Abrahaminte Santhathikal:When The Viewer Is At Fault, Not The Movie.

One of my earliest memories of watching a movie in a theatre is that of the 1991 sequel to Avanazhi, Inspector Balram. Mammooty at his intense best in a role that would in time become the gold standard for police officer characters in Malayalam Cinema, or so. Balram was  the Dirty Harry of Malayalam, sans the Magnum .44 of course, though the climax of Inspector Balram had more to do with Die Hard I, if you ask me. Mammooty in khaki was always pitched as the stuff of cinematic dreams to the audience and whenever his luck at the box office has been down the star has donned the uniform to try and get the cash registers ringing again, wouldn’t blame him either.Well, why would Mamootty debate when people are convinced that when it comes to playing lawyers and policemen other actors a’int got shit on him.Lawyers because he has law degree.By that logic, Mohanal would have made a legendary WWE wrestler.Just saying.

Abrahaminte Santhathikal is Mammooty’s fourth outing as a cop in the past two years and is in fact another unremarkable addition to the string of mediocre films the actor has been churning out at a regular pace, of late. Going in, I had read the best things about the film on social media and even Mathrubhumi, who have been posting “genuine” reviews ever since a fiasco involving a “popular” actor on the wrong side of the law put them at loggerheads with the film industry at large, reduced the only negative thing they had to say about the film to a single closing sentence, in their review. Yeah, you could argue that I had my hopes sent up in an express elevator to the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa and if I did’nt like the film, the blame rests entirely up on me and my expectations ,which if you care to ask  is a logic that I haven’t quite been able to wrap my head around.Now, there are two possibilities  the way I see it, either I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to movies or Mammooty films aren’t doing justice to the man’s talent and stature as an actor and a star anymore.And allow me to assure you  for a fact that the former is not the case.The only reason I’m finding time to write about the film is because I just happened to realise that I was not the only one who was fooled by the fanfare.

Abrahaminte Santhathikal starts off with the mandatory introduction scene for the hero, the tackiness of which is challenged only by its blatant racism.Of course, such nuanced thinking is alien to us as an audience in God’s Own Country.One though, has to admire the perseverence of the makers in their decision to stick to time tested, stale formats and choosing to shut doors on creative thinking.It’s not a surprise at all that a movie as disoriented as this leaves the viewer in a similar state of mind too.From a ransom drama to a serial killer hunt to murder mystery to  family drama, every genre is visited by the makers here, which in itself is quite an achievement.The movie constantly engages in a mental sparring match with the viewer using some of the most incoherent writing you will ever come across in films to a point where  the viewers’ senses are numbed and they stop caring entierly about script and storyline.The makers then shove some slow motion sequences which is synonymous with stylishness in our cinema, accompanied by some rousing BGM down the audience’s throats.That’s the plot of the movie, if you ask me, literally.An actor of Mammooty’s calibre deserves better film making and bit more responsibility on the part of the makers.That’s saying like it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaala : The Review.

Rajnikanth movies are where you get to realise and count the actual number of hairs  you have on your body. He manages to get each one of them to stand straight up for almost the entire time when you are watching his films. Goosebumps are what he has built his career upon but this time around, in his second consecutive outing with Pa.Ranjith, he has revealed a cinematic side of his that was more or less locked away since Dalapathi hit the screens almost three decades back. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge for Rajni since, and Kaala arrives at a crucial time for the Superstar when he is wading  into the volatile world of Tamil politics. Kaala is unique as a Rajnikanth film in many ways, it is his most political film to date which could obivoulsy be attributed to his change in stature and the man at the helm, Pa.Ranjith. Rajnikanth did try to make a political statement a while back with Baba and that did not help him much then.The politics and symbolism in Kaala were more than evident, right  from the day the first look was released. One of them had Rajni sitting atop a Mahindra Thar sporting a number plate BR 1956, a not so subtle reference to B.R.Ambedkar ,the architect of the Indian Constitution and champion of Dalit rights who passed away in 1956. If that did’nt put things in perspective for you, Nana Patekar’s villain who called for a “Pure India” in the teaser, must definitely have.

I am not sure who has used whom here exactly, if it’s Rajni using Pa.Ranjith to declare his political ambitions or if Pa.Ranjith is using Rajni to speak about his political outlook, maybe it’s both, symbiosis I think is the word. Kaala is set against the backdrop of Dhaaravi, in Mumbai and Kaala is the protector and defacto leader of the people there. Pitted against him are real estate tycoons and Nana Patekar’s Hari Dada who is the representative of the deep reooted regional politics in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai which we know by the name of the Thackrey’s and the Shiv Sena. The director’s intention is anything but subtle here and stops just short of using actual names. The movie takes it’s sweet time to tell the story and woven deftly in there is a love story involving mature adults too where Rajnikanth the actor flexes his muscles after ages, no I am not talking about the Rajni-Huma scenes exactly. Easwari Rao who plays Kaala’s wife will win your hearts and Huma Quereshi is perfectly at ease in her role as Kaala’s long lost love. It’s Pa.Ranjith’s masterstroke here again if you ask me because for all their talk about Dravidian culture and politics the leading men of Tamil Cinema have always chosen to sing and dance with the fair skinned leading ladies from the North.Samuthirakani plays a perpetually drunk man Friday of sorts to Kaala and giving him company are a bunch of less familar faces playing Kaala’s extended family.

If you are a hardcore Rajnikanth fan looking for another Padayappa or Bhaasha you might have to wait for 2.0. Kaala has it’s  fair share of Rajnikanth moments but it also tells a tale of oppression and fight for survival without going over the top as a “Superstar” movie.The movie is loaded with symbolism and makes sublte statements randomly to provide food for thought for the keen observer. At one point in the film a policeman named Shivaji Rao Gaekwad ( yeah right !) is shot dead, which triggers violence that leads up to the climactic showdown.Nana Patekar’s holds his ground with elan in the scenes where he faces off with Rajnikanth. There are some worthy exchanges between Rajni and Nana where both actors leave their mark. Pa.Ranjith has used a Ramayana recital to build up the crescendo towards the end where Kaala’s Ravana is taken on by Haridada’s Ram in a role reversal of sorts.Periyar would have smiled at this reference.It doesn’t end there and Ranjith has gone ahead and depicted the Lankadhanam chapter of Ramayana here in the battle finale.Dhaaravi is Lanka and is being burned down by Hari Dada’s goons. Ravi Kale, who plays Haridada’s lead henchman is in fact Hanuman, replete with a piece of iron that passes for the mythological character’s weapon of choice, the mace. B.R Ambedkar’s  call to educate and agitate finds place in the lyrics of the background score and is played aloud in the ending scenes.Kaala himself advises the younger generation to get educated.The ending of the movie reminded me of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises  where a hero becomes more than a man, becomes an idea and one could almost see inspiration there.On a closing note, Pa. Ranjith has managed a coup d’etat with the climax I think and this has to be one of the most important films in Rajnikanth’s career as an actor and a politician.

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero : The Review.

The elusive quest for the true Indian superhero has been on in Indian Cinema for a while now.From Amitabh Bachchan to  Hrithik Roshan to Tiger Shroff to Jeeva, every star has tried his luck in the genre with mixed results.Now Vikramaditya Motwane has teamed up with Anurag Kashyap to bring the first desi superhero, one without any actual powers and with a name that doesn’t get any “desier“.This is one superhero movie that is far removed from the Marvel and DC extravaganzas or even the Bollywoodish-to-core Krissh series and has more in common with the Nolan Batman trilogy in terms of basic approach to the theme.In fact this movie is not just about how an Indian Bruce Wayne sans an inheritance would be, but also an exercise in how close an Indian director can get to a global theme in Indian settings.I have to mention Mysskin’s Mukhamoodi here which can be considered a worthy predecessor to Bhavesh Joshi in more ways than one.

At a time when Hollywood and every major star over there is going nuts over reboots and sequels to every known superhero franchise, Harshvardhan Kapoor has taken a leap of faith in a movie that is Tezaab meets Mr.India, to draw a parallel with his father’s career.Though budget constraints have  restricted the flight of the Indian superhero to a caricature in the past, Motwane tries to make up for lack of slickness with the trademark grit of the Motwane-Kashyap school of filmmaking.Bhavesh Joshi’s enemies are mostly issues that we have come to accept as realities in our daily lives, he doesn’t have a Mogambo or Thanos to deal with here.The vigilante in Bhavesh Joshi is driven by guilt and revenge rather than social causes ultimately.There are moments when Motwane pushes his creative envelope and takes some liberties which raises some questions on the plausibility of the events though such questions are surreal in this genre.But when its an origin story told with bare necessities and an ambition to stick to reality you tend to notice these flaws.Yes, I am talking about the hacking scene.

The movie has tried to stay relevant to the recent social media uprisings and the Jan Lokpal movements which Motwane has attributed the origins of the movie to.There are even references to the man with the jhadoo.Had the movie been made back when the Lokpal mania had been at its peak, it would have garnered more attention.People have moved on since, like with all issues on social media.Social media is a major weapon that Bhavesh Joshi Superhero relies on in his fight for justice.The movie has some goodlooking chase sequences and one scene particularly felt like a tribute to the footbridge sequence from Batman Begins.If you are looking for the Indian superhero to rave over, this is not it.This is more about the society we live in and the problems that we have accustomed ourselves to.Bhavesj Joshi is just a plot device that Motwane has used to tell that story.

Uncle: The Review.

Morality and the human urge to scrutinise fellow beings in the name of it is a phenomenon that is as old as the history of mankind. The so called Victorian Moral Codes were propagated throughout the British Empire and it’s hardly surprsing that it has found immense acceptance  in God’s Own Country where we welcome everything foreign with wide open arms and one might be tempted to label us a regressive bunch but allow me to remind you that we had nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky turning an anti-bullying activisit or Lady Di’s demise in a French tunnel. Joy Mathew returns as a writer after Shutter and also acts in Uncle which deals with the ideas of morality and the hypocrisy that runs deep in the lives of us Malayalis.

If Joy Mathew impressed you with his skills as a writer in Shutter which also dealt with a similar theme, its his subtle and restrained performance as an actor that makes you sit up and take notice of, in Uncle. Yes, its a Mammootty film and may have been a much needed breather of a hit for the star but still he is little more than eye candy in this movie which almost entirely belongs to Joy Mathew and Muthumani. For an actor who has roles like Bhaskara Patelar, Ahmad Haji and the more recent Raghavan in his resume this role is cakewalk for Mammootty and throws up no serious challenges to his skills as an actor or image as a family idol. Joy Mathew on the other hand has elevated himself to another level in a role that must have struck a chord  with the predicament that every middle aged dad finds himself in Kerala today. It does’nt help that every relationship is compartmentalised and when they collide, havoc it wreaks in minds and hearts. Muthumani’s role of a regular Malayali mother is a slow burner that goes full throttle in the climax. Most of the movie takes place either inside a house or inside a car and the writer and director have skillfully entwined the scenes  here which keeps the audience interested in the proceedings on the screen.

Though i have had my differences with Joy Mathew’s responses to various issues on social media, here he has taken an interesting position, politically and socially, and his observations are bang on target too. The message that he delivers ultimately is that when it comes to moral policing in Kerala, people unite beyond barriers of religion and political beliefs, its the manifestation of basic human nature, at the end of  the day. You cannot fight the mob, but you need not submit to their bullying either. The only part where the movie falters is when it  has to cosy up to the image of the star,towards the end, I felt. If Mammootty walked off the sets of Masterpiece to that of Uncle, Joy Mathew the writer must have had a hard time convincing him that beating up and bouncing bad guys off the ground is not the answer everytime.

 

Raazi: The Review

Meghna Gulzar has based her latest on a novel from 2008 by a former Indian Navy Officer, inspired by the true story of a Kashmiri girl who was married off to a Pakistani Army Officer by her father to spy for India in the days that led upto the 1971 war and liberation of Bangladesh.Her efforts saved INS Viraat, says Harinder Sikka, the author of Calling Sehmat and he attirbuted the birth of the book to his disillusionment with patriotism during the Kargil War. The alleged intelligence failure made him ask questions and he ended up finding some truly astonishing answers that raises even more difficult questions on loyalty, ethics and the idea of a nation. The movie could not be more perfectly timed too, when all you see and hear around you is a conceited effort to bind nationalism and religio-political identity together.

Raazi is more John Le Carre than Ian Fleming and Meghna Gulzar has set a benchmark here in Bollywood for spy thrillers with this film which doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence for a change.Almost all Bollywood spy movies have been about wannabe Bonds plowing across the Schengen to look savvy while being economical, if you know what I am talking about. The only other movie Indian movie that comes close to Raazi in this genre  is Mani Shankar’s underrated Mukhbir.The success of Raazi is in the perfect pace at which the story progresses.The elements of suspense and drama have been woven together with immense skill in the screenplay co-written by the director and Bhavani Iyer.There are thrilling espionage sequences worthy of the Mission Impossible series, at least in terms of the suspense they build and heart wrenching drama that would make Sanjay Leela Bhansali proud here.

The movie entirely belongs to Aalia Bhatt and she has delivered the performance of a lifetime empathetically capturing the predicament of a girl who puts everything in her life at stake for her country at the command of her father.Arif Zakaria is seen in a Bollywood mainstream film after a while and you know why he has been cast right from the first scene he is in.Jaideep Ahlawat plays mentor to Aalia’s character and is a representative of the cold calculating system that puts goals above every emotion which ultimately destroys lives and leaves souls scarred for eternity.Watching the movie here with a crowd of mixed nationalities from the Subcontinent and the Middle East was a surreal experience for me considering the events that unfolded on the screen and I was calm while realizing that conflicts are here to stay and we’re not.Cogs in wheels, the Khulbhushan Jadhavs , Sarabjit Singhs and Sehmats of this world.Penguin’s republishing Calling Sehmat I hear, maybe I should grab a copy.

Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil: The Review

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. Tinu Pappachan has succeeded at that in his debut movie as a director, at least with me. I must admit that I was a more than a bit biased going in, considering the fact the cast and crew of Angamaly Diaries almost entirely made up the line up for this movie, replete with an extended cameo by Lijo Jose Pellissery. It is in fact a reunion for the Angamaly Diaries team, except for the notable addition of Vinayakan.

From The Great Escape to Shawshank Redemption to the namesake Prison Break series,  the genre has spawned gems on multiple occasions in the west but it’s a theme that has been rarely explored in Indian Cinema.Padmarajan’s Season, which was ahead of it’s times in many ways and far removed from his other works, is the only film from our part of the world that comes to mind, in this genre. Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil, if you ask me has more in common with Season than any other prison break themed classic out there. Personally I believe that the key to the success of any action thriller is in sustaining the mood and not so much in the number of action sequences and Tinu Pappachan has delivered in that department.He owes a lot here to Gireesh Gangadharan, who is the Haile Gebrselassie of the world of cinematopgraphy if i may, considering his penchant for long shots and to run with the camera following the actors in the most difficult of chase sequences. Editing by Shameer Muhammed has also played a huge role in keeping the proceedings on screen interesting for the viewer.Cinematography and editing are the actual heroes in the climactic showdown and that’s where and how the film picks up the tempo in the later half.Music by Jakes Bejoy is a major contributor too, throughout the movie.

Antony Varghese plays the lead again along with an ensemble cast and it’s still too early to judge this untrained actor, those who were eager to write him off as a one film wonder might have to rein in their thoughts for now.Vinayakan proves here again that he is here to stay and the audience loves him for that.Chemban Vinod is no different though  his role here has the shades of almost all the characters he has played to date but I don’t mind that at all, trust me.The film for most part, wisely refrains from dwelling for too long on moral justifications of the actions of the lead actors and strictly sticks to the task at hand, the prison break plan and its execution.This was a refreshing approach and maybe this is why the sequence where mob justice is delivered doesnt fit in and stands out like a sore thumb.Tinu Pappachan can sit back contended and deserves appreciation just for attempting such an unconventional yet ambitioius and risky debut in Malayalam cinema.

Mercury:The Review.

When you’re Karthik Subbaraj and you have works like Pizza, Jigarthanda and Iraivi in your repertoire, you’re the Quentin Tarantino of sorts of Tamil Cinema and you’re allowed to do anything with a camera and a bunch of artists. If Pizza and Jigarthanda didn’t earn him that right, Iraivi certainly did.Though i do hope that he doesn’t indulge like the Tarantino post Pulp Fiction in his idiosyncrasies to the point of excess, i spoke too late i can’t but help feeling, having watched his latest.Mercury is a silent film in terms of spoken dialogues and if the title card is to be believed, an ode to silent films from Harishchandra to Pushpak. Harischandra maybe, Pushpak, No.That’s overreaching, i have to say considering the results and the tactics that the writer-director has used to justify the lack of diaogue here.

Mercury is Mercury because it’s based on the mercury poisoning tragedy unearthed in Kodaikanal, caused by the dumping of toxic waste by the Unilever thermometer factory which ultimately led to the shutdown of the factory in 2001.Apart from the facts that a major part of the movie is set in a rundown thermometer factory and the main protagonists being presented as victims of the poisoning which rendered them mute and deaf, the movie does little to explore this instance of gross corporate irresponsibility and its aftermath.It is indeed a well made movie in terms of production values but personally the movie felt more inspired by the movie Don’t Breathe  than the Kodaikanal tragedy.Of course Karthik Subbaraj was never one without original ideas ,but it’s perfectly alright to be inspired once in a while too.The movie had me thinking of The Walking Dead at one point, but that’s just me i guess.

True to the tradition of horror movies, here too a bunch of youngsters meeting together and celebrating ends up paying,  for enjoying the little pleasures of life.Though there is no actual explanation for the events that unfold on the screen, Subbaraj does get it right when it comes to the execution but one can’t but help feeling that he was trying too hard to get his cast down to the factory so that he could shift gears into the thriller mode because almost all of the movie is about the cat and mouse game between the killer played by Prabhu Deva and the five friends inside the factory.The communication between the five disabled characters is almost reduced to a pantomime session, which is quite surprising, given the skils and attention to detail Subbaraj displayed in his earlier films and the climax had me wondering if Subbaraj had handed over the reins to Mysskin.