Lucifer : When Personal Propaganda Takes A Ride On Unparalled Popularity.

Lucifer was destined and designed to be disruptive right from the day it was announced for reasons more than one. To put the origins of the title into context, everything about the film was biblical and on the opening day as well as the days leading upto it, the mass hysteria that it kicked up could be described aptly with no other word. A popular mainstream actor who in the past was the brunt of jokes for his views and opinions that were more or less alien to Malayalam Cinema was making his directorial debut with the biggest box office star in Kerala in a film penned by a script writer known for his ability to cook up complex tales and to irk, mock and insinuate too, backed by a producer whose name was eponymous with the star’s and the film was titled Lucifer. If this is not biblical in the tiny world of Malayalam Cinema, I do not know what is. Personally, as a fan who has been unapologetically yearning for the next big thing from Mohanlal on the lines of the alpha male trilogy of Devasuram, Aram Thamburan and Narasimham  or something that matched up to the quintessential anti- hero that Aadu Thoma was, Lucifer was indeed a beam of hope and I shamelessly indulged the fan in me right up to the moment I entered the hall for the evening show on the first day of the release.

When the Malayali filmgoer sits down to watch Lucifer, Murali Gopy offers a blue pill and a red pill, not much different from the ones offered to Neo by Morpheus in The Matrix. You either watch the film as a starry eyed fanboy or you watch as an unbiased observer with feet firm on the ground, who is not oblivious to the political undertones of the narrative. When you are in for the movie on the day of it’s release and can’t hold your horses, there’s no prize for guessing what pill you’d choose. I obviously chose the blue pill intended for the unflinching fan but the effects did start to fade towards the end. That the film was about politics was evident from the day the first look was released which had Mohanlal donning the khadar ,which also hinted that Murali Gopy had the UDF in his crosshairs this time around. But of course the big news was Prithviraj’s debut as a director with none other than Mohanlal. Though he was tight lipped early on, in the weeks that led up to the release, he promised a treat for the fans. Mohanlal the way he wanted to see him on the screen as a fan was Lucifer, said Prithviraj the director. And he has done exactly that. Lucifer is nothing but a walk in the museum of all things that makes Mohanlal the box office powerhouse that he is. The actor towers over the rest of the impressive cast in the role tailor made for him by Murali Gopy and envisioned almost flawlessly by Prithviraj. The man is on fire here and it’s an understatement when I say that he defies age in the action sequences. That’s not to take anything away from actors ranging from Tovino to Indrajith to Shajon to Baiju to Manju to Vivek Oberoi who holds their own in the characters that fit them like a glove. Saikumar represents the UDF and Shivaji Guruvayoor is the personification of Murali Gopy’s favorite punching bag, the Left. Prithiviraj downplays his presence to that of a glorified stuntman in his own film, which is more or less an ode by the fanboy in him to the lead actor. Prithviraj impresses with his frames, scale and style, as a director though he did falter and fumble towards the end. The “item song” stood out like a sore thumb.

The storyline is borderline over the top conspiracy theory and in a state as politically literate like Kerala, it’s a hard sell if you ask me, which is where the lead actor’s stardom that knows no bounds helps the film’s cause. Mohanlal had his first tryst with the devil in the iconic Spadikam but it was the vernacular chekuthan who found his way into the narrative there. Prithviraj’s love for the occult is more than evident and even by his standards, for a film that seemed to deal with political climate in Kerala, the choice of the title sounded a bit outlandish. It didn’t fit for some reason at least to me and though it made sense once I watched the film in whole, I have to say it was the impossible merging of two different worlds that the director and the writer tried to pull off here. Cinema is after all fiction and fiction is ultimately suspension of disbelief. Murali Gopi is no Ranjith and neither is he Renji Paniker, which is to say rousing dialogues are not exactly his forte, which is why I am willing to forgive the terrible nod to Pulp Fiction. He is but indeed a master of plots and weaver of complex tales. Even in a film that was more or less apolitical like Ee Adutha Kaalathu he unwittingly made a choice that prompted the audience to speculate up on his political allegiances. Left Right Left which followed, only helped cement the suspicions about the political agenda of his films and writing. Kammara Sambavam, which came before Lucifer was again a testimony to the fact that he had no love lost for the political leadership in Kerala, especially the Left. Past behavior, they say, is the best indicator of future behavior and that could not be more truer here, with Lucifer. At a time when the State and the Country are engulfed in election frenzy, Murali Gopy trains his guns on the two major political factions who have taken turns, albeit democratically to rule Kerala for the past 70 years or so. To me at least, most ironic was the ending note where the writer almost sneers at the Malayali for having surrendered to the two political ideologies, the left and what used to be the right. Then the audience erupted into applause. And that’s where his propaganda succeeds if you ask me, though his alternative, is conspicuous by its absence in the narrative.

Neerali : Get A Grip, You Will Not.

Everyone’s in danger these days. You, me, everyone we know are potential lynch victims at the mercy of a share button. In such times, what would it take to make a decent thriller movie, I mean one that would actually make the viewer push his own fears back and edge closer to the edge of the seat by the minute, much like the fate of the character portrayed by Mohanlal in his latest, Neerali. In his first outing on the big screen since the much publicised makeover to play a younger version of himself in the upcoming Odiyan,  which saw him losing some weight and undergoing a purported botox treatment, Mohanlal plays a gemologist who for no fault of his own finds himself between a rock and free space, so to speak. The movie was hit by a barrage of negative responses online right from the day of it’s release which was quite surprising given the huge army of fans the actor has at his disposal on the social media. The producer quickly came out in defence and the movie which was initially marketed as a thriller turned a family entertainer over the weekend in the ads. Now, I am not blaming anyone here, it was entirely a personal decision which had me watching the movie. It was one of those cases where you were told something was so bad that you actually wanted to know for yourself how bad it actually was.

Mohanlal himself had vouched that he said yes to the movie because it was something that was never attempted in Malayalam Cinema. Now that I am done watching the film, I can say for a fact the nothing like this has been attempted in World Cinema. The director has to have a thing for Probability Theory and Murphy’s Law. I mean what are the odds of a gemologist who chills with his colleagues on the steppes of Mongolia, taking a trip to Cochin from Bangalore to meet his wife who is in labor, in a run down pickup truck with his company driver ? Probable ? Okay, I’ll give you that. From then on, everything just goes wrong not just for the characters, but the viewer too. Murphy’s law on speed indeed. When they’re not shown dangling between life and death in the pickup perched precariously at the edge of a cliff, Mohanlal’s Sunny and Suraaj Venjaramood’s driver Veerappa are seen singing songs, sharing personal anecdotes, consoling each other and cracking jokes. We are also fed regular doses of nostalgia in terms of songs and scenes from yesteryear to drive home the fact that Mohanal and Nadia Moidu are being paired after eons. Every woman in Sunny’s life has a crush on him because he’s played by Mohanlal and Sunny being Sunny gives us and Veerappa a brief lecture on the psychological disorder that possessivenes is. Another intriguing character in the film is a suicidal monkey who haunts the viewer long after he has left the movie hall. Notable was the scene where Mohanlal tries to hypnotise the monkey which actually holds a mirror not just to the state of the minds of the characters but the audience too at that point. The director was definitely trying to say something there, which reminds me of another creature, a beetle that makes ominous appearances in the movie, more than once.There is also a parallel storyline involving a bunch of young aspiring criminals who are on the trail of Sunny and Veerappa. But halfway down the movie the director and the writer seems to have deciced that it’s a story for another day and another film.

The “new” Mohanlal looked visibily uncomfortable early on and something was clearly amiss. This was most evident in the scene where the mandatory M.G Sreekumar song came on. Any Malaylai worth his mundu and meesha would recognise the fact that their favorite actor is not all there. Being a self confessed fan I have a fan theory of my own about this new look.Mohanal is a known practioner of Ayurveda and has been known to go on retreats from time to time. More than the fans, the man himself must be having a hard time to come to terms with the botox injected cheeks and it shows on screen too. Maybe we will get used to this, like we did with the change in his voice in the mid 90s. The Veerappa character of Suraaj is a Tamilian which is to give credibity to his back story where his inter caste marriage left his wife dead and him disabled at the hands of his wife’s family. That’s overreaching considering the recent developments in our own state.But to be fair to the writer, I guess the honor killing in our own backyard maybe wasn’t yet news when he put pen to paper.Honestly these thoughts are irrelevant in a film thats so ridden with potholes that the audience just gives up their sense of logic and surrenders entirely to the whims of the director early on. But the one question still haunts me, why monkey why?

Villain: The Review.

An ensemble of familiar tropes and then some more.That was Villain for me.B.Unnikrishnan, to whom the mantle of the master of suspense in the Malayalam film industry has passed on from the likes of K.Madhu and Shaji Kailas for lack of a better contender has always tried to show a sophisticated ,suave Mohanlal in his movies.Mohanlal has looked his best in recent times in B.Unnikrishnan movies but there’s always something missing in those films that leaves you dissatisfied as a viewer at the end of the day, they’re like a Venkatesh Prasad spell so to speak, there’s the run up, there’s intent, there’s attitude but lacks the most important deliverable, pace and ultimately gets hit down the park in utter disdain.

Here too B.Unnikrishnan loads his movie with attitude and an urbanity which is totally detached from the reality of our social and political infrastructure in an attempt to emulate the refined cop movies from Hollywood that we have grown up to, over the years.To be fair, the movie tries earnestly to hang on to its tagline, which is basically about the shades of grey in every one of us.Except for Manju Warrier’s , every other significant character in the movie has a twist to their persona which unravels as the movie progresses and in a way justifies the makers claim that there’s a villain in every hero and vice versa.But the movie chooses to deal with this theme superficially and if B.Unnikrishnan was inspired here by Nolan’s Dark Knight and Vishal’s role is intended as a loose take on Legder’s Joker, he misses the mark here by a mile.Getting his actors to break into dialogues that would be more at home in Hollywood than in a Malayalam film doesn’t necessarily make the film suave if thats the intention.And B.Unnikrishnan needs to get over his fascination with crony digital interfaces which again look like an unimaginative rethinking of the gesture interfaces from the Iron Man movies.He had a field day with those in Mr.Fraud, just for the record.Do away with those spinning progress bars and the beeps in the cyber cell please, 2.0 is to hit the screens soon too by the way.The director tells us he’s as up to date as any of us as a viewer of the thriller movies and shows from abroad when he throws in the term “black site” randomly during an interrogation scene.

Emotional thriller,is the phrase thats been doing rounds ever since this movie was released and if you ask me i honestly do not know what that is, psychological thrillers i know but emotional, that’s new to me.If those are movies where the sequences cut rapidly from forced melodrama and action back to back then maybe this is indeed the genre that the Villain belongs to.Yes,Mohanlal emotes the hell out of himself in a most restrained performance of his in recent times here but please do not invent a new genre just because you feel obliged to justify ever outing of his.Now, that the phrase has been coined, the only Malayalam movie that fits the label that comes to my mind is Kouravar from yesteryear.But thats another time, another era, another film entirely.To me this movie would rank behind Grandmaster and Mr.Fraud amongst Unnikrishnan’s works with Mohanlal.

Velipadinte Pusthakam : The Review

സോഷ്യൽ മീഡിയയിലും മുഖ്യധാരാ മാധ്യമങ്ങളിലും വെളിപാടിന്റെ ഈ എളിയ പുസ്തകത്തിനെ വലിച്ചു കീറി ഒട്ടിച്ചു കഴിഞ്ഞ ഈ വൈകിയ വേളയില് അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ഈ അവസരത്തില് അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ഈ ഒക്കേഷനില് ഞാൻ എന്റെ വക ഒരു കൂദാശ സമർപ്പിക്കാൻ അവസരം കിട്ടിയതിനു സ്തോത്രം ചെയുന്നു.മോഹൻഭായ് ലാൽജിയും ലാൽജി ജോസ് ഭായിയും (ബഹുമാനക്കുറവിന്റെ കുറവ് പരിഹരിച്ചതാ) ഒടുവിൽ ഒന്നിച്ച ഈ പടത്തിനു പോരായ്മകൾ ആവോളം ഉണ്ടെങ്കിലും ഡീഗ്രേഡിങ്ങിന്റെ ഇത്ര ഭയാനകമായ വേർഷൻ അർഹിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല എന്ന് എനിക്ക് തോന്നിപ്പോവുകയാണ് .ബെന്നി .പി . നായരംബലം ആയ കൊണ്ട് കടപ്പുറം ബാക്ക് ഡ്രോപ്പ് ആദ്യമേ പ്രതീക്ഷിച്ചിരുന്നെങ്കിലും താടി വെച്ച് സൈക്കിളിലിൽ നടന്നു കണ്ട ഇടിക്കുള എന്തിനാണ് കുറി തൊട്ടു കലിപ്പ് ലുക്കിൽ ബുള്ളറ്റിൽ ഇരിക്കുന്നത് എന്ന ചോദ്യം ഏതൊരു ലാൽ ഫാനിനെ പോലെ എന്നെയും അലട്ടിയിരുന്നു.ഇന്ത്യൻ സിനിമയിൽ മാത്രം നില നിൽക്കുന്ന പ്രതിഭാസമായ ഡബിൾ റോൾ ആണോ എന്ന് വരെ എന്നിലെ പ്യുറിസ്റ് ലാൽ ഫാൻ ഭയന്നു .ചന്ദ്രലേഖ ആറാം തമ്പുരാൻ നരസിംഹം എന്ന ചിത്രങ്ങൾക്കു ശേഷം കംപ്ലീറ്റ് ആക്ടറുടെ ഒരു പടത്തിനും എന്നെ കംപ്ലീറ്റ് ആയി തൃപ്തിപ്പെടുത്താൻ സാധിച്ചിട്ടില്ല എന്ന കുംബസാര സത്യം കൂടെ ഞാൻ ഇവിടെ വെളിപ്പെടുത്തുന്നു.

എനിക്കിത് വെളിപാടിന്റെ പുസ്‌തകം അല്ല “ഡെയ്‌ജ വൂന്റെ ” പുസ്തകം ആയിരുന്നു.സ്പടികം മണിച്ചിത്രത്താഴു കിരീടം തുടങ്ങിയ ലാൽ ക്ലാസിക്കുകളുടെ പല രംഗങ്ങളും മുന്നിലൂടെ വന്നു പോയ പോലെ എനിക്ക് തോന്നി പലപ്പോഴും.ക്ലൈമാക്സിൽ ഡോക്ടർ സണ്ണി വരുമോ എന്ന് വരെ ഞാൻ സംശയിച്ചു.മനോരോഗം വേരോടെ പിഴുതെറിയാൻ പുള്ളിയെ കഴിഞ്ഞല്ലേ ഉള്ളൂ.ആദ്യത്തെ പകുതിയിലെ കാലഹരണപ്പെട്ട ക്യാംപസ് കൺസെപ്റ്റും ഉപദേശവും കോമഡി എന്ന പേരിൽ കാണിച്ച രംഗങ്ങളും ഇന്റർവിലന് ശേഷം ചിത്രം ആർജിക്കാൻ ശ്രെമിച്ച തീവ്രതയെ വല്ലാതെ ബാധിച്ചു എന്ന് എനിക്ക് തോന്നുന്നു.എന്നിരുന്നാലും അവസാനത്തെ ഒരു മണിക്കൂർ എൻഗേജിങ് ആയിരുന്നു.
കിരീടത്തിൽ കീരിക്കാടനെ കൊന്ന ശേഷം വിഭ്രാന്തി പൂണ്ടു ഇരിക്കുന്ന സേതുവിന്റെ രംഗം ഷൂട്ട് ചെയുമ്പോൾ ലാൽ ആ അവസ്ഥയിൽ ഇരിക്കുന്ന ഒരാളുടെ മാനറിസങ്ങൾ സ്പൊണ്ടേനിയസ് ആയി പ്രകടിപ്പിച്ചു എന്ന് സിബി മലയിൽ പറഞ്ഞത് എനിക്ക് ചില സീനുകൾ കണ്ടപ്പോൾ ഓര്മ വന്നു.മോഹൻലാൽ ഉള്ള സീനുകളിൽ പ്രത്യേകിച്ച് പുള്ളി അഭിനയിച്ചു തകർക്കാൻ സാധ്യത ഉള്ള രംഗങ്ങളിൽ ഔട്ട് ഓഫ് ഫോക്കസ് ആയതിന്റെ ലോജിക് എന്താണെന്നു മനസിലാവുന്നില്ല .ഒരു പരിധി വരെ എന്നിലെ ഫാൻ തൃപ്തനാണ്.ഇത് തൊണ്ടി മുതലോ മഹേഷിന്റെ പ്രതികാരമോ അല്ലായിരിക്കാം പക്ഷെ ഇത് വാമനപുരം ബസ് റൂട്ടുമല്ല.ആമേൻ.

Manichitrathazhu: In retrospect.

Flipping through channels on TV is a ritual that’s being seriously threatened by the arrival of binge watching and i was honoring this time old tradition the other day when the sight Mohanlal,Thilakan,Innocent and Nedumudi in a single frame made me stop and put the remote down.Manichitrathazhu was playing on Asianet,for the umpteenth time but i didn’t find myself complaining, rather was only too happy to sit back and watch though the film was almost close to its ending.The fear of ghosts and darkness i had outgrown as a kid, when I realized that the living were far more sinister and dangerous but Manichitrathazhu managed to stir up my fears of the unknown every time I watched it, especially the scenes where Nagavalli starts making her presence felt.I can’t decide if it’s just the visuals or the background music, maybe bit of both, in fact I’ve been told that the makers researched raagas that invoked fear for the haunting BGM that has attained cult status today.

The film needs no introduction and it has been remade in all the major regional languages but the original remains a class apart, the fact that the best minds in the Malayalam film industry came together behind and in front of the camera, being just one of the reasons why. Manichithrathazhu is what happens when a Malayali filmmaker sets his mind on making a horror-thriller for a Malayali audience, that is to just say, a thinking man’s horror film. You could rightly debate that the film is a psychological thriller and not a horror film in the true sense but then again, you didn’t know that until the end credits had rolled.

While even the most celebrated Hollywood horror movies have resorted to demonic possessions and supernatural presence to send a chill down the viewers spine, Manichitrathazhu delves into the complexities of the human psyche with a subtlety and realism that is indeed the hallmark of malayalam movies our times ,notwithstanding the fact the protagonist does break into a song at the most crucial of moments in the film, but thats just our way of telling a story and i wouldn’t want it any other way either.

The movie does not attack the customs and traditions of the largely patriarchal community against the backdrop of which the story unfolds, rather it chooses an inclusive narrative, treading a middle ground where scientific methods and cultural symbols find equal footing in the progression and culmination of the tale.That the film successfully managed to scare the living daylights out of the viewers without any special effects sequences speaks volumes of the skills of Madhu Muttam, the reclusive script writer and Fazil the director, though the movie is also known for the collaborative efforts of the most successful filmmakers of the time.