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.
Arun Karthick, a 25-year-old filmmaker from Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district, has won the IFFR’s (International Film Festival Of Rotterdam) prestigious Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) for scripting and project development.
Speaking to Silverscreen, Arun Karthick said he hoped the Hubert Bals Fund would sustain him through the script development stage, until he could find producers to bankroll the film. “My new project will be centred around an ordinary small town salesman. The film is in preproduction stage,” said Arun.
This year, the IFFR has selected 11 projects from both debut directors and established filmmakers. Each filmmaker will receive a contribution of €10,000 for script and project development.
Arun’s debut feature film, Sivapuranam/A Strange Case of Shiva, was screened at IFFR’s Bright Future category in 2016. The film, shot in avantgarde style, without dialogues, was about a man who leads a solitary life in Kerala.
Arun also said, “Coimbatore-based producer Suresh Kumar, who helped me make my first film, has expressed interest in partially funding the new film. It’s not easy to make an independent film in this region. Most of the potential producers are only interested in information like how much my previous collected at the box-office and how much the new film will earn.”
He is hoping that winning the Hubert Bals fund will give him more visibility.
Arun is an active member of Coimbatore’s Konangal Film Society, where he was introduced to the international classic films while he was still at school. “I want to work with Konangal to screen excellent Indian indie films that people usually never get to watch at theatres or similar screening spaces,” he said.
Actor Mohanlal’s mega-budget project with director VA Shrikumar Menon is all set to go on floors. However, some right-wing groups in Kerala are not pleased with the film’s projected title, Mahabharatham.
KP Sasikala, the president of the Kerala Hindu Aikya Vedi, said on Sunday that she will not allow the actor’s film to be named Mahabharatham, as it was one two epics revered by Hindus. Speaking at a meeting of the Aikya Vedi in Thrissur, Sasikala said that MT Vasudevan Nair’s classic novel Randamoozham on which the film is based, paints a factually and historically incorrect picture of the Mahabharatha. “It violates the rights of Ved Vyas, the author of [the epic] Mahabharatham,” she said.
“We hear that a big-budget project, even bigger than Baahubali, is being planned in Kerala, under the title Mahabharatham. Ved Vyas is the author of Mahabharatham, the epic that Hindu community is proud of. We will not let any film, which misrepresents the Ved Vyas’ version, be named Mahabharatha. Let them name it Randamoozham,” she said.
Shrikumar Menon’s film has a budget of Rs. 1000 crores, bankrolled by a businessman based in the Middle-East, BR Shetty. Randamoozham is a retelling of the Mahabharatha from the perspective of Bheema, the second of the Pandava siblings. Lal plays the role of Bheema.
A primary school teacher of history, Sasikala’s speech was rife with blunders. She said that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was a retelling of the Bible. In fact, the Da Vinci Code is a mystery thriller with elements of fiction, history, science, and fantasy, which explores the history of religions and Jesus Christ’s personal life. Also, there is no historical evidence which corroborates that Ved Vyas, the blind saint who is believed to have written the Mahabharatha with the help of Ganapati, the elephant-headed God, ever existed.
There is a scene in the second half of Adventures Of Omanakkuttan where Omanakkuttan (Asif Ali) and Pallavi (Bhavana), dressed in rich fancy clothes, drive to a hilltop overlooking Mysore city. Minutes ago, they were at a temple, in the midst of relatives and friends, all set to get married to each other. But now, they are on the run. He looks anxious, racking his brain on a lot of unfortunate things that have been happening in his life lately. Meanwhile, Pallavi sips a bottle of beer and gazes at the city’s skyline that lies ahead of her. She sees a thousand lanterns rising from the ground and floating in the sky. She smiles. The scene is quiet and surreal – Just Pallavi leaning on to her red open car, and watching the lanterns on the sky. When the camera moves to the perspective of Omanakkuttan, you see that the lanterns have vanished, or never existed at all.
AOM is a movie which believes that what happens inside a character’s head is as important as what happens around him or her. The narration doesn’t give in to the commercial formulae, even as the film becomes slightly drawn-out for a theatre watch. It doesn’t spoon-feed backstories of characters. Neither does it underestimate the intelligence of its audience. With a lot of imagination, warmth, and freshness, director Rohith VS pulls off this film, a tale of an introverted man with an ambiguous identity and lost memory.
Omanakkuttan is an employee at Clintonica, a firm that manufactures and sells a hairoil of the same name, founded by Chandrashekhar (Siddique). He is utmost loyal to his boss, Chandrasekhar, who is clearly walking a slippery slope, thanks to all the illegitimate businesses that he is running. With hard work and earnestness, Omanakkuttan rises to the position of the company’s best employee in a short span of time. Naturally, his colleagues aren’t fond of him. His simpleton ways, unstylish hairstyle, and introversion put him in a more disadvantaged position. He is desperate for female attention, and some respect from the people around him. Things take a drastic turn after Chandrasekhar offers Omanakuttan some rather crooked advice on life, career, and women. From a private mobile number, Omanakkuttan starts calling unknown women. He introduces himself in fake names and identities, and one day, he meets with a fatal accident, loses memory and falls into a grave identity crisis.
There are interesting bits and pieces of visuals that offer a glimpse of what makes Omanakkuttan the way he is. There are some striking traces of Ben Stiller’s Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. A screaming face from his unpleasant past, the shots of him walking alone through the crowded city, the people who smirk at him from the roadsides and office cabins, reminding him of his worthlessness all day, a shot of Omanakkuttan lowering the television volume to eavesdrop on his roommate’s flirty phone conversations with his girlfriend. There is a scene in a song sequence where Omanakkuttan, excited about his new romantic adventures, goes to a salon for a trendy haircut. When it’s done, he looks into the mirror, pleased with himself, and immediately combs it back to his regular unfashionable style. Beneath all the glitz and glamour of this new virtual life that he has been leading, is his real identity of a simpleton with no evil intentions, alive and kicking.
Asif Ali is flawless as Omanakkuttan. He nails Omanakkuttan’s shy laughs and a nervous demeanour, and brilliantly underplays his act when he is with Bhavana who plays a spirited Pallavi.
Bhavana’s Pallavi is one of the best performances of the actress in recent years. She is chic, practical and adventurous – diagonally opposite to what Omanakkuttan is. It shouldn’t baffle you when she decides to befriend Omanakkuttan – who is groping in a ‘Who-Am-I situation’ – instead of taking him to police. She is, after all, a person in search of the unknown, working in one of the quirkiest fields of studies ever – Parapsychology. She isn’t easily scared, and when her (fake) wedding to Omanakkuttan is ruined, all she is worried about is that her furious father would now refuse to part with her share of family properties. There is no run-of-mill back story, or shots to celebrate her pretty face and weirdness. Instead, the film treats her as an organic part of the universe where Omanakkuttan lives.
Actor Siddique, these days, is in every other new release in Malayalam film industry. And he is brilliant in every role that he plays. Last week, he was Dulquer’s stern, yet affectionate father, a staunch Congress man, in Amal Neerad’s CIA. His presence is what makes Achayans, a below-average comedy flick that hit the screens this weekend, slightly watchable. In Adventures Of Omanakkuttan, he is Chandrasekhar, a petty criminal-turned-businessman whose struggles for survival makes for some rib-tickling scenes. Aju Varghese plays Shivraj Kumar, a former boyfriend of Pallavi, who goes all out to take revenge when she chooses Omanakkuttan over him. Varghese has an excellent comic timing, and he puts to use his rather amusing body-language to complement Siddique in their combination scenes.
Arul Muraleedharan’s background score is seamless, although it might remind one of Santhosh Narayanan’s work in Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum. Akhil George’s camerawork is neat, without trying to overpower the narration. There are several shots worth remembering. Like the one where the camera settles into the face of a nervous Omanakkuttan, clutching onto his office bag, standing in a street corner.
Adventures Of Omanakkuttan, in spite of losing its track in the tail end of the first half, and ending up slightly long-drawn, is a promising directorial debut of a filmmaker who wishes to travel an offbeat track. The humour is natural, emotions that play out are authentic, and the characters appear to be from a real space. If for nothing else, Adventures Of Omanakkuttan deserves to be watched for its heartwarming genuineness.
The Adventures of Omanakkuttan (AOM)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.
Director Kannan Thamarakkulam’s Achayans is a crime-comedy. This genre name might sound baffling. The crime is that the makers call this two-and-half hour long video a movie. And the comedy – the audience are tricked into watching it for its star-studded cast.
Four upper-class Christian brothers, Roy (Jayaram), Rafi (Sanju Sivaram), Tony (Unni Mukundan) and Aby (Adil Muhammad), embark on a journey to booze, fornicate, and party. Their family members are under the assumption that they are in an alcohol rehabilitation centre run by a christian priest, Father Jose (Ramesh Pisharody). Tony, a staunch alcoholic, lazy and unemployable guy, is soon to be married to Jessica (Shivada), a rich girl who is head over heels (and unreasonably) in love with him. Roy is a bachelor whose business empire is built on marijuana cultivation, illegal timber export, and other crimes. Another strong addition to his job resume is his strong network of female friends who run brothels in nooks and corners of the country. Most of the women you come across in this film are either former or practicing sex workers who are friends with Roy. Aby is a member of a local political party founded and led by, wait for it, PC George! The latter even makes an appearance and turns it into one of the few watchable scenes in the entire film.
The four brothers come across Prayaga (Anu Sithara) and Reetha (Amala Paul), two women on a Harley Davidson bike, at a disco bar. The women clash with a bunch of sexual predators, and the brothers interfere to save the duo. Weird enough, in a preceding scene, you see the brothers visiting a brothel run by an acquaintance of Roy. Tony, the only virgin in the group, hopes to learn some tricks on bed from a young prostitute, but in the process, he breaks her spine. It is in this bunch of men Prayaga and Reetha confide in. A night later, Reetha is found dead, and police commissioner Karthi (Prakash Raj) lands to investigate the case.
For anyone who was under the impression that Fazil’s Harikrishnans is the clumsiest crime-drama ever made in Malayalam cinema, Achayans is a shocker. The investigation part is utterly inane, and you couldn’t care less about the twist in the plot. To make it worse, Achayans is homophobic and lacks any understanding of human psychology or criminology. Reetha is an alcoholic, and the scenes of her with a bottle in hand are shot like it is apocalypse – with dramatic settings, lights and dialogues. The men are rarely seen sober, and their drunken banter are celebrated as ‘bromance moments’.
In the background, there is a steady track of what the film believes to be comedy. Most of the film’s jokes involve leching and passing lewd comments at women. Jayaram enthusiastically hams it up, while the rest of the cast awkwardly take part.
The saving grace in this mess is Siddique who plays Fernandes, Reetha’s grieving father. The level of poignancy in the scene where he tells Prakash Raj that Reetha was his only daughter must have left even Mr. Thamarakkulam stunned, for a performance as superior as this just doesn’t belong to the mediocre film Achayans is.
Achayans is a movie that instigates horror on audience’s senses. It doesn’t display the slightest hint of cinematic value or a meritorious content.
The Achayansreview 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.
Dhyan Sreenivasan played a dimwitted youngster named Laalu in Kunjiramayanam, director Basil Joseph’s debut film. Laalu would grin from ear to ear in the most inappropriate situations, and falls in love with every girl who paid him some attention. Basil’s second film, Godha, is a cinematic version of Laalu. When the situation calls for some wit and reasoning, it cracks the lamest jokes. It displays a peculiar talent to reduce even the gravest case into a pool of silly mess. Godha handles the potential subject in its hand like how Laalu handles his relationships.
Actress Wamiqa Gabbi plays Aditi Singh, a young and ambitious wrestler from Punjab, in Godha. Some 40 minutes into the film, she is in a Kerala village, training under a veteran wrestler, Captain (Ranji Panikker) who is determined to turn her into a champion. You see her running through the village lanes and paddy fields, as all the men in the village stand gaping at her. There is a song in the sequence with lyrics that go, “Her body is to die for” and “She is quite belligerent, but she has a pretty face.” For anyone who had thought Godha is a sports-drama, as its title might suggest, here is Basil Joseph clearing the air for once and confirming that it is nothing but a pervert drama. A woman is put in the centre of narration so that the film can pass loud remarks at her, drool over her body, fair complexion and almond eyes, and reduce this athlete into an eye-candy.
There is some crisis in the background. Like any woman from an ordinary middle-class Indian family, Singh is waging a tiring war against her own family members to realise her dreams to make big in the field of sports. In the village, a group of veteran wrestlers, led by Captain, is struggling to stay relevant at an age when all the youngsters around them are busy watching cricket matches on television and occasionally, playing gully cricket. Alongside, there is also a decently-done coming-of-age tale of a loafer, Aanjaneya Das (Tovino Thomas), who discovers an aim in life.
However, the film’s real ambitions lie elsewhere. For the most part, it is a comedy woven around Singh’s presence in this sexually frustrated Malayalee village. Worse still, the jokes it cracks fit only in an amateur high-school skit.
The film begins as Aditi’s story. A daughter of a wrestler in rural Punjab, she trains under her very supportive father to be the village’s only woman wrestler. However, her victory run is cut short as her stern brother takes charge of the family after her father’s death. She befriends Aanjaneya Das, an unexceptional young man who lands in a Punjab university for higher studies. To escape from marrying a man her brother chose for her, Singh runs away to Das’ native village, and there, his father, Captain, takes her under his wings.
There is a curious scene in the initial portion of the film, right after Das’s first encounter with Aditi. She barely knows him, and already treats him with disdain. But the romantically deprived Das is smitten. After watching her fighting at a wrestling match in the college, he tells her something that roughly translates to, “That’s so not how you land after delivering a punch. You should have done this instead of doing that.” She is instantly impressed.
That this guy, who quit the wrestling ring in his early teenage, knows the game better than Singh, a staunch professional, is bizarre, but not surprising for anyone who understands how much popular cinema loves mansplaining. The film handles this woman like a delicate child who needs attention, protection, and guidance from men. Rename her as Hansika Motwani and you get a mini-thesis on what helps north-Indian women win Kollywood over.
In Godha, Singh hardly has to make an effort to impress the people in her new surroundings. There aren’t enough shots and scenes that back her claims of being a talented wrestler. But everything magically turns in her favour, for this shorthand that Basil employs – Fair skin and good looks. Her biggest professional rival is Pinto, a Delhiite whom the film treats bitterly. Compared to Singh, Pinto is a plain Jane (brown skin and average built). It’s easily a black and white situation for the audience to decide whom to root for. According to the film, Pinto is a cunning schemer in the wrestling ring (Oh, such a sin!) and Aditi, the good woman who deserves to win every match that she is in.
However, Godha bears some silver-linings. The neatly written character arc of Das, for one, is laudable. It’s understandable why Das is the way he is, and why he wants to be different. It’s heartening that he decides to walk away and work hard when Aditi spurns his romantic advances, instead of screaming at her about his bruised masculine pride. Also, there is Parvathy playing Captain’s wife, a no-nonsense and gutsy woman with some fine sense of humour. Her spirited performance makes the film a little brighter.
Of every feeble element in the film, cinematographer Vishnu Sharma’s camera is the weakest one. It’s shaky and clumsy. The colours are inconsistent. The indoors are lit up like it’s a theater play. Shaan Rahman’s music evokes a lot of déjà vu. For one, the song ‘Wow‘ bears uncanny resemblance to Thattathin Marayathu‘s Muthuchippy Poloru.
Among the actors, Wamiqa’s performance stands out. She has got the right looks, and plays her part with aplomb. Ranji Panikker’s portrayal of the angry old wrestler is neat yet unintentionally funny, for the character is patchily written. Tovino Thomas has improved immensely as an actor. He convincingly portrays the simpleton villager who is clueless about life.
Nevertheless, for Malayalam cinema, Godha is an opportunity wasted. It could have been a gripping sports drama, a poignant relationship drama or at least, a sensible slapstick comedy. But Basil’s decision to revel in mediocrity pulls down the film to a superficial and forgettable commercial flick that stays loyal to nothing.
The Godha 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.
For the first time in the Malayalam film industry, a women’s collective is being formed. According to a Southlive news report, actress Manju Warrier, national award-winning editor Beena Paul, filmmaker Vidhu Vincent, and actresses Rima Kallingal and Sajitha Madathil are the founding members of this organisation.
“We can’t share any detail at this moment since nothing is finalized yet. We have started brainstorming. We will be meeting the chief minister today evening,” Beena Paul told Silverscreen.in.
A press note will be released soon, she added.
Earlier, on March 8, 2017, on the occasion of women’s day, an organisation of women cinematographers in India was formed, called the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective (IWCC), and under the leadership of veteran cinematographer Fowsia Fathima.
The news of the formation of a women’s collective in Mollywood comes at a crucial time as it was just two months ago, on February 20, 2017, that a leading actress was abducted and molested in Kochi.
Manju Warrier, who is one of the most formidable stars in the Malayalam film industry at the moment, was one of the actors who took a strong stand on the issue, even as Mollywood’s official actors’ Association AMMA (Association Of Malayalam Movie Actors), advised women members to avoid travelling alone, in the wake of the incident.
Subsequently, many artistes, including actress Sajitha Madathil, slammed the Association’s stance. “This has left me without a hope… Is AMMA saying that the safety of a woman artiste, who is working day and night, is not the association’s responsibility? Isn’t it the responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of its employees in work-spaces?” asked Sajitha Madathil in a Facebook post. “It hurts to see an organisation in Kerala taking such a regressive anti-women stance in 2017!”
“Do you believe in the notion of a happy family?” I asked Koji Fakuda, the Japanese director who made Harmonium, a gripping drama which is still making waves at film festivals across the world.
It was February 2017, and the press screening of the film at the International Film Festival Of Rotterdam had just concluded. “I am not sure, “he said. “But there is something I am sure about. Contrary to popular belief, a normal family life doesn’t always make a person feel less lonely. They might be sharing a house, food and a routine life; but it’s possible that each person in the family is emotionally isolated in a certain way,” he said.
Harmonium is the dark tale of an ordinary middle-class Japanese family living in a sleepy countryside. The opening scene has a little girl, Hotaru, practicing piano, with her father Toshio and mother Aki at the breakfast table, listening (or not). The setting appears calm and normal. The family don’t look too excited about life. Nor is there any visible gloom. They are like the people you run into on the street – nondescript, without a past worth a filmic narration.
One morning, Yasaka, an old friend of Toshio’s arrives, dressed in a spotless white shirt. Slowly, he encroaches into Toshio’s uneventful life, and all too soon, the family is overturned by the knowledge of Toshio’s hidden past, a rape attempt, and adultery.
Fakuda exposes the complexities of human life through this tragedy that swallows Toshio’s family.
Michele Haneke’s White Ribbon is a masterpiece about how a series of crimes that happened in a German village predicted the Nazi rule and Holocaust. The most chilling scene in the film has a little boy climbing down the stairs in the middle of the night, calling out to his elder sister, only to find her on their father’s bed. The girl gently asks him to go back. The film unfolds through a junior teacher’s quest to understand why a peaceful society would implode, through a series of violent incidents like this one.
Even as most crime stories are set around working-class protagonists, or else framed as high-profile crimes orchestrated by gangster lords from the elite class, tales of the criminal tendencies of the middle-class are rarely talked about. These are the people who self-identify as law-abiding and upstanding citizens. They are the ones who routinely indulge in crimes like tax evasion, shoplifting, and traffic violations.
As American criminologist Edwin Sutherland notes, the crime of the middle classes was under-reported and understudied for a long time. “The working class committed crimes such as murder and burglary which can be blamed on poverty or psychology. Middle class criminals are educated, intelligent and well-off. They commit crime because they have access to large sums of money and can trick people,” wrote Sutherland.
“The middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming,” said Aaron Cicourel, professor emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, in his 1968 research paper, “Power and The Negotiation of Justice”.
In India, there is a curious dearth of films about the violence that unfolds in an ordinary middle-class family. In fact, the notion of a “happy family” is the backdrop of nearly every mainstream Indian movie. A film like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) set the trend for grand displays of the joys of belonging to a family. At the other end of the spectrum is a film like Damini(1993), where every kind of physical, emotional, and mental pressure is brought on a woman to ensure that she remains silent about the abuse and violence within. Damini, in which rape, torture, and murder of a woman is more acceptable than public shame (by speaking of these very things), set no trends.
Probably the only Indian movie comparable with White Ribbon is auteur KG George’s 1985 film Irakal (Victims) where corruption and suppressed tensions in the middle-class family of a powerful rubber baron (Thilakan) threaten to overflow when the youngest scion, Baby, turns into a psychotic murderer.
Irakal shows what can lie behind the happy and prosperous façade of family life that is so frequently built up – something terrible and rotting. Actor-politician Ganeshan played the protagonist in Irakal. The waves of turbulence the family had been constantly pushing beneath the carpet come out when Ganeshan, with the disarming name ‘Baby’, launches into a series of murders in their village. The film ends when the patriarch, played by actor Thilakan, shoots him down in an attempt to weed out the rogue seed.
“George sir got the idea of the film while watching Indira Gandhi’s funeral on TV,” says Lijin Jose, director of Cinemayile Mattoraal, a documentary film based on George’s life and works. “George sir transplanted the story of the Gandhi family – how power corrupted Sanjay Gandhi and led him to do the political crimes he is known to have committed – to an affluent Christian family in Kerala. It’s a powerful script that talks of the violence underlying the relationship between the characters in that family, and within each characters.”
“The dark days of the Emergency were right behind us; the violent image of Sanjay Gandhi and the family inspired the film,” recalled Mr. George, as quoted by The Hindu.
Lijin says, “Irakal is so layered that no one has studied it in entirely yet. It cannot be retold in any other culture or circumstances. The film is so entwined with the sociopolitical affairs of its surroundings. The vast rubber plantations and isolated houses inside them add to the eerie mood.
“There is a scene where Ashokan and Ganeshan smoke ganja inside the plantation. Ganeshan stares at the rubber trees and wonders if the latex is really red in colour, like human blood. The history of exploitation of Dalits and the working class by the brutal plantation owners is so vividly expressed in that line. I see the violence in Baby and his siblings as a reaction to the crimes committed by his father – a cruel, greedy and corrupt planter – to people and nature.”
There is also a general perception of village life as peaceful and idyllic, compared to life in cities, because the former has a tighter and stronger familial setup. This prejudice that happy, close-knitted families do not manufacture criminals is the myth that KG George tried to break through Irakal.
Years later, Jeethu Joseph would explore the criminal tendencies of middle-class families through his film Drishyam, in which an ordinary, under-educated cable operator brilliantly covers up a brutal crime committed by his family.
“Though I don’t look at Drishyam as a crime drama, many people have interpreted it to be so,” said Jeethu Joseph. “For me, it’s a man’s struggle to protect his daughter from the hands of law. He has to outsmart a very clever mother, who is a police officer, who is doing everything she can to find her son,” he said. “Every person has the capacity to be a criminal, if he wants to. Georgekutty is usually a law-abiding citizen, like any middle-class family head. He wants to stay away from troubles.”
When Georgekutty breaks the law by covering up the crime, he doesn’t think he has done anything wrong. Instead, he blames the system for offering no security to him and his family. Drishyam, while being a tight-paced thriller, is an excellent study of the middle-class state of mind.
Imitaz Ali’s Highway had a protagonist who is haunted by the memories of being sexually abused as a child by a close relative. There is a poignant moment in the climax portion of the film in which Veera (Alia Bhatt) reveals the horrifying memories, and confronts the man who committed the crime in front of the whole family. However, the family members shake their heads in disbelief, because how on earth could a well-off highly reputed family as theirs produce such a criminal? It’s Damini again, where denial and suppression are the family’s only way to forge forward.
Monsoon Wedding, which came before Highway, has an even more realistic and complex portrayal of an incident of child abuse in a middle-class household in Delhi. About that film, director Mira Nair had said that she wanted to make a Bollywood film in her own way – and therein lies the distinction.
For in every other way, Monsoon Wedding is the quintessential Bollywood film. It has quick, overflowing comedy, scenes full of colour, characters on the verge of singing and dancing, the hero and heroine meeting at a grand Indian wedding. And yet, it is not mainstream. It doesn’t hide the horrors that can lie behind the brouhaha and bonhomie. Nor does it excuse it.
Like last year and the year before last, India will have no major representation at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival that will open on May 17 and go on till May 28.
Only two films – Payal Kapadia’s short film, Afternoon Clouds, a Film and Television Institute of India student production, and Village Rockstars, a short film in post production, by Assam’s Rima Das – have been selected for Cannes from India this year. The former will be part of the section for film school projects, while the latter will be part of a new work-in-progress section at the film market.
Interestingly, India had planned to make its presence felt at the Cannes Film Festival this year, to mark the 70th year of India’s independence coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Cannes Film Festival. A high-level Indian delegation, led by information and broadcasting minister, M Venkaiah Naidu, and the National Film Development Corporation had been planning to set up a film market at the festival, which is one of the most influential film industry destinations in the world. However, after the official selections for the festival were announced on April 13, India cancelled its programme at Cannes.
Last year, Bollywood films like Raman Raghav 2.0, directed by Anurag Kashyap, and Sarabjit, directed by Omung Kumar, premiered at sidebar events of Cannes.
This time, SS Rajamouli’s Baahubaliwill be screened at the Marché du Film, a film market event taking place alongside the festival. The sidebar screenings are held outside the Palais Des Festivals,the centre of all the festival action, including official screenings, press and market interactions. In the past, several Indian film makers like Mani Ratnam (Guru), Rajkumar Hirani (Lage Raho Munnabhai) and Sanjal Leela Bhansali (Black) have attended a Cannes premiere, hoping to bring their films to more international audiences.
India’s brighter moments at Cannes:
In 1946, the first year of the Cannes Film Festival, Neecha Nagar, a Hindi language film directed by Chetan Anand, won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film. In 1955, the festival introduced Palme d’Or, replacing the Grand Prix du Festival.
1955: Baby Naaz, a child actress who acted in Prakash Aurora’s Hindi film, Boot Polish, received a Special Mention (child actress).
1956: Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali won the Best Human Document Award. In the same year, Gotoma the Buddha, by Rajbans Khanna, won a Special Mention for Best Direction.
1983: Mrinal Sen’s directorial Kharij, won the Jury Prize.
1988: Mira Nair’s Oscar-nominated film, Salaam Bombay! won the Caméra d’Or (“Golden Camera”).
1989: Shaji N Karun’s Malayalam film, Piravi, won the Caméra d’Or – Mention Spéciale.
1999: Marana Simhasanam, a Malayalam film directed by Murali Nair, received the Caméra d’Or Award.
2002: Manish Jha’s short film, A Very Very Silent Film, won the Jury Award in the Competition section.
2006: Gitanjali Rao’s animated short film, Painted Rainbow, won the Grand Rail d’Or Audience Award, Kodak Discovery Award, and Young Critics Award for Best Short Film.
The 2013 Cannes Film Festival coincided with 100 Years of Indian Cinema, and India was the official guest country.
2013: Ritesh Batra’s The Lunch Box won the Grand Rail d’Or Audience Award.
2015: Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan was screened in the Un Certain Regard category and won two awards – the FIPRESCI Prize and the Promising Future Award.
Ranjith Shankar’s Ramante Eden Thottam (Raman’s Garden Of Eden)is a romantic-drama centred around an introverted and submissive danseuse, Malini (Anu Sithara). The story is about how she is stuck in an abusive marriage, and decides to stand up for herself and embrace life. The film showers a lot of affection on her, almost as if this is Shankar’s way of apologising for his last film, a mediocre, perverse horror-comedy, Pretham.
In a surprising deviation from Ranjith Shankar’s usual style, the love story at the heart of the film is rebellious and heartening. Raman (Kunchacko Boban), a 40-year-old widower who runs an eco-resort called Eden inside a forest in Wagamon, is a metaphor for the nature that nurtures and inspires everyone who stays close to it. And Kunchacko Boban, with those flowing locks, gentle demeanour and earth-toned clothes, rightly looks like someone who has discovered the essence of life and happiness.
When Malini, married and mother to a 10-year old, arrives at Eden with her family for a short vacation, Raman falls in love with her. And hell doesn’t break loose. Instead, the film celebrates a relationship that doesn’t fit any conventional definitions.
There is an interesting scene in which Varma (Ramesh Pisharody), Raman’s friend, confronts Raman about his relationship with Malini. Raman is sitting by a campfire, playing a tune that Malini was heard singing a while ago on his guitar. “You have feeling for that woman. Don’t you?” asks Varma. “No,” Raman replies. “You don’t?” he asks again, and this time, Raman says, “Yes,” almost like a reflex, with a tint of playfulness. You expect the film to warn him of the consequences of falling in love with a married woman. Another film might have made Varmaji say, “This is wrong. She is a wife and more importantly, a mother.” But in Ramante Eden Thottam, everything is fair in love.
Kamal’s Meghamalhar was the last Malayalam movie that portrayed the forbidden allure of extra-marital relationships. However, in Meghamalhaar, Nanditha (Samyuktha Varma) is nervous and guilty for falling love with Rajeev (Biju Menon), while the latter is carefree and happy. The female in Kamal’s unconventional love-story adheres to conventions, while the man enjoys a superior status.
In Ramante Eden Thottam, love binds them both, making them happier and livelier than ever. It helps Malini rediscover the artiste in her, and it prompts Raman to set up a mobile tower inside his Eden, so that he can exchange sweet and short text messages with her. They yearn for each other’s presence, and the film embraces the sensuousness of their relationship. It’s as much a physical desire as it is platonic.
There is a sequence in which Malini comes down to Eden unaccompanied, reminiscent of a scene from Aniruddha Roy Chowdhuri’s Anuronan. This sequence is full of laughter and love, without a sense of foreboding. The film’s most beautiful song “Akale Oru Kaadinte“ plays in this part, lending the background for Malini’s breakaway from a monotonous life, towards something meaningful and enriching.
Joju Joseph plays Elvis, Malini’s husband and a scion of an illustrious cinema production family. A trained civil engineer, he chose to produce movies even though he knows nothing of cinema or art, because it seemed like an easy business. Even while building up reasons for the audience to despise this man who treats his wife like she is a domesticated animal, there are sympathetic scenes that portray his despair. Ranjith Shankar’s film chooses not to hate Elvis, even when he stoops to becoming a wife-beating criminal.
For the most part, Ramante Eden Thottam belongs to Madhu Neelakantan, the cinematographer who breathes life into the film’s characters and spaces. Like the nondescript yet unforgettable opening sequence, in which Malini is recording a video for Raman while driving her car through a near-empty road at night. He blends the street lights and the myriad colours of the night to create a visual that hints at how beautiful and complicated the duo’s romance is.
The writing wavers from top-notch to something written by an ambitious high-school child. The initial conversations between Malini and Raman at Eden would corroborate this. The clumsiness of the lines are particularly jarring because everything else on screen – the good-looking actors, the ethereal mountain and the forest that surrounds it – looks picture perfect.
The actors are great. Kunchacko Boban’s Raman might come across as a I-Know-It-All man at first, but soon Malini takes over the narrative, and he is, thankfully, reduced to his normal vulnerable self. Kunchacko plays it with aplomb. Even better is Anu Sithara’s portrayal of the suffering wife. The actress’ background in classical dance is an added advantage.
However, it’s Joju Joseph’s performance that is the most nuanced and layered one. He makes you understand Elvis’s frustrations, which, had it been portrayed by a less talented actor, would have been a run-of-the-mill villain role with some familiar dark shades.
Ramante Eden Thottam is a movie that stays loyal and empathetic to its unconventional romantic genre. If the film signals Ranjith Shankar’s growth as a filmmaker and a writer, Mollywood should rejoice, for it displays the maturity that the age demands.
The Ramante Eden Thottamreview 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.
Anzar Khan’s Lakshyam is a crime thriller starring Biju Menon and Indrajith Sukumaran, with screenplay by Jeethu Joseph.
That Jeethu Joseph is a lover of stories of crime and retribution is no secret. His best films – Drishyam and Memories – are woven around crimes. The characters are masterminds who intelligently execute carefully chalked out plans. And Joseph knows how to spice up the story with the right twists and turns.
But what goes wrong – often – is his inept handling of the cinematic medium. Despite his storytelling skills, on screen the dialogues often sound contrived. This is true even for Drishyam, arguably his masterpiece.
Lakshyam has an interesting story at its core. Two men, as different as chalk and cheese, are trapped together. They can survive, but only if they cooperate with each other. The police is hot on their heels, the alternative is an unknown jungle, and somehow, they have to escape.
And then, one of them realises that the other is his real enemy. The danger intensifies.
But what lets the film down is Jeethu Joseph’s screenplay. It clumsily moves on from one bad scene to another. The film is laden with dutch angle shots that neither make a point nor add to the aesthetics.
Despite a promising beginning and premise, when the film ends and we look back, there’s nothing memorable to take home.
Lakshyam unfolds inside a dense, dark forest. A police vehicle tumbles down a mountain road into a thick forest; its parts rolling away one by one. A wireless exchange between police personnel plays in the background. This is a fatal accident that might have no survivors.
But two men escape unhurt – Mustafa (Biju Menon), a seasoned criminal, and Vimal (Indrajith), a convicted murderer. They were en route to court when the accident occurred.
Even as the police comb the forest for them, the men argue about whether to escape or whether to go back to the police. Mustafa, a suspect in a minor theft case, feels it’s better to return than spend three days and four nights inside the forest, trying to find a way out. Vimal, however, is determined not to go back. He claims that he has been wrongly convicted for murdering his lover.
Handcuffed to each other, the men have no option but to agree to a single course of action.
At first, there are riveting moments as these two men, from entirely different social backgrounds, are forced to act like conjoined twins.
Vimal complains about the stench when Mustafa squats over a stream to take a dump, humming film songs. He wonders aloud if Mustafa can ever keep his mouth shut; to which Mustafa replies that an illiterate petty thief like himself can improve his general knowledge only through conversations with other people.
But the interest these scenes spark is short-lived. Soon enough, Vimal’s past unfurls in a dull flashback sequence. The screenplay at this point reveals too much too quickly, and renders the story weak and predictable. The film is based on a tragic event, but it’s hard for the audience to hold anyone responsible for it.
To keep the momentum going, however, Joseph inserts some nightmare sequences. In one such scene, Mustafa dreams of Vimal attacking him with a stone, only to wake up and let out a sigh of relief. It’s meant to build tension with ‘could-have-been-this-way’ possibilities, but falls flat.
Minutes into the film, the two protagonists engage in a lengthy conversation inside a forest. They are fully aware that a massive police force is searching for them, and might arrive at any moment. Yet, there is no sense of urgency or tension in the men. They stand straight and mouth their lines as if in a stage play.
Too often, the film loses sight of the genre it’s working within.
Among the actors, Biju Menon outperforms his co-star, Indrajith, whose dialogue delivery and body-language are stiff without a hint of improvisation. Menon looks natural and at ease, adding another laudable performance to his recent highly-acclaimed ones.
Lakshyam is a film that begins well, but dies out before reaching its destination. Jeethu Joseph, it would seem, hasn’t learned from his Oozham debacle.
The Lakshyamreview 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.
When we speak, Kunchacko Boban is on the sets of Anil Radhakrshna’s Diwanjimoola Grandprix, a comedy drama in which he’s playing the lead role. For a film set, it’s unusually quiet in the background. “I’ll be flying to Dubai today after shoot,” he says. The next day, his Facebook page – with more than a million followers, has a post from the event that he had attended. A picture with singer Yesudas who also appears to have joined Chakkochan for Emirates’ ‘Walk For Autism’ in Dubai.
“Are you scared of growing old?” is one of the first questions I pose to Kunchakkko Boban during our conversation. He laughs, and says he is not. “I was always prepared. I am fully aware of the fact that I am not a chocolate hero anymore.”
A scion of the Alappuzha-based family that founded and run Udaya Studios, one of the oldest film production houses in the country, Kunchakko Boban’s film entry was destined to happen. It was through his family friend Fazil’s sugary romantic drama, Aniyathipraavu in 1997, that he began his career.
Aniyathipraavu became a huge commercial success, and was followed by films like Nakshathrathaarattu, Niram and Mayilpeelikkavu, which made Chakkochan one of the most successful Mollywood stars in late 90s and early 2000s. He was a teenage idol. The Hero Splendor bike that he used in Aniyathipraavu became a rage among the youth, and his face was on every magazine cover, school name-slips and slam-books. As legend has it, every week, the postal department would bring to his family house in Alappuzha letters from his female fans in gunny-bags.
“I was at the peak of my career when I was in my twenties. I played roles which required me to roam around on a stylish motorbike, dance to romantic tunes… I took a break from cinema when I finally got tired of it,” he says.
The actor, after starring in a number of mediocre romantic dramas, vanished from the industry in 2005, only to reemerge in 2008 with films like Traffic, Take Off, Ordinary and Vettah.
“When I finally returned to cinema, I was determined to choose roles more wisely. I wanted to reinvent myself as an actor. Not as a star. It’s paying off. Now I play smaller roles – character roles, and those with negative shades. This part of my career is more creatively satisfying. Age isn’t a barrier for the actor that I am. I have already tamed my age.”
Diwanjimoola is a nondescript place that lies behind a railway station in Thrissur. The film, written by Prasanth Nair IAS, former collector of Kozhikkode, is about the cultural and social scenes in Thrissur, and about the famous bike-racing festival in the region.
“It’s a lighthearted film,” says Chakkochan. “I play Sajan Joseph, an IAS officer…”
A character that’s quite reminiscent of the one he played in Lohithadas’s State Award winning film, Kasthoooriman. Chakkochan was an IAS officer in the film, who was also curiously named Sajan Joseph Alukka.
“It’s not a spin-off,” he assures, “Sajan comes to Thrissur on his first job posting, The film is about how he handles the issues and complaints that come to him. Prasanth wrote the script with a personal touch, although you can’t say it’s biographical. Sajan is not called ‘Collector Bro’, which is how Prasanth is known across the state (laughs). He was on the sets to help me with the character,” Chakkochan says, “This is the first time I am playing an IAS officer on screen.”
In Kasthooriman, he had worked towards becoming one. The 2003 movie, also starring Meera Jasmine, was a box-office hit. Chakkochan’s last release, Take Off, a multi-starrer, was a critical and commercial success as well. But the ones that had released earlier weren’t well-received.
“A lot of films that I was confident about bit the dust at box-office,” Chakkochan recalls, “I try to move on. I don’t want to lie that failures don’t affect me. I’d rather look straight than stare at the rear-view mirror.”
Silverscreen: But, there must have been a time when a movie that you felt good about failed to attract distributors or didn’t get marketed well.
Chakkochan: To blame a film’s failure on marketing and distribution is bad excuse. Ultimately, a film wins the box-office if it is good. I believe that the biggest publicity is by word-of-mouth. For instance, Vellimoonga had a very low profile at the time of its release. It was only after the initial couple of days that the film started to draw crowds. Of course, it is not the same about all the films. Sometimes, careful and intelligent marketing can change the fate of a film. But to blame a film’s failure on poor marketing isn’t fair.
Having revived your home production company, Udaya Studios last year, with Kochouvva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho, how many scripts do you listen to in a day, really?
I usually dedicate a whole day to listen to a script, if I feel it has got the potential. Sometimes, I listen to a bad script and ruin my entire day (laughs). I don’t usually listen to scripts during shoot. It’s not something you should do in haste.
I had been looking for the right script to re-launch Udaya. It was a relatively small film, with a simple and sweet subject. It gave me decent returns and immense goodwill. I am happy with that. I want to produce an out-and-out commercial film next. A big budget film with sensible content. I make it a point to avoid sexist, double meaning dialogues in my films, as an actor and as a producer. Even if I don’t mention it in my contract, the people who work with me avoid such things since they know the kind of person I am, and the kind of characters I play the best.
You are also known to be a good businessman.
I am not sure what your definition of a good businessman is (laughs). I am misunderstood to be good at business, but in fact, I am not. On the contrary, I am an emotional overload, sometimes. I have been able to do well in the field of real estate due to sheer luck, I would say. I cry at films. Sometimes, a lot that my wife teases me.
Your character in How Old Are You was an utterly sexist and selfish husband. In Traffic and Vettah, you were a shrewd murderer… and yet, despite the number of other roles that you have done, only the not-so-nice ones were appreciated.
My character in How Old Are You is quite the opposite of what I am in real life. A man who is mean to his wife, and treats her with contempt and jealousy when she is on the verge of achieving something. After I finished dubbing for the film, I told Rosshan Andrews that Rajeev didn’t sound like me at all. It surprised me that I could pull off that character. But ultimately, that’s what actors are supposed to do, right? Cinema is team work. I am glad that such characters, of great depth and possibilities, are coming to me these days. In those two movies, the characters were well-appreciated because the films were good.
Does acting still excite you, after 20 years in the industry?
Yes, of course. I get to meet new people, work in a new place, and be a new character with every new film. Other professions do not offer such fine opportunities. You get to live your dream. Every day is an exciting day. That’s one reason why actors stay young longer than others.
In Take Off, one of the most critically acclaimed Malayalam films in recent time, you played a male nurse named Shahid. Your character was secondary, while Parvathy played the protagonist. Reports say that you did not want any compensation for working on the film.
Take Off was for my friend, (late) Rajesh Pillai. I didn’t mind working for no compensation in his film because he has done much bigger things for me. Some of the best roles that I have done in the second phase of my career were in films centred around a woman. Lal Jose’s Elsamma Enna Aankutty broke my image as an urbane romantic hero. I played a simple milkman living in an Idukki village. My characters in Kasturimaan and How Old Are You were secondary roles. Those films belonged to Meera Jasmine and Manju Warrier (respectively). I am not averse to working in films that do not treat me as a hero.
What really happened with Roman? Producer Arun Ghosh had accused you of trying to interfere in the production of the film, and also demanding a huge sum of money in addition to your remuneration.
It’s still in the court, so I can’t speak anything about it. The people with whom I have worked so far would corroborate that I am not a person the other party project has me to be. Every director I have worked with has wanted to work with me again.
Do you have a favourite genre of films?
As an ordinary member of the audience, I love comedy. My favourite kind of films are light-hearted, fun films that help me relax. I guess that’s what a majority of the audience look for. Take Off, in spite of being an excellent film, might not collect from the box-office the sum that a film like Pullippuliyum Aattinkuttiyum earned. The film garnered great reviews.
As a producer, I want to produce films that I love to watch. Sensible and humorous films that would help the audience forget the stressful reality for sometime.
Have you ever tried re-watching your old films like Aniyathyipraavu and Niram?
Yes. I watch them sometimes when I am alone. It’s embarrassing (laughs). I know I wasn’t good enough. I could have played those roles way better. It’s not a secret that I used to be a mediocre actor.
Mid-2000s were a hard time for you, with films failing back to back. And, you vanished from the industry in 2005.
Experience counts, right? The things I have learned and experienced in my personal life have helped me mature as an actor. I think I have become more professional. I am able to understand my characters in a better way than before. I get involved in script discussions, sometimes right from its inception. Hard work has helped me in a big way. There were people who said I couldn’t do humour. It was difficult for me initially, but over the years, I proved them wrong. In films like Pullippuliyum Aattinkuttiyum, Romans and Ordinary, I pulled off humour, quite successfully. Now, my thrill is in taking up roles that I wouldn’t have dared to pick up a decade ago, and delivering them well. I would like to work with people with diverse tastes – like Rajeev Ravi, for instance, who creates raw, realistic characters I have rarely played before.
You were a part of Traffic, the movie that pioneered the so-called new generation cinema in Malayalam. Being a person who started his career in 90s, how does it feel to be a part of the new generation of Malayalam cinema?
Malayalam cinema is way different from what it used to be in the 90s, as you can see. I was lucky enough to be a part of many important films which can be regarded as milestones. Like Traffic, and now, Take Off. Thus, I am able to keep pace with the changes in Mollywood. The level of perfection in the scripting, acting and production departments of Take Off are of international standards. It was a learning experience for me. I am lucky to be offered opportunities to reinvent myself at this stage in my career.
Ramante Eden Thottam was shot in a span of 27 days. Take Off was shot in less than 55 days. What made it possible?
Take Off is even bigger an achievement than Ramante, considering the scale of the movie. Usually, the film would have taken 90 days or more. If we could wrap that up in 55 days, completing a much smaller movie like Ramante Eden Thottam in two weeks is a much smaller feat. It unfolds in just a couple of locations, narrates a lighter subject, with a small cast.
If the director is sure about what to shoot and what not to shoot, it’s not a difficult task to wrap up a movie without much delay. Mahesh was such a filmmaker and scriptwriter. That he is also a seasoned editor came as an advantage. Same goes for Ranjith Shankar, although his style of filmmaking is different.
Ramante Eden Thottam is about sustainable living. My character, Raman, is a man in his forties, who runs a beautiful resort in a mountain. The film revolves around the characters who visit this resort, and their life and their takeaways from this serene space. What urban life does to people and their personal relationships is also discussed in the film. It will be one of the best works of veteran cinematographer Madhu Neelakantan. Madhu chettan loves forests and mountains. He would effortlessly climb the rocks, trek through the toughest routes with his camera. He was excited, and that has reflected in the film’s camerawork too. His work in Ramante Eden Thottam will be drastically different from that of Annayum Rasoolum or Kammattippadom.
I know him from the time he was working as an assistant cameraman in my film, Ingane Oru Nilapakshi. When people refer to him as a veteran, I am reminded of all the time that has passed. It’s a great feeling, nevertheless, to work with people you started out with. We have a lot of subjects to talk about, and are very much in sync.
Are you an introvert in real life?
I am definitely not an extrovert. I don’t enjoy crowds much. But I am easy-going enough to not be bothered by crowds on film sets. Even in the beginning of my career, when I was 20, I really enjoyed being the centre of attention. The letters, fanfare and media attention never bothered me. I never let cinema and the celebrity status affect my personal life negatively. When I felt I had reached a saturation point in cinema, I took a break. I could afford to do that.
Also, I manage my social media account. I enjoy being in touch with the audience. But I would prefer to have a more active social life offline than online. Life isn’t something that I can contain in a few words posted online.
Would you have been an actor if you weren’t born into the Udaya family?
I don’t know. It was my family friend, ace director Fazil, who gave me my first film, Aniyathipraavu. I wasn’t very keen about cinema when I debuted. I never thought I would last as an actor. But when I returned to cinema after that break, I really wanted to be an actor.
It’s true that film artistes work in an atmosphere of insecurity. You lose a few films in a row and the industry forgets you. There are people who enter the field looking for monetary benefits and a glamorous lifestyle. They display this insecurity even more. But if you are financially sound and well invested, you could live happily, doing the films that make you happy as an artiste.
Do you feel positive about the way Malayalam cinema is evolving?
Yes, I guess. Filmmakers embark on a project with a better planning, these days. They are trying to bring a lot of realism into the making, which is interesting. The influence of theatre is slowly fading. The young directors are trying to take the films to a national platform, screening the films in Mumbai and further north. Things are looking great.
My all-time favourite films, however, are from the bygone era. Amaram, Kireedom and Moonnam Pakkam. And, I love Udaya’s commercial films like Palattu Koman. The craft and techniques that the directors and technicians used those days, in the black and white era, never cease to amaze me. The finesse that people like Vincent Master brought to their films is something you wouldn’t get to see even in the films from the current generation.
Watch the film Gandharva Kshethram to know what I am talking about. With the help of out-of-the-world lighting and camera work, Vincent Master made Prem Nazir look like a celestial figure. This happened, I guess, because the technicians of those times were basically artistes who wanted to create art. Director Bharathan debuted through Gandharva Kshethram, as an art director. Ultimately, it’s art that we are trying to create, not a commodity we market and sell.
Boban’s Ramante Eden Thottam releases May 12.
The Kunchacko Boban interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
In cinematographer-turned-director Amal Neerad’s Comrade In America (CIA), Dulquer Salmaan plays Aji Mathew, a young communist living in Pala, a small town in Kerala. He is the third communist protagonist to grace Malayalam cinema in 2017. And while the Left parties in India seem to have sold the ideology out, these reel heroes continue to staunchly advocate its virtues.
The likeable thing about CIA is that it takes a fiery young Malayalee communist out of his comfort zone of romance, and makes him listen to contrasting points of view. Like a Chinese man saying, “I left the country for freedom,” and a rich American cousin talking about the capitalist nation that helped him build a life he is proud of. The decay in the institution, although not central to the film’s plot, is acknowledged.
There is also a scene in which Aji, with adorable irreverence, tells his idols Lenin, Marx, and Che Guerra that their sombre persona is just a facade, referring to their seldom talked about romantic side. An innocuous letter that Aji Mathew and his comrades write on their Party’s letterpad – “Dear Comrade, this comrade is our comrade. Please do the needful” – helps him make his first friend in Mexico when he lands there as part of a lethal plan. It’s a hilarious tongue-in-cheek moment.
But to say CIA is about communism would be taking things too far. The ideology is merely a ploy. The real focus is on the charming Dulquer, who plays it safe as Aji Mathew, essentially a collage of characters the actor has played and aced several times before.
The film knows its target audience well and caters to the multitude of Dulquer’s young male fans. Dulquer rides a Bullet, and gets into drunken conversations about love and life with the apostles of communism. He is at loggerheads with his father over their political beliefs. He falls in love with the prettiest girl in college, with whom he sings a romantic duet in the first half. And in the second half of the film, he leaves Kerala and goes backpacking, in search of his beloved. There is also a monologue in which he advises the young Malayalee male on how to overcome breakups in style.
Although the plot bears an uncanny resemblance to Samir Thahir’s 2014 film, Neelakasham Pachakkadal Chuvanna Bhoomi,Amal Neerad’s film is more fun, and more photogenic than the former. Writer Shibin Francis humorously incorporates bits and pieces from contemporary Kerala politics into the film. There are witty lines aplenty. Dulquer, with his formidable co-stars Soubin Shahir and Dileesh Pothan, pulls off the comic scenes well. There is also Siddique in a well-written role as Aji Mathew’s father, a righteous Congress man who affectionately tolerates his headstrong son’s leftist inclinations.
Moreover, the film is set on a terrain Malayalam cinema has never seen before – Mexico and the endless strip of parched land that lies along the Mexico-US border.
However, what’s strikingly absent from the film is – soul.
Aji Mathew, in the initial half, is an egotist consumed by his own beliefs, wrapped up in his talent and innate charm. When the film ends, he is more or less the same immature youth, now trying to heal his bruised masculine pride. There is no reason for the audience to root for this guy (other than Dulquer’s good-looks of course) when he decides to risk his life for Sarah Mary Kurian (Karthika Muraleedharan), the rich NRI girl he had been courting. Their relationship, which is crucial to the storyline, is established too hastily. Several pertinent portions of the film are drowned by this fixation on Dulquer’s charisma and heroism.
The illegal crossing to the United States through the Mexican desert is a theme of immense possibilities. But if Gael Garcia Bernal’s Desierto was a gripping work that brilliantly portrayed the racism and anti-refugee sentiments currently brewing in the Western world, CIA‘s portrayal of the subject is an insincere travesty that has its eyes set on the box-office. Gopi Sunder’s composition, Vaanam Thilayhilakkanu, which lends the background score to Aji’s journey, is the saving grace of the second half, which is otherwise let down by patchy characterisations (John Vijay’s Sri Lankan refugee character, for instance) and cliché-ridden sequences. Chandni Sreedharan as Pallavi looks promising at first, but like everyone else, she too vanishes in the unbearable brightness of Dulquer Salmaan’s stardom.
Emotional short-hands like a dying friend and starving children are used to make the point. Yet nothing works, thanks to a lack of sincerity.
Amal Neerad and DoP Renadive fill the frames with buttery orange light, wiping out any hint of blue, much like in Iyyobinte Pusthakam and Bachelor Party, which are loved more for this chic camerawork than anything else. Whether the peculiar lighting and colour grading work that grossly dominates the screen is excellent cinematography or not is debatable. However, Neerad’s style of visuals is undeniably charming.
Despite having a few impressive moments and a stylish and ever-improving star actor in the lead, Comrade In America ends up as a film that doesn’t quite fill the grand canvas it is set in. It takes a foreign road to teach a young man some essential lessons in life, but gets lost on the way.
The Comrade In Arms (CIA)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.
Amidst all the box-office records and accolades that Baahubali, The Conclusion has been garnering, a protest is steadily gaining steam in Kerala, one of the main locations where the film was shot. In a Facebook post, well-known conservationist and writer Dr S Faizy accused the team of causing severe degradation to the ground vegetation of the Kannavam reserved forest, where key portions of the film were shot.
Dr Faizy is associated with environmental campaigns in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and was a part of two Earth Summits.
“Bahubali wrecking the forests and Adivasi areas. The shooting has almost irreversibly destroyed the forests of Kannavam, on the Kannur-Mananthavadi highway. Wonder how the Forest authorities gave clearance to destroy the forest in a huge area. Now time for the Gram Sabha and the Forest Rights Committee under it to act under the powers/responsibilities vested on it by the Forest Rights Act under section V,” wrote Dr S Faizy on Facebook.
However Joshil, the range officer of Kannavam forest, refuted the allegations. He told Silverscreen that the film crew used a piece of land which is traditionally used as a forest training ground, and followed all legal norms. “The allegations that the Baahubali team littered and burnt plastic in the forest are false. They didn’t shoot in the interior of the forest, and the land where they shot the film has tall trees, and no thick ground vegetation as the accusers say.”
The shooting for Baahubali, The Conclusion began in Kannavam forest in early 2016. The forest, which was the venue for the historical battle between Raja Pazhassi and the British army, is a reserved area that comes under the Forest Rights Act. The inhabitants of this forest include the Kurichiya tribes, who had pledged their allegiance to Pazhassi Raja.
“Since Kannavam comes under Forests Rights Act, it’s mandatory to get the nod of the Gram Panchayat and elected Forest Rights Committee (FRC) to shoot in the forest. It wasn’t done,” Faizy told Silverscreen. “The FRC can issue a notice to the Forest Department for being accomplices in the destruction of the forest, and ask for suitable compensation from the Baahubali producers for destroying the forest and shooting there without FRC permission,” he said.
During the time of the shoot, a number of political outfits in the region had staged protests against the movie crew, citing environment concerns. “I have reasons to suspect that vested interests of some parties were behind the protests against the film shooting in January,” said Joshil. “There is a common practice among the tribal outfits in the region to demand money from film shooting crews in Kannavam. The Baahubali team had already paid around Rs 375,000 for a 25-day shoot. They refused to pay the odd organisations any money, and that must have enraged them. Besides, some local organisations were furious that the forest department refused to let them use the forest for their own activities. This new controversy is something that they cooked up. It’s baseless,” he said.
In order to clear the air, on Thursday night, Joshil posted a detailed explanation on Facebook.
No type of human operations are allowed in the core zone and to an extent, in the buffer zone of wildlife sanctuaries. Film shootings are usually done in tourist zones. The recent Malayalam film Pulimurugan was filmed inside a hamlet in Pooyamkutty forest in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. Following the release of the film, which turned out to be a blockbuster, there was a surge in the number of tourists visiting this forest. The human pressure and the waste the tourists left behind was so much that the forest department had to put a restriction on visitors to the area.
In 2013, Bangalore’s Kanteerava Studios landed in a controversy for installing a colossal plaster of Paris statue on a five-foot concrete foundation in the Hesaraghatta grasslands, northwest of Bangalore. The statue was instsalled for an outdoor song sequence for the film Mythri, starring Puneet Rajkumar. According to a Hindu report, the filmmakers had violated a High Court order to maintain a “status quo” in the area, in connection with a PIL (public interest litigation) petition filed in 2011 by the Arkavathi and Kumudvathy River Rejuvenation Trust to protect the grassland from development. Heseraghatta is the last surviving grassland around Bangalore, and is home to jackals, foxes, and 133 species of birds — including one of India’s most threatened species, the Lesser Florican.
Adheesh Raveendran, a senior Forest Range Officer working in Ranni, said that permitting movie crews to enter forests areas, irrespective of the zone, is never good. “Some shooting crew litter, or burn plastic waste inside forests. The loud music that they play and this constant presence of human beings is never good for forest areas. Forests aren’t places for tourists or entertainers. It’s very important to leave it undisturbed,” he said, citing many occasions where tourists, and film/photography crew litter the place with plastic waste, and ruin the ground vegetation. “Ever since Dulquer Salmaan’s Charlie was released, youngsters in the state have been flocking to Meesappulimala, a mountain that he refers to in the film. These kids climb the mountain through an illegal trekking path, go to any extent to get a good Facebook profile picture, create a din, and upset the forest ambiance. In a few years, Meesappulimala will lose the pristine look that it has right now,” he said.
Wildlife filmmaker and conservationist Ramnath Chandrasekhar agrees, “It is extremely difficult or nearly impossible to get a permit to shoot inside the forest (Protected Area) for a natural history documentary. There is a direct pressure we put on the ecosystems when we shoot there. That’s why wildlife films have a a very, very small crew so that the our footprint on the land is minimal. When you go to an ecosystem or a habitat, most of which are fragile, you cause an irreplaceable damage. It has a domino effect.”
While MT Vasudevan Nair’s novel, Randamoozham, a classic work, will soon be retold on silver screen with Mohanlal playing the protagonist, there exists a movie of his – not as celebrated or grand, perhaps – but just lovely and insanely perfect.
“We have a word for that in Japanese. It’s called ‘ma’. Emptiness,” explained Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki in a 2002 interview with critic Roger Ebert, answering a question about the ‘gratuitous motion in his films’. The narrative in Miyazaki’s films pauses several times to watch fish swimming in a stream or wind blowing through the woods – shots that are of no consequence to the actual plot, but are meaningful in their own right. Moments of ‘ma‘ are strikingly visible in his films like My Neighbor Totoro. It is with such images – which often go unnoticed in real life – that Miyazaki builds a deep sense of calm.
Jnanapith award-winning writer, director and script-writer MT Vasudevan Nair’s Oru Cheru Punchiri (A Slender Smile, 2000) is a collage of such gentle moments that encompass the uncomplicated beauty of life. If silence is imperative in Miyazaki’s films, in Oru Cheru Punchiri, there is always a pleasant presence of sound in the form of music, conversations, the moo of a cow, or the din from a nearby playground in the frame. The film’s unhurried pace is something that usually filmmakers do not aspire for.
A luminous tale of companionship, the film is centred around an old couple, 74-year-old Krishna Kurup (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) and sixty-something Ammalu Amma (Nirmala Sreenivasan),who are leading a post-retirement life in their native village. It’s very idyllic. They spend their days taking strolls through their kitchen garden that they nurture with so much love, watching old romantic movie songs on television, reading and re-reading letters from their children who live in far-away cities, and just talking to each other about things that might not make much sense to the fast-moving busy world. Their old friends, classmates and colleagues are either dead or living in loneliness, but Kurup and Ammalu Amma have each other in sickness, happiness, and most importantly, in surviving the monotony of everyday life.
It’s not a sugar-coated tale, though. Alongside all the tempting images of the pastoral life, there are frequent mentions of death. But Oru Cheru Punchiri doesn’t look at death as an unsolicited and gloomy event, but a slender smile when life reaches its peaceful end.
An adaptation of Mithunam, a short-story by Telugu writer Sriramana, Oru Cheru Punchiri is one of the lesser known works of MT, whose film oeuvre has acclaimed movies like Oru Vadakkan Veera Gadha, Perumthachan and Sadayam.
Oru Cheru Punchiri is much smaller and simpler in comparison. It won MT the State Film Award for the best director in 2000, bagged a National Award that year for the Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation, and went on to win hearts at various international film festivals it was screened at.
The relationship of the couple has a curious touch of childlike innocence. He is a staunch foodie. A disciplinarian who talks in a loud voice. She is poised, but not any meek. You see her spiritedly reminding him that she used to be a bright matriculation student when he teases her of being a fool. There is a scene in which Kurup, Ammalu Amma and Kannan, a little boy they have befriended, are walking through the farm, examining and passing comments about the coconut trees and vegetable plants. “Hope no one casts an evil eye on them. We should get a scarecrow,” says Ammalu Amma, to which Kurup replies cheekily, “That’s easy. Why don’t you wear that black saree of yours and walk around the farm?” Kannan bursts out laughing, and a furious Ammalu snaps, “Oh, you think you are a handsome man, don’t you? Men like Dileep Kumar get more good-looking with age, and look at you, like a withered seed!”
The easiness with which they make fun of each other, complete each other’s sentences, and read each other’s mind is endearing. During another instance, you see her watching him slide into a deep sleep after taking a country medicine that she had prepared for him. The camera lingers on her face, now lit up with a hint of smile on her lips. It makes you wonder if it’s so effortless to be in love.
There is another reason to why Oru Cheru Punchiri is an unparalleled work. It normalises old age, treats the elderly as people, and not as dispassionate props. Kurup and Ammalu Amma can be foolish and vulnerable, as they can be wise and stern in an orthodox way.
There is a moving scene in which an old colleague, Govindettan, who is visiting them, bids goodbye. “When you come next, stay back for a few days,” Ammalu tells him, and he nods, his eyes welling up with tears. Who knows if there will ever be a next time! “Life is in these brief moments that I spend with friends and the people I love, doing things like in the old days,” he says.
The prelapsarian Eden where Krishna Kurup (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) and Ammalu Amma (Nirmala Srinivasan) live, looks like a place that exists. Their life, wrapped in happiness and peace, is the one most of us are striving to achieve.
On International Dance Day, a look at some remarkable dance numbers that make Malayalam cinema what it is today
In a recent television interview, State Award-wining actor, Vinaayakan, spoke about the infamous inhibition of Malayalees. “We never open up,” said the actor. “We might be the only group in the whole world who would listen to Michael Jackson songs elegantly glued to the chair. I mean, who does that?” he laughed.
Vinaayakan’s observation is not without reason.
The middle-class Malayalee community has taken the moral high ground about dancing in the public. Consider the public support received by the woman who slapped a girl student for taking part in a flash-mob last year in Kollam. Also, not many wedding parties in the State see the guests and hosts shaking a leg like in “Thudakkam Mangalyam“.
Nevertheless, in the State’s robust cinema industry, dance numbers have always been a popular ingredient. A running joke in Kerala is that every gaanamela, the music concert where film songs are performed, starts with the solemn “Idayakanyake“ and ends with the very dynamic “Velmuruka Haro Hara”.
It’s hard to watch Alphonse Putheren’s Premam without being charmed by Malar’s epic dance scene. It happens almost out of the blue, although in the preceding scene, the film sends a covert clue: the sound of a feeble thunder. Malar (Sai Pallavi), the young teaching assistant who is always seen in well-starched cotton sarees and a gentle body-language, swaps those for a t-shirt, track-pants, a pair of shoes and a mischievous smile, and dances to Rockaankuthu, a peppy number. The scene is beautifully staged. The camera goes around Malar, with her at the centre of the frame, the others pushed to a corner, and settles on the face of George, Shambhu and Koya who stand aghast. And, it’s so well acted that you totally fall for Malar’s cool-headed swag.
Not an exaggeration to say that Premam, many years later, will be remembered for that one scene.
It’s a wonder how, sometimes, a dance-music sequence changes the texture of a film, and sometimes, also overshadows the rest of the film.
Remember the very spirited “Anthikkadappurathu“ from Chamayam in which Manoj K Jayan and veteran actor Murali, who are not otherwise fine dancers, dance their heart out on the beach, thus forging a great friendship? The dance, set in the backdrop of a sunset, isn’t shot as a physical exercise, but a scene with a well-defined character.
One of the most important films in the history of Malayalam cinema, Manichitrathaazhu, has an epic dance scene – “Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaya”. Shobana’s Ganga, suffering from a lethal version of dissociative identity disorder, dresses up and performs a Bharathanatyam number, believing that she is Naagavalli, a danseuse from yore. That dance sequence in Manichithrathazhu, well-executed andcomposed, is a fine combination of great acting and pure art.
There is a peppy film song for every age in Malayalam cinema. From the black and white times, there is “Chettikkulangara Bharani Naalil” from Sindhu (1975), featuring Prem Nazir as a gaanamela singer. The song has attained a cult status, and is popular even among the millennials.
From the ’80s, there is “Oru Madhurakkinaavin“, in which the then teenage stars, Rahman and Shobana, do some zesty break-dance steps, and from the late ’90s, there is Mohanlal’s “Thaankinakka Dhillam Dhillam”. Now, there are new generation dance numbers with stylized visuals, like “Osama” from Sagar Alias Jacky and “Pista Suma Kira” from Neram, but the old-fashioned dance numbers haven’t lost their charm.
In the ’70s and the ’80s, it was common practice to include a cabaret number in commercial Malayalam films even if it was inconsequential to the plot. Artistes like Jayamalini and Anuradha were much sought-after for cabaret and disco numbers, and one of the most popular cabaret songs, “Innee Theeram Thedum Thirayude Paattil”, featured actress Seema. In a re-edited version of My Dear Kuttichathan, a 3D film with four children playing the lead, there is a brief scene featuring a cabaret performance.
Rahman, Mohanlal and Raveendran were the few senior male actors in ’80s and ’90s Malayalam cinema, who could do dance sequences with aplomb. While Rahman and Raveendran were known for their disco numbers, Mohanlal was the favourite among the family audiences, for he had the body language of a boy-next-door. He could liven up a song sequence with a pinch of humour, combined with cart-wheels and somersaults, like in “Kavilinayil”, from Vandhanam (1989).
Later, Mohanlal did Kamaladalam, a full-fledged dance movie in which he played Nandagopal, a disgraced dance teacher at Kerala Kalamandalam. One of the most important scenes in the film involves a brilliant dance performance by Lal, who does an impromptu performance of “Aananda Nadanam” in front of his rivals and haters, leaving them impressed. “Aananda Nadanam” is the key to unlocking the genius that Nandagopal is.
It was Mohanlal who introduced item-dance numbers to Malayalam cinema through the song “Thankanakka Dhillam Dhillam” (Narasimham, 2000), in which a lesser-known Tamil actress, Alphonsa, danced in skimpy clothes with a flirtatious Mohanlal and his on-screen friends. This was repeated in films like Ravanaprabhu, Praja and Thaandavam, where a barely-clad item girl danced to highly vulgar lyrics to emphasize the hero’s machismo. Although “Thanganakka Dhillam Dhillam” is still remembered for its choreography, grand settings and energetic music, most of the item numbers from early 2000s were forgotten quickly.
It was after a string of unremarkable flop films in the first half of 2000s, that Naran (2005) happened to Mohanlal. For his fans, the film, a poignant revenge drama set in a picturesque village, had every element to celebrate the return of the Superstar in his glorious form. The icing on the cake was the chirpy number, “Velmuruka Haro Hara”, sung by MG Sreekumar and composed by Deepak Dev. Lal danced like a happy child, with a Kavadi (a decorated arched bamboo pole) on his shoulder. The lyrics were free of sexual innuendos, and the visuals didn’t objectify women. The song sequence was instrumental in showing how steeped Mohanlal’s Velayudhan was in the little hamlet he grew up in.
It was Lal Jose’s Meesa Madhavan that rocketed Dileep to the status of a Superstar in Malayalam cinema. Like an ideal star-vehicle, the film had a dance number, “Chingamaasam Vannu Chernnal”, in which Dileep performed with a new actress, Jyothirmayi. The song, a still popular number composed by Vidyasagar, was Dileep’s way of saying that he was an all-rounder star. After the giant success of the song, the actor made it a point to include a similar fast-paced song in every film of his.
One of the most popular dance numbers of this decade was from Alphonse Putheran’s Neram. The song, “Pista Sumakira”, had its gibberish lyrics borrowed from a comic scene starring Jagathy Sreekumar in Kinnaram (1983). “Pista Sumakira” had unconventional visuals, like that of a blooper video – the cast and crew of the film danced away on the film’s set, just for the sheer fun of it. The song wasn’t included in the film, but it played a major role in promoting Neram – which was a collaboration of fresh-faces, new technicians and a debutant director – on television channels and the Internet.
The recent Angamaly Diaries too, has two rhythmic dance numbers – “Theeyamme” and “Thana Dhina Thanthinare” – the folk touch making them instantly likeable. They are raw folk numbers, arranged by composer Prashanth Pillai and sung by a popular local singer, PP Francis aka Angamaly Pranchi. “Thana Dhina” is shot on a wedding night in a colony in Angamaly, a small-town where the film is set in. The friends and relatives of the bride and the groom cook their favourite meat dishes, down bottles of alcohol, and dance the night away. No choreographed steps, no sense of awareness of time or etiquette. The men and women, young and old, come together for a carefree dance to celebrate being happy.
Around 120 minutes into Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu (Guardian Baiju), there is a scene in which the lead characters sit inside a local toddy bar, and sing “Oru Pushpam Maathramen” in their rough voices, tapping on the wooden desks. They are joined by other customers at the bar, including a group of tourists who are drawn to the place by this impromptu musical performance. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. Not at all what we would expect from characters when a film is nearing its climax.
Rakshadhikari Baiju is like that. It doesn’t bother with plot twists and heroic characters. There is no sense of urgency in its script, and rightfully so. It’s as if the film is enchanted by the idyllic life in Kumbalam, a tiny village on the lap of the backwaters of Kerala.
It lingers in scenes of evenings, as the members of the resident cricket club, Kumbalam Brothers, meet and play their daily matches on a piece of unused land, traditionally used as the village’s playground. The focus is on the details – the unparalleled fun of gully cricket, the banter of the villagers, the sincerity of their relationships.
Writer-director Ranjan Pramod portrays the village and its residents realistically, with wit and slapstick humour. It’s so well done that long after the credits roll, we want to believe that their life still goes on.
The film is woven around an informal playground, the chief place where the Kumbalam Brothers have been hanging out for over 36 years. And it’s not just the cricket-loving men who use the ground. Every evening, groups of young girls and women play ring-throw and badminton. Kids play football in a corner. Senior citizens meet here every evening, and watch the youngsters play. Even Narayanan (an energetic Janardhanan), a cranky old man who lives near this plot, comes. Otherwise, he spends his uneventful days quarreling with little kids who have upset his cow, grazing near the play area.
Everyone has a reason to love this space, which represents their peaceful, community life.
There are over a hundred characters in the film. They appear and disappear, not without making an impression. From Hareesh Perumanna, who plays one of the club members to Padmaraj Ratheesh, who dons the role of a pothead and goon – everyone gets a memorable moment.
The narration proceeds through Baiju (Biju Menon) a 44-year-old water-authority officer who founded the Kumbalam Brothers with his friend Thomas (Dileesh Pothen), when they were 8 years old. Although Thomas and other older members moved on when they grew up and settled abroad, busy with their careers and family, Baiju continues to helm the amateur cricket club, rather proudly. A generous and fun-loving man, he treats the members of the team, who are decades younger than him, as family. The village teases him with the nickname ‘Rakshadhikari’ (Guardian), and not without a reason. He is the go-to man for all the kids and youngsters when they need financial or other aid.
Although Baiju might remind one of Balettan and Naran, he is an adorable character, made all the more vivid by Menon’s performance. There is a rib-tickling scene in which Baiju is sitting on the parapet of a well, and chatting with his fellow club members. A police vehicle passes by, and one of the men cries out, “Ayyo, police”. Just like that, Baiju jumps into the well, although he has no reason to be afraid. It’s just a reflex action.
Impressively executed scenes like these bring us close to the character. He is a familiar person – gentle, timid, and law-abiding. It’s entirely in character that he decides to stay out of trouble, even when he stands to lose the thing he prizes the most – the playground and all the activities around it – forever.
Ranjan Pramod was on a long hiatus from the film industry after the back to back box-office failure of two films he directed, Photographer and Rose Guitarinaal. But Pramod’s role in Malayalam cinema as a screenwriter can never be written off. In every film he has written, there is always one poignant and lifelike part that bears his impression. Like the scene in Naran where Velayudhan (Mohanlal) is arrested and kept inside the office of the police inspector (Siddique) who realises that this so-called daredevil goon is just an innocent overgrown child. That scene, and not the rest of the film where Velayudhan becomes the village’s saviour, is the core of Naran.
In Rakshadhikari Baiju, that particular moment comes when Baiju and his team, while travelling to a nearby town to play a cricket tournament under lights, run into Baiju’s old friend, Thomas. Thomas is there on a short visit from Germany, where he has settled. The man is dressed in a suit and formal shoes. But he sits down on the playground grass and cheers excitedly for the Kumbalam Brothers.
In this sequence, everyone acts as if no camera is watching, as if they’ve known each other for years. Following that, Baiju and Thomas sit under their favourite tree, waiting for dawn. The subtle somberness in the conversation is both sincere and moving.
Rakshadhikari Baiju is like that good-hearted, well-meaning, funny person we all know, not quite free of society’s racism and sexism.
It has a predominantly male-driven narrative, like Vellimoonga and Anuraga Karikkinvellam. Men have fun with friends, evade or take-up responsibilities as per their wish. The women stay indoors, live under their shadows. Baiju’s wife and teenage daughter resemble characters from ’80s and early ’90s films – they love gold jewellery and clothes, and little else. There’s also a man who constantly complains about being controlled by his wife.
There is Sreekala (Krishna), a dark-skinned plain jane who is head-over-heels in love with Unni (Aju), her neighbour. He rebuffs her advances, even as the whole village takes her side. It could have been a great romantic track. However, it gets reduced to a disappointing affair where the fair-skinned man makes a chirpy young woman feel guilty about her appearance.
And the film is long-drawn, taking its own sweet time to reach the climax, which does make a relevant point. A tighter script would have done wonders for this film.
In spite of its flaws, Rakshadhikari Baiju is a film that deserves to be watched for its sincere portrayal of life and human relationships, the old-fashioned way.
The Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppureview 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.
The recent spurt in the number of ‘women-centric’ films in Bollywood is heartening, but how many of them deliver the feminist narrative they promise?
“When I took up my first job, I imagined that I would buy a car in a year with the money I had saved,” a former roommate told me once. “Now it’s been three years, and I don’t have enough to buy a moped.”
We were sitting on a bed in our cold one-room rented place behind a family’s garage in Bangalore, drinking tea. She wanted to write on lifestyle, fashion, and food, but was drudging as an underpaid content writer. Her parents were pushing her to return to Jaipur, her hometown. To get married and settle down into a ‘normal’ life. She continued to resist.
Rarely has mainstream cinema acknowledged this truth about the modern, urban woman – cash-strapped, confused, and stressed-out in a world dogged by economic crises, sexism, and systemic apathy. Such women, unsurprisingly, don’t quite belong in male-driven popular culture which adores manic pixie girlfriends, creates gentlemen out of brats and thugs, and casts either damsels in distress or daredevil fighter females. There has never been enough space for the awkward, clumsy women who can’t handle life with grace and aplomb, who are not very desirable, or ‘dateable’, as Noah Baumbach’s Frances puts it.
Baumbach, the Woody Allen of this generation, centered his Frances Ha!, a 2011 monochromatic film shot in Brooklyn, around a 27-year-old struggling dancer who is leading a messed up life. There is a scene in the film where Frances (Greta Gerwig) is at a restaurant with a friend (Adam Driver). She insists on paying for the food since she got a tax rebate earlier that day. Frances hands over her debit card to the bearer who tells her that the restaurant accepts only cash. The scene is so brilliantly enacted and shot, with the camera watching an embarrassed and nervous Frances mumbling, “I am not a real person yet,” and running off to find an ATM machine. The film follows her as she dashes through the streets, looking for an ATM, with that ever-evasive self-esteem slipping away from her again. Her fears and desperation are familiar. It’s a very palpable sequence, just like the overall film. There is no definite story-line, yet this simple and honest life portrait of a young woman has a unique charm that would keep you glued to the screen.
Frances is coltish, and does things that mainstream cinema doesn’t want its women to do. Like tripping on the road while doing a cartwheel, peeing on railway tracks, and making embarrassing conversations at dinner tables. Frances, in spite of living in a dispiriting world, doesn’t ask for sympathy or redemption. The film culminates in a beautiful and calming shot of her settling down in her new apartment.
Frances Ha’s feat can be largely attributed to Greta Gerwig, the lead actress who co-wrote the film’s script with her life-partner, Baumbach. A similar work is Fleabag, Netflix’s breakout series written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It has an extremely irreverent woman with a lot of grey and darker shades at its centre. Someone who would unabashedly bitch about lovers and colleagues behind their back, laugh out inappropriately in public, and mercilessly remind her friends of that embarrassing drunken banter from years ago.
In young Indie director Anais Volpe’s debut film, Heis Chronicles, a 20-something woman returns home to live with her old mother and twin brother after losing her job. A struggling artiste, Pia (Volpe herself), through humorous and occasionally sombre monologue, explains what it feels like to be unemployed in a first-world country.
If we are yet to see similar stories about modern women in Bollywood, that is because the biggest film industry in India is yet to come of age with feminist narratives. Although a bunch of women-centric films like Queen and Anarkali Of Arrah stand out for their no-nonsense women protagonists, there is a bigger lot which only manages to camouflage the industry’s inherent sexism and misogyny, nothing more.
Of course, there are positive signs. Over the years, the industry has seen a surge in the number of films centred around women. There are successful actresses like Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan and Radhika Apte for whom scripts are being written, who are being vocal about the industry’s pay disparity and sexism. Also interesting is the rise of women directors who are not confined to art house films that get screened only at film festivals. Zoya Akhtar, Farah Khan, and Gauri Shinde are making commercial films with free-spirited women characters, and the films are doing well at the box-office too.
However, the grim reality comes to light when you see a movie like Begum Jaan or Dangal being promoted as a feminist film. In Dangal, a sports drama about two women from a Haryana village making it big in the field of wrestling, the elephant in the room is Aamir Khan, who dons the role of a male savior. The male narrative subjugates the female narrative in Dangal, while Begum Jaan, which has Vidya Balan playing the titular role, is a badly made mawkish movie that treats its women characters like they are a bunch of clowns. Quite often do mainstream film industries lose sight of that line that separates a feminist film from run-of-the-mill scripts that just have a woman in the lead role.
Queen, by that standard, is quite well thought-out. Directed by Vikas Bahl, it has a young protagonist from a middle-class Delhi family, going on her first trip abroad, alone and heartbroken after her fiancé calls off the engagement a day before the wedding. It isn’t the first time that a female character goes travelling through Europe on the Indian screen. In Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Simran (Kajol) does some backpacking too. However, DDLJ‘s Simran and Queen‘s Rani live in two contrasting worlds. While Simran gracefully buries her head in a book to avoid interacting with strangers, Rani decides to make new friends, and let out her frustrations and repressed emotions. Rani chooses to break free, while Simran gets into a glittery lehenga and blushes when Shah Rukh Khan sings “Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna”. Simran was a product of a new India which wanted to go global, yet keep one foot firmly on Indian soil. Rani is a part of a new wave of Bollywood which is more focused on drawing familiar characters.
In Shoojit Sircar’s Piku (2015), the biggest star is Deepika Padukone, who plays the titular role. Although the film has Amitabh Bachchan playing Padukone’s father, a crabby septuagenarian suffering from a bowel problem, it is essentially Piku’s story. The film collected over Rs 100 crore globally. The film’s success, by far, is attributed to its screenplay written by Juhi Chaturvedi, one of the most original writers Bollywood has at the moment. She gives a personal, humorous touch to Piku, who would otherwise have been just another upper-class career woman – with a moral side the Indian censor board would never approve of. Padukone gets more screen time in the film, and reportedly, received a bigger pay check than her male co-stars, Bachchan and Irrfan Khan.
Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi (2017) narrated the story of a young woman overcoming heartbreaks and depression with the help of a psychologist. While the film deserves a pat on its back for taking the word ‘depression’ to the realm of mainstream cinema, it ends up as yet another Bollywood film like Jab We Met, where a sad pretty girl is cheered up by a handsome male star.
A far better portrayal of a woman suffering from a mental disorder could be found in Phobia (2017), starring Radhika Apte in the lead role. Apte’s performance in the film was, by far, one of the the most remarkable performances by an actress in a film in 2016. Phobia, a thoroughly underrated brilliant drama, narrates how a patriarchal society shuts off a free-spirited woman, just as a cage would clip the wings of a bird. Apte’s performance as Mehak, a young woman suffering from Agoraphobia, is restrained and nuanced. The film’s powerful feminist narrative is subtle – something that unfurls in the background. On the foreground, Phobia is an excellent psychological-thriller with some great plot twists. Agoraphobic Mehak, who is too scared to step out of her house, is a creation of the society that preys on free-spirited women.
In Dear Zindagi, Shinde plays to the galleries by casting Alia Bhatt, one of the most charming faces in Bollywood, in the lead role, and none other than superstar Shah Rukh Khan, in the role of her psychologist. The film collected over Rs 60 crore from the domestic market. Nevertheless, it’s not fair to equate the success of Dear Zindagi to that of Queen or Piku. While Bhatt does add the necessary glamour to the dour subject of depression, it is Khan’s presence that gives the film its starry shine.
Similar star interference is seen in films like Dangal, Pink and Naam Shabana, where the women protagonists are held by their hand and led to success, justice and freedom by men.
In Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink (2016), three young and independent women living in Delhi fight a bunch of guys in a high-profile sexual harassment case, with the help of an old fiery lawyer, played by Amitabh Bachchan. The women don’t fit into Bollywood’s traditional ‘good girl’ mould, yet the film effectively prompts the audience to root for them, largely because of Bachchan’s eloquent advocacy in their favour.
Having said this, Pink is an undeniable improvement for an industry which once made a woman protagonist marry her rapist, and later, save his life so that he would fall in love with her (Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, 1997). Pink is cautious enough to not objectify women or resort to overt sentimentality. Instead, it narrates the painful legal procedures and societal trials that a sexual abuse victim is put through.
While Pink uses Amitabh Bachchan as its spokesperson to pass the feminist message “when a woman says no, it only means no!”, in Anarkali Of Arrah (2017), which stars Swara Bhaskar, the woman protagonist, who is a small-time dancer, stands up for herself. Anarkali’s lowly profession as a dancer-singer whose songs have lyrics laden with sexual innuendos, makes her vulnerable to sexual harassment. But Anarkali fights off rapists and sexual predators with all her strength, even though she has no one to take her side in an Indian small town where misogyny rules the roost.
Taapsee Pannu’s 2017 film, Naam Shabana, tricks her into believing that she is the lead in the film in which she gets to play the titular role. However, the film proceeds more like a mission of taming the dragon, where Shabaana, an athlete with a sharp intellect, is stalked by a set of men, led by Manoj Bajpai and Akshay Kumar, who discreetly take her under their wings, and train her to be an intelligence officer. In the crucial action scenes, Shabaana functions as a property while it is Akshay Kumar who dictates the operation. But the bright side of Naam Shabana is that it convincingly portrays a sturdy, smart and athletic woman. And perhaps, in one of the future installments of the franchise, we might hopefully see Shabana putting to use her skills and talents.
Also releasing today are Maatr, starring Raveena Tandon in the role of a mother looking to avenge her daughter’s violent death, and Noor, featuring Sonakshi Sinha as a Pakistani journalist.
That Srijit Mukherji won a National Award for Best Director in 2015 for his movie Chotushkone, is a mystery. The film, a star-studded affair, was an underwhelming thriller that fiddled with rationality rather than being intelligent. Nothing in the film hinted of the director extraordinaire that Mukherji is projected to be. Now, the celebrated Bengali director has entered the Bombay realm with Begum Jaan, a Hindi remake of his Rajkahini, an overbearingly mawkish drama on the Partition of India.
Right from its opening sequence, where an old woman undresses in front of a bunch of men (a fluttering national flag always around as symbolism) to save a young woman from getting raped, to the climax sequence where a bunch of women walk into a burning building theatrically suicidal, and burst into laughter, Begum Jaan comes across as an utterly dishonest and terrible movie.
The plot, set in 1947, revolves around an archaic brothel, operating out of a majestic fortress on a piece of godforsaken land. The fateful line that Sir Cyril Radcliffe draws, separating Pakistan from India, turns disastrous for the brothel. The inmates are given one month notice to vacate the place, but they refuse to. The apathetic international politics trespasses into the life of these women, who are blissfully unaware of the life outside the brothel, and tears them apart.
There are heavy-handed attempts to make the situation look deeper and darker. Like the absurd shots featuring one half of the faces of two government officers – an Indian and a Pakistani – placed against the corner of the frame to denote the melancholy of partition. The lines that the veteran actors like Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajat Kapoor get to mouth are so silly that you feel embarrassed for them.
Vidya Balan plays the head of the brothel, named Begum Jaan. Unaware of the inanity of the film she is stuck in, Balan plays her part wholeheartedly, trying to look her ferocious best. For the most part, she is lying on a cot in the yard of the brothel, smoking a hookah, with a lot of attitude. Living with her are a bunch of women, raunchily dressed all the time as if they are secretly filming an Ekta Kapoor movie inside the building. There is a song sequence which compares the happy world inside the brothel, to the tumultuous political atmosphere outside. While the villagers living around are fleeing the place, you see the brothel inmates playing Holi – the raunchiest festival in the country. Shots of the refugee crowd juxtaposed with the shots of women getting wet, wasted and aroused. Because hey, they are prostitutes and they can get turned on by the sight of a banana.
The scenes inside the brothel are plainly jarring, and there is an absolute lack of cinematic aesthetics.
And there is composer Annu Malik, pretending that he is the Ravi Shankar to the Satyajit Ray that Srijit Mukherji is. His music has a personality totally disconnected from that of the movie. Consider this sequence where an old king, whom Begum is keen to entertain, asks her to sing while he is having sex with a teenage girl. “I forgot to bring my gramophone. Please sing so that I can make my old organ work,” he grins. The next thing you see is the man raping the girl, with Begum watching it, playing her Sarod and singing a song that sounds like a badly composed elegy. Bollywood has never seen a more bizarre song sequence starring two National Award winning actors (Vidya Balan, Nazeeruddin Shah).
The characters speak in metaphors. All of them. There is an unintentionally funny scene where the government officers, along with a bunch of policemen, arrive at the brothel, asking Begum Jaan to vacate the place. “Leave quickly. You have just one month,” says an officer, and Begum replies, “We know how to count a month, officer. It comes and leaves, reddening everything.” The policemen, irked by this feminist poetry, pull out their pistols and prepare to shoot. And the women take out their weapons too – ladles, kitchen knives, pieces of wood. Taken aback by the belligerence of the women, the men leave.
Any attempt to make sense of Begum Jaan is a futile exercise. It is a trifle pretending to be a serious drama about feminism, politics and issues that the makers only have a rough idea of. Worse, it doesn’t display any kind of cinematic value to cover up the glitches in the subtext.
The Begum Jaanreview 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.
Siddharth Siva’s latest film has a tricky title. Sakhavu (Comrade) is a word that might seem plain, but there isn’t an over-used, a more romanticized ideological figure in Malayalam cinema than a comrade.
Every once in a while, the industry churns out a film, starring an upcoming male superstar, in a role that would require him to act like he is Che Guevara, bear a red flag, raise his fist and scream Inquilab Zindabad, and deliver punch dialogues and powerful blows.
Although the leftist political parties in Kerala are busy digging their own grave, these on-screen comrades have managed to woo the audience almost every time, even if they are portrayed sans any sincerity. Rarely has Malayalam cinema gone beyond the glitzy peripheries of communism and pulled off a film like Lal Salaam or Arabi Kadha.
The immediate factor that separates Sakhavu from its counterparts like Oru Mexican Apaaratha, is its earnestness. Although narrated like a moral tale, the film has its heart in the right place.
It celebrates the exalted spirit of a man who selflessly works towards the betterment of the world all his life, rather than romanticizing the colour of the flag that he bears. The narration is rather predictable and old-fashioned, woven around punch dialogues and familiar situations. However, the film’s ardent conviction in its portrayal of the central character, Sakhavu Krishnan (Nivin Pauly), a foolproof communist, makes it an impressive watch.
Supporting it amply is Prashant Pillai’s compelling background score. For one, there is a key night scene where Krishnan and his fellow comrades take on a set of ruthless goons. The scene is clumsily lit up and shot, yet the riveting background music makes up for all the glitches, prompting you to root for the good guy.
The film oscillates between two time periods. It juxtaposes the stories of two contrasting men, from two different generations – Comrade Krishnan and Krishna Kumar, a millennial politician, both played by Nivin Pauly. Like a kindergarten teacher narrating to the brats in her class the stories from Aesop’s Fables, the film tells Krishna Kumar the inspiring life-story of Comrade Krishnan.
The film presents the latter like a man straight out of a fairy tale. A sepia-toned flashback sequence shows him arriving in the highland village of Peerumedu one fine day. The film never bothers to go into his past. The man is immensely kind, courageous and rational.
With an ability to maintain calmness even in the face of a calamity, Krishnan quickly becomes a hero in the village inhabited by poor tea estate labourers. He brings together the workers against exploitative employers. He motivates them to stand up for their rights. He works on the fields like one of them. While his fellow comrades sometimes display doubt and hesitation like normal human beings, Krishnan’s conviction in communism never wavers a slightest bit.
He is the personification of everything Karl Marx wrote and envisioned. In addition to these, Krishnan understands and appreciates art. He respects women. He is the stud that women complain of being non-existent.
It is to this perfect demigod the film compares Krishna Kumar, a reckless, lazy, youth whose biggest talent is his ability to lie through his teeth. The perfectness of Krishnan is not questioned since it’s through the exaggerated words of his admirers we learn of him. What doesn’t seem right is the over-night transformation of Krishna Kumar into a daredevil man, ready to take on the evil around.
Krishna Kumar is a role Nivin Pauly is so familiar with that he can sleepwalk through it. His performance as Krishnan is earnest, but lacks a much required nuance. Although he gets the looks right, the cold uprightness in his voice is, often, irksome.
As Comrade Krishnan, Pauly never tries to improvise. The pace of his walk, his dialogue modulation, is monotonous. It never raises or falls, but stays invariably on a midrange. That said, he plays the old age version of the role effectively. The make-up is great, and Pauly nails the frail body-language.
However, Siddharth manages to pull it down with a cringe-worthy stunt scene later on, where the old man, with numerous health problems, beats a 6-feet tall goon to pulp.
This goof-up is not surprising because Sakhavu lacks a cinematic finesse. For the most part, it resembles a stage play where the characters indulge in dialogue marathons. The stellar parts of the film are the ones that involve punch dialogues like, “I prefer to be identified by the prefix of my name – Comrade, than by any caste suffixes”, and “What can the harsh, cold weather of Periyar do to the indomitable spirit of a comrade!” And going by the cheering crowd in the movie hall, the dialogues do work.
Aparna Gopinath, who plays Krishnan’s JNU-educated daughter, gets some heroic moments in the second half. That’s heartening because seldom do these so-called new generation communist films in Malayalam acknowledge the presence of fiery, rebellious women.
Sakhavu, much like Siddharth’s previous film, Kochouvva Poulo, is a refined lesson on life, told with a lot of old-school idealism. There are no betrayers or grey-shaded characters or moments. Krishnan gets married to Janaki, not for love, but out of responsibility. The couple are seen exchanging a few smiles and glances, but the film resists itself from doing anything beyond that, fearing it might bring Krishnan down from that moral heights.
What better film this would have been if Krishnan was more human and less divine, and if the screenplay had more shades other than just whites and off-whites.
The Sakhavu 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.
Director-writer Ranjith’s Puthan Panam (The New Currency) has an impressive prelude, innate charm, a talented cast, and an accomplished star to lead the pack (Mammootty). And yet, it ends up being a forgettable film.
For one, it’s packed with too many issues (and too many actors) – from caste-based killings to custodial violence. For another, it’s sloppily edited. So much so that eventually we lose track of the meandering storyline.
The film opens with a young single mother and her five-year-old son stranded on a railway platform in Kerala, with no money. The sequence juxtaposes scenes from her past with her present. A past in which her husband was hacked to death by her angry, upper-caste relatives in a Tamil Nadu village. A present in which a stranger walks into her life, just like that.
The man slyly takes control of the mother-child duo by buying them food and train tickets. Later, he takes them to his one-bedroom barsati in a run-down area, like a butcher leading a pack of meek, clueless sheep to the slaughterhouse. Gulping down bottles of rum, he boasts to his friends that he isn’t afraid of the police or the law. Clearly, the woman is walking on a slippery slope.
But then, something unexpected happens. Policemen arrive, grab the man by his collar, and take him away.
He won’t see the light of day for the next eight years.
This out-of-the-blue intervention of the system into people’s life – sometimes as a saviour and sometimes as pure evil – repeats several times. And that’s precisely what makes Puthan Panam an interesting watch. There are bad men on the loose – fighting, threatening, and killing each other. But the real villain, triggering distress in everyone’s life, is the government and its arms.
There are personal stories, like that of the woman and her son. But Ranjith wants the audience to see the big picture, in which everyone is a puppet in the hands of the law. He uses demonetisation to prove his point, and he plays it safe by portraying its least controversial version – the one in which the only group troubled are black money hoarders; not the common man.
When the Prime Minister announces the rollback of currency notes at 8 pm on November 8, Sundari (Iniya), a domestic help, asks her teenage son Muthu (Master Swaraj) if their modest life will be affected. He says, “What is a financial reform to penniless people like us?” He is right. You see, that night Mia (Niranjana) befriends Shine (Ganapathy), a pizza delivery boy who had been nagging and stalking her for a long time, right after he helps her change a Rs 1000 note.
In Kozhikode, a wealthy businessman (Joy Mathew) is lamenting about the Rs 1000 notes he has stashed in a secret vault in his palatial house. His friend, a wealthier and more powerful tycoon, Nithyanand Shenoy (Mammootty), hurriedly leaves his Kasargod residence to meet Chandrabhanu (Sai Kumar), a high-profile politician in Kochi. The latter had handed over Rs 25 crore in cash to Shenoy’s men in a business deal, just an hour before the announcement. An angry Shenoy threatens him, asking him to return the money in new notes. However, things go terribly wrong when Chandru (Hareesh), one of Shenoy’s loyal men, accidentally shoots Chandrabhanu, killing him instantly.
This scene has an absurd quality reminiscent of films like Burn After Reading. Shenoy, while mouthing threats and making tall claims, turns his back on the camera, like the usual masala-movie hero. That’s when Chandru pulls the trigger. Shenoy’s face turns red, his aura of invincibility suddenly lost. He feels human and vulnerable. This faux-pas launches a cascade of mishaps as Shenoy and his gang try to hide the gun, which inadvertently lands in Muthu’s hands.
Ranjith uses hipster music (something he perhaps discovered recently) all over the film mindlessly. There is a song featuring Mia, Shine, and Muthu flaunting their newly-found power – the pistol. It starts off well, but soon becomes wearisome as Ranjith stretches it out. Same goes for the scenes depicting police violence. There is slapstick humour in how Chandru and the men are nabbed by the police. Then the film gets into Visaaranai-mode, confusing the audience. Ranjith traverses from one genre to another inconsistently, making little sense at the end.
Neither is there logic to why Shenoy, a daredevil, cools his heels instead of retrieving the pistol from the child as soon as possible and moving on to more important things. Probably because Ranjith wants to play with this unlikely pair – a tycoon and a smart teenage underdog, like he did in Pranchiyettan and The Saint.
It works to some extent, mostly due to the actors’ performance. When Shenoy tries to convince Muthu that he is in fact, a don who kills and robs, the child says, “Like a goon? Kochi is full of goons.” As if there is nothing interesting about that profession. It’s a funny scene.
Mammootty plays his role with the utmost sincerity, nailing the awkwardness in Shenoy’s mannerisms. There is a scene where he and his aide, Mammookkoya, are taken to Muthu’s colony by Indrans, a simpleton ragpicker. Despite being dressed in an ordinary t-shirt and lungi, Shenoy looks outstanding. His predicament – of being in a completely unfamiliar situation – is totally believable.
After a long time, Mammootty seems completely relaxed in a role.
Among the supporting actors, Baiju stands out for his flawless comic timing and nuanced performance as Kunjappan, a local thug. Indrans, who gets just a couple of scenes, is equally brilliant. Master Swaraj is a natural performer and a great dancer, and Iniya plays her part well.
At the end when the film finally reaches its climax (at a snail’s pace), it’s a let down thanks to an unintentionally funny stunt sequence.
The blame lies with Ranjith, who has barely improved as a director since his initial days. He still makes films as if they were radio dramas; overtly dependent on dialogues.
Puthan Panam could have been a far better movie. It just needed some logic, and a better sense of cinema.
The Puthan Panamreview 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.
The Kerala High Court, on Wednesday, directed the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) to probe the death of actor Kalabhavan Mani following a bail plea submitted by the actor’s wife, Nimmy, and his brother, RLV Ramakrishnan. The court has asked the CBI to take up the case in a month’s time.
The CBI had earlier refused to take up the case citing workload and a shortage of staff. The bureau had also told the court, citing various medical and police reports, that the actor died of liver ailments.
The 45-year-old actor-singer died on March 6, 2016, a few hours after he was found in a serious condition at his farmhouse at Chalakudy, his hometown. His family members have been alleging foul play in his death, which was refuted by the investigation report submitted by the Kerala State Police.
However, a report submitted by the medical board constituted by the State government, on March 29, had stated that Mani died of methyl alcohol poisoning. The report had also pointed out that common pesticides, drugs, alkaloids, metallic and volatile poisons were not found in his viscera and blood samples.
“We have always been alleging a foul play in Mani’s death. But the police handled the case carelessly. They were too eager to close the file, concluding that it was a natural death,” said Ramakrishnan. “Now the court has acknowledged our doubts, taking into account the medical reports that said Mani was poisoned. I suspect the police had been trying to protect the culprits all along,” he said. Ramakrishnan, a singer and performance artist, added that the family will continue the legal battle until the truth comes to light.
Gopi Sunder, the most sought-after composer in Mollywood at the moment – “almost all Vishu movies are mine,” he laughs – keeps a cool head more often than not. He’s not trained in music; doesn’t understand raagas or gamakkas, and believes there are certain advantages of not having learnt them. “I don’t have to unlearn the raagas to be creative. Cinema is not a place to display your erudition,” he says.
Sometimes, the director would like a tune, and would want the composer to do something similar, Gopi explains; so he’d tweak notations enough to not get into legal trouble. “Of course, that doesn’t fool people, but I’m not ashamed to admit it in public. The critics and trolls cannot haul me to court over this.”
The notes come to Gopi anyway; formal training or no.
That too, at the opportune moment.
“I would be in a trance, then…”
Bhavas are his primary source of inspiration. When you arrange notes in a certain way, they emote, he declares. “Khamboji, Hamsadhwani, Mohanam… the names aren’t important to me. I look for the emotions that the notes convey.”
He often breaks into a song during our conversation. Or a random tune. One time, it’s Ethu Kari Raavilum, a popular number from the movie Bangalore Days – and his favourite. To Gopi, the impromptu songs and tunes are parts of natural speech. He uses them as one would an adjective. To describe or enhance something he says, to drive home a point – or to merely exist as a dramatized expression that just doesn’t seem out of place. Music seems to be an organic extension of his personality. He’s fluent in music-speak. So when Gopi says, “I don’t think there was a particular moment when I decided to make music my career; it’s always been a part of my life,” I’m quite inclined to believe him.
I reach Gopi Sunder’s studio in Kochi on a March afternoon, a week before the release of the now-popular soundtrack from the audio album of Amal Neerad’s CIA. A bunch of young programmers sit in the hallway, earphones plugged in, glued to their computers.
A few minutes later, the composer ushers me in.
I ask him about the projects he is working on.
A wide smile.
“Several,” he says, leaning back on the sofa. “Mexican Apaaratha, which released last week, Take Off, Amal Neerad’s Comrade In America, 1971: Beyond Border, Georgettan’s Pooram, Sathya…”
I am hardly surprised. If there’s something Gopi is known for other than his music-making prowess, it’s his fast-paced working style, coupled with a fine understanding of commercial cinema. “I have experience of over 20 years in the industry. That helps,” he says. “I work on a tight schedule. To me, the technical process of composing is easy. I’d be thinking about music all the time, and when I finally sit down to work, it gets done quickly.”
This working pattern, however, isn’t “mechanical”; Gopi just doesn’t let those “mood-swings” upset his work. A skill that comes from experience. He calls the process artistic, even spiritual. Sometimes draining, but mostly satisfying.
Usually, Gopi listens to a script outline or a situation-description and begins working on a tune right away. “I prefer to compose in the presence of the singer, lyricist, director, and scriptwriter. I don’t need solitude or privacy. Sometimes, I make a tune while hanging out with them in a tea shop. I sing in the public, though I am not a good singer.”
Over the years, Gopi Sunder has created some of the most popular ‘mass’ numbers in Malayalam, the latest being the leitmotif of Puli Murukan. It seems effortless from the outside. “It’s in fact more difficult to compose a fast number in Malayalam,” Gopi laughs. “You should know the youth to make a popular song. To understand that, I go to theatres, tea shops…the places that people frequent. I interact with college students. I have never cut myself off from the public, but have become a part of it. It becomes easy to cater to their taste then.”
Of course, it’s not easy to make songs that stay with the audience for a long time. Especially now. “The world is busier,” agrees Gopi. “Now, by the time people grow fond of a song, another number would top the music charts.” Yet, the composer believes there’s space for all kinds of music. “I have noticed that the younger generation listens to both old and new songs. That’s an encouraging trend. I listen to songs by Baburaj and MS Vishwanathan as much as I enjoy the new soundtracks.”
Gopi is also an ardent fan of commercial cinema. “I watch a lot of films – commercial as well as classics, from all over the world. I would say that the composer who is used to working in commercial films, can work in art films with equal efficiency, but not vice versa. Not because composing for commercial films is more difficult, but because they look at commercial films as lowly.”
Gopi Sunder, as he has admitted in many a TV interview, owes a lot to his failure in his tenth standard board examinations. He discontinued his education after he failed the exams, and joined the team of composer Ouseppachan, his father’s friend. The journey since hasn’t been easy, he admits. “People look at me and say I’m lucky. But they don’t realise that this did not happen in a day. I toiled for 12 years to get my first film assignment. As a background music composer in Big B, and later, as an independent composer in Siby Malayil’s Flash.”
His highly successful oeuvre includes songs like Olanjali Kuruvi (from 1983), for which he roped in veteran singers Jayachandran and Vani Jayaram. The background score that he’d composed for 1983 fetched him a National Award in 2013. Most of his background scores, and leitmotif bear his signature, I tell him. While, according to many composers, an ideal score must blend into the narrative, Gopi says, “It depends on the nature of the film. Some require a score that blends with the narration, some need a track that stands out on its own. What makes a background score extraordinary is the sensibility with which it’s used in the film. It should convey the essence of a scene.”
One of his favourite background scores in Malayalam cinema is that one in Manichithrathazhu.
The electrifying, sometimes overbearing, background scores in Indian commercial films, are sometimes necessary, says Gopi. “In India, we have movies where the hero fights off 10 men single-handedly. For such highly-fantasised sequences, we need punchy music.”
Gopi Sunder’s work in films like Charlie, Ustad Hotel, and Kali have been much appreciated.
“I am ready to do all kinds of films. The directors I work with have varied sensibilities. Ultimately, my job is to keep my clients satisfied. That would give me more work.”
I remind him of a recently-released movie for which the background music that he composed had fallen flat. “I know it didn’t work,” Gopi admits. “Sometimes, I tell the directors how to use a score. I tell them where to add the BGM and where to use silence. But if he/she is so persistent that they need the film to be filled with music, I can’t help. I would try further only if the project is one I feel so emotionally attached to. Again, if it’s a film that makes you go ‘wow’, that would definitely be helmed by a director who is sensible enough to know that the film doesn’t need to be filled with sound tracks.”
He pauses, and then adds, “but if the director wants me to fill the film with loud music, and kill it, I would do that too. To survive in the industry, one has to be ready to face such clients.”
Needless to say, there’s no filter that Gopi applies to the projects that he sings. He takes up everything. He works with “all kinds of people” in “every kind of film”.
“I believe there’s an audience for every type of filmmaking. If you want to be in the industry, you cannot afford to be choosy.”
Earlier in his career, Gopi had worked on advertisements. He still does sometimes, between film assignments. Once in a while, he scores for short films too. “I can do any number of films simultaneously. Once, I’d worked on 28 films including some Telugu and Tamil films. I began doing Telugu because they make you feel very comfortable. They pump in good money because they trust my abilities. The songs I composed for the seven to eight Telugu films have done very well.”
Gopi wants to be remembered as the person who took a road less travelled. “Remember when the first posters of Big B appeared on the walls of Kochi? People said it looked like a jeans advertisement starring Mammootty. They hadn’t seen such a chic, modern movie in Malayalam before. Didn’t Big B change the face of Malayalam cinema? Similar difference has happened in music too. It’s more experimental.”
He is also one of the few composers who has been encouraging actors and actresses to lend their own voice to songs. Actor Dulquer Salmaan debuted as a playback singer through ABCD, in Gopi’s composition. The actor, encouraged by the tremendous response that the song received, tried his hand at singing in three more films – Manglish, Charlie, and the latest, CIA. It is not just commerce that drives this trend, Gopi says. “These actors are really talented singers. Doesn’t it sound better when the actor himself sings the songs pictured on him? That would be more natural. I am not making them sing a highly complicated song like Harimuraleeravam, but a simple number that they can sing with perfection. I made Ninne Kanda Kadalalakal Pole to make Prithviraj and Mamta sing because I knew they were good singers. We added the song as an epilogue to the film because there was no apt situation for it.”
The composer thinks it’s a good time for budding singers who want to take up music as a career. “Earlier, there were just a few singers in the industry – Yesudas, Chithra, MG Sreekumar….Now there many of them, and they are all busy with shows and programmes in and outside the country.”
Gopi has a band, Band Big G, with which he does live shows in Dubai. “It’s part of the brand building process,” he says. He is the only permanent member of the band.
Recently, Gopi also launched his own music company. “I haven’t charted out a concrete plan for the company, but the goal is to handle the audio market deals and royalty business – YouTube, audio of the films I like, etc. – by myself. It’s like an investment.” He also looks at this company as something he can retire into. “See, this whole set up that is in existence now – director and producer approaching a music director to compose music – will change and a more a systematic corporate set up will come up soon.” For instance, he has programmers who work with him day and night to program the tunes that he composes. Gopi claims to be a programmer himself. If the project is something that he finds special, like Ustad Hotel and Take Off, or those that need really good attention, like Pulimurugan, he would sit down and work on everything from composing to programming, all by himself.
Ustad Hotel is, again, one of the few movies that Gopi Sunder is personally attached to. Another such movie is Bangalore Days. The Sufi-style music that he tried out for Ustad Hotel earned him a lot of praise.
The composer, however, says that the repeated use of Sufi elements in his songs is incidental. “I used it in Anwar and Ustad Hotel, which had an Islamic background. In Charlie, I used it in a scene where Dulquer’s character is walking out of a lodge with a child whom he rescued from a pimp. Martin said he was not sure about using a Sufi piece there since Charlie isn’t affiliated to any particular religion. But I knew this would touch a cord with Dulquer’s biggest fan base, the Malabar region, which otherwise, might not be fond of a film like Charlie. I understand how audience’s psychology works inside a theatre. In a scene as this, where Charlie acts like a demi-god, a savior, people would see only Dulquer. So it’s best to play to the gallery by cashing in on his off-screen image. The Sufi theme song worked out fantastically.”
He begins composing in silence. That’s Gopi’s first note.
There’s a method of composing that many use, Gopi explains, of adding a tune to a rhythm. He doesn’t do that.
“Once I hear a director’s narration, I sit down and hum a tune to him. If he likes it, I will begin orchestration. There is no technology dependence here. I am trying to use less and less of technology.”
Although Gopi is adept at using technology, he’s careful with it, so as to not lose the “soul” of his music. “I started off as a live music composer. Even now, I am confident that I can compose live with 100 pieces of orchestra in front of me. That’s something I learnt from Osephachan, whom I assisted for many years. I have 23 years of experience. I have done it all. I don’t think anybody else in my generation can claim this,” he says.
Earlier, there was an impressive way of composing, Gopi recalls. “Musicians and composers would meet at a place and start working on a song. I want to bring it back, systematically, with effective use of technology. I want to include singers in the process of composing. Those days, singers like Dasettan and Janakiyamma knew the pain that went into the process of composing. That made a difference in their singing too.”
Gopi Sunder is someone who hardly loses his temper. “I live in the moment,” he says. The latest accusation of plagiarism levelled against him is that of copying the tune of “Njan Ninne Thedi Varum” – a song in the album of Jayaram’s Sathya – from the song “Halena Halena” in the Tamil film Irumurugan.
He handles the merciless trolls on social media platforms effortlessly, giving it back in kind. When I ask him if filmmakers themselves tell him to plagiarise songs, he ignores the question with a smile. A sly response soon follows, “Do you think I’m so crazy or talent-less to plagiarise songs all the time?”
“This is how it happens,” he later adds, “the editor, while doing rough cuts, would lift a soundtrack of their choice to fill a portion. The director, after listening to it, might grow fond of it, and would ask the music director to do something similar. Most of the time, it’s hard to convince them with another tune. They will think the copied one is better than an original tune, even when that’s not the case. It’s human psychology.”
A recent status on his Facebook page conveys much the same:
[There is greater audience for ‘copied’ songs than original tunes.]
So, Gopi tweaks notations to satisfy the directors. Tweaks them enough to not land himself in legal trouble.
The Indian Copyright Law defines ‘musical work’ as “a work consisting of music and includes any graphical notation of such work but does not include any words or any action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with the music. A musical work need not be written down to enjoy copyright protection.”
“Of course, people will know,” Gopi agrees. “They will definitely spot similarities between two songs.”
To make up for all the songs that go wrong for reasons which are not in his control, Gopi Sunder churns out brilliant original scores time and again. “All the allegations and criticisms motivate me to make better songs,” he shrugs. “Instead of spending my time and energy in reacting to trolls and defending myself, I deliver a super-hit song immediately. Like Ethu Kari Raavilum, for instance.”
The Gopi Sunder interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
Director Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, the film which the CBFC refused to certify in February 2017, has been declared eligible to participate in the coveted Golden Globes Awards. The announcement was made on the opening night of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), where it was screened.
According to a Mumbai Mirror report, the director of IFFLA, Christina Marouda, announced ahead of the film’s screening at LA, “We are honored that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has chosen our opening night film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, to be an official Golden Globes qualifying screening. The director of the film will now have the opportunity to properly plan a Golden Globes campaign should she choose to submit the film for nomination.”
The film, starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, follows four women as they search for a little freedom in their lives. It has already won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival, and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
The film was denied a censor certificate in India for several reasons including “women’s fantasies” and abusive language. Clarifying the censor board’s stand, Pahlaj Nihalani, who heads the board, had said, “We only have objections to the content of the movie [sic]. The treatment given to the issue of ‘women empowerment’ was the reason we did not give this film a certificate.” The film was sent to the CBFC’s Revising Committee in early February. However, the committee decided to not award the movie a censor certificate.
During the lengthy India-Pakistan war sequence in the climax portion of Major Ravi’s latest film, 1971 Beyond Borders, there is a bizarre moment. Amidst all the fighting, guns, and wailing, actor Mohanlal, who plays Major Sahadevan, the head of the Indian army battalion, starts a conversation with his Pakistani counterpart, Raja (Arunoday Singh). “I have heard a lot of things about you,” shouts Raja from the trench he is hiding in.
Sahadevan, from another trench a few feet away, replies, “I have heard a lot of things about you, too. That you are as ferocious as a tiger etc [sic]. But before the next sunrise, I will kill you and your people.”
Raja responds, “In your dreams!”
Would army chiefs of two countries engage in trash talk on a real war ground? This is something Major Ravi should know, for he has first-hand experience of wars and guns. This scene, which is shot like a stage play, is a hint to what is in store. Ravi’s 1971 Beyond Borders is a clumsily-executed, blatantly-jingoist film.
The film is Ravi’s sixth military movie, and the fourth one in his ‘Major Mahadevan series’ starring Mohanlal. Over the years, a lot of things have changed. Mahadevan has been promoted as a Colonel. He is now working with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. His big, round belly is bigger than ever. After years of annihilating Pakistani army, and screaming lessons of patriotism into the ears of selfish, cowardly senior officers and the hapless audience, Mahadevan is now fighting terrorism across the world.
Minutes into the film, you see him valiantly saving a group of unguarded Pakistani soldiers from the middle of a shootout. Ravi has shot the scene at his corniest best, using close-up, slow-mo shots of Indian and Pakistani men fighting hand in hand. When the shootout is over, Pakistani men, on the verge of tears, pay their gratitude to Mahadevan. “You saved us, even though we are Pakistanis,” the head of the group tells Mahadevan. And the man replies, “That’s what Indians do. We never consider anyone an enemy…”
The film, based on the Indo-Pak war of 1971, has Mohanlal playing a dual role – as Mahadevan and as Major Sahadevan, father of Mahadevan. The movie pretends to discuss the catastrophic consequences of war by romanticizing war. There is a scene where a senior intelligence officer arrives at the Indian camp to discuss with Sahadevan the possibilities of surrendering to Pakistan since it has Britain, USA and China aiding it. However, the word ‘surrender’ causes Sahadevan, the dare-devil patriot, see red. “No matter who comes for Pakistan’s aid, we will win,” he shouts at the officer, and proudly walks his team of soldiers to the war ground, as the intelligence officer gawks at him in awe. The film looks at war merely as a physical exercise where men sacrifice themselves like gladiators at the altar of nationalism.
Like every other Major Ravi film, 1971 has a bunch of thoroughly-dull characters who mouth template lines such as, “I am always ready to die for my country”. The army camp consists of over-weight Malayalee soldiers, and a couple of Tamilians. When not on war ground, they are seen reminiscing about their lovely life in Kerala, or serving water to injured Pakistani soldiers in the Indian war prisoners’ camp. These scenes are juxtaposed with that of the Pakistani war prisoners’ camp, to show how generous and ethical Indians are, as against the barbarous Pakistanis.
One of the few sensible sequences in the film belongs to Sudheer Karamana who plays Captain Adhiselvam. Upon the order of Sahadevan, Adhiselvam goes to a Kerala village to inform an ailing father of the death of his son on the war field. The father is on the death bed and Adhiselvam, caught between his duty and humaneness, stands by his bed, unable to mention the news of the son’s death. This sequence, which had several possibilities, like The Bull Beneath The Earth, is, unfortunately, reduced to a non-imaginative tear-jerker.
1971 is the kind of movie where characters, dressed in army uniforms, scream things like, “enemy is coming this way, turn left and hit them by their shoulder”. Wouldn’t you rather watch a Dangal or a Chak De India where these types of strategies actually belong? 1971 is a one-sided account of a slice of history, told with the help of a toxic cocktail of jingoism, nationalism and a lack of understanding of cinema.
The 1971 Beyond Borders 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 an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.
Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and Malayalam actress Surabhi have won the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively at the 64th National Film Awards. The jury was headed by director Priyadarshan (feature film category) and cinematographer Raju Misra (non-feature film category). The results were announced at a press conference at the National Media Centre in New Delhi on Friday morning.
Kumar won the award for his portrayal of a senior naval officer who murders his wife’s lover in Tinu Suresh Desai’s Rustom. Surabhi’s portrayal of a young widow in the Malayalam film, Minnaminungu, won her the award. The actress also won the Kerala State Award for the Best Supporting Actress for this role in March.
This year, regional film industries like Marathi, Tamil and Bengali dominated the awards.
Marathi film Kaasav (Turtles), directed by Sumitra Bhave, won the award for the Best Feature Film, while director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhhury’s debut Bollywood film Pink, a critically and commercially successful film on sexual harassment, won the award for the Best Film on Social Issues. Shyam Pushkaran won the award for the best screenplay (original) for his Malayalam film, Maheshinte Prathikaaram. The award for the best screenplay (adapted) went to Sanjay Krishnaji Patil for Marathi film, Dashakriya. The award for best dialogues was won by Tarun Bhaskar for his film, Peli Chupulu.
Director Rajesh Mapuskar won the award for Best Director for his Marathi film, Ventilator. The film, which is produced by actress Priyanka Chopra and stars director Ashutosh Gowarikar, also won the awards for editing (Rameshwar S Bhagat) and re-recording.
Young actress Zaira Wasim, who portrayed the teenager wrestler Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s Dangal, won the award for the Best Supporting Actress. Actor Mohanlal won a special jury mention for his roles in the Munthiri Vallikal Thalirkkumbol, Janata Garage, and Puli Murugan.
The jury also named Uttar Pradesh as the most cinema-friendly state, while Jharkhand won a special jury mention in that regard. Uttar Pradesh won the award “For implementing a unique film policy, taking into account that the film medium is not only about entertainment but is also a very important vehicle of employment, social awareness and cultural development.”
Actors Sonam Kapoor and Adil Hussain won special jury mentions for their roles in Neerja and Mukti Bhawan respectively.
Three actors won the award for Best Child Artistes this year – Adish Praveen for Kunju Daivam (Malayalam) b) Nur Islam and Samiul Alam for Sahaj Pather Gappo (Bengali) c) Manohara. K for Railway Children (Kannada). Director Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak won the award for the best children’s film.
Tamil cinema won a number of awards this year. Producer-writer G Dhananjayan won his second National Award for the Best Film Critic, while lyricist Vaira Muthu won the Best Lyrics award for the song “Entha Pakkam” from the film, Joker, which also won the award for the Best Tamil Film. Suriya’s 24 won two awards in the technical category – for Best Cinematography (DoP Thirunavukarasu), and Best Production Design (Subrata Chakraborthy, Shreyas Khedekar & Amit Ray).
This year, an award for Best Stunt Choreographer was introduced for the first time. Peter Hein won the award for his work in Mohanlal’s Puli Murugan. The award for the best non-feature film went to Malayalam documentary Chembai: My Discovery of a Legend, directed by Soumya Sadanandan. Lata Surgatha, a book on the story of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, won the award for the best book on cinema.