Aswathy Gopalakrishnan, a graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, worked at the Times Of India and Mint as a sub-editor and political correspondent respectively, before she decided to start focusing on writing about cinema. She has covered film festivals around the world for Silverscreen, and in 2017, was one of only 4 journalists chosen by the International Film Festival Of Rotterdam for its prestigious Young Critics Program.
In AltBalaji’s latest web-series, The Test Case, directed by Vinay Waikul and Nagesh Kukunoor, the protagonist is Shikha Sharma (Nimrat Kaur), the first woman commando enrolled in the Special Forces Training Centre. She has to fight two tough battles simultaneously. One for the country, to fight the enemy at the border. The other battle is the most important and the hardest one; against the patriarchal mindsets within the Army fold.
The trailer shows her being mocked as ‘Military Barbie’, and being pushed to the edges physically and mentally. From the first looks of it, this series might make up for the countless sexist television soaps Balaji Productions churned out all these years.
The only other woman in the trailer, apart from Kaur, is Juhi Chawla, who plays Shraddha Pandit, the minister of defence who calmly states that if a man is willing to undergo any torture for his nation, a woman can do that too. According to the minister, Shikha is the government’s ‘test case’; the sample that represents the many millions of women in the country, and the generations to come. The trailer hints that there might be more to the story than a lone woman’s struggles inside a misogynist space. Questions are raised on if Shikha is being played, or if it is she who is playing the men. The trailer ends with her voice-over, “There is just one hero in my story. That’s me.”
Kaur’s acting seems flawless, and she looks the part – athletic and natural. Other cast members include Akshay Oberoi, Atul Kulkarni, Rahul Dev and Sumit Suri. The series will be available on the streaming platform AltBalaji from January 26. The pilot episode is already on the website, released in May 2017.
Twenty-one-year-old Nimisha Sajayan, the face of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Eeda – two critically-acclaimed and successful films – isn’t sure if she wants to make cinema her career. I’m aware of an actresses’s limitations in the industry, she says
In one of the most telling scenes in Dileesh Pothan’s Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), a young girl, nervously waiting at a police station to retrieve her stolen gold chain, confronts a defiant suspect in a sudden fit of rage. “Stop lying,” she snaps, looking straight into his eyes. The next moment, a senior police constable shouts her down, and she shudders. The girl and her husband are in a place where they know no one. Their only prized possession, the chain, is gone, and now, the hope she had invested in the police has taken a hit. Quietly, she walks back to the chair.
Those watching this scene are bound to be affected by the extraordinary acting of the artistes on screen. Fahadh Faasil and Alencier, who play the conman and cop respectively, are seasoned actors, but the one whose performance towers over them is that of 21-year-old debut actor, Nimisha Sajayan’s (playing the girl). She delivers an equally stunning performance in Eeda, which hit the screens a couple of weeks back.
Both films that Nimisha has been a part of are commercial films with a difference; they are sternly political and don’t follow the irrational masala recipe of Indian mainstream cinema. Sreeja, Nimisha’s character in Thondimuthal, isn’t a feeble shadow of the male protagonist, but is a well-etched out role with a fair screen-space. In Eeda, she plays Aishwarya, a young girl fighting for love in strife-torn Kannur. She is there in most of the scenes in the film. Her restrained and mature acting is a delight to watch.
Basking in the fresh success of Eeda, Nimisha, who was born and raised in Mumbai, is currently in Kochi – her new home. Her Malayalam isn’t perfect, a little broken here and there. “I have promised myself that I will dub for my character from the next film. Only then, I will be able to take complete credit for my performance,” she declares. In fact, she had nearly lost Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum due to this language limitation. “During the first audition, Dileeshettan told me they were looking for an actress who can speak Malayalam fluently. Luckily, I landed the project after three rounds of audition. They were happy with my performance and looks,” she says.
Eeda was co-produced by Rajeev Ravi who cranked the camera for Thondimuthal. Nimisha regards Dileesh and Rajeev as her mentors. It was Rajeev Ravi who recommended Nimisha to B Ajithkumar; Eeda was in the pre-production stages then. “They are the people I reach out to when I hit a dead-end. I feel blessed to have been introduced to the film industry by them,” she says.
There are no apparent similarities between Nimisha and the characters she has done so far. Both Sreeja and Aishwarya are small-towners caught in complex social situations that Nimisha cannot really relate to. “I can put up a fight for what I believe is right, but I might never do what Aishwarya does for love. She is so strong in love,” says Nimisha. “Although I have never met women like them in my life, I try to empathise with them, and derive inspiration from that.”
“My approach to acting is that I try to understand the characters and act like them. I don’t want my characters to look like me. I try to talk and behave like Aishwarya. I try to be a different person altogether. My friends say my characters do not resemble me at all. I try to bring that difference to the body language too – in the way I walk or swing my arms,” she says.
Nimisha says she has the ability to detach herself from her character the moment the camera stops rolling. She cites the opening sequence of Eeda when Aishwarya and Anand (Shane Nigam) have a bitter exchange of words. A stranger, he offers to take her home on a hartal day, but she is barely grateful. Laughing out, Nimisha says, “I really wondered why she did that to the poor guy who was only trying to help her.” This talent comes handy when working in films such as Eeda where the mood is intense and dark most of the time.
“It was at the preview show that I first watched the whole film. Only then I realised how impressive this character is,” she says. One of her favorite scenes in Eeda is the one in which Shane’s Anand climbs on to the balcony of Aishwarya’s house at midnight, to meet her. That is when you really know how close these two young people are, she says. “I particularly like the dialogue I say in this scene – ‘ne ente koode illenkilum jeevichirikkille.. athu mathi’ [We may not get to live together, but, if you are alive and safe, I will be happy]”
The scene that is garnering a lot of appreciation from the audience is the one that features Aishwarya on her wedding night; she locks herself inside a washroom in the groom’s house and phones her cousin to say she can’t live without Anand. “I cried watching that scene in the theatre,” she says.
Ajithkumar had given her a rough idea of Kannur’s political situation. “I still don’t know anything other than what he said. I grew up in Mumbai, and I don’t know much about Kerala’s politics,” she says. The director let his actors freely improvise during the shot. “Shane and I would discuss and come up with ideas on how to perform a scene. Sometimes, we would give each other suggestions on individual scenes. If Ajithettan found anything particularly wrong, he would tell us,” she says
As a child, Nimisha auditioned for commercials in Andheri. “My mom used to accompany me to the auditions. I used to be a tomboy then, with close-cropped hair and all that,” she laughs. “I still have a video from when I was in fourth standard; I would face the camera and introduce myself. As a teenager, I was blessed enough to be in a school where I was immensely encouraged to take part in cultural activities. My principal was very fond of me, and used to tell my mother that I was good at dancing and acting. She asked my mother to never stop supporting my artistic talents. By the end of school, I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t ever end up doing a 9 to 5 desk job,” she says.
Nimisha adds that she doesn’t worry about the future these days. “I like to go with the flow. When I spotted the casting call for Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, I sent my photographs, not expecting to get selected. Earlier, I had unsuccessfully auditioned for Poomaram.” She has already signed two other films – actor-director Madhupal’s Oru Kuprasidha Kallan in which she is paired opposite Tovino Thomas, and Soumya Sadanandan’s debut feature film in which Kunchakko Boban is her co-star. “We play a married couple in Sou’s film,” she says.
Sometime recently, Nimisha collaborated with photographer Cyril Syriac, for his project, Draupadi, a series of 30 photographs that portray the angst of a mother who loses her daughter to a rapist. She had to perform the concept and not just pose for still photographs. Cyril captured the moments from the performance, and made it into a marvelous photo story.
She describes that work as a contribution on her part to the women community across the world. “I am aware that women in cinema across the world are going through a crucial phase. I have great hopes for the Women In Cinema Collective (WCC). I have never been through a bad experience in the industry, but I am happy that such a group for women exists here,” she says.
She was one of the few women on the sets of Thondimuthal. “Making Thondimuthal was one of the sweetest periods in my life,” she says. “Everyone made extra efforts to ensure that I was feeling comfortable. I didn’t face an unsettling word or gesture from anyone,” she says.
Nimisha is an undergraduate student of mass-communication. “I have enrolled in a college in Kochi. I had to leave my course in Mumbai after I started working in films.”
She is yet to consider cinema as a long-term career. “For me, acting is a hobby. I am having a lot of fun doing it. I am aware of an actress’s limitations in this industry, so I don’t really know if it is possible to make it a long-term career. Certainly, I wish to get more films like Thondimuthalum and Eeda, and characters that stand the test of time,” she says.
The Nimisha Sajayan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
The line that differentiates contemporary Malayalam television comedy skits and an average feature film isn’t narrow at all. For any filmmaker with a fair understanding of what makes good cinema, it is impossible to miss that enormous divider. However, actor Salim Kumar’s latest directorial Daivame Kai Thozhaam K Kumaarakanam barely acknowledges the existence of it.
Right from scene one, it is a parade of loud tone-deaf humour that takes the intelligence of the audience for granted. Scenes are stitched together incoherently, and some of them are clearly included in the screenplay for the sake of sexual innuendos and the cheap laughter that it produces. Even the production design belongs rather to the stage than to a movie.
While cinema across the world has taken the debate of feminism to new heights, breaking all the obsolete codes of popular culture, Daivame Kaithozhaam has a female lead who gets lectured in the climatic portions by a patriarch on how to be a perfect housewife. It is a perfect foil for films such as Eeda and Mayaanadhi which have exemplary characterisations, and details of life.
Daivame Kai Thozhaam, a comedy-drama, is centered around a married couple who are perpetually at loggerheads as they take each other for granted. One day, the God almighty (Nedumudi Venu) decides to spend a few days in Unnayipuram, a fictitious village in Kerala, and he chooses Krishna Kumar (Jayaram), a gram-sevak of Unnayipuram, to be his host. Kumar is a proud male chauvinist who believes he has every right to lead a lazy life while his wife, Nirmala (Anusree) slogs all day in the kitchen and the family’s agricultural land. During his stay, the God watches the couple fight over routine matters, and he occasionally sympathises with Nirmala’s plight. Unable to take the torture anymore, Nirmala announces one day that she won’t waste away her life, working like a donkey. The scene is a perfect primary-school skit material, with dialogues teeming with naivete, and actors delivering their hyperbole best. The God plays a clumsy moderator, and the couple lists down the names of achievers from their respective gender, arguing how they are naturally and morally superior to the other. “Men invented everything that you use now – fire, stove, gas cylinder… And look at him, even the God is a man!,” screams Kumar, while Nirmala says, “Yet none of these men can live without the help of their wives!”
In another instance, you see a mother consulting the God. She is unable to find a groom for her daughter who is in her early 20s, for there is a Saturn-related hurdle in the latter’s horoscope. The God reprimands the duo for their archaic beliefs and superstition. “What is the era you are living in? Women employees of NASA travel to Mars, and now at home, they wash their laundry on the stone they brought from there!,” he says, and passes on to the mother the address of a private marriage bureau in the city. Salim Kumar’s understanding of women empowerment is dangerously crooked, and he sure needs to do some introspection.
Incidentally, it is Salim Kumar who delivers the most cringe-worthy performance in the film. He is Karimannur Gopi, a spoof on Kerala’s (in)famous gold jewellery entrepreneur Bobby Chemmannur. The purpose of his presence in the film is nearly null. He is unfunny and crass, and Kumar’s portrayal of the character makes it even more miserable.
Daivame Kaithozhaam bears close resemblances to Veruthe Oru Bharya, a mediocre film on gender dynamics in a marriage, which had Jayaram playing the lead role. The latter was a melodramatic film that passed on an outdated message on perfect marriage, firmly rooted in patriarchy. Worse, Daivame… comes across as a far inferior version of Veruthe Oru Bharya which had, at least, faithfully confined itself to the category of ‘family drama’, cutting out on adult humour to a great extend.
Daivame Kaithozhaam is rife with sexism. But what is more worrying is that it is bad cinema. It is neither entertaining nor intelligent. It is just stale wine in an old bottle.
The Daivame Kai Thozhaam K Kumaarakanam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
Two marvelous women-centric films took home the Best Picture Awards in Drama and Musical/Comedy categories at the 75th Golden Globes which was held at Beverly Hills, California, on Sunday night.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, won awards for Best Motion Picture, Drama, and its lead actor, Frances McDormand won the award for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama. Actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird won the awards for the Best Musical/Comedy, and its lead actor Saoirse Ronan won the best actress award in that category.
McDorman’s Mildred Hyes is a mother fighting alone to avenge the rape and death of her teenage daughter in Three Billboards. Ladybird narrates the coming-of-age story of a girl in small-town Sacramento; a girlhood to numerous boyhood stories film industries across the world have produced in the past. Big Little Lies, the HBO series about women in a posh California community, won the award for Best Television Limited Series. Nicole Kidman won the award for her brilliant performance as a survivor of domestic abuse. In her acceptance speech, Kidman dedicated her win to the “power of women.”
This year, the glitz of Golden Globes’ red carpet was overshadowed by the powerful Time’s Up movement which was initiated to fight sexual harassment in and outside of Hollywood. Several prominent celebrities, including Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Salma Hayek and Viola Davis, came dressed in black on the red carpet. The event saw the guests as well as the host, Seth Meyers, invoking the ongoing controversy over sexual harassers like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, generously. “Good evening ladies and remaining gentlemen,” was how Meyers began his monologue.
Oprah Winfrey, who received the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, praised women who daringly came forward with their #MeToo stories of sexual harassment in 2017. “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up,” she said.
You know this isn’t a usual mainstream film the moment you see the male lead enter. Just a few seconds into the film, after an aerial shot of the town where the story unfolds, he rides into the frame on a motorcycle casually, sans any background score or even a close-up shot. Blink your eye, and you lose him in the town’s multitude. In editor-turned-filmmaker B Ajithkumar’s Eeda [Here], characters are inextricable from the space where the tale is set in. The town is a cage; a black hole that mercilessly swallows the dreams and voices of the people who try to break away from it.
Eeda is a love story. Anand (Shane Nigam) falls in love with Aishwarya (Nimisha Sajayan) after a chance encounter in their hometown Kannur, on a Hartal day. Their relationship grows stronger in Mysore where he is a fresher in the insurance sector and she, a computer science student nurturing the ambition of travelling to the US for higher education. At first sight, it might look like their life is sorted – two well-educated and sensible individuals in love. But the reality is far from it. She belongs to a family of communist activists in Kannur, which is torn by political violence between the left and right-wing outfits. His close relatives and friends are ardent right-wing political party workers.
The love story that Eeda narrates isn’t anything novel. It takes the same Shakespearean tragic route as that of Ravi’s Annayum Rasoolum and Shanavas Bavakkutty’s Kismath. Even the song that sets the backdrop for the young couple’s blossoming romance has a tint of gloom. “Mizhi Niranju,” composed by eminent guitarist-musician John P Varkey, elicits a sense of foreboding. The final lines of the song, written by Anwar Ali, speaks of the couple’s dreams:
“Puzha Kadannu Pokam, Koottam Thetti Akalaam“
[Let’s cross over the river, let’s break away from the herd and flee]
It is the superior writing that makes Eeda stand out from the countless Romeo-Juliet adaptations. A little before the climactic part, you see Aishwarya sitting alone in her wedding marquee. The guests have left, and she has snubbed her husband who invited her to the bedroom. Nimisha, a fantastic actor, makes this part unforgettably heart-wrenching. You can almost hear her heart pounding, for she knows Anand is there somewhere nearby, dead or dying. Would a girl, deeply and inescapably in love, walk into a loveless marriage without trying one final time? The film understands its characters perfectly well. There is neither a familiar pattern nor a randomness in their actions. There is no loose end.
The crisis in the couple’s relationship is compelling. The violence in the people around them doesn’t come across as a hyperbole, but is organic. Even the seemingly gentle men have in them a capacity for violence that had been cultivated since their childhood. Upendran (Manikantan Achary) is a soft-spoken guy with a cherubic smile on a regular day. He is a great friend of Anand’s, probably the only person the latter can relate to in his hometown. He is also the furtive, innocuous lover to Pushapalatha (Surabhi). But, you can sense that deep down, he is a dagger-wielding right-wing activist, prepared to kill and be killed. “I would rather die like a leopard, than live like a dog,” he tells Anand in that same soft tone before leaving for the prison. Curiously, the person Upendran is most similar to in nature is Karippally Dineshan (Sujith Shankar) who belongs to his rival political outfit. In the big picture, none of these men look distinctly different.
One of the best parts of Eeda is its opening sequence which is a movie in itself. Aishwarya alights from the train and realises she can’t get a bus or rickshaw home because of a hartal declared by the Leftist political party whose activist was murdered the previous night. A co-passenger, a friend of her father, spots Anand outside the railway station, and requests him to take Aishwarya home. He agrees. During the ride home, they introduce themselves to each other, and discover that they live in the same city, Mysore. They have a cold argument on which route to take. He suggests they take an offbeat lane so that the hartal organisers don’t find them. “Let’s take the main road. How would you live if you fear the party men so much?” she says bluntly. They take the main road, have a brush with the party men at a junction, get chased by them, and eventually get stranded on a picturesque hill top where they smile at each other for the first time. Any and all bitterness in them melts away. You could feel the subtle changes in the dynamics of their relationship. They become a little more than just acquaintances, and their friendship is now founded on a tale of adventure.
In its final moments, Eeda takes the shape of an edgy film noir. The noose around the young lovers’ necks gets tighter. Even as you know that this will not end well for them, you keep your fingers crossed. The drama in the sequence tastes great. When they walk hand in hand, with a song in the backdrop ‘your sword can never destroy our love‘, you feel their pain.
Eeda has a great cast. Shane Nigam is highly impactful as Anand. Grief and gentleness come effortlessly to the young actor whose character is similar to the one he played in Kismath. In Eeda, he is amply supported by his co-star, Nimisha who often outperforms him. The duo shares a great onscreen chemistry. For instance, in the scene preceding the song, “Mizhi Niranju,” they bring out the romantic tension between the characters, subtly and delectably, like seasoned actors. She is one film old, and he, just a little more.
Eeda isn’t an easy watch, for it ruthlessly breaks your heart. The personal tragedy outweighs the devastating politics which continue to feed on violence. Hope is bleak. But rarely has despair and tragedy been portrayed with so much restraint and craft the way Eeda is. In his debut, B Ajithkumar has accomplished something most filmmakers struggle with all their life – to be empathetic without losing out on the aesthetics of good cinema.
The Eeda review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
Anil Radhakrishna Menon’s Diwanjimoola Grand Prix has its heart in the right place. The tale follows a tried and tested pattern, founded on the human virtues, and culminating on a life-affirming note. It has a bunch of endearing characters, played by some of the excellent actors. If only a generous amount of sugar could hide the gross gaffes in every recipe. Diwanjimoola Grand Prix is a tiring watch which has no imprint of the director whose first film was a quirky and delectable North 24 Katham.
Dilwanjimoola Grand Prix is primarily let down by a tedious narrative structure that unreasonably and clumsily oscillates between flashback and real time. Sometimes, there is a flashback narration within a flashback track. The first few sequences have characters rambling on incessantly. You could watch the film with your eyes closed, yet it would make no difference. A little before the interval, comes a random shot of one of the pivotal characters, the Thrissur district collector, walking through the famous Pooram ground, with his voice-over telling us of his contentment to have saved a dying cultural event in the district. It is the kind of shot that usually arrives at the end of a film. Here, it sticks out of the narrative. Some of the scenes are stitched together randomly. The transition isn’t smooth.
Diwanjimoola is Thrissur’s Kammattipadam.The inhabitants of the slum area are the people who were tricked into selling their land many years ago, for an over-bridge construction. The youngsters are vulnerable to falling into the web of crimes, and there is not enough political will to save them from the gutter. A newly appointed district collector is determined to make a difference, and as the first step towards it, he decides to relaunch a coveted bike racing event which was discontinued long ago. Once upon a time, the grand prix used to be Diwanjimoola’s pride. Jithan (Siddique) a former star racer, is the happiest about this announcement. After an accident during a race which left him wheel-chair bound, Jithan is taken care of by his sprightly daughter, Effymol (Nyla Usha) who is quite an interesting character. She is a municipal ward member, and a social worker whom the people of Diwanjimoola rely on. When Jithan comes to know that Christy (Sijoy), the former racer who caused the fateful mishap that tied him to the wheelchair, is training a racer for the grand prix, he becomes desperate to find a prodigy, coach him a little and make him a champion, beating Christy’s pupil. And Jithan’s prodigy turns out to be a mute and deaf young orphan who lives in Diwanjimoola.
Nyla Usha has a unique talent to light up every scene that she is in. In Diwanjimoola Grand Prix, she has more screen-time than most of her co-actors, and her stunning screen-presence has made the film slightly a better watch than what it could have been with another actor. That Nyla has a great voice control shouldn’t come as a surprise, for she is a veteran radio jockey.
Vinayakan plays a former racer who made a huge career change to be a Pentecost pastor. The actor is impressive in the role which is drastically different from the kind of characters he usually gets to play.
Kunchakko Boban’s Sajan Joseph is a sophisticated and smart officer, likely to be inspired from the real life IAS officer, Prasanth Nair who is also a co-scriptwriter of the film. The actor plays his part well, but is bogged down by the film’s ambition to make Sajan Joseph look a tad too cool, dressing him up in chic clothes and giving him the most stylish hair cuts and beards. Several characters say it aloud time and again that the new district collector is a ‘handsome hunk’. It is this same assertion on his cool factor that backfires. While Sajan Joseph could have been an interesting character to reckon with, he ends up as a pretty prop – a wannabe pop figure whose coolness looks put on.
Diwanjimoola Grand Prix doesn’t do justice to its amusing characters like Nyla’s Effymol and Vinayakan’s Vareed who deserve to be in a better film that would truly render them memorable. You wish you could see more of their life, but your modest wish gets buried in the mediocre script and the tone-deaf music of the film.
The Diwanjimoola Grand Prix review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
A sense of gloom pervades The Slave Genesis, a documentary film on Paniya, an aboriginal group in Kerala’s Wayanad district. Directed and shot by Aneez K Mappila, a young journalist from the district, the 60-minute long film takes you to a Paniya residential colony in Wayanad where the funeral ceremony of one of the workers who died of unnatural causes is underway. He was brought dead from a ginger estate in Coorg, where he worked as a manual labourer. The man was said to have consumed pesticide. His lifeless body, flanked by mourning family, inspires an old ritual singer to begin a Penappaattu, the ‘deadman’s song’ that talks about centuries of exploitation that his community had gone through.
The film starts off as an intimate work, partially inspired by Aneez’s memories of his childhood spent in his ancestral house in Kalpetta. “I had filmed several things, but when I witnessed the funeral ceremony and listened to Penapaattu, I realised this is what my documentary should be about,” says Aneez.
Penapaattu is a post-death ritual in the Paniya community. The singer is called ‘atholi’, and he represents the dead man’s soul. “Rarely do people from outside the Paniya community get the opportunity to witness and record the singing of Penappattu. It is a very private ceremony. I was lucky because over the course of shooting the documentary, the atholi and I had become friends,” says Aneez. The song is performed for 12 hours, from 5 am till 5 pm. The atholi neither takes food nor leaves his seat during this time.
“Animistic spirituality of the Paniyas is what I found the most striking,” says Aneez. “In Pennappaattu, the dead man speaks respectfully of the souls of all animals and birds. Their culture believes in humility. Penappaattu is a layered text which needs to be studied in detail. So far, no one has done it because the Paniya language has no script.”
Aneez’s film showcases the Paniyas’ spirituality through monologues. There is Noonji, a Paniya old man who earnestly narrates how his former master, a Muslim feudal lord, destroyed a sacred grove where a seven-headed serpent resided. “That day, my beloved master turned mentally deranged,” says the man, countering a popular rumor that the feudal lord turned insane after he found all his money and valuables stolen one day. In a later instance, a young man, the brother of the recently deceased, warns the filmmaker to never take the road that passes by the burial ground. “The spirit will take you for a ride. You will be lost. He will make you lose your way, like how you get confused and lose your way when you go to a city,” he says. Aneez cites these myths as an example of how different Paniyas are from the urbane Malayali community. “They have a unique culture. Their traditions and societal codes are different. The mainstream society has never tried to understand these people who are the largest tribal group in Kerala,” he says.
How such a community, which was leading a life intrinsically connected to nature, ended up as a clan of slaves is one of the pivotal points Aneez’s film focuses on. “To the people who migrated to Wayanad from other parts of the state for agriculture, the Paniya spirituality barely mattered. They destroyed the sacred groves Paniyas had been safeguarding and worshiping, and enslaved the Paniya men using alcohol,” says Aneez.
The name Wayanad comes from two words – ‘Vayal’ and ‘Naadu’ which mean agricultural field and land respectively. The district has a huge population of aboriginal tribes, and among them, Paniya is the largest community. They are spread out all over Wayanad, living in tribal colonies and settlements.
Aneez completed the film over a period of three years. He travelled in and around Wayanad, meeting Paniyas at their residential colonies in Wayanad and coffee and ginger estates in Karnataka. His grandfather, one of the earliest Muslim agricultural migrants to Wayanad, and books such as “Keralathile Africa”, written by K Panoor, and the texts written by British museologist Edgar Thurston, were his primary sources of information.
One of the instances in the documentary shows an inebriated Paniya man whom Aneez met on the ginger fields of Coorg, singing a film song and dancing in a dim-lit labor camp. The man, inspite of his animated expressions, cuts a sombre figure. In the following sequence, one of the workers explains in a melancholic voice that the landowners provide them with rationed quantities of alcohol every evening, thus binding them to the habit forever. “Paniyas are widely used as cheap labour in Wayanad and Karnataka. There is hardly a single coffee, ginger and pepper estate in this region which doesn’t have Paniya workers,” says Aneez.
“I had aspired to make a more detailed film, but couldn’t for many reasons,” says Aneez. “I could film just around 20 percent of what I had seen and experienced during the process of making the documentary. I had found myself in complicated situations where carrying a camera wasn’t an option at all, ” he says, citing an incident in Coorg’s ginger fields where he was denied access on the second day because they turned suspicious about his intentions.
After completing his diploma in journalism from Kozhikkode Press Club, Aneez started working as a documentary filmmaker. Three years ago, he made his first project, Vithappaadu, which is also set in Wayanad.
The Slave Genesis is co-produced by Singapore-based Bang Production Docedge, Kolkata and Kalpetta Film Society.
A powerful contender for the Oscar award for Best Foreign Language Film this year is a dark Russian drama centered around a disintegrated family and a missing boy. In Loveless (Nelyubov), directed byRussian writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev, a twelve-year-old boy runs away from his parents’ apartment in Moscow one day and is never found again. The parents can’t seem to understand why he did it, but to the audience, the image of his loveless home stands as a cold and gloomy testimony.
Andrey’s film is critical of the modern Russian society that is knee-deep in selfishness, consumerism and a general lack of empathy. The director’s previous film, Leviathan (2015) too had showed Russia in an unflattering light, exposing the exploitation of power in the country’s top offices. Loveless unfolds on a smaller canvas. The pivotal characters are bound by blood and familial ties. Over the course of the film, the hatred steeped in the minds of the characters becomes more and more striking, like the winter that spreads slowly onto trees and rooftops in the city.
There are some spine-chilling images in the film. Like the one in which little Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) soundlessly screams in the dark, overhearing his parents arguing over his custody. Both of them have found new partners, and the child is a responsibility they don’t want. The father, Boris (Aleksey Rozin), is working in a corporate company headed by a deeply religious man who frowns upon marital divorces. In order to not lose his job, he has decided to get married to his younger girlfriend who is carrying his child. The mother, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), runs a hair salon, and is in a relationship with a rich widower. Both Boris and Zhenya don’t want Aloysha who is the only reminder of their bitter marriage. In plush restaurants and bedrooms, you see the adults dining and having sex, but the ominous background music reminds you of the lack of love in the visuals.
When the child goes missing, the parents call in the cops who suggest that they seek the help of an NGO instead. “We physically don’t have the time or staff,” a cop tells the parents. The NGO is made up of young volunteers and an outspoken, yet efficient leader. The search for the boy takes the film to the giant abandoned buildings of Moscow, reminiscent of the ghost cities of First World countries.
Dysfunctional families and disintegration of family values are themes that Indian cinema is fond of. The Indian mainstream films look at the themes through myopic lenses, doing away with any serious discussion by easily placing the blame on the woman, arguing that a careerist, selfish mother causes the collapse of a family.
Interestingly, Zvyagintsev’s film does something similar. On the night prior to Alyosha’s disappearance, you see Zhenya in bed with her new boyfriend, confessing to him that she never really loved Alyosha. Making puppy-eyes, she asks him if he thinks she is a monster. He tells her, “You are the world’s most beautiful monster.” She smiles in contentment. The next morning, a teacher from Aloysha’s school informs her of the child’s absence. Subtly, the blame is placed on her, and although she doesn’t seem any more evil than her husband, Zhenya becomes the most loathed character in the film. It is also hinted that she inherited this cold bitterness from her mother who lives alone outside Moscow.
Zvyagintsev’s film, in many ways, is a product of resentment and anger. Whether the child is found doesn’t become the film’s concern, it makes it seem as though it is better that he doesn’t return to the world where he is offered no affection. The focus is on the parents, on whom the camera is ruthlessly fixed. The film judges them, offering them no pardon. When Zhenya breaks down and creates a scene in the morgue where the police show them a partially decomposed body of a child who resembles Alyosha, you feel no sympathy for her. In the epilogue, you see Boris and Zhenya in their new lives with their new partners. Zhenya, as always, is occupied with her cellphone, while the television in the background tells us of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. The camera follows her as she gets up from the couch, puts on a deep red jacket which has Russia written on it, and starts working out on a treadmill. She is running, but not going anywhere.
A number of high-profile films are in the pipeline, waiting to hit the screens in 2018. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati, the most controversial film of the recent times, is yet to get out of the murky political turmoil it is caught in. The exquisitely shot period film will hopefully release in 2018, after fighting a tough battle against the right-wing groups. Among the big-budget films whose release dates aren’t confirmed are Rajinikanth’s 2.0 and Mohanlal’s Odiyan.
Here is a list of the most awaited films (Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam) of 2018:
Thugs Of Hindostan (Hindi, November 2018)
This film, written and directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, is made on a budget of Rs 210 crores, making it Yash Raj Production’s costliest feature film venture. A period-drama set in the early 19th Century India, Thugs Of Hindostan has an ensemble cast that includes coveted names such as Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. It is directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, and is based on an 1839 novel ‘Confessions Of A Thug’, written by Philip Meadows Taylor. The film is centered around Ameer Ali, a member of the criminal tribe, played by Aamir Khan. The film is shot in places such as Malta, Mumbai and Thailand.
Trance (Malayalam, April 2018)
Anwar Rasheed is one of the most revered names in contemporary Malayalam film industry. The director-producer has never had a bad phase in his career. His films, Rajamanikyam, Chotta Mumbai and Ustad Hotel were blockbusters, and his productions, Bangalore Days and Premam, were even bigger hits at box-office. Five years since his last directorial, he is returning with Trance. The film stars Fahadh Faasil in the lead role, has Resul Pookkutty doing the sound design and Amal Neerad as the director of photography. Although nothing about the film’s plot is out yet, the mighty team behind the film has already created a buzz on social media. Trance is set to release in April 2018, and in all possibilities, will be a film worth the wait.
Director Bala’s upcoming film has an unlikely lead pair – GV Prakash Kumar and Jyothika. The trailer of the film, which is reportedly based on the life of a man who murdered nine of his family members in Chennai in the 1980s, grabbed eyeballs for a cuss word that Jyothika utters. The moral debate on whether an actress could use a swear word on screen aside, the trailer garnered praises for its rawness and intrigue.
Anand L Rai-Shah Rukh Khan project (Hindi, December 2018)
Unlike his archrival Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, off late, has been choosing projects that lie out of his safe zone. He paired up with directors such as Manish Sharma and Imtiaz Ali last year, failing to make a blockbuster both the times. His next is a comedy, directed by Anand L Rai, the filmmaker who took Bollywood to the small-towns through his Tanu Weds Manu franchise. Apart from Khan, the film has Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif playing pivotal roles.
Carbon (Malayalam, January 2018)
Cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Venu has roped in Fahadh Faasil and Mamta Mohandas for his upcoming film, Carbon, a story that unfolds inside a forest. Carbon marks the first Malayalam project of KU Mohanan, one of the most sought after cinematographers in Bollywood. Fahadh plays a village loafer in the film, and Mamta, an urbane woman who seeks his help in delving into the thick forest. The film’s trailer was released recently on YouTube to a rave reception.
Kalaakandi (Hindi, January 2018)
Delhi Belly writer Akshat Varma promises a quirky ride again with Kalaakandi, this time with Saif Ali Khan in the lead role. The film is set against the backdrop of the underbelly of Mumbai, and is centered around six characters from diverse backgrounds.
Thaana Serndha Kootam (Tamil, January 2018)
Suriya stars as a sophisticated conman in this film, directed by Vignesh Sivan. Thaana Serndha Kootam, reportedly, is loosely based on the Bollywood film Special 26, starring Akshay Kumar. The songs of the film, composed by Anirudh Ravichander, have topped the charts already, and the trailer is a hit. The film, a heist comedy, has Ramya Krishnan and Keerthi Suresh playing pivotal roles.
Anjali Menon’s Untitled Project (Malayalam, 2018)
Anjali Menon knows the pulse of the box-office like no one else. Her Bangalore Days was a perfect potboiler, and one of the biggest hits in Malayalam cinema. She is now working on her next, starring Nazriya Nazim, Prithviraj and Parvathy in the lead roles. The film is set in Ooty, and is reportedly a film that caters to the youth. The film’s release date isn’t yet announced.
Simba (Hindi, December 2018)
Rohit Shetty, the master of no-brainer comedy, teams up with the energetic Ranveer Singh in this film. Shetty’s Golmaal Returns was the biggest money spinner of 2017, and going by the first look poster and the crew of the film, Simba might be no different. Ranveer is playing a corrupt cop in the film, which, reportedly, is an adaptation of the Telugu superhit Temper. The film is co-produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.
Tik Tik Tik (Tamil, January 2018)
Jayam Ravi stars in this science-fiction, directed by Shakthi Sounder Rajan whose last venture was south India’s first zombie film, Miruthan. Going by the trailer of the film, Tik Tik Tik might not ape the usual Hollywood sci-fi thriller. Jayam Ravi plays an escape artiste in this film which revolves around an asteroid that is bound to hit the earth and the government’s efforts to avert the disaster.
Bhaagamathie (Tamil-Telugu, January 2018)
Although the makers of Anushka Shetty’s Bhagmathie are tight-lipped about the film’s plot, there is a great deal of speculations and expectations around the project. This is Anushka’s first outing after her towering role in SS Rajamouli’s fantasy epic drama Baahubali. The film, directed by G Ashok, Unni Mukundan and Jayaram playing pivotal roles in it. The first look teaser of the film garnered record number of views on social media. The short video shows Anushka nailing herself to the wall of a dark palace.
Fanney Khan (Hindi, June 2018)
Directed by Atul Manjrekar, Fanney Khan brings together an unlikely mix of lead actors – Aishwarya Rai, Rajkummar Rao and Anil Kapoor. The film is reportedly, a remake of the Oscar nominated Dutch film, Everybody’s Famous. The shoot of the film began in Mumbai in September 2017.
Raazi (Hindi, May 2018)
Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal plays the lead roles in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi. The film is an adaptation of writer Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, which is centered around a Kashmiri spy who is married to a Pakistani man, set against the backdrop of Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
In Mayaanadhi [Mystic River], there is a shot of its protagonists – Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) and Mathan (Tovino Thomas) – sitting on the doorstep of her house at midnight, watching the rain. We see them from behind, her arm lazing on his thigh, a smile on their face. It is an instance when time is still, briefly suspended. She is soaked in the sheer joy of the moment, while he is certainly seeing something beyond it. A future when they would live together in a plush house where their children would grow up, and when he would finally live his life, not just survive it.
They dwell in different worlds which are slowly drifting apart. But at that moment, Appu and Mathan are just watching the rain, wrapped in the warmth of their togetherness.
Where does the real movie lie? Perhaps in moments such as these that are full of life, sometimes condensed to just a glance or a movement? Or is it in the totality, a fabric composing every element in the narrative? Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi is one of the few Malayalam films which could work in both forms. It is a gorgeous portrait of romance, loosely adapted from Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Aashiq, with the help of his writer duo Shyam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair, refashions the French classic into an intense tale set against the backdrop of Kochi.
On the surface, Mayaanadhi is the story of Aparna aka Appu and Mathew aka Mathan who were once dreamy-eyed lovers. Then, she was a student at an engineering college in Tamil Nadu and he was her senior. A flashback song sequence shows the couple drunk in juvenile love, bunking classes and roaming the city and the countryside. One day, he disappears from her life, swindling a large sum of money from her friend. Many years later, when he reappears in front of her, he is a criminal with the cops hot on his heels. She is a struggling actress, attending auditions, doing fashion photo-shoots and wedding compering for a living. “I have forgotten you,” she tells him bluntly. He waits. She then starts to warm up, slowly, hesitantly.
Appu and Mathan are irresistibly drawn to each other. You realise the intensity of it when you see either of them alone. The frames have a hint of despair, you sense the …incompleteness that the character feels.
The writing is brilliant, not leaving a loose end to any characterisation. Dialogues are drawn from real life, almost never succumbing to the temptation to make a statement. The way the flashback of the characters play out is interesting. It is through Appu that we learn more of Mathan and his tragic past. It is Mathan who tells us of the persevering fighter that she is. She hasn’t come out of the pain that he’d inflicted on her, and he understands. He waits. She is waiting too, for him to prove to her that he could be trusted. “Payyanaa (He is a kid),” she tells her room mate who suggests that she accept his proposal and settle down.
The subtle variations in the couple’s relationship are portrayed through mundane daily activities. For one, there is a scene in which Mathan joins Appu on her walk home from work at night. They share groundnuts that Mathan had nicked from a road-side vendor, and laugh over it. Like real couples in love. One of the most enchanting things about Mayaanadhi is the state of uncertainty in the couple’s relationship. It’s fascinatingly naive. Sometimes, they are miles apart, like strangers who have never met. And sometimes, they are an entity, inseparably tied to each other.
Aashiq and his team display a rare courage to be unabashedly millennial. Mayaanadhi belongs to the present. The characters are deeply imperfect, waging never-ending battles with family, and moreover, with their own emotions. And, it is told in the most human way. There is an endearing scene inside an apartment where Appu, her friends Sameera (Leona Lishoy) and Darshana (Darshana Rajendran) sip wine and talk about life. When talking becomes difficult, one of them starts to sing a beautiful tune. Years later, when they look back, the three girls may remember this night when they held each other close in the comfort of a song.
The romance of Appu and Mathan is quite realistic and hence, exquisitely sensuous. The song, “Mizhiyil Ninnum” in Shahabas Aman’s voice, is a lullaby for lovers. The visuals might remind one of “Ohm Namaha” from Mani Ratnam’s Geethanjali – images of two lovers reveling in their most private moments of happiness. The film also attempts to herald a conversation on casual sex.
The most striking accomplishment of Mayaanadhi is that it efficiently balances the plot-track of Mathan and Appu, with the sub-plot of the team of cops set out to avenge the murder of their colleague. The shootout inside a hotel and Mathan’s subsequent escape in the initial part of the film is fantastically shot. Harish Uthaman and Ilavarasu are effortless in their roles as crime branch cops from Tamil Nadu. The stony aloofness in the latter’s voice and body-language is spine chilling. It works wonders in the climatic portion which is quite affecting.
But, the meta-film portions in Mayaanadhi fall flat, effectively turning it into a comic hyperbole. Appu’s audition scenes may elicit some La La Land déjà vu. Dressed in pretty clothes, Appu escorts her friend, Sameera, who is a star actress, to studios and social events. Taking a little help from Mathan and drawing inspiration from her own struggles in life, she delivers a mighty performance during one of the auditions. Those scenes, Sameera’s apartment, and the film that finally lands Sameera in a soup – all look cosmetic.
Composer Rex Vijayan understands the movie perfectly. “Uyirin Nadhiye” has the gush of adolescence, while “Kaattil” is a mood-piece that sets the background to a gentle reconciliation between the couple. The images that Jayesh Mohan’s camera captures have an alluring poetic quality, never going over the top.
However, what really takes the film to an exceptional height are the performances. Aishwarya Lekshmi has an arresting screen-presence, and she delivers an impressive performance as Appu. There aren’t many actresses who have a face that works marvelously in close-up shots, gracefully registering even the tiniest emotion. She also has a great control over her voice. Tovino Thomas too, delivers a memorable performance. There is a poignant defenselessness in his demeanor.
Manchester By The Sea has a scene in which former lovers, Lee and Randi, meet on the street and try to talk. They are separated by the unbridgeable sea of tragedy and time. But, some strings of their souls are still bound together. She cries and apologises, he only says he wants to leave. It is one of the greatest scenes in cinema that reminds you of the frailties of humankind and the wounds that never heal. Mayaanadhi culminates on a note that can tug your heart in a similar way.
Why do some of us fall into the trap of damned romance?
The Mayaanadhireview is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
Shaji Paappan is a charmer. He is the modern day Aadu Thoma – a dare-devil, stylishly dressed in those curious selection of mundu and black shirt, complete with Ray-Ban glasses. Only with a twist. Jayasurya’s Paappan is far more human than Mohanlal’s Aadu Thoma. He is brave, but not physically invincible. He is not much of a fighter, thanks to a sore back that he has desperately been trying to cure. He has a bunch of sidekicks who ardently looks up to him, but not much reliable. Paappan’s gang goofs up plans more than often, and their victories are mostly attributed to luck. He was an adorable anti-hero; a perfect foil to the roles the industry’s superstars played for years.
This characterisation worked the best in Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeeviyaanu (2015) where Paappan and his gang get stuck in myriad problems ranging from a bizarre police case to an attack from an underworld don from Bangkok, during a road journey home through a forest. Paappan had an element of unpredictability. His sore back and his loathe for anything female were genuinely funny.
But in Aadu 2, Paappan is somewhere in between the person he was in the first franchise and a wannabe-hero, striving to deserve the unlikely heroic image that fell on his shoulders in the past two years. The sheen is lost.
The are generous number of humorous scenes, but sans a punch. As before, Sachin Cleatus (Dharmajan) goes into a state of dementia, but evokes only a feeble laughter. In a critical moment, Arakkal Abu (Saiju Kurup) steps in like a champion and offers to lead the gang, but you refuse to believe his act of bravery because you have seen him doing it before. The sheer ‘comic-strip kind of fun’ that Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeeviyaanu was, doesn’t get recreated here, in the sequel.
The scenes are composed in a certain pattern. They begin with the characters entering with a thunderous background score, pretending that something very valiant is going to follow, but always ends with them screwing up the act. Naturally, this scheme stops working after a point.
The transformation of some of the characters are interesting. For one, Dude (Vinayakan) is no more a dreaded underworld don, but a lowly cook at a roadside eatery run by a callous man from Tamil Nadu. Shaji Paappan doesn’t hate women anymore; he even has a crush on his neighbour. However, the film doesn’t work on this evolution further. The writing is weak, and perhaps because the cue from the director was to be cartoonish, the actors performance seem bizarre. Vinayakan performs his role as a hyperbole. Jayasurya retains the charm of Shaji Paappan, but the character even shakes his leg to a fast number, set inside a local dance bar, totally discrediting the sore back and his social awkwardness which are the most striking elements of his personality.
Aadu 2 works as a one-time watch that targets the holiday crowd flocking to the theatres. There is loud cheerful music composed by Shaan Rahman, and some funny scenes worth laughing out aloud – like the one where Shameer interrogates Paappan and his gang who are dressed up as characters from the Ramayana. But the recall value is meagre. Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeeviyaanu was, by far, more honest and original than the second part which ends up as a forgettable film.
The Aadu 2review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
It shouldn’t have taken over 15 minutes for director Ajai Vasudev to arrive on the plotline of his latest film, an oddly named Masterpiece starring Mammootty in the lead role. It is an unabashedly masala movie set inside a college campus where students and teachers are almost never seen doing anything remotely connected to education. Every known stereotype in Malayalam cinema has been used to portray the campus which looks more cosmetic than Mammootty’s face that resembles a humanoid. There is no moment of good acting or a humour worth celebrating. The technical and art departments are plain, and the background score is loud enough to stop you from nodding off or drifting away into day dream.
Masterpiece is the kind of movie that makes you question your decision making abilities because you just spent two and half hours of your life inside the movie hall watching an unreasonable show of insanity.
The actor who looks most detached of all, is Mammootty on whom the film is shouldered. His character, Edward Livingston, is a young energetic assistant professor of English at a college where actor Mukesh is a grey-haired vice-principal. Eddie arrives on the screen around the interval time, and without wasting a moment, gets into his business of delivering punch dialogues with a face that does not betray an expression other than smirk and scorn, and beating up goons who bounce off the floor like rubber balls. He delivers sermons that melt away rivalries between students, and steals the heart of the college heartthrob, a professor (Poonam Bajwa) who is famous for flaunting her mid-riff in chiffon sarees. Every once in a while, one of the supporting characters cheer him for his bravery or exclaim over his good looks. Yet, Mammootty remains as cold as an iceberg. For one, look at the scene where Poonam Bajwa subtly expresses her love for Edward. He smiles at her solemnly, with the dignity of a priest, tells her something about the human heart having four chambers, and walks away. The woman smiles back, perhaps in contentment that she could finally utter a dialogue in a film where she is treated like a mannequin.
The college in Masterpiece doesn’t look like a college. The students don’t look like students, and the staff – especially Poonam Bajwa in those wavy translucent sarees and gaudy make-up – don’t look like teachers. Everything looks clumsily and lazily set up. A little while into the film, a girl is raped and murdered inside the campus. Subsequently, a male student is found hanging from a roof. However, these two incidents barely have any impact on the campus. It is treated sans any logic or sensitivity. The students who are in the police list of suspects continue to fool around inside classrooms, hostels and canteens, as if nothing has happened. Dialogues range from silly to crass, and scenes are inaner than any high-school dramas can ever be.
Perhaps to vindicate Mammootty of doing a film like Kasaba or to ridicule the feminists who have slammed it heavily, Masterpiece has Mammootty reiterating the line, “I respect women”. He says it with so much arrogance that qualifies it to be a punch dialogue. Varalakshmi Sarathkumar plays a police officer who is on loggerheads with Edward. Her character is designed on the lines of all woman police officers in Malayalam cinema. She is haughty, and doesn’t show any respect to the hero who is smarter than her. Another woman in the film is Lena who plays a minister. She gets two brief scenes, and one barely audible dialogue. One needs to make quite an effort to spot the female students on Masterpiece’s college campus. They are there, somewhere in the crowd, hiding behind their male classmates who dance, drink and solve crimes with Eddie.
The complacency that has gone into the making of Masterpiece is stomach-churning. The blame, by far, lies on Mammootty, the larger-than-life star whose humongous fan base is what motivates insipid filmmakers like Ajai Vasudev and writers like Udaya Krishna to dish out one distasteful potboiler after another. After building up a robust acting career and a superstar status by collaborating with auteurs such as Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, KG George and IV Sasi for many years, Mammootty is now involved in creating a rather dangerous stream of films in Malayalam that passes racism, sexism and insensitivity for humour, and celebrates the lack of intelligence. Masterpiece has a song number, “Wake up, you gotta wake up now“. Now, would Mammootty ever wake up and smell the coffee?
The Masterpiece review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
Screenwriter Syam Pushkaran is quite like his films – grounded, humorous, and delightfully unschooled in mainstream cinema
Syam was 26 when he co-wrote his first screenplay, Salt N Pepper, a heartening love story of a couple past their youth. Last year, the 33-year-old won a National Award and a State Award for Best Screenplay for Maheshinte Prathikaaram, a coming-of-age tale that swept the box-office as well as the critics off the floor. Despite having tasted success at an early stage in his career, Syam continues to work within a comfort zone consisting of friends with whom he started his journey in the film industry. He is oblivious to news reports that his previous work, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, was in the final round of selection to be India’s Oscar nomination. He refuses to be cynical, and states that he has immense faith in humanity.
Mayaanadhi, his next work as a screenwriter, is a romantic drama directed by Aashiq Abu; it is hitting the screens on December 22 alongside a number of high-profile Christmas releases. Silverscreen caught up with Syam in Chennai, where he’s currently overseeing the sound works for Mayaanadhi.
It isn’t usual for writers to involve themselves in the production and post-production stages of a film. I like to stick on because I love cinema, says Syam. In Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, he was the creative director, a vaguely-defined role which required him to do a bit of everything on the set. “The advantage of being a writer is that you can relax and take part in every other stage of filmmaking. There is not a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.”
Syam, who is originally from Alappuzha, began his career as an assistant director. “Dileesh Pothan, Dileesh Nair and I were roommates then,” he says. It was with Dileesh Nair that he co-wrote his first script, Salt N Pepper (2011), directed by Aashiq Abu. The trio reunites with Mayaanadhi, with Dileesh and Syam working on the script, and Aashiq directing it. The film stars Tovino Thomas and Aishwarya Lekshmi in the lead roles.
“There was always a shortage of writers in Malayalam cinema. When I was an assistant director, people used to ask me if I had a script worth making into a film. Eventually, I too felt that I could write better than most of the films Mollywood was producing at that time,” he laughs, and quotes Mohanlal’s famous dialogue from Priyadarshan’s Chandralekha, “Ninnekkaalum vivaram ketavanmaar manager aayi pala sthalathum irippund.” [In most organisations, those who hold the top position are denser than you]
Mayaanadhi (Mystic River) is a project close to his heart. “It is a pure love story. This is the first time I am working on such an intimate tale,” he says. “It has been long since we saw a memorable love story in Malayalam. We wanted to make a romantic drama which features a couple with great chemistry. I am curious to see how this film would be received.” It was Aashiq Abu who came up with the title, Mayaanadhi, and the team approved it instantly. “This story has a mystic touch,” says Syam. “We were thrilled when this title came into the picture. It is a beautiful word.”
The seed for Mayaanadhi came from director-cinematographer Amal Neerad, a friend of Aashiq and Syam. He narrated in one of their meetings something that he’d heard while living in Mumbai. “I can’t say Mayaanadhi is based on a real life story, but it has traces of that incident. We had to adapt it to a more familiar surrounding.”
Syam and his co-writer Dileesh Nair started working on the screenplay right after the shoot of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. “In the beginning, there were these two lead characters – Appu and Mathan, a couple in love – and the unusual situation their relationship is stuck in. Then we developed the plot, their milieu and the fate of the characters,” he says.
In his filmography, Maheshinte Prathikaaram is his only solo work. He had written the other films with writers like Dileesh Nair, Gopan Chidambaram and Abhilash Kumar. “I like to work with someone who can contribute to the script than being the only one writing it. Ultimately, the film is what matters,” he says. “Conflicts of opinion and ideas are bound to happen, but we never let that come in between our final work. It only polishes the writing.”
The film’s soundtrack has songs, lyrical and smooth, like a ghazal. “We always wanted to do a film with Rex (Vijayan),” says Syam. “I am a lover of old-school love stories where beautiful music brings the audience closer to the characters. Like how La La Land did it. Mayaanadhi has some shades of a thriller, but it’s founded on this love story of Maathan and Appu,” he says.
The team found Aishwarya Lekshmi through an audition. “We wanted a new face. At the audition, she performed excellently. Having seen her performance in the film, we now know that no one else could have done this role, but her,” says Syam. “Her Appu is perhaps the best female character I have ever written. I hope the character stays on in people’s minds for a long time,” he says. “Tovino has a cool demeanor. He brings an element of unpredictability to the character Mathan. Both actors have done complete justice to the roles.”
Appu and Mathan are studies in contrast. She is a model, an aspiring actress, and he is a laid back guy. “Mathan is a regular guy, someone who loves gadgets and clothes, and nurtures third-world ambitions,” says Syam. “He is always seen sporting a cap. We had imagined him that way right from the beginning. It’s a part of his identity. Like Surajettan’s pen in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. His character Prasad is a farmer. He has many complexes and insecurities. He wants to tell the world that he is educated, and carries a pen in his pocket all the time.”
Both Salt N Pepper and Maheshinte Prathikaaram had men who were sensitive and vulnerable. Kalidasan (Salt N Pepper) suffers from loneliness that he tries to overcome that through his love for food. Mahesh (Maheshinte Prathikaaram) is broken inside when his lover abandons him. Syam, with careful, delectable details from daily life, narrates their emotional struggles.
“I take inspiration from life. I am curious about life,” he says. “Writing is a very personal process. If there is no romance in the love story that you write, it means there is something wrong with the way you perceive romance in life. My writing comes from life and the people I meet. I would say I write like how Jackie Chan performs stunts. He fights using the prop readily available on the set, without creating anything new. I like to write that way.”
“I have trust in the goodness of people. I believe in humanity,” declares Syam. “That’s very essential. It’s said that a writer shouldn’t judge, but understand. Everything has solutions if you act humanely.”
KG George and Sathyan Anthikkad are his favourite directors in Malayalam. The latter’s Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu served as a definite inspiration for Syam in Maheshinte Prathikaaram. Although his style is not similar to that of KG George, it is Syam’s ambition to try his hand at various genres just as the auteur did.
“I don’t force myself to write. It’s not my ambition to write on time-relevant social issues,” says Syam. Naturally, working on Mayaanadhi was exciting for him because his other two films unfurled on a bigger canvas, narrating the story of a region and a society along with the characters.
“In Mahesh and Thondimuthal, we had to focus on minute details of the characters and their surroundings to make it look authentic. Mayaanadhi is a personal film. It has just a few characters. It was refreshing for us too, to work on such a small canvas.”
Videos of two songs from the film’s album are already out. If the couple seem absolutely in love in Uyirin Nadhiye, their relationship is somewhere between love and indifference in Kaattil. “That is one of the themes of Mayaanadhi. In every relationship, the power dynamics keep changing. The mood keeps changing. People change,” says Syam.
Interestingly, it was Maheshinte Prathikaaram that launched a rather distasteful trend in Malayalam cinema, blaming and mercilessly deriding the woman for walking out of a relationship. A large section of the audience, mostly men, celebrate it. Syam admits that he is partly responsible for this trend, although he is puzzled about it.
“Anyone can walk away from a relationship anytime. Happiness is what matters the most,” he says. “In Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Sowmya sends her father to Mahesh and lets him know of her choice. Over the phone, she tells him that a breakup would do good to him as much as it would to her. She wants to settle into a better life, and she breaks up decently. I don’t know how this started an unpleasant trend,” he pauses, and continues,”Perhaps everyone blamed Sowmya because Mahesh is a character they love so much. He is a blue-eyed boy, and naturally, Sowmya became a villain. In fact, in Mayaanadhi, we have touched upon this trend of ‘theppukari [the deceitful].”
Syam and Dileesh Pothan enjoy a considerable fan base on and off social media. The admirers even coined a term, ‘Pothettan Brilliance’ after the success of Maheshinte Prathikaaram, in awe of the details the duo had brought into the film. Their trust in Dileesh and Syam was reinforced with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum which had a tighter screenplay and a finer language.
“I read reviews that people had posted online. They taught me many things,” says Syam. He doesn’t find the excessive love showered by fans overwhelming. “Earlier, when we did Idukki Gold and 22 Female Kottayam, people called us the wayward new generation. Now, they celebrate ‘Pothettan Brilliance’. We haven’t changed. Then and now, we have been earnestly trying to make good cinema.”
Both, Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum were commercial and critical successes. “When we were doing Mahesh, all we wanted was to create a film that the masses would enjoy. And it did. It ran for over 100 days in theatres,” says Syam.
I remind him that ‘mass’ is a grossly misinterpreted word which is traditionally used to refer to loud and tone-deaf masala entertainers like Dabangg and Pulimurugan. “I know. Over the years, we have been trying to push an alternate visual culture of mainstream films that aren’t very loud. And I think people are liking it,” he says.
“It is true that Malayalam cinema has had a bad phase sometime in the recent past. But I think the last few years were good. I am not saying this because I started off in the industry around that time. Premam, Maheshinte Prathikaaram are all films which can be watched again and again.”
Like in real life, the books you read, the films you watch, and a brilliant art work – everything can polish your screenplay, says Syam. “One does not need to be an avid reader to narrate a story as simple as that of Mahesh. But it helps, definitely. The things that you read, see and experience remain within you, influencing everything you do. The book that you read in fourth grade, your girlfriend in college, the film that you watched as a teenager. Like MT (Vasudevan Nair) said, my memory power is my only power.”
Of late, Syam has been making extra efforts to find and read good books. “I have also been trying to learn more about screenplay. The craft and different styles. I spent the last five years as a novice, without knowing much about the art of writing a screenplay,” says Syam. One of his favourite literary works is Nangeli, which he wishes to adapt into a film sometime in the future.
Having entered the film industry to be a director, Syam has not quite shed that dream. “Over time, I have had the opportunity to work closely with every department in filmmaking. That has improved my confidence. I have always wanted to direct a film, though I would like to focus on writing at the moment,” he says. Apart from screenplay, Syam has also begun work on his directorial debut. “Of course I can’t speak of it any further. It is too early to do that. I have just started writing it, and I don’t know when I would make it.”
The Syam Pushkaran interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
Over the past couple of years, the music of the Malayalam film industry has transformed in unforeseen ways. Many veteran composers with a robust background in Carnatic music have moved to the fringes, while a younger crop with a good grasp of technology and international music has moved to the forefront. A composer such as Gopi Sunder describes himself as a programmer first, and is not averse to experimenting with voice modifying software.
So, who are the composers who gave Mollywood the most outstanding playback music in 2017? Read on.
Sooraj Kurup, Solo
Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo has 20 songs by eight composers, including coveted names such as Prasanth Pillai and bands such as Thaikkudam Bridge and Agam. All the songs have an earworm quality, but the one that tops them all is a mood piece composed by Sooraj Kurup, who is just three films old. It is impossible to resist the charm of Seetha Kalyana, a marvelous song that fuses the traditional kriti Seetha Kalyana with a melodious other half that has English and Tamil lyrics. The song, which speaks of broken love, has vocals by Renuka Arun and Sooraj.
Bijibal, Ramante Eden Thottam
Bijibal’s music is a time machine that can take one to a golden period when the likes of Johnson master and Jerry Amaldev churned out soulful songs and background tracks. Last year, he mesmerised listeners with a bunch of fantastic songs in Maheshinte Prathikaram. This year, he has an album of three melodious numbers that set the background to the love story of Raman and Malini in Ranjith Shankar’s Ramante Eden Thottam. The songs have memorable lyrics written by Santhosh Varma. Maavilakkudi is a cheerful light number rendered by Rajalakshmi Abhiram, a former State award winning singer. Akaleyoru Kaadinte, sung by Shreya Ghoshal, has poetic lyrics and emanates an old-world charm. Kavithayezhuthunnu, which features Sooraj Santhosh’s vocals, is a gorgeous number; probably, the best of the three.
Prasanth Pillai (Angamaly Diaries)
Trust Prasanth Pillai to come up with the most maverick numbers for the liveliest Malayalam movie of the year. He composed nine tracks for Lijo Jose Pallissery’s Angamaly Diaries, an adrenaline-driven tale of a bunch of men in a small town in Kerala known for its thriving pork business. The songs are perfect additions to the film’s brilliant narrative that proceeds in a swift pace. Three songs in the album – Angamaly, Theeyame and Thana Dhina – are energetic, and the engaging rustic numbers have been rendered by a septuagenarian local singer Angamaly Pranchi. When Angamaly Diaries was screened at the Dharamshala International Film Festival in November, the audience erupted into a wild applause when Thana Dhina started playing on the screen. Do Naina and Ayalathe Penninte are romantic numbers with Prasanth’s unique signature. They might remind one of Solamanum Sosannayum from Amen, for the minimal orchestration and a delicate European touch.
Justin (Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela)
Altaf Salim’s Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela is a life-affirming tale of an upper middle-class family in Kochi. The mother is diagnosed with cancer, and the rest of the family feels the blues. The film has two songs –Enthaavo, a cheerful romantic number that puts to use Nivin Pauly’s charm, and Nanavere, a soulful melody that elicits the mood of a rainy evening. One of the highlights of Nanavere is its excellent sarod track performed by Veer Bhardwaj. The song has vocals by Tessa Chavara and lyrics by Santhosh Varma. Nanavere has a soothing simplicity that makes it one of the best Malayalam playback numbers of 2017.
Afzal Yusuff, Theeram
Theeram, a romantic drama, barely got noticed at the box-office, but the film’s soundtrack sure garnered some fans. Composed by Afzal Yusuff, the film’s music album has four songs, featuring singers such as Shreya Ghoshal, Najim Arshad and Armaan Malik. Afzal’s music and the use of instruments might remind one of works of veteran composer Vidyasagar whose love for mellifluous melodies is famous. For one, the song, Njanum Neeyum, is a delectably slow-paced romantic number that easily makes it to the ‘Top 5’ film songs of 2017.
Shaan Rahman, Godha
Shaan Rahman’s soundtrack for Godha bears uncanny resemblance to his work in Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Thattathin Marayathu. The songs are delightful, and work as both individual pieces and as leitmotifs. Wow, in Sithara Krishnakumar’s husky voice, sets the perfect background for the heroine’s arrival in a Palakkad village surrounded by hills and endowed with rivers and lakes. Interestingly, Gowri Lakshmi, the other female singer featured in the album, has an equally deep voice. Shaan marvellously mixes percussion and chorus in all the songs, especially in Aaro Nenjil which has shades of Punjabi folk music.
Rahul Raj and Sushin Shyam, Ezra
Ezra features songs that belong to genres as different as chalk and cheese. The first song in the album is Lailakame, a romantic number composed by Rahul Raj and sung by Haricharan, whose uninhibited voice works magic in the high-note portions. Sushin Shyam, whose work in Kismath garnered a lot of acclaim in 2016, composes a haunting piece, Thambiran, for Ezra’s flashback portion. Sung by Vipin Raveendran, it is a rather unconventional folk number that adds to the film’s eerie ambience.
Clearly, now is not the best phase in Megastar Mammootty’s career. Of his eight films that released in the last two years, only one became a hit at the box-office. All eight though, received poor ratings from critics. His unparalleled acting talent is no more the selling point of his films; the focus has shifted entirely to his handsomeness and youthful looks (he is 67). Worse, the actor gets embroiled in murky controversies every now and then, thanks to his fans who indulge in ugly verbal fights with the fans of Mohanlal, the other superstar in Mollywood, over box-office numbers, and just about anyone who criticizes Mammootty. The fans, mostly young men, use abusive language, expletives and sexist remarks to prove their point that their idol is beyond criticism.
Recently, the fan warriors of Mammootty unleashed an online attack on a bunch of actresses in Mollywood for criticizing Kasaba (2016), a poorly made movie that the actor himself is perhaps trying to forget.
On December 12, actress Parvathy, while speaking at a public event organised on the sidelines of the IFFK, said, “I happened to watch Kasaba. I was disappointed to watch an actor par excellence say dialogues to a woman that were not just derogatory, but saddening. Cinema reflects society, many say. But the call to take is whether to glorify a hero like this or not.”
Kasaba, directed by debutant Nithin Ranji Panikkar, is about a rogue police officer Rajan Zacharia, played by Mammootty. In the controversial scene, he grabs a senior police officer – a young woman from north India – by her belt and warns her that he would rape her so bad that she wouldn’t be able to walk properly for a few days. When he walks away from her, a loud background music begins, like a cue for the fans inside the cinema hall to start cheering and clapping. The film, although not a blockbuster, earned a considerable sum at the box-office, according to sources in Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce.
The scene had triggered protests at the time of the film’s release, and had even prompted the Women’s Commission to send a legal notice to the film’s makers. While Parvathy just added to the already existing criticism again the film, the ugly backlash she had faced is certainly upsetting. The actor’s fans and other trolls called her a ‘feminichi‘ (femininazi) and accused her of hypocrisy, citing a kissing scene she had done in Bharat Bala’s Mariyan. “If you can kiss like a whore, Mammookka can play a negative character too,” read one of the Facebook comments on her profile.
Apart from equating Mariyan’s scene of consensual romance to Kasaba’s use of violence against a woman to accentuate the heroism of the lead man, the fan boys also shared screen-grabs from Parvathy’s recent Bollywood film, Qarib Qarib Single, where she is seen trying to cover herself with a blanket when Irrfan Khan walks in on her while she is changing. “A film is just a film. Don’t try to censor it, ” the trolls argued, even though Parvathy never called for a ban on Kasaba, but just wondered how a veteran actor hadn’t quite realised the dangerous silliness of the film he worked in.
A film is never ‘just’ a film. Being the most popular of popular mediums, cinema has always had great cultural significance. In a land where film stars are treated like demigods, where they get easy tickets to parliament and state assemblies, films and its stars exert considerable influence on the society. If films were just films, why would governments and political outfits across the world try to control filmmakers and films’ content? Actors like Mammootty and Mohanlal have images that are bigger than every film they have worked in, and often, the line that separates their onscreen and off-screen persona is awfully narrow.
Let’s not forget that the lady officer in Kasaba‘s controversial scene exists because the script written by Nitin Ranji Panikker wanted her to be there. She isn’t a character pivotal to the story-line; nothing is spoken or shown of her except for the fact that she is arrogant and hence, deserves to be tamed. The scene begins with her and a female colleague discussing the cockiness and virility of Rajan Zachariah, and subsequently, she walks towards him, a button on her shirt left deliberately open. She asks him not to smoke in the police station corridor and rebukes him for not saluting a senior officer. But no, Rajan is unfazed. He is not a man small enough to fall for a woman or be polite to her. This portrayal of an arrogant woman is reminiscent of Mammootty’s The King in which Vani Viswanath’s junior IPS officer arrogantly throws her weight around for 80 percent of the movie, so that the audience feel a sense of gratification and excitement when she finally gets berated by Mammootty’s IAS officer.
Kasaba‘s scene is structured in such a way that it looks like the woman asked for it, and leaves an impression in the audience’s mind that Rajan deserves to be applauded, not hated for his act of misogyny.
The resentment against Kasaba shouldn’t be seen as a call for censorship on creativity. In Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Vidheyan (Servile, 1993), Mammootty played Bhaskara Pattelar, one the greatest villains Indian cinema has ever seen. The man was a ruthless landlord, a murderer and a philanderer. The cinematic craft of Vidheyan is colossally superior to that of Kasaba, for it is a film that belongs to the director, not the star or his several thousand fans. The social milieu of the characters, and their psychology are carefully delineated. While Vidheyan wants you to think about human beings and the animal tendencies inside them, Kasaba wants the audience to cheer its handsome and macho superstar who doesn’t cower in front of a hot young woman. It is unfortunate that in a society grappling with the complex and serious issue of sexual violence, Nithin, a young director, decided to play to the gallery of misogynists.
Mammootty started his acting career in 1971, played most of his iconic roles in the 80s and early 90s. He has played myriad roles in films of various genres, directed by master filmmakers such as KG George, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, Padmarajan and Bharathan. The erosion in the quality of films in his oeuvre began in the late 90s when cheesy star-vehicles were churned out one after another, catering to a section of young audiences who identified him only as a handsome megastar. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these fans vehemently abused and trolled a 20-something actress, Anna Rajan, for saying she would love to play Mammootty’s daughter. In Padayottam (1982), Mammootty played Mohanlal’s father, and in Poomukhappadiyil Ninneyum Kaathu (1983), he played the father of the girl courted by actor Rahman.
Anna Rajan teared up in a Facebook live post and apologised to Mammootty and his fans – something Parvathy or her friends in WCC would never do. Mammookka hasn’t yet spoken a word on this form of virtual violence meted out to a young star who also happens to be the co-star of his son, Dulquer Salmaan, in two superhit films.
Mohanlal’s Odiyan was first announced over 10 months ago. The film, directed by VA Shrikumar Menon, has hence, set the rumour mills turning. There were reports in June that Lal had shed 15 kilograms to be Odiyan Manikyan, the titular character of the film which is written by national award-winning screenwriter Harikrishnan.
On December 12, a photograph of a visibly slimmer and healthier Lal surfaced, with reports saying that he had shed 18 kilos, thanks to a fitness programme abroad. There were tattles on social media aplenty, that ranged from the project being dropped altogether to Shrikumar Menon being replaced as the film’s director. All of them were proved wrong on December 13 with the release of the film’s first teaser.
Mohanlal plays the mythical Odiyan, a black magician, in the film which is set in the 1950s. The one-minute long teaser has Mohanlal, who sports a clean-shaven face and an enigmatic smile, addressing the camera, while spreading slaked lime on a betel leaf with one finger. “The game begins now,” he says, and the screen fades to dark, with an electrifying background score composed by Sam CS.
The Times Of India report quotes Menon as saying, “The film will talk about the story of Odiyans who are the first quotation gangs in Kerala. They disguised themselves as animals during the night to scare the enemies. Mohanlal plays the last of the Odiyan clan. The movie will be a magical realism thriller.” Odiyan is one of the two ongoing mega-budget films Mohanlal is a part of. The other project, Randamoozham, too has Shrikumar Menon as the director.
Mohanlal’s co-stars in Odiyan are Manju Warrier, Prakash Raj, Innocent, Sana Althaf and Sreejaya. The film is touted to have high octane action sequences choreographed by Lal’s favourite collaborator Peter Hein. Sabu Cyril is the production designer, and Shaji Kumar is the cinematographer.
Over 120 Malayalam films hit the screens in 2017. December has only begun, and a bunch of promising projects are waiting to be released in theatres this month. But, it is not too premature to celebrate the healthy list of excellent mainstream films that Malayalam cinema has produced this year. While Angamaly Diaries and Take Off brought laurels from film festivals across the world, a marvelously crafted Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum proved that critical and commercial acclaim can go gracefully together. The year didn’t belong to the two male superstars, Mohanlal and Mammootty, who floundered with movies like Velipaadinte Pusthakam and Pullikkaaran Staara, but to the younger crop of stars, Dulquer Salmaan, Parvathy and Fahadh Fazil, and directors like Dileesh Pothan, Lijo Jose Pallissery and Soubin Shahir.
The year also saw some stellar acting debuts such as Anthony Varghese and Sarath, whose roles in Angamaly Diaries were two of the mightiest debut performances in Mollywood ever. Pranav Mohanlal joined Jeethu Joseph’s project in September, putting end to speculations around his acting debut. Meanwhile, Abrid Shine’s Poomaram, which marks Kalidas Jayaram’s debut in Malayalam, is yet to be released, although a couple of songs from the film were released in December 2016 and early 2017, garnering a lot of acclaim and attention.
As years pass, the new age wave in Malayalam cinema is attaining greater clarity. The young filmmakers, who are well familiar with films from across the world, are not looking up to resident masters for inspiration. The technical departments of our films have become fancier, if not more intelligent. Raw and realistic is the new cool, and song-and-dance sequence have become the rarest of the rare. Films like Parava and Angamaly Diaries are fantastic works that document a place and a community naturally, without losing out on the commercial aspects, but these films tell predominantly male stories where women are barely visible or significant. Barring Manju Warrier’s C/O Saira Banu and Parvathy’s Take Off , 2017 was a dismal year for thewomen in Malayalam cinema. But which year isn’t?
Here is our list of favourite mainstream Malayalam films of 2017:
After Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016), a brilliant film that won two National Awards, Dileesh Pothan hit gold again with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, a social drama set in and around a police station in rural Kasargod. Through the tale of a newly wed couple, Prasad (Suraj Venjaramood) and Sreeja (Nimisha), and a nameless petty thief who steals their only asset, a gold chain, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum delineated how law enforcement works in the lower rung of the society.
The film, written by Sajeev Pazhoor and Shyam Pushkaran (additional dialogues), has exceptional performances by its three lead actors. It is humorous, just like how even a miserable life, when seen from a distance, seems like a joke. Rajeev Ravi’s camera work, which is sharp and calculated, efficiently backs the film.
A small town in central Kerala, and its thriving pork business become the central point in Lijo Jose Pallissery’s Angamaly Diaries. It follows Vincent Pepe (Anthony Varghese) and his bunch of friends and rivals in the town where chaos is the order of life. The actor, most of them unseasoned first-timers, are excellent, and the cinematography by Gireesh Gangadharan is vibrant, seamlessly capturing the spirit of the town and its people.
If Lijo’s previous blockbuster Amen was a pastoral romantic drama, there is a generous splash of gore in Angamaly Diaries. The men are violent, and not even faith or women can rein them in. While Angamaly Diaries might remind one of Kammattipadam, for both films are samples of a low-key ethnological study that unfold in a male territory, the former is a much more fun watch than the latter. While Kammattipadam ends as a eulogy to the people who live and die on the margins of the society, Angamaly Diaries is an unapologetic celebration of male adrenaline.
Actor Soubin Shahir’s directorial debut is a stellar feat, a heartwarming coming-of-age story set in old Kochi’s Mattanchery. The performance of the two teenagers who play the protagonists are fantastic. So organic and spunky that even Dulquer Salmaan who comes in a cameo, fails to match up to them. The life in Mattanchery, the kids’ relationship with the adults around them, and the indigenous pigeon-flying competition that the youngsters in the area celebrate form the pivotal elements of the film. Cinematographer Littil captures life in Old Kochi’s crammed streets in exotic frames, further beautified by Praveen Prabhakar’s editing.
Although smartly made and thoroughly entertaining, the film turns weak in its second half, treading the familiar, hackneyed route. It should also be noted that Parava, in spite of being technically smart, fails to be progressive in its content. It normalises preteen marriage, and gives little screenspace for women.
Take Off, directed by Mahesh Narayanan, is based on the real life incident of the escape of 46 nurses working in Iraq’s Tikrit when ISIS men captured the city. Parvathy and Kunchakko Boban play a married couple who are working as nurses in a hospital in Tikrit, and Fahadh Fazil appears in the latter half of the film as an Indian diplomat responsible for carrying out the rescue operation. The actors were lauded for their exemplary performance, and Parvathy bagged the Best Actress Award at the IFFI, becoming the first Malayali actor to win the honour. What makes Take Off exceptional is its plot that is steeped in humanism. It doesn’t limit the tale of the nurses to the incidents of kidnap and the final rescue operation, but looks deep into the personal baggage each of them carry, portraying the subtle and loud transformations that happen in personal relationships when a war breaks out. The film’s production design is great; the sets of war-torn Iraq and refugee camps look convincing.
Ramante Eden Thottam
The best thing about this Ranjith Shankar movie is that it barely resembles a Ranjith Shankar film. The filmmaker, who is known for his unhealthy penchant for injecting a social message into every ordinary tale, is much restrained here. Ramante Eden Thottam, is an unlikely tale of romance between a married woman and a widower. Kunchakko Boban and Anu Sithara play the lead roles gracefully, and Madhu Neelakantan’s cinematography and Bijibal’s music add to the film’s romantic quality.
Ramante Eden Thottam makes a conscious effort to break away from the traditional tropes of romance and marriage. The feminism that it tries to wear might look cosmetic, yet it is not entirely dismissable. The woman, who is regularly cheated on, stands up for herself, falls in love with a man who values her individuality, and dares to walk out of her failed marriage when she is asked to choose a road.
C/O Saira Banu
Manju Warrier is in her best elements in this drama, directed by debutant director Anthony Sony and co-written by Bipin Chandran and RJ-turned-writer Shaan. The film, a moving tale of a postwoman and her foster son (Shane Nigam), isn’t outstanding cinema, but it deserves a pat on its back for its restrained writing that doesn’t succumb to the usual trappings of a potboiler. Manju’s Saira Banu is funny, a quality mainstream films rarely endow its female protagonists with. For Shane Nigam, C/O Saira Banu is a respite from the brooding youth roles he has been doing a lot. The actor, son of late mimicry artiste Aby, is by far the best young actor we have in Mollywood at the moment.
Adventures Of Omanakkuttan
This film, directed by Rohith VS and starring Asif Ali and Bhavana, is the only black horse in Mollywood this year. An unconventional tale of a young man who loses his identity and memory, it has its share of shortcomings, but in hindsight, is a cleverly made film. It took two years for Rohith and his crew, all young debutants in the field, to make this film that hit roadblocks several times due to budget shortage and other reasons. Adventures Of Omanakkuttan’s female protagonist is the closest sketch of an urban millennial. The screenplay attempts to be less dependent on dialogues, thus breaking away from traditional Indian cinema.
While Mumbai represents nostalgia and homecoming for the new age Bollywood, for Malayalam movies, it is the destination that offers freedom and hope
In Jeethu Joseph’s My Boss (2015), Manu Varma (Dileep), a countryman from Alappuzha arrives in Mumbai mahanagari looking for employment. The film, an unofficial (and unabashed) copy of Hollywood’s The Proposal, starts off with a song sequence picturised on Manu embarking on a brand new life – his excitement about being in a city that doesn’t clip individual freedom, unlike the Kerala small-town where he grew up. The euphoria would soon turn into blues as his new boss is a nightmare. Yet, Manu refuses to give up on the city.
My Boss, a mediocre and unofficial remake of the Hollywood blockbuster The Proposal, is no match for cinematographer-filmmaker Rajeev Ravi’s finest film, Annayum Rasoolum, in terms of finesse. But both films use Mumbai as a motif for freedom and life.
44-year-old Rajeev Ravi, after graduating from Film And Television Institute Of India, spent a considerable time of his career in Mumbai, working on some of the modern day Indian classics, such as Gangs Of Wasseypur, Chandni Bar and Dev D. Annayum Rasoolum (2013), his directorial debut, was a love story set in Kochi. The epilogue montage of the film finds Rasool (Fahadh Fazil), post the tragic death of his lover Anna (Andrea Jeremiah), taking refuge in Mumbai. There is no mention of the place, but some signboards placed carefully in the frame, and a shot of Mumbai’s famous local trains, tell us of Rasool’s new home. In Rajeev’s most recent film, Kammattipadam (2015), the anchor of the narrative, Krishnan (Dulquer) leaves the impoverished dark underbelly of Ernakulam city for a better life in Mumbai. It is from there he returns to Kammattipadam when his best friend Ganga calls. In the film, Rajeev almost hints that Mumbai is what Kammattipadam could become in the near future – an extended slum alongside a flourishing metro city.
In Kismath (2016), a film that Rajeev Ravi co-produced and was closely associated with, Anitha (Sruthi Menon), after the death of her lover, Irfan (Shane Nigam), is seen leading a solitary life in Mumbai. She sheds every sign of identity tied to her north Kerala small town, and consciously embraces the cosmopolitanism of Mumbai. Anitha seems far more confident in Mumbai than she was in her home town.
Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), a film that coincidentally had Rajeev as a cinematographer, culminates in a shot of one of the protagonists, a thief (Fahadh Fazil) vanishing into the crowded city. For these characters, Mumbai represents comfortable anonymity.
While it was in a studio in Bombay that JC Daniel, father of Malayalam cinema, picked up his first lessons in filmmaking, Malayalam cinema’s plot-related affair with Mumbai dates back to the late 1980s when Priyadarshan made Aaryan (1988) – about a young Brahmin from a Kerala village migrating to Mumbai due to unemployment. Through the tragic tale of his protagonist who ends up in Mumbai’s underworld as a gangster and drug peddler, Priyadarshan mourned the degradation in the state of upper caste Hindus in independent India.
Director Kamal’s Shubhayatra (1990) is a tale steeped in middle-class reality. Starring Jayaram and Parvathy as a new-wed Malayali couple in Mumbai, the film speaks of the space crunch and regionalism in Mumbai. Post-wedding, the man, an accountant in a company run by a Gujarati Seth, continues to live in a dormitory with three other bachelors while his wife stays in a working women’s hostel. They meet every evening at Mumbai’s beaches, making plans to start a family in a rented house in the city.
In Aaryan, Devanarayanan (Mohanlal) is sucked into a web of crimes in Mumbai, and soon, he becomes a part of the city’s infamous underworld as a drug peddler, smuggler and henchman. The film blamed the new sociopolitical atmosphere of Kerala for the sufferings of its lead man. Priyadarshan’s Chandralekha, Abhimanyu and Kakka Kuyil were also set in Mumbai, and all of them had Mohanlal playing the lead role. Abhimanyu is a take on the life of south Indians in Mumbai’s blue-collar area, while Chandralekha and Kakka Kuyil are comedy-dramas about unemployed Malayali men who move to Mumbai for better life prospects. The Juhu beach and the steps of the Asiatic library are the places that frequently appear in his films.
Even in movies that are not shot in Mumbai, there are generous references to the city in dialogues, especially in those mouthed by the male protagonists. For instance, in one of the scenes in Ranjith’s Aaram Thampuran, the protagonist, Jagannathan (Mohanlal) tells his sidekicks and Unnimaya (Manju Warrier) of his heroics and adventures in various cities. “Kid, have you heard of Dharavi? I have evicted the entire slum of Dharavi in a single night,” says Jagannathan to Unnimaya. It’s meant as a threat.
Anwar Rasheed’s Chotta Mumbai is set in an area of Kochi which is known as Chotta Mumbai for its underbelly of crimes. In Rosshan Andrew’s Mumbai Police, the three protagonists, known as Mumbai Police, are infamous for their brazenness.
Over the years, many Malayali filmmakers and actors have moved to Mumbai to try their luck in Bollywood. Madhu, who rose to national prominence through Ramu Karyat’s cult classic Chemmeen, debuted through a Hindi film, Saath Hindustani, in which Amitabh Bachchan was one of his co-stars. Saath Hindustani was Bachchan’s debut film, too. Bharat Gopi starred in two Hindi films – Govind Nihalani’s Aaghaat and Mani Kaul’s Satah Se Uthata Aadmi. The two superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal, acted in films like Dhartiputra and Company respectively, garnering acclaim, yet not quite building a robust career there. Among the younger stars, Prithviraj and Parvathy have had a successful streak in Bollywood, and Dulquer Salmaan just signed his second Bollywood project with Anurag Kashyap. The project, Manmarziya, also features Tapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. Dulquer’s first Hindi project, Karwaan, is in the post-production stage.
For a teenager, Esther Anil, who shot to fame as the little girl in Mohanlal-starrer Drishyam, is remarkably lucid in her thoughts. Soon to debut as a female lead in Olu, she admits to not understanding some script nuances, declares that she’s uncomfortable enacting romance, and laughs off all distasteful comments on her Facebook page
Esther isn’t home when I call her number on a Wednesday afternoon. “She is at school. Shall we talk in the evening?” her mother, Manju, says. The 16-year-old actress, who debuted in Malayalam cinema seven years ago, is the protagonist in acclaimed director Shaji N Karun’s next, Olu (Her), a social drama centered around a young destitute caught in a web of complexities. The first look poster of the film came out last week, and it is all about Esther – her petite figure submerged in water, surrounded by wild lotus flowers and roots. The surrealistic poster has already caught the attention of the social media.
We talk in the evening, and the first question I ask Esther is about her transition from that of a child actress to a semi-adult playing lead roles, shouldering subjects that are quite heavy. Were you nervous at all, I ask. “Not really,” she says with a laugh. “After Drishyam, I was confident that I could do lead roles. And when Shaji (N Karun) sir cast me in a film, there was no reason to be hesitant,” says Esther.
Esther’s father Anil Abraham agrees that Olu is the most complex character Esther has ever played. He remarks that it was the only script she wasn’t able to understand. “Always, it is Esther herself who decides whether to sign a project or not. We will listen to the script, and ask her if she wants to be a part of the film. She is an intelligent, strong-willed girl. If she doesn’t like a story or isn’t interested, it would be impossible to convince her to take it up,” he says. “Manju and I we were elated to learn that Shaji N Karun sir wanted to cast her in a film. She listened to the script, and told us she couldn’t comprehend it completely. Yet, she didn’t want to give it a miss. It is a performance-oriented role.”
The film has extensive CG sequences, and involved a lot of work. “Everyone on the set worked enthusiastically with so much passion. It motivated me. It wasn’t an easy project, but I wanted to give my best because the whole set was so inspiring,” says Esther.
Esther’s first film was Nallavan (2010) in which she essayed the childhood self of the heroine, actress Mythili. She has worked in over 20 films since then, but it was Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam that made her famous. She played Anu, the youngest daughter of Mohanlal’s George Kutty in the film. When Drishyam was remade in Telugu and Tamil, Esther was retained as the younger daughter, while the rest of the cast members were replaced by actors from the respective industries. Anu in Drishyam wasn’t just another adorable little daughter, but an individual who rightly grasped the gravity of the situation her family was in. Esther’s performance was restrained, with a level of maturity only found in a gifted actor.
Her profession, the child actress thinks, is partly responsible for shaping her into someone mature beyond her age. “Right since childhood, I have spent more time amidst adults on film sets than with children my age. Sometimes, it was fun, especially when there were actors like Mohanlal sir who would play with you and talk to you like a friend. On the sets of Olu, I was the only little one. Everyone else was much older. We had nothing in common, so it was a little boring that way,” she confesses with a chuckle, “But then, it is work.”
Esther’s professionalism is something that has amazed her father. “Both Esther and Eric (her little brother who is also a child artiste) have always been very cooperative when it came to work. They have never asked me to postpone a shoot for them. Rarely have they complained of being moody or sleepy. There are times they have had to get up as early as at 6 am and head to film set. They have done it gladly,” he says.
Esther, however, has memories of being cranky on the sets. “When I was doing my first couple of projects, I didn’t understand [what was happening], or like being on a film set. I would sulk, and vent my anger on my father who would patiently put up with it. After three-four projects, I got used to it,” she says. “In the Telugu film I worked in, if I had a late night shoot, they ensured that I was free the next morning. My health and comfort were taken seriously. But in some Malayalam projects, I was made to work long shifts, like an adult. Now, things have changed a lot,” she says.
Anil is not informed of any special rule that pertain to child artistes working in the film industry. “These days, most directors deal with child actors sensitively, without making them work long shifts. We work mostly with production houses we are familiar with. They understand our concerns and treat us well. For instance, Anto Joseph’s productions are great to work with. Shaji N Karun sir treated Esther like his own daughter. He would ask her to take breaks every now and then, so that she wouldn’t get exhausted,” he says. They have had trouble a few times though, with small projects that worked on tight schedules and budgets.
Esther was in class three when she was noticed by a cameraman who was at their place in Wayanad to shoot a cookery show. Soon, she was approached by the director of Nallavan (2011) in which actor-producer Maniyan Pillai Raju played her father. He spotted the spark of talent in little Esther, and in his next production, Oru Naal Varum, she played Mohanlal’s daughter, a character torn between a workaholic father and an estranged mother. “We were hesitant initially. We are from Wayanad, a place far off from Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram where the film industry is based. I am a farmer. We had our doubts,” says Anil. Recently, the family moved to Kochi – to support the kids’ education and film career.
At Rajagiri Public School in Kochi, Esther is a regular class 12 student in the commerce stream. Her classmates often tease her of her star status, commenting that she, unlike them, has already charted out a plan for life. She refutes that. “In the film industry, there is no guarantee for success. I don’t even know if I would be an actress a year down the line. There is insecurity. I am not set for life,” she says.
Esther isn’t sure if she wants to be a full-time actress, or take up heroine roles in the future. She doesn’t like wearing make-up, or getting decked up. “I am more confident when I am at my natural best, sans any make-up,” she says, and goes on to tell me about an upcoming film where she has a no-make up look. Recently, she rejected a number of offers from Telugu and Tamil film industries to be the leading lady of popular male stars. I am not very confident about playing romantic roles, she says. “When we tell them (the filmmakers) that I am just 15, short and very much cherubic, they tell us I could do a heroine role already because I have a good, photogenic face,” she laughs. “I am as confused as any girl of my age. Right now, I think I want to work in the field of human resources.”
Anil has taken note of Esther’s love for travelling. “She follows actress Parvathy on Instagram, and says she wants to travel the world like her when she grows up. If that is what she wants to do, I will never stop her. She should do everything she wants to do,” he tells me. When I tell Esther about it, she laughs shyly. “Who doesn’t want to travel?” Esther counts herself lucky for being in a profession that lets her travel a lot. “Recently, I went to Jodhpur to shoot Olu. It is not just the place that awed me, the culture of the place, the history… I really want to explore places that way. Sometimes I feel like just going off to a new place, randomly. But that isn’t practical,” she laughs again.
She is aware of the amazement and excitement that her presence elicits in the school campus. “The teachers at my school in Wayanad always treated me like an ordinary student, sans any star status, because they had been seeing me right from standard one. They would secretly ask of the films I was working in, but in front of the class, I was just another student who would get rebuked for not submitting assignments. In my new school in Kochi, things are a little different,” she says. Students from different classes and divisions gaze at her and whisper among each other. Teachers pretend not to be aware of her celebrity status, and when she goes out with her friends, she gets stared at and smiled at. “I am getting used to being treated differently,” says Esther. “I don’t know if there is anything I can do about it. It is a disadvantage, too because you can get blamed for things you don’t even know about. I am just happy that I am being recognised and loved by all these people I have never met,” she says.
Esther has no godfathers or mentors in the film industry. There is no one she approaches for an occasional career guidance or a word of advice on script selection. “It is my family that supports me the most. Sometimes, when we hit a dead-end on a script-related issue or (film) association related problems, we approach Raju uncle (Maniyan Pillai Raju) for help,” she says. More than anything else, she is training herself to be self-reliant. “It has been over five years since I started. Now I have become familiar with the industry.”
It was Anil who started a Facebook account for Esther which now has over 3 million followers. He admits that he knows nothing more than just the basics of social media. “I post photos, and checks comments. Once in a while, a lewd comment or two appear, and I make sure that I delete it immediately. But how much can we hide from the kids?” he asks. “Esther is now in Class 12. Not really a child anymore.”
Esther says lewd comments posted by strange men used to make her uneasy earlier. “Appa would tell me of people who would send messages and make calls frequently. I was scared that one day those people might come home and ring the door bell (laughs). Two years ago, we had to file a complaint at cyber cell about one such person. People have such weird fetishes. These days, I am rather cool about it.”
Anil and Manju have always let their children know what is going on around them. “Keeping them ignorant about the dark side of social media is not a solution. We won’t be around to protect them all the time,” he says. He recalls the time when he posted a photo of Esther in a sleeveless gown, attending a film award function. “Comments in bad taste started pouring in, and I deleted the photo. I got paranoid. But when Esther came to know of it, she laughed it off. I am glad she is not afraid of these things.”
Anil has told Esther and Eric that they should quit films once they get tired of acting. “I don’t ever want my children to say that it was us who ruined their life. They should do what they feel is right. I have never tried to gloat in the stardom of my children,” he says. “We didn’t move out of Wayanad for a long time because we didn’t want the kids to lose their childhood. Sometimes, I ask Esther and Eric if they are enjoying their film career. They aren’t just my kids, but close friends.”
The Esther Anil interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
Actress Parvathy’s IFFI win assumes greater significance at a time when women in the Malayalam film industry -where patriarchal values still run high – are trying to make their presence felt and their voices heard
Last week, Malayali actor Parvathy Thiruvothu bagged the Best Actress Award at the International Film Festival Of India, thus being the first actor from Kerala to win the Silver Peacock. The 29-year-old artiste has starred in just nine Malayalam films in a career spanning 11 years – a number so small when compared to the filmography of her contemporary male actors. Recently, she forayed into Bollywood with Qarib Qarib Singlle, a romantic comedy directed by Tanuja Chandra, co-starring Irrfan Khan. The IFFI win hints that greater things might be in store for Parvathy this year, including a National Film Award for her performance in Take Off.
Parvathy’s achievement is no mean feat by any measure. Her Take Off comes from an industry which is known for its deep rooted misogyny and moral hypocrisy. In 2017, over 120 films released in Malayalam, and barring three to four films, all were centered around men, set in male territories where the women were barely visible. While Parvathy starred in one of them, another two had Manju Warrier playing the protagonist with aplomb.
One of the top grossing films in 2017 is Chunkzz, a celebration of male libido and sleaze, sans any cinematic merit. A day after Parvathy bagged the award at IFFI, a particular screenshot of a Facebook rant by Omar Lulu, the director of Chunkzz, landed on social media. It showed Omar passing a sexually suggestive remark at a female user. The comment appeared beneath a post in a film discussion group, Cinema Paradiso Club, which has over 86,000 members. After several group members raised objection to the filmmaker’s comment, and the woman demanded a public apology from him, Omar submitted to public pressure, and apologised to the woman. But despite his tasteless misogynist persona, Omar has a considerable number of fans in the state. His Chunkzz collected over Rs 8.60 Crores from Kerala in 16 days. I watched Chunkzz in a theatre in Kochi on the second week of its release. The hall was packed – the majority of the audience being young men in college uniform. Right from scene one, which had the young protagonists of the film leching at their female professor, with a cheesy joke about her naval, the male crowd hooted and applauded.
It is in this industry which is blatantly misogynistic that women like Parvathy, Rima Kallingal and Manju Warrier thrive. For Warrier, the former wife of ‘superstar’ Dileep, it was not at all easy to make a come back to the film industry after their divorce in 2014. It is no secret that her influential ex-husband made efforts to put an end to her film career. However, Warrier slowly and steadily proceeded to cut her own space in the industry, playing lead roles in women-centric films that garnered critical acclaim and fared moderately well.
Meanwhile, in her interviews to the media, Parvathy spoke about feminism, her love for travelling, and her identity as an artiste, all with an infectious sense of independence – something Mollywood was not used to seeing. Traditionally, young actresses in the industry raved about their male co-stars, wedding dreams and their lack of ambition in interviews. Parvathy though, vehemently advocated the importance of scripts with well-defined women characters, and her script choices over the last three years have validated it.
Rima Kallingal, now a successful entrepreneur running a Kochi-based dance company, didn’t quit her acting profession after her marriage to director Aashiq Abu. Last year, Aashiq directed Rani Padmini, a feel-good travel drama starring Rima and Manju Warrier in lead roles. Through social media, Rima regularly expresses her take on politics, sexism in cinema and social issues, shrugging off the numerous trolls and hate comments directed at her.
2017 has been an important and eventful year for this new league of actresses in Malayalam cinema. In February, a young actress was waylaid and sexually abused inside a moving car in Kochi. The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who had been working as a chauffeur to many celebrities in the industry. He recorded the act of crime on his mobile phone, and told the actress that he was ‘hired’ to do it. What thwarted his plan was the actress’ refusal to stay silent on the matter. She filed a police complaint. The next morning, the news spread, and instantly, her friends in the industry reached out to her, guarding her from the harsh public glare. The AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Actors), an organisation headed by a group of senior male actors, held a candle light vigil condemning the incident. However, the support of the superstars and the senior actors visibly waned after Dileep, a highly influential superstar, was arrested by the police in connection with the case as a suspect. Salim Kumar, a National Award-winning actor insulted the victim on social media, and director Lal Jose, one of Dileep’s close friends, who is known as Janapriya (popular) star, even launched a campaign Avanodoppam [‘With Him’] on social media, in response to the campaign Avalodoppam [‘With Her’] that the actress’s friends and supporters were running.
The prime accused, Pulsar Suni, is now behind the bars, and Dileep is out on bail, but the case is far from closed. On the day of his release from Aluva sub-jail where he was housed for over 58 days, his fans gave him a hero’s welcome. Also present were actors Nadirshah Siddique, Ponnamma Babu and Dharmajan. Within days of his release, Dileep was reinstated in the top organisational positions from which he was removed at the time of arrest. While the police say they have strong evidences that prove his involvement in the criminal case, Dileep’s return to Mollywood has been smooth.
Days after the actress was attacked, a pool of 21 women from the Malayalam film industry, including Parvathy and Rima Kallingal, formed the Women In Cinema Collective (WCC) organisation to represent and fight for the interests of women in the field. Some of the demands they have been putting forward include a sexual grievance cell, subsidies for production crews that have 30 percent women, an end to the giant disparity in pay, PFs for women who leave work due to pregnancy, and reservations for women in government-owned studios. The organisation members met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in May 2017, and were officially instituted as a society in November.
However, the WCC still hasn’t found enough acceptance within the industry, even among their female colleagues. Actresses Lakshmi Priya, Miya and Mamta Mohandas, in separate interviews, stated that there was no need for a separate organisation for women in Malayalam film industry as they had never felt unsafe in it. The WCC’s Facebook page gets hate comments and trolls aplenty from men who call them names such as feminazi and ‘kochamma’.
Despite everything though, the young women in new age Malayalam film industry are moving ahead, winning accolades, associating themselves with projects that matter, reaching out to each other, and setting a fine example of sisterhood along the way. They seem to be in no hurry, and in no mood to retire and fade into oblivion. Parvathy’s next release is My Story, directed by Roshni Dinakar; she’s also a part of Anjali Menon’s next, co-starring Prithviraj and Nazriya Nazim. That aside, the actress also plans exciting trips every now and then.
The most unemployable person in the world is perhaps the old school hero in Indian cinema. He is fearless, morally upright, compassionate, charismatic and talented, but one of these virtues always betrays him at the most unfortunate time. For instance, he will not make a good business man because he is too selfless; he wouldn’t mind getting involved in murky social issues for the sake of public good because he fears nothing. And, he will not make a successful gangster too because his heart-of-gold would come in the way.
In Vijay Antony’s Annadurai, you have two such ideal men who are identical twins. When the film begins, one of them has a job, and the other is helping his father run a textile business. Around the interval time, the job is lost and the textile business has collapsed. Over the years, Tamil cinema has come to accept violent criminals and happy-go-lucky young men, who are neither distinctly talented nor morally superior, as protagonists shouldering a film. But Annadurai, directed by G Sreenivasan, is unabashedly an old-fashioned tale. The good-hearted heroes lose everything they have, thanks to a gang of powerful villains – and obviously, the protagonists and their family value love and trust over money.
Annadurai and Thambidurai (Vijay Antony) live in a Tamil Nadu small town. The elder one is a bearded alcoholic who spends his days at his dead lover’s grave, crying and occasionally talking to her. The younger one is luckier. He has a job at a nearby school as a physical education teacher, and is all set to be married to Revathy (Diana Champika), who perfectly fits the bill as Kollywood’s cliched loosu ponnu, the naive, extroverted girl. The siblings may lead lives that are diagonally opposite in nature, but both of them share similar virtues (or vices). The opening sequence has Annadurai heroically saving an unknown girl from a bunch of hooligans who try to rape her. The girl’s saree is torn, so Annadurai offers her his shirt. He drives her home, and gives her a few tips on life. “Don’t go out unaccompanied after 7 pm. Study well. Obey everything that your parents say…” The girl, unsurprisingly, falls for him, but he dissuades her citing his alcoholism and hopelessly broken heart. Thambidurai is flawless and idealistic, too. Many scenes later, the elder one goes to jail for a murder he’d committed in an inebriated state, and flash-forward seven years, he returns from jail to see that his brother has turned into a ruthless gangster.
Stretch this plot a little more, and you get enough content to run a television soap to last for over a couple of years. Characters appear and disappear, and none of them, apart from the lead men and the villain (Rajkumar), leave any mark. Vijay Antony has an impressive voice and great screen presence, although his acting talents are famously limited. Worse than his acting skills is the quality of songs he has composed for Annadurai. The ‘demonetization anthem’ has curious lyrics that compare the heroine to EMI and an earthquake, but the music and visualisation are a bizarre mismatch. Diana is a misfit in the film, and her performance is loud and tone-deaf. But Rajkumar, who played the iconic Rauther in Mohanlal’s Vietnam Colony (1992), packs a punch here.
On the whole, Annadurai hardly figures at all. It plays too safe to the gallery. It may try to elevate Vijay Antony to the league of action heroes in Kollywood, but does little else.
The Annaduraireview is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
S Durga (previously titled Sexy Durga) was unceremoniously dropped from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), a decision taken by the Information and Broadcast Ministry headed by Smriti Irani. Later, it was declared that Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga would be screened at the festival festival but that never happened. The film’s director termed the controversy around the film’s screening as “total mockery of the democracy”.
Here’s Silverscreen review of the film which was originally published on January 28.
In Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga, fear is the protagonist. While violence keeps lurking beneath the film’s surface, it is fear that leads the film on the foreground.
On the night of Garudan Thookkam, a Hindu religious festival in which men pierce their skin and suspend themselves from metal hooks to fly like a Garuda (eagle) to please the Goddess Durga, a young woman and her lover elope from their houses to leave Kerala and settle down in a far away city. Stranded on a deserted state highway, the couple – Durga and Kabeer – hitch a ride from two strangers in a van to the nearby railway station. The drive turns into a nightmare as the men start harassing the couple, threatening to violate Durga sexually. And the night stretches out endlessly before the young lovers who can’t seem to escape from the looming danger.
Anyone who understands the gravity of gender-based violence in India, would know how life-threatening an Indian road can be at night for a woman traveller. Every man on the road takes the shape of a beast, ready to pounce on women whose immediate identity is reduced to a defenceless object of desire. Anushka Sharma’s 2015 thriller NH10 and Sameer Thahir’s 2016 film Kali dealt with a similar plot, but Sasidharan’s narrative is cleverer on many levels.
With the camera fixed in and around the van, he weaves the plot with the help of dialogues that proceed organically. Although the violence in the film is never explicit, one could feel it everywhere on the screen, always. Even as the captors, with a sly smile, reassure the couple that they would be let off safely, the subtle ups and downs in their conversation hint that it might not be so. The fear that grips Kabeer and Durga creeps into the viewers quickly, putting them in the passenger seat of the white Maruti Van, letting them experience the unfolding horror.
Sasidharan builds up tension at a perfect pace, inserting narrative pauses in the right places. More than once, the couple sneaks out of the van and try to reach the destination on their own. But each time, they are forced to return to the hands of their tormentors. When the van stops at a police checkpost, one almost hopes that the couple finds some respite from the ordeal. It is interesting to see how power equations change in this sequence – the men who were perpetrators till then, suddenly become victims and the violence becomes state-backed.
The film uses the couple’s inter-religious status and Durga’s north Indian identity to complicate the situation further. “Aren’t you taking her to Pakistan?” two bike-riders on the road ask Kabeer, on learning of his Muslim identity.
The film cleverly portrays how baffling male egos can be – the eagerness to be protectors and guardians, and how society blindly approves of this bloated machismo. The film’s opening sequence, a show of countless bare male bodies, pierced and put through intense pain, is brilliant, although slightly long-winded. In a festival that celebrates the power of a goddess, it is masculinity that rules the roost. The men dance in scanty clothes, display their physical toughness and take the centre stage, as women devotees politely watch from a corner.
In a later sequence, this religious parade is subtly juxtaposed with the young couple’s trauma, indicating how deep-rooted is the society’s celebration of virility and machismo.
However, there are images and verbal exchanges in the film that come across glaringly loud. Like the idol of Durga kept on the dashboard of the van and the conversations woven around it. When the commentary on faith and the gender equation inside religions has already been made, this overbearing silhouette of the Durga idol becomes a jarring presence.
The cast, which consists mostly of first time actors, perform flawlessly. Sasidharan’s love for what could be described as ‘camera acrobatics’ repeats in the film, where he tries a lot to play with the camera movements, making it party to the whole unfolding drama than just be an observer. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say if it works in favour of the film.
S Durga finishes off as an edgy road thriller, the dark taste of which lingers on even after the curtain falls. That Sasidharan’s pulled off this feat on a shoe-string budget is testimony to the power of intelligent writing and restrained direction.
Cinema isn’t dying in this age of show of opulence and flashy modern technology, it is just discovering new styles of narration to stay afloat and emerge stronger than before.
S Durga was screened in the Havos Tiger Awards Competition section at 46th IFFR.
The S Durgareview is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
There seems to be a dilemma among filmmakers on how to build stories around rape and sexual harassment. In 2017, Bollywood produced at least four vigilante dramas (Mom, Maatr, Kaabil and Bhoomi) where rapists were awarded death sentence by the kin of the victims, displaying an angry distrust on the land’s law-enforcement system. It is sure problematic, but also, the most crowd-pleasing format. Devashish Makhija’s Ajji follows the same pattern, taking the gory and horrifying road of retribution. If Mom was set inside a high-class household in Delhi, Ajji takes you to a diagonally opposite social setting.
The film is one hour 44 minutes long, a little shorter than a conventional feature film. It has some stunning visuals of the city’s underbelly. Not the place where drug peddlers, mafia goons and pimps scheme under dim lights, or share liquor and revel in a rundown garage-shaped den, as you see in our gangster movies, but the dingy slums where people coexist with rats and dogs, fighting for space, water and air. The core plot isn’t novel or complex, and to the contrary, resorts to some most overused plot tropes.
The titular protagonist Ajji (the Marathi and Kannada word for grandmother) is a nameless woman (Sushma Deshpande) who lives in a metro city with her son, his wife and their sprightly little daughter, 10-year-old Manda (Sharvani Suryavanshi). She is old. Her knees are worn out, and she is starting to stoop while walking. Yet, she does a little tailoring – alteration of ladies clothes – to bring some additional income to the household. Her son, a meek young man who doesn’t speak good Hindi, works extra hours at a factory, and his wife sells poha and upma on a cycle. Makhija films the house and the slum where they live in low-light that sometimes evoke a nightmarish feel.
The film opens to a shadowy sequence where Ajji and her friend, Vibha (Smita Tambe), a prostitute who lives nearby, are scanning the slum, the railway track and the locality at night, looking for Manda who is missing. They find her lying on a pile of garbage, like a piece of litter. They carry the gravely wounded and bleeding girl home, and the family realises that she has been brutally raped. The film uses some lengthy graphic details to portray the pain that the family and Manda go through. For one, the scene where a young corrupt cop comes to examine Manda’s wounds and interrogate the family members, is particularly designed to be disturbing. The rapist is the son of a wealthy politician, the kind of person who is deemed to be above the reach of police and law. A bizarrely staged scene involving a female mannequin shows that he is a sex maniac, and another scene where he boasts to a policeman how he ‘taught’ Manda a lesson for talking back to him, in the presence of his wife, emphasizes that he deserves the violence he would soon be subjected to.
The person executing the revenge here, is Ajji. Sushma Deshpande is utmost effective in the role. Her knees are weak, but her eyes have fire in them. Some of the most affecting scenes in the film are those where she takes lessons in meat chopping from her friend, an old butcher in the neighbourhood. The actors are great; they bring a degree of credibility and power to the weak plot. Similarly intense and disturbing is the somber silence of Manda.
Ajji directs its rage towards a single individual, a man gives plenty of reasons to be loathed, and eliminating him doesn’t take Manda and the women around her off from the risk of sexual violence. The film works in parts as a conventional revenge drama, but it falls into the same traps as Bollywood’s flimsy rape dramas do. Jishnu Bhattacharjee’s cinematography is the only element that manages to rise above the realm of mediocrity.
The Ajjireview is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
On International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), a look at Rahul Riji Nair’s film that explores marital rape – an act the apex court refuses to categorise as criminal offence.
Debutant director Rahul Riji Nair’s Ottamuri Velicham (Light In The Room) opens to a scene in which a hamlet in the wild coldly welcomes a newly-wed woman. The jeep the wedding party is travelling in breaks down on the way, and the groom tries to repair it. His mother, seated next to the timid bride, remarks that it is a bad omen, and the girl’s face turns bluer. That night, she sleeps beside her husband, a man she barely knows, in a tiny room with a piece of cloth acting as the door. He pulls her close to have loveless sex; she pleads to be left alone. The husband backs off, but not without expressing his displeasure.
Light In The Room discusses marital rape, a crime the Indian judiciary and a large section of the society refuses to acknowledge. It is one of the 24 Indian films featured in National Film Development Corporation’s Film Bazaar Recommends list, and has also been selected to the Market Recommended category of Dubai International Film festival.
Set against the backdrop of a dark rain forest in Kerala, the film is a gripping tale of Sudha (Vinitha Koshy), a young girl trapped inside a monstrous marriage, enduring rape and other kinds of physical violence. A number of people witness her suffering from close quarters – a sympathetic mother-in-law who is unable to rein in her criminal son, a little girl from the neighborhood who reminds Sudha of herself, and terrifies her for the same reason, and an elderly man who offers her words of sympathy, yet does nothing to help her. The movie culminates in an electrifying moment in which she declares her independence.
The forest in Ottamuri Velicham is something of a metaphorical cage that pins down the battered woman. In two mutually conflicting scenes, Rahul explores her tragic transformation from a gleeful teenager to a tormented woman – in one of the initial scenes, Sudha is watching the mountain and the woods in awe, as her mother-in-law explains to her how fierce, yet beautiful the nature can be. When her husband leaves for work, she gleefully goes out to explore the locality on her own. In a later scene, she is seen trying to flee the same forest with all her might, in vain.
Rahul, who is currently in Panaji where the International Film Festival Of India is underway, tells Silverscreen.in that marital rape isn’t what he pegged the film on. “I wanted to narrate a story that discussed how a young woman’s privacy is breached when she enters an arranged marriage. But in the writing stage, I realised it is marital rape we were talking about in our film. It is one of the most heinous, yet hushed topics in our cinema as well as society,” he says.
The scenes of violence in Ottamuri Velicham are depicted sensitively. The film wholeheartedly sides with her – the victim – and shows little interest in exploring the psyche of the man – the predator.
Written and directed by Rahul, the film was co-produced by him, along with his eight friends. Shot in a village in Thiruvananthapuram district’s Bonacaud, a picturesque locale which lies next to the famous Agasthyarkoodam peak, the film was completed in 21 days, on a shoe-string budget of Rs 20 Lakh.
Rahul, who has degrees in engineering and management, began his film career with Human Boundaries, a documentary on Hindu refugees in Pakistan in 2011. It was produced by Rahul’s production house, First Print Studios. “That gave us a lot of mileage. The film was screened at over 12 centres across the United States, many centres in Europe and several university campuses in the UK. It won a bunch of awards in and outside the country. I had a good start,” says Rahul. He did many music videos, short films and brand commercials in the six years preceding Ottamuri Velicham. “Over the years, I made a bunch of close friends who are either film aspirants or recognised names in the industry. Ottamuri Velicham was our combined investment towards a steady career in cinema, ” he says.
Rahul admits that his aspirations lie primarily in the commercial film industry. “I grew up watching films of Sathyan Anthikkad, Kamal and Priyadarshan. I was told by many art house filmmakers and admirers that Ottamuri Velicham doesn’t match their sensibilities, which I readily agree with. All I wanted was to narrate a story neatly, with utmost sincerity and sensitivity,” he says.
The NFDC selection opened to Rahul and his team a door they hadn’t been expecting. “Here, at Goa, we have access to an investor session. We have five minutes to give a talk and a presentation of our film to prospective producers, collaborators and distributors. Also, I have a complimentary delegate pass which lets me meet many resourceful people, network with them, make connections that would help me make my next film. People can watch my film in the viewing room at IFFI too, so that gives it further reach. I wasn’t prepared for a giant marketplace as this. I believe my film shall take its course.”
Athishayangalude Venal has a child protagonist; and true to its theme, it doesn’t quite deal with situations and emotions that are beyond children’s comprehension. The movie will be screened at the IFFK, scheduled to begin on December 8.
Summer Of Miracles/Athishayangalude Venal culminates in a shot of its protagonist, the nine-year-old Anu, at a bus bay, waiting for a bus to school. A few feet away from him, a bunch of his schoolmates chat and laugh like regular school kids. Our little boy is a loner. He has always been so, and the film doesn’t try to push him out of that zone.
Athishayangalude Venal, directed by debutant Prasanth Vijay, isn’t a bright-coloured run-of-mill children’s film. Through the tale of a boy who dreams to be invisible, the film delves into that unpleasant point where the innocent world of children intersects with the complex and rough terrain of adulthood. In a tone so subtle, it also discusses the cloak of invisibility that the Internet offers, and how the state conspires to make some people disappear without a trace.
Anu (Chandra Kiran) has a burning dream – to possess the power to be invisible. He spends his summer vacation reading science journals and precariously experimenting with electricity, much to the chagrin of his single mother (Reina Maria) and brother. The film takes you to the root of this seemingly innocuous ambition, and shines light on some hard facts. Years ago, the boy’s beloved father, a scribe, had gone missing inside the forests of Chhattisgarh, the red corridor where the Indian government is waging a costly war against insurgents. Anu earnestly believes that his father is somewhere around, inside their two bedroom apartment, invisible like a superhero “How can a person simply go missing?” he questions his mother who tells him otherwise.
Written by Anish Pallyal, a practicing psychiatrist, Athishayangalude Venal makes a delineated portrait of a child’s universe. Anu’s obsession with invisibility could well be a mechanism to cope with his father’s absence; a fact his mother and everyone else have come to terms with. Although he thinks of himself as a scientist, the adorable eccentricity that he displays is akin to that of a highly imaginative artiste. There are amusing moments in the film where the family decides to pretend that Anu is invisible to their eyes, hoping that it would bring the boy to his senses. On a deeper level, the film poses some uncomfortable questions – do we really know how to communicate with our kids? Who can fill that dark void in Anu’s life that his father’s absence has created? Are we any better at handling life than children?
Athishayangalude Venal is slated to be screened in the ‘Malayalam Cinema Today’ section of 22nd IFFK scheduled to begin on December 8. It was also screened at the recently concluded Jio MAMI film festival, and is one of the 24 Indian films featured in the Film Bazaar Recommends list at the ongoing IFFI.
“We wanted to make a low budget film with a child protagonist. We did not have much money to spend, and we thought it might be easier to make a film with children. But it was very difficult to find the right child actor,” says Prasanth. He is currently in Panaji, attending the IFFI’s Film Bazaar.
“This part of filmmaking – taking your film to the film festivals, meeting distributors and festival programmers, making contacts with agents and financiers for your next project – is not easy. Being a novice filmmaker, I am still figuring this whole deal out,” he says.
Prasanth first met his screen writer Anish on an online platform in 2013. The duo bonded over their common love for cinema, and filmmaking ambitions. Athishayangalude Venal was developed into a screenplay from a story idea that Anish had long ago. “We could have made it into a happy film that ended on a pleasant note. But we didn’t want it that way. We wanted it to be realistic and dark. That was a choice we made,” says Prasanth.
“We regularly read in newspapers, stories of men and women who go missing in the red corridor areas and other places of conflict. People can’t just vanish into thin air. You know what must have caused the disappearance of Anu’s father. However, we didn’t discuss it in detail because we didn’t want to include anything that Anu doesn’t understand. We wanted to smuggle those subtle details into the film, without being loud,” he says.
Born and brought up in a household of film lovers in Kerala, Prasanth fell in love with cinema at a very young age. “My uncle is an amateur screen writer. I learned a great deal about cinema from him,” he says. Like most of the youngsters from his generation, he joined an engineering college after school. A self-taught filmmaker, he made a short film in 2012, and in 2015, started working on Athishayangalude Venal.
“I am not a good writer. I can’t create a film from scratch, but if I have a screenplay with me, I can take it to the next level. I need a good writer like Anish to work with, ” he says. “I am good at communicating with people. That’s an important skill you need to have as a director.”
“Anish’s son loves Spider Man. At home, he would pretend that he is Spider Man, act like he can weave webs and climb on the wall. Little kids have such harmless obsessions. My generation, for instance, was fascinated with Mr India and the idea of being invisible,” says Prasanth.
Chandru (Chandra Kiran) watched the film, but refused to comment on it. “He is now basking in the new found fame. I am curious to know what he thinks of it. He is a very intelligent child. He has no background in films, his parents had no idea he could act. We were exhausted from looking for a child actor, and we stumbled upon him. We did an audition, and my friend who trains actors, said Chandru had it in him,” says Prasanth on how he discovered the child actor who is now garnering praise from all corners.
“Some days, Chandru would plainly refuse to act. That’s natural. Acting is an intense process, and children can get tired and bored. We would stop the shoot, and wait for him to return. There are times I got angry, and we fought. One such time, he told me it was my mistake because I had written a script in which he featured in every scene. (laughs).”
The film was completed over a period of two years, on a shoe-string budget. It was shot by Amith Surendran with minimal equipment and a moderately sized lighting unit.
“We didn’t go for crowd-funding because I knew my profile wouldn’t attract many donors. I am a debutant director with no track record. Luckily, a school friend chipped in. He was always interested in the things I had been doing,” says Prasanth. “I had always thought of it as a dark film, but I was taken by surprise at MAMI when I saw that the people were absolutely enjoying it. They were laughing at the right places. It is getting a lot of love, but that doesn’t mean I will be able to retrieve the money invested,” he says.
“I am talking to online streaming companies as well as distributors. I am glad the film is coming to IFFK next month. It is a huge platform to take your film to. But, it offers nothing more to a filmmaker. It’s like a dead end. I wish it provided an opportunity for budding filmmakers to interact with producers, agents and distributors, like at other major festivals. That’s the only way ahead for most of us.”