ഒരു നോക്ക് കാണാൻ അനുവദിച്ചില്ല എന്നും റോസ്‌ലിൻ പറയുന്നുണ്ട്
സ്വന്തം മകന്റെ മരണം പോലും ഒരു ഘട്ടത്തിൽ പള്ളിമുറ്റത്ത് തോക്കെടുക്കുന്ന സുലൈമാന് ഒരു നേട്ടമായിരുന്നു എന്ന ചിന്ത റോസിലിന്റെയുള്ളിൽ ഉണ്ടെന്നു അവർ തമ്മിലുള്ള ആദ്യ സംഭാഷണത്തിൽ വ്യക്തമാണ്.
തന്റെ മകളുടെ കൂട്ടുകെട്ട് കാണുമ്പോൾ എന്ത് ചിന്തകളാണ് റോസിലിന്റെ മനസ്സിൽ ഉരുത്തിരിഞ്ഞത്? സുലൈമാൻ റമദാ പള്ളിയിൽ ഉള്ളടത്തോളം കാലം കാര്യങ്ങൾ ഇങ്ങനെ തന്നെ ആയിരിക്കും എന്ന് റോസിലിനു അറിയാം. പുറത്തിറങ്ങിയാൽ അറെസ്റ് ഉണ്ടാവും എന്നും റോസിലിനു അറിയാമായിരുന്നു എന്നതും ഒരു സാധ്യതയാണ്. സ്റ്റേറ്റിനെയും ഡേവിഡിനെയും ഫ്രഡിയെയും ഡോക്ടറെയും പോലെ സുലൈമാന്റെ മരണം അല്ലെങ്കിൽ അസാന്നിധ്യം ആഗ്രഹിച്ച മറ്റൊരു വ്യക്തി ഒരു പക്ഷേ റോസിലിനും ആയിരിക്കാം. ഒരർത്ഥത്തിൽ റോസിലിന് അതൊരു ആവശ്യമായിരുന്നു.സുലൈമാന്റെ ഉമ്മയും അങ്ങനെ ആയിരുന്നു എന്ന ധാരണ മാറുന്നുണ്ട്. ക്ളൈമാക്സിൽ ഫ്രഡിയെ നാട്ടുകാർ കൈകാര്യം
ചെയുമ്പോൾ കബറിടത്തിനു പുറത്തു നിന്ന് മുകളിലേക്ക് നോക്കുന്നുണ്ട് റോസ്‌ലിൻ. അവിടെയാണ് ഞാൻ ആശയകുഴപ്പത്തിലായത് .

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned എന്ന പ്രയോഗം പൂർണമായും ഇവിടെ ഉചിതമല്ലായിരിക്കാം പക്ഷെ അത് കൂടെ ചേർക്കാതെ ഈ ചിന്ത പൂർണമല്ല. ഒരു പക്ഷെ woman എന്ന വാക്കിന് പകരം mother എന്നോ daughter എന്നോ പറയാം ഈ പശ്ചാത്തലത്തിൽ. ഒരു വ്യക്തിയുടെയും ഒരു സമൂഹത്തിന്റെയും കഥക്കപ്പുറം ഒരു അമ്മയുടെയും ഭാര്യയുടെയും മകളുടെയും കഥയാണ് മാലിക്.

malik #amazonprime

Cold Case : Lost Opportunity .

spoilers !

Given Prithviraj’s obsession with all
things occult, the supernatural element was hardly surprising. He can deny it all he wants but from Christopher Moriarty to Illuminati, the recurring themes in his films tells us that he’s no different from any other 90s kid who’s read his share of popular english fiction or watched TV shows and movies from the Cable TV era. The trailer looked like the film was trying too many things, at least to me and that is exactly how it turned out to be too. They should have stuck to the police procedural genre and would have maybe even made a worthy successor to Yavanika, though even the very mention of these two films in a single sentence could be considered blasphemy.

The only time Prithviraj lost his scorn on screen was when he was around Alencier, I felt. Except for Lakshmipriya Chandramouli, everyone else looked totally out of their elements, especially when it came to lip synch. Aditi Balan behaved around the child like she was adopted, I thought, chemistry was non existent. The pandemic must have definitely contributed to the disintegration of the director’s original vision and design for the film I presume and he deserves the benefit of the doubt here. The movie did come into its own when it got to the forensic scenes and it sounded like the makers had done their bit of research. I was particularly impressed by the detailing into the DNA test types, something that I had taken note of in that stellar procedural on Netflix, Unbelievable.

Coming to the “pièce de résistance” of the film, if you were okay with Johnny Depp transferring his conscience onto a mainframe, what’s a refrigerator anyway. But have to admit that the climax was unintentionally funny too. And why do high ranking police officers on screen throw about fancy phrases like “ pandoras box” totally out of context, just for the heck of it. Looks like Prithviraj still has a hangover of his “Fountainhead” days, if you know what I’m talking about. And who makes these fancy PowerPoint presentations in the police station, I’m curious. Another lost opportunity and this article about the incident that most probably served as an inspiration might drive home that point.

And personally i feel that everything that went wrong with Adam Joan is what went wrong with Cold Case too. Tracing back my thoughts on Adam Joan here, and I’ve been rather vicious I admit.


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.