ISHQ: Yes, It’s Not A Love Story, It’s A Great Story.

Films named synonyms of the word love and with the tagline  “not a love story”, have almost evolved into a genre in the Indian film industry. As the title and the tag suggest, these are often films which start out as a run of the mill love story and then tries shock and awe techniques on an unsuspecting audience. To call them formulaic wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Ram Gopal Varma wreaked havoc with the idea in his heydays and his not-so-hey-days too, which is one reason why the tag has lost its novelty, more or less, I’d say. Bollywood loved the theme so hard and long that they now actually  have a franchise called Hate Story. Having said that, it was something that we haven’t seen much of in the Malayalam film industry though 22. Female Kottayam used the the same formula. But with Ishq, the first true not-love-story has made it’s debut in the Malayalam film industry,  it’s safe to say, and how.

Ishq at it’s core tackles a theme that has been explored by many films in the recent past, moral policing. We have seen versions of it in films ranging from Uncle to Varathan. Personally I felt that Ishq had shades of Kali too, but extremely light shades, I must add. Ishq is an artist’s reaction to the actions of some of the meanest and most depraved elements of our society, it is nothing lesser than a slap on the face of the moral brigade and the real news footages that run during the end credits is the most subtle yet fitting response to the perpetrators behind those acts of moral policing. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Michael Jackson’s scream in the iconic “They dont really care about us”, so to speak. But Ishq’s greatest success lies in the fact that it explores this malady in layered, complex ways. It builds an illusion that it’s just another film with simple answers but then it pulls a fast one on you and you end up loving the film for it. The film actually walks a tight rope and could have ended up being criticised for it’s male centric narrative but it redeems itself in spectacular fashion. Ratheesh Ravi tells us loud and clear that there’s more to him than Pullikaran Stara, in fact this time around, he has done a star turn as a writerFor a debut director, Anuraj Manohar has shown impeccable control over his craft and has paced the film perfectly. The writer and the director opens the film with some sweet moments and then builds tension on the screen into a crescendo towards the end.

There are no heroes in this film if you ask me, not in the conventional sense. Shane Nigam is supposed to be the actor in the leading role and he delivers in his inimitable style. It’s almost a role tailor made for him, that of the next door boy with a hint of derangement. Then you have a Shine Tom who is the antagonist and manages to garner the hatred of the audience almost effortlessly. Giving him company is a measured Jaffer Idukki. Ann Sheetal is the female lead and holds her own in this film which I felt is about vantage points,  where the victims are ultimately always women. That brings us to Leona Lishoy, who shines in her brief but lingering portrayal of an unsuspecting wife who ends up a victim too. Apart from these actors, the most notable presence is Jakes Bejoy in the form of his stellar background music. In Ishq, like in our lives, for the men it’s about hurt egos and retaliation and women are left to pick up the pieces. The film, I felt is also about the construct of the alpha male. It suggests that there are no alphas really, only circumstances. The male ego, the film shows, can take a beating from another male with an upper hand in a confrontation and even reconciles with it, but tends to snap when it’s questioned by a female. But that’s just my take. Ishq or Uncle or any other film on the issue is not going to change the society that we are part of. Renaissance had an impact on art, not the other way round,  having said that, in that sense, Ishq could be a sign too, of awareness, if not change. On a closing note, Ishq is instant gratification, and more.

 

 

 

 

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.