Rorschach : The Fury of a Patient Yet Deranged Malayali Man.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that Rorschach piqued the interest of every Malayalam cinema enthusiast out there right from the time of it’s announcement. Though they never made any tall claims, with a no fuss- no frills marketing campaign that saw the release of some well timed intriguing posters and teasers, the makers ensured that the anticipation and the curiosity reached a crescendo in the days leading up to the release of the film. It worked obviously because after a long while I dragged myself to the theater on the first day after a long day at work and ended up looking up at the screen from the front row last night and woke up with a sprained neck too but I’m not complaining either. In fact, totally worth it I say.

With a cinematic language that’s new to Malayalam Cinema, or even Indian Cinema, Rorschach sets the mood and tone with the very first frame. From the bgm to writing to performances of actors relatively new and seasoned, everything about Rorschach surprises you as a viewer, and the makers manage to keep up this momentum to the very end, though not totally without misgivings and you don’t really care about those at the end considering the engaging experience you’ve had. At no point does the film take its audience for granted but nor does it resort to the kind of spoon feeding that we are used to in some films that are passed of as complex psychological thrillers these days. The film uses voice overs and narration by multiple central characters on more than one occasion and the viewers are as clueless as the character at that point too. It’s almost as if the character is thinking aloud with the viewer. But at the same time a lot is conveyed by characters through a gaze or a shrug or a scowl. It’s brilliant writing backed by subtle, restrained performances from a bunch of seriously talented actors.

The foundation of the film is without doubt the writing by Sameer Abdul. From dark humor to complex human relationships, he explores it all in his nuanced, layered screenplay. The characters are etched out not in words, but flesh and blood. That’s how real they are. Nisam Basheer on the other hand flexes his creative muscles so much so that his debut film looks like Bruce Banner compared to The Incredible Hulk that Rorschach is. The man goes berserk here. He manages to extract fan moments for the lead actor without hurting the narrative in a film that’s branded as an off beat psychological thriller. That’s where his skill comes to the fore most, when he balances the film perfectly where the film appeals to the purists and the fandom alike. In the same breath, despite the visionary direction and brilliant writing, I’m surprised how some amateurish, logical inconsistencies crept into the film, especially in the parts where the past of the two main characters are explored. But that’s a minor hiccup rather muted by the edge of the seat narrative that keeps the audience guessing right to the closing scene. Midhun Mukundan channels his inner Johnny Cash when he renders a background score that sets the film apart again and right from the scene where Mammooty stands before the house with the hammer in his hand, Midhun almost single handedly elevates the proceedings on the screen. It’s not only in stark contrast to the rustic backdrop of the film but also to his work in Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. Nimish Ravi plays another crucial role here with his visuals, considering the fact that most of the proceedings happen in the dark of the night. Kiran Das adds another extraordinary film again to his list of associations as an editor.

The film belongs to the supporting cast as much as it does to Mammooty, who proves yet again that his hunger for new challenges is still intact. The greatest success of the actor here lies in the fact that you won’t get to see the remotest shades of any of his other characters to date, in his latest outing as the enigmatic, almost- deranged Luke Antony. Kottayam Nazeer makes you wonder why he’s not seen in more meatier roles more often. That Grace Antony holds her own against her towering leading man with a measured performance speaks volumes of her skills as an actor. Bindu Panikker is probably the only actor who could have pulled off this role and I for one can’t think of a replacement. Just the other day I was watching Jagadeesh squirming in his iconic In HariharNagar scenes and was thinking how it was so real and unique in terms of expressions and the kind of skill it took to show it on camera, at will. Jagadeesh here is almost unrecognizable as the dogged cop. The show stealer I felt was Sharaffuddin though. He has fewer written lines than most of his fellow actors but he says so much more in every scene he is in, including one of the closing shots. His exchanges with Jagadeesh were a delight to watch and his reaction in the scene where Jagadeesh’s character slams the door on him proves that Sharafuddin has come a long way indeed, from that funny guy on the bridge in Premam. And of course any discourse on the film is incomplete without a word about that actor who chose to stay behind a mask through the entire length of the film. Probably a first for Indian Cinema. Rorschach is groundbreaking cinema I feel, in more ways than one. It’s one of those rare engaging cinematic experiences that doesn’t insult your intelligence and doesn’t make any compromises in it’s narrative for the sake of the audience. It’s ahead of the times for Malayalam Cinema, I’m tempted to say, despite the kind of exposure viewers have these days, which is why I wonder if it would turn out to Mammoty’s Big B of this decade. But that’s just me. 🤷‍♂️.

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

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

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

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