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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

Peranbu : Ram’s Gift To Mammooty, And Us.

Peranbu has been in the news for a while now. In the days leading up to the release of the film, what I came across mostly in my news feed on social media platforms were the rave reviews the lead actor’s performance had garnered in festival circuits and more recently the responses of his peers from the industry after the premiere. Media houses  these days have little option but to sing to the tune that the social media crowd plays, to keep their business afloat, and were no different in their coverage. It’s all good. But, to an average Malayali filmgoer, it’s nothing but overkill. I mean do we really need a revalidation of the skills of an actor who has delivered in films ranging from Thaniyavarthanam to Vidheyan to Rajamanikyam ? Yes, Mammooty  hasn’t had the best of times at the box office of late but that’s pretty much like Sachin going out to bat for the Indian cricket team of the late 90s, if you ask me. Sachin hits a century but the match is lost because his team lets him down. While the filmmakers closer to home are content with dressing Mammooty up and celebrating his sunglasses, Ram has made a film where this actor unparalleled gets to do what he does best, act his heart out that is.  Peranbu is what Mammooty the actor deserves and maybe even desires too. And believe me when I tell you that Mammooty does his best dance performance ever in a film too, in Peranbu.

You are in for a surprise if you thought that this was just another sob story about a parent and a differently abled child. Yes, there are intense emotions that will leave you disturbed, but there’s laughter too. Ram has used a unique narrative arc here to tell his tale. To draw an analogy it’s pretty much like being invited by someone into his home where he makes you comfortable, serves you tea, then knocks you on your head with a club and puts an icepack on it himself right before he sees you out. No, I’m not saying that Ram would be a psychotic sadist if he wasn’t making films, no. Narrated in a dozen chapters or so by Mammooty himself, Ram attributes different moods of nature to each of these chapters. The first half of the film is set in the woods. Beautifully shot, it’s up there with some of the best works in contemporary cinema, in terms of cinematography. The camera compliments not just the script, but the actors too in a process that is as organic as it gets. It’s masterful filmmaking by Ram here, when he gradually immerses the viewer into the landscape and the story being told. Aiding him in the task is a Yuvan Shankar Raja in fine form.  One of those rarest of rare cinematic experiences if you ask me. The second half of the film is set in a jungle of a different kind and one we are most familiar with, concrete. The mood of the tale shifts here too. The film doesn’t judge any of its characters, much like its main protagonist, Amudhavan. He is far from perfect and after having failed as a father and a husband, he is doing penance by trying to be a good father to his daughter. He forgives everyone, even the ones who have done him wrong. Though Ram addresses issues that have never been discussed in any public domain, let alone cinema, what he demands from his viewers ultimately is a reflection into their own lives, through Amudhavans eyes and experiences, as an individual and as a parent. Ram doesn’t have all the answers  to the questions he raises here, he merely suggests that compassion, Peranbu is all that our fellow beings need from us to cope with the greatest of tragedies.

More than his acting chops, it’s Mammooty’s decision to be part of Peranbu and the willingness to play Amudhavan as Ram dictated, unconditionally that deserves to be lauded I feel. In a scene, which I percieved was a single shot, he proves again why he is one of the best actors to have ever graced the screen. In another brief scene which would otherwise be insignificant, when a family alights from the taxi he drives, Mammooty conveys the whole crux of the film with just his expressions. Because it’s Ram, who conceived that scene and trusted Mammooty to deliver it exactly as he envisioned it as a director and writer, that we can safely say that Peranbu is first a Ram film and then a Mamooty film. But I couldn’t but help notice that maybe the film ended a bit too hastily considering the slow burner approach for most parts. The pace of the proceedings are perfectly  in sync with the mood of the story being told. I’m indeed speculating wildly when I say that the festival circuit cut was maybe a different one, especially towards the end. Sadhana, who plays Paapa has the most challenging role here, considering the fact that the portrayal would be subjected to much scrutiny. If a reference must be made, it’s Rani Mukherjee’s performance in Black, I’d say. Anjali makes an impression in a brief role as one of the women in Amudhavan’s life. Another significant addition to the cast is Anjali Ameer, a transgender actor who plays a prostitute in the film. Anjali Ameer excels in this niche role but it remains to be seen how  the industry welcomes her. Not every filmmaker is Ram and not every film is Peranbu. At the end of the day, that’s what we lack as a society the most, compassion and Ram holds a perfect mirror to it in this landmark film that will haunt us for long.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Streetlights : The Review

Streetlights has its flaws but but you still end up liking it for its unforced charm.The only purpose of casting Mammootty in this film was to save it from a fate akin to that of say, the many Asif Ali new wave thrillers that have hit the screens in the recent past.A name as big as his brings the attention of the global Malayali audience to a film that wouldve otherwise ended up in the obilivion that the post-DVD-torrent world is, a forgotten link on an illegal streaming site.As the star’s own production house was backing the movie, you had this inkling that it wouldn’t be just another dud in his cap, which it seems, he has been all too keen to collect, of late.

Though the whole premise of the film is eerily similar to that of Puthanpanam, what saves Streetlights is some genuine writing that tries to bring in some novelty in scenes and situations that are cliched to an extent.The writer has put some time and effort into all the characters and that keeps the movie afloat, I feel.But it has to be said that the writer couldn’t resist the tempations to indulge in toilet humor, literally.The string of coincidences that drives the narrative does seem outlandish, towards the end especially but the pace of the proceedings on screen and the performances of the supporting  cast comes to the rescue of the film here.Dharmajan stands out here and has delivered in a role that’s well etched and far removed from the fumbling sidekick roles we have seen him often in.He is a revelation, almost.Hareesh Perumanna on the other hand has been asked to talk his talk and still makes a decent job of it, as he has done in the numerous films he has been part of in the past couple of years.The one part of the film that i disliked to the core are the scenes set in primary school, where kids have been asked to behave like college students by the makers.This is something that we have seen in quite a few Malayalam movies recently and it is neither cute nor funny by any stretch of imagination.

Mammootty the actor or Mammootyy the star doesnt stand to gain much from this movie but you do get to see glimpses of both in flashes, if you care to look closely.One scene stands out particularly, where the Police officer played by Mammootty, out looking for a con-man in Fort Kochi which in the Malayalam Cinematic Universe is the hub of all things bad about Kochi, a den of criminals so to speak, confronts a bunch of local goons.The director shows extreme restraint here and instead of asking Mammootty to swing from a rope and make the baddies fly out into outer space, with utter disrespect for the memories of Isaac Newton – which until recently was something that you saw only in Tamil and Telugu movies – Shamdat Sainudeen in this pretty decent transformation from a cinematographer to a director, shows that an actor of Mammootty’s calibre can deliver as much impact as a punch or a highflying kick by just saying the right words with the right intensity.It was almost the vintage Mammooty from Avanazhi and Inspector Balram, for a moment there.And yeah the director does save some rope swinging action sequences for the climax.Get over Pulimurugan already, people !