Of Founders, Filmmakers and Viewers.

Indian Cinema, rather mainstream Indian Cinema, represented by commercial cinema in regional languages sold to us as various “woods” by popular media was rather averse to biopics until mid 2000s or so. Biopics were by and large, customary Doordarshan screenings on national holidays to us with Attenborough’s Gandhi being the one etched in the collective memory of the country, for eternity. One wouldn’t blame the average Indian producer for staying away from the genre while Hollywood managed to churn out biopics that found critical acclaim and won the box office too. In India biopics were considered the reserve of art house filmmakers whose subjects were historical and political figures on most occasions. Shekhar Kapur is an exception here and he graduated from movies like Masoom and Mr. India to the rather unconventional Indian biopic for mid 90s, Bandit Queen. He then went international with Elizabeth. That didn’t change much in Bollywood but. It was still  few years later when Ajay Devgan and Bobby Deol clashed with their versions of the life of Bhagat Singh. Then Aamir tested the waters with Mangal Pandey. And then there was the eponymous movie on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose by Shyam Benegal, who wouldn’t identify as a Bollywood filmmaker by any stretch of imagination too. Apart from the fact that all these movies tried to monetise patriotic fervour at the box office, another common factor was A.R Rahman’s music, with the exception of Deol’s Bhagat Singh movie. Rahman has this uncanny ability to stir up emotions of the patriotic kind with his music like no other singer- composer out there. Back then in the late 90s his version of Vande Mataram was quite the rage and looking back at it now, I’m not surprised that he was part of these films in a major way too. Coming back to biopics, it was in the second decade of new millennium that Bollywood actually realised that the audience were primed for biopics and it looked as if every major actor out there was looking to bag one in their kitties.The hyper nationalism that swept the country helped too. The general perception was that playing these roles all it took to be recognised as a true citizen. Having said that, Indian biopics are the most absurd if you ask me. A movie on the life and career of the most popular Indian cricketer of the past decade actually had one of those regular Bollywood romantic songs. But in a country where posters get milk showers, the actual absurdity is in questioning the content here. This is around the time when Bollywood realised the potential of biographical sports dramas too. Every major league actor was looking for real life events that could set the cash registers ringing with some political mileage thrown in. Except for Dangal maybe, none of these films actually managed to make a mark apart from the initial buzz which they created, riding on the biographical element in the film which naturally evoked interest in the general audience. Most were poorly executed and at best was hardly anything more than what we generally associate with best intentions in Bollywood, farce.

Down south, serious filmmakers like Mani Ratnam had a safer, more pragmatic approach which allowed them to dabble in every excess of commercial cinema while telling a tale from real life that deserved to be told. It was a
win-win approach for all. And they never told you that it’s a true story,  it was the media who did that. This is why movies like Guru or Iruvar had all the songs it had and you were okay with that too, as a viewer. When he first tried this in Iruvar, it was the only way Mani Ratnam could touch upon the lives of two individuals who found unparalleled success in cinema and politics in the highly volatile political atmosphere of Tamil Nadu and, live to tell other tales. He did this with Guru again, years later. Sudha Kongara, whose Soorarai Pottru garnered much attention in an year of very few releases even on streaming platforms, interestingly was an associate director in Guru. Soorarai Pottru left me disoriented to an extent and is the reason why I’m writing this in fact. It is indeed an engaging film but the sheer amount of drama, rather melodrama infused into the script for the sake of commercial appeal for a film that was marketed as a biopic let the puritan in me down I guess. To be fair to the makers, never in their wildest dreams would they have thought that this film would have an OTT release and ultimately the business of filmmaking is about profits which justifies the cinematic liberties the director has indulged in, to an extent. Yes, maybe it would have turned out a documentary if she had translated the book on which the film is based onto the screen down to the dot. If it wasn’t for the biopic tag, everything about this film is run of the mill Tamil Cinema, not too different from an Annamalai if you ask me. As in all Indian biopics what we have here too is a hero who cannot do wrong. He is present everywhere, from the tarmac to the ATC tower to the cockpit. He indulges in melodrama reminiscent of a Sivaji Ganesan at his histronic best and heroics that you normally associate with Rajnikanth. Surya, as an actor has always delivered what the director and the character demands of him and here too, he obliges. But for more than a decade now, he has been trying to compete at the box office with his contemporaries rather unsuccessfully to speak the truth, the casualty of which happened to be the quality of content which we as an audience expected from his films early on. This film too has been heavily influenced by that approach by the Surya camp, I guess. Compare this to a film like The Founder, where Michael Keaton plays the eponymous founder of the McDonald’s empire. The politics of the film starts right with the title and it doesnt take sides or project the protagonist as a hero who beats all odds, rather they present him as a man with all the failings of an asipiring businessman. There are no attempts to infuse drama into the narrative by the makers for the sake of it but the film still makes a gripping watch. But in Soorarai Pottru, even the social circumstances of the character have been changed to appeal to an electorate rather than an audience, one cant but help feel. What drives a filmmaker to arrive upon such choices when they are telling a tale ? Is it their perception of us the audience or are we truly not ready for the kind of content that The Founder or The Pursuit of Happyness present? Closer to home, Swades is the only film that compares in theme and feel to Soorarai Pottru though it was not a biopic but was indeed an odd film for Bollywood and the leading man at the time of it’s release. For a film that’s all about defying odds and breaking norms in terms of the story it says, Soorarai Pottru at the end of the day plays by the perceived rules of the marketplace and conforms to the age old norms of a “star” driven industry ulitmately and that’s when it leaves a bad aftertaste and that exactly is my only beef with the film, I realise now.


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Mamangam: Of Lost Glory, And Opportunity.

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

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

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




21 Bridges : Boseman Bridges All Gaps In This One.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Kaithi : Road Rage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thannermathan Dinangal : Pure Gold.

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

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

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