When Movies Are Built On Memories, Or Their Absence

On World Alzheimer’s Day, a look at movies – old and new – in which memory becomes a character, an invisible, compelling presence

Memory is a powerful plot device. Sometimes, it is the bridge that links two timelines, and during others, it makes for intense characterisations. AR Murugadoss’s Ghajini is perhaps the first Indian film that popularised memory loss as a plot idea, but older films like Innale (Padmarajan, 1990), Yaarana and Moondram Pirai dealt with a similar theme. 

In Innale, a young woman has her memory wiped out clean, as if someone formatted a hard drive. Shobana plays a woman who lands in a hospital in a mountain village after being rescued from a fatal bus accident that killed all her co-passengers. There is no information of her identity, and there seems to be no way to find it. Her doctor, a kind lady, played by Sreevidya, takes care of her. She falls in love with the doctor’s son. This is similar to Aki Kaurismaki’s A Man Without A Past, where a man wakes up from sleep with no memory. He makes new friends, rents out a container home in a blue-collar area, finds a job at a charity organisation, and falls in love with a colleague. Both the characters – in Innale and A Man Without A Past – have reconciled with the fact that their memory is damaged. In both films, it is with social support that the characters lead a normal life. Their personalities do not undergo significant changes, and they are aware of the retrograde amnesia they are suffering from.

In Kamal Haasan’s Moondram Pirai, retrograde amnesia is used as a plot device for the sake of portraying a complex relationship drama. The authenticity of the disease is of little value in this film which was inspired by Balu Mahendra’s brief relationship with a much younger actress – Shoba – who committed suicide at the age of 18. A young woman, Bhagyalakshmi (Sreedevi), meets with a fatal accident that damages her brain. When we see her next, she has no memory of her past or even her name, and is with the intellect of a child. A man from Ooty, Sreenivas (Kamal Haasan), rescues her from a brothel where she is trapped in, and takes her to his village. He names her Viji. The relationship between this man and the woman who is more or less a child, that borders on romance, forms the premise of Moondram Pirai. According to Hari Narayanan of The Hindu, “In a moment of empathy or love, he (Sreenivas) takes a captive amnesiac back home, to his world, where he wants to perhaps preserve her as a painting, as a masterpiece. Where he wants to keep her not as much as an individual, but as a muse.” Later, Viji regains her memory, and re-assumes her original identity as Bhagyalakshmi. This return of memory cuts her off completely from Sreenivas, rendering him heartbroken. 

Time and again, medical experts have written about how portrayal of amnesia in mainstream movies have little resemblance to the illness in real life. A BBC piece dated December 24, 2004, quotes researchers from the National Society for Epilepsy who point out three prime aberrations in the movies’ portrayal of memory loss. Sometimes, the characters affected with amnesia undergo complete personality changes –  the ‘bad’ characters become ‘good’ with the onset of amnesia (like in Roshan Andrews’s Mumbai Police). In reality, amnesiacs’ personalities are rarely affected, says the BBC piece. One of the few instances in which cinema has accurately portrayed loss of memory is, according to experts around the world, in Christopher Nolan’s Memento which is about a patient of Anterograde Amnesia (the inability to store or recall new events and information, but have little effect on patient’s ability to remember events from their past). The genius filmmaker that Nolan is, didn’t limit the portrayal of amnesia to the film’s plot, but used cinematic possibilities to express how a patient suffering from memory loss sees the world. Memento‘s fragmented narrative and the noir lighting resemble the man’s broken memories and muddled thoughts. 

Murugadoss’s Ghajini borrowed its story idea from Memento, but used a linear, uncomplicated narrative of a regular Indian masala movie. The lead man in the film, Sanjay, is suffering from a case of  Anterograde Amnesia that makes it impossible for him to remember day to day events. Like Memento‘s Leonard, Sanjay uses Polaroid photographs and notes to keep track of his life. Unlike the usual nature of patients suffering from Anterograde Amnesia, Sanjay has no memory of his past, too. He doesn’t remember how the tragedy that damaged his brain happened and he has no memory of his life before the incident. All he has is a perfect six-pack body on which he has tattooed names and clues to his past, and a broken heart that he vehemently tries to avenge. Murugadoss’s film takes immense creative liberty in the portrayal of an amnesiac patient for the sake of entertainment. Unlike Memento, Ghajini isn’t interested in the complex nature of memories. It has its focus on the romance between the lead characters, which outlives the woman’s death. 

In Prithviraj’s Mumbai Police, an accident wrecks the protagonist’s memory. When he recuperates, he begins life afresh, without any memory of his past. He has forgotten his friends, family and colleagues. The man, who had been a ruthless cop before, becomes a gentleman. A homosexual, he is appalled when his lover walks into his apartment and flirts with him. When he realises that he ‘might have been gay before’, he breaks down in tears. In spite of being memory-less, the man perfectly understands that homosexuality is perceived as a moral breach, and a crime in the society.

Partial memory loss is, in our cinema, mostly used as an excuse for humour. In the recent Malayalam film, Adventures Of Omanakkuttan, the titular protagonist is a young man searching for himself when he loses his memory temporarily after a taxi driver hits him on the head and steals all his documents. He is aware of his state of memory loss, unlike the man in Naduvule Koncham Pakkathe Kaanum, where a soon-to-be-groom, happily oblivious to his state of amnesia, gives a hard time to his friends who are attempting to cover up his predicament. Within a short period of time, these characters regain their memory. 

Clinically, Alzheimer’s disease is different from amnesia, for the former is a degeneration of brain cells that results in permanent damage of memory. This irrecoverable nature of Alzheimer’s has inspired a number of tragic dramas. Blessy’s Thanmatra, starring Mohanlal, was an overtly sentimental tale of a family coping with the sudden attack of Alzheimer’s on the head of the household, a government officer who had been leading a very active life until then. It neglects the clinical troubles faced by the patient in favour of long-winded melodramatic sequences that showcase the distress of the people around him. In Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani, a much nuanced portrayal of Alzheimer’s can be seen, although it is not central to the film’s plot. Leela Samson plays Bhavani, a dance enthusiast and wife of Prakash Raj. Stricken with Alzheimer’s, she loses a little memory every day. The couple, one step at a time, prepares for the looming memory loss. 

Reconstruction of memory

“Look, memory can change the shape of a room. It can change the colour of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation. They’re not a record. They’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” – Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Of everything about memories that movies present to us, the most unrealistic is, perhaps, the use of flashback. 

Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots begins as a first-person flashback narration by Raju, one of the three ‘Idiots’ in the film. He tells us about his time in the college where he met the other protagonist, Rancho. The portions of his life that the narrators have had no access to, are left ambiguous. In fact, throughout 3 Idiots, until its climatic portion, Rancho is a reconstruction of a collective memory. Such flashback narrations, anchored by a person close to the protagonist, help the audience relate to the character. Our commercial cinema has always used flashback narration freely and frequently to link two pieces of time, or to tie up the loose ends of a story.

Balu Mahendra made an entire film that unfolds as a flashback. Yathra (Journey) has Mammootty, a former prisoner, narrating his tragic love story to a group of school children and teachers. What testifies to his tale is a shot of his lover, played by Shobana, waiting for him at his destination, as she had promised, at the end of the film. 

In Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the love story between Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) and Anjali (Kajol) that occupies the second half of the film is based on Tina’s (Rani Mukherjee) memory of their time together in college, in the form of diary notes. The film doesn’t doubt the authenticity of the notes, and does not take into account the fact that human feelings can undergo changes over the course of time. When we see Anjali next, her look has changed – from a tomboy to that of a sanskari saree-clad woman, but her feelings for Rahul are curiously intact.

For a long time, mainstream filmmakers confidently convinced the audience that the information that flashback sequences divulge, even when they are from a third person’s memory, is factual and objective. Only, it is not. Charlie Kaufman, the maverick writer, looked at memory as a physical space in Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Minds. In Harry Potter’s universe, memory is stored as a mercury-like liquid in a store room, and characters can review memories in real time, for a more objective version of events.  

The subjective and unreliable nature of memories was the core theme of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, which is centered around the trial of a bandit who is alleged to have raped a beautiful woman and killed her samurai husband. Four different versions of the incident are presented to the audience as witness testimonies. The versions are conflicting, and influenced by the witness’s personalities and outlook.

In Raam Reddy’s Thithi, there is an extraordinary scene where the film’s lead character, Gaddappa, a bearded old man who has left his home to be a wanderer, sits by a campfire and narrates his life story to a group of shepherds. After recounting a bitter tale of adultery that tore his life apart, he says, “This happened so long ago. I am no longer able to say if this is real or a dream that I had last night.” 

Rakshit Shetty’s Kannada drama Ulidavaru Kandante (As Seen By Others), is a story woven with many people’s  recollections of a person’s life and death. In Ulidavaru Kandante, flashback versions do not conflict, but help the anchor, a journalist, looking to write a feature piece. The film is being remade in Tamil as Richie, with Nivin Pauly playing the lead. Shaji N Karun’s 2010 film, Kutti Srank, is a portrait of a man’s life as told by three women who claim to have known him in three different periods in his life. The women are visibly in love with him, and their words weave a mystical image of the man. 

In director Kamal’s Ulladakkam (1991), the past of Reshma (Amala Akkineni) is recounted through recurring images of a turbulent sea and a rocky seashore where her lover was murdered, with an image of him playing drums on a stage. We don’t know the details of their relationship, but these images that frequent her memory is a testimony to the intensity of her feelings for him. Her memory of him is fragmented and hazy, like how memories appear to most of us. The more she clutches onto those pieces of memory, the weaker they become. 

The lyrics of the song ‘Pathira Mazhayetho’, talks about her desperation to hold on to them.

“എൻ്റെ ലോകം നീ മറന്നു

ഓർമ്മ പോലും മാഞ്ഞു പോകുവതെന്തേ”

[You have abandoned my world;

Now, your memories too, are fading away]

*****

World Alzheimer’s Day falls on September 21 every year. Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have to bear the trauma of fading memory and gradual decrease in the ability to think coherently. In India’s huge elderly population, 1.6 million suffer from this disease, with not much awareness about early detection.

Lucknow Central Review: Corny Prison Drama Where Music Plays The Moderator

Ranjit Tiwari’s Lucknow Central is about Kishan, a small-town musician who is serving jail sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. He has a burning dream to start a music band, and when the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh embarks on an ingenious prison reformation plan — of organising a music band competition in Lucknow Central Prison — Kishan finds an opportunity. He volunteers to make the band, and alongside, hatches a plan to escape from the prison.  

The initial moments of the film is cut like a film trailer, hastily providing you with a brief account of Kishan’s life in Moradabad. He is ambitious and optimistic. He has a clout of friends and well-wishers who love his music, and his father, a librarian, affectionately supports him financially and emotionally. Out of the blue, this man is dragged out of his house by the police, and presented before the court in a murder trial. Before you realise what is going on, Kishan has spent 18 months in prison as a murder convict. 

Lucknow Central is like a bad Bollywood spoof of Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and decides to immerse himself in his job as a librarian and log-keeper in the prison. Kishan’s music band activities move the criminals in the prison like how poetry affects the dull life of students in Dead Poets Society. Akhtar’s film is overtly sentimental, and is stuffed with tasteless dramatic scenes. Consider the scene where Kishan arrives in Lucknow Central Prison the first time. The jail warden, played by a grumpy Ronit Roy, walks Kishan to the gallows room, puts the noose around his neck and pushes him down. You wonder what is going on. A nightmare sequence or something of more gravity? Then you see Roy bending down, looking at Kishan with an evil smirk, and chewing the words, “Welcome to Lucknow Central!” It is an unintentionally funny scene.

Diana Penty plays a firebrand social worker who bears all the characteristics that a mainstream Bollywood film stuffs into a female firebrand social worker. She is pretty, spunky, idealistic and can be cute if she wants to. Even the most brutal police officials panic when she is around because she argues with them, shouts at them, and threatens to expose them using the pictures which show them making a couple of prisoners do murgha punishment. Roy’s jail warden advises her to get married. Kishan and his friends are grateful to her for believing in them. Penty plays the role earnestly, but ends up being one-note. 

Akhtar doesn’t look like Kishan. He never lets go of that urbane sophistication that made him a star over the years. He tries to hide it, but it is quite visible in his every movement on-screen. On his first day in the prison, a group of prisoners take him to their leader who tries to threaten him. Kishan stands his ground, and walks away from them. Akhtar does an ‘in-your-face’ performance in the scene, absolutely sans any empathy for Kishan’s vulnerable situation. 

Lucknow Central isn’t poignant, although there are talks about dream and destiny throughout the film. The technical departments and the music aren’t particularly interesting. The film, nevertheless, has a strong supporting cast. Ravi Kishan’s performance as the chief minister, for one, is impressive. The evil edge that he adds to the character works out fantastically. There is a scene where the prison band has to do an impromptu performance in front of the prison IG. It’s actors like Deepak Dobriyal and Rajesh Sharma who shoulder that comical scene which is perhaps the best part of the film. It is genuinely funny — A bunch of grown-ups trying their hand at playing musical instruments they haven’t touched before. They are completely oblivious to the fact that they are goofing it up. The film, in entirety, isn’t half as enjoyable as that scene. 

***

The Lucknow Central 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.

Suraj Venjaramoodu Interview: “I Didn’t Sleep The Night We Shot That Emotional Scene In ‘Action Hero Biju'”

National Award-winning actor Suraj Venjaramoodu has yet another title bestowed on him by friends. Thanks to his willing participation in the new wave of Malayalam cinema, he’s now called ‘New Generation Suraj’. “Mammookka would say, ‘Eda how goes your new generation life,'” Suraj laughs.

Prasad is a law-abiding young man. A farmer who leads the most ordinary life. In the mornings, he works in the field or travels to the city with the farm produce. He likes to spend the evenings playing chess with his friends, or indulging in recreational activities organised by a local ‘Arts & Sports Club’. When we see him first, he is watching an old-fashioned theatre play on the village ground. He stays away from violence and alcohol, and believes in the power of the state’s police force. He is content in his quiet existence. 

Prasad is one of the two protagonists in filmmaker Dileesh Pothan’s 2017 film, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (The Loot And The Eye Witness). He is portrayed on-screen by Suraj Venjaramoodu, the National Award-winning Malayalam actor, an inimitable comedy artiste who is a household name in Kerala. 

“When Dileesh described Prasad to me, I thought we were alike in many ways,” says Suraj Venjaramoodu. The 41-year-old actor grew up in Venjaramoodu, a village in the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram city. It was a hub of socio-cultural activities. “I was involved in theatre, mimics parade, indoor sports…”

We are at Suraj’s apartment in Kochi; he is on a brief break from work. A week ago, he was in Bangalore, on the sets of Aabhaasam, a political satire that unfolds over a bus journey from Bangalore to Kerala. He plays a bus conductor in the film. For three days until the previous night, he had been shooting for a television show that he anchors on Flowers TV. Shortly after we wrap up the interview, he travels to Palakkad to join Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Aana Alaralodalaral.

In a career spanning over 11 years, Suraj has rarely taken a break from work. He continues to sprint from one film location to another, one stage to another. Several times a year, he flies abroad to perform at entertainment shows organised by Malayali associations overseas. “I have been to over 40 countries,” he says, “May be, more. I love travelling.” This relentless work pattern doesn’t tire or slow him down. This is the life he always wanted. “Acting isn’t just a job for me. I will quit this profession once I start feeling so.” 

Many a time during our conversation, he gets up and enacts a scene from a movie. A spontaneous actor who can get into and out of a character’s skin instantly, his eyes well up when he talks about Action Hero Biju. “I didn’t sleep the night we shot that scene in which my character walks out of the police station heartbroken. I am an artiste. It is such fantastic creative moments that help me go ahead in life.”

*****

A look at Suraj’s filmography in the last few years reveals a striking transformation in his selection of roles and acting style. His performance has gone from loud to subtle and restrained. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum was followed by Siddharth Bharathan’s Varnyathil Aashanka, in which Suraj played a genius crook who makes a living using his ability to lie through his teeth. His characters, of late, have come out of the shadow cast by the hero, and bear a definite identity.

The change was not a planned one, he says. “Earlier, I had been doing a lot of loud slapstick comedy. That was what that period demanded. We all had to overdo every act, like in a stage skit, and the audience liked it, too. Dileep’s films were highly popular. I have acted in a lot of them.”  

However, after a certain point, it struck him that this style was limiting him as an artiste. “I knew I could do much better. Especially, after cinema became more than just a pastime or profession for me,” he says. “In fact, a few times, I tried to tone down my performance. But each time, the directors asked me to redo it in the signature old style,” he laughs.

Suraj continued to dish out his popular gimmicks. “Even in the most mundane moments, like ringing a doorbell, I do something comical. I would trip on a shoe or act like I got electrocuted.”

He pauses, and says that he has, nevertheless, been sincere to his job. “Once I approached Ranjiyettan (director Ranjith) for character roles. ‘It’s not time yet,’ he told me. ‘Now, people want to see you in comic roles. Do it as much as you can. Serious roles can wait,’ he said.”

Years later, Suraj would play a brief, yet excellent role of a politician in Ranjith’s Spirit

It was in God For Sale, a 2013 film directed by Babu Janardhanan, that Suraj got his first character role. He played a double role, the father and brother of the protagonist, portrayed by Kunchakko Boban.

“When I asked Babu sir what made him choose me, he said I had a face that suited such characters. That was encouraging,” he says.

The same year, he played Enthinum Ethinum Mamachan, a man who has a practical solution to any problem, in Lal Jose’s Pullippuliyum Aattinkuttiyum. “That was not a run-of-mill comic role. During an emotional scene in which I confront an arrogant dancer, and tell her how fleeting success and wealth can be, there was thundering applause in theatres.”

Slowly, Suraj started exploring a turf he had less access to until then. In 2014, Dr Biju approached him with Perariyathavar (The Nameless), a film that would fetch him a National Award for Best Actor. Suraj plays a manual scavenger who lives in the city with his only son.  

“I was in between two films, and had enough time for Biju sir’s film,” says Suraj. He was yet to watch any of the acclaimed director’s films, though. He watched Veettilekkulla Vazhi before Biju narrated the script of Perariyathavar. “I found the character interesting. I was the protagonist, yet I had just a few dialogues,” says Suraj. “That was new. I was, at that time, mouthing pages of dialogues in every film I was in. ”

*****

Suraj grew up in a strict household. His father was a soldier who took early retirement from the Army. “There was financial insecurity when I was growing up. My father wanted us to focus on education. He didn’t like me doing mimicry and club activities,” he says. Vasudevan Nair, Suraj’s father, is now a film buff, who never misses any of his son’s films.

Venjaramoodu was fertile ground for artistes. There were over 60 clubs in the region, and almost all youngsters were involved in club activities. “The country’s first children’s theatre troupe was founded in Venjaramoodu,” says Suraj, a tinge of pride in his voice. “Such club activities helped the youngsters stay focussed. We didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol. Now, there are not many clubs left in Venjaramoodu. I see a lot of old age homes, instead,” he says.

After he became a star, Suraj founded a theatre troupe in his village called Vaisakha Vision (later changed to Kashinatha Theatres). The troupe’s advanced light and sound shows, and plays based on Mahabharatha and Ramayana, are highly popular across the state. However, the troupe is short of artistes at the moment, says Suraj. “The audience loves it, but there aren’t many artistes interested in such programmes these days.”

*****

New age Malayalam cinema, which is all about stories rooted in the milieu of Kerala, with filmmakers making efforts to shun dialogue-based storytelling, has a willing participant in Suraj.

“I have a new nickname in the industry now – New Generation Suraj, ” he laughs. “Mammookka teases me, ‘Eda how goes your new generation life.'” 

After watching Dileesh’s directorial debut Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Suraj had been waiting for an opportunity to work with him. Before he could call Dileesh and ask for an acting opportunity, he got a call from the director, with an offer to portray Prasad in Thondimuthalum. “I was impressed with Maheshinte. I loved the detailing that he had brought into the filmmaking. I wanted to be a part of such a film. Thondimuthal is even more realistic and raw than Mahesh,” says Suraj, who always takes the effort to reach out to the person and tell him how much he loved the work.

Similarly, acclaimed cinematographer-filmmaker Rajeev Ravi’s Annayum Rasoolum and Njan Steve Lopez affected him deeply, and he wanted to work with the filmmaker. He asked Ravi for an acting opportunity; in 2016, he worked in his Kammattipadam. “Who am I to talk about him!” he says when I ask him about Rajeev Ravi. “He is an artiste well above my league. One day, he told me about his new film in which Dulquer Salmaan plays the lead. I asked him if he would have a role for me. Thus, Kammattipadam happened,” he says.

*****

Suraj in ‘Action Hero Biju’. Pic: filmlive.com

The role closest to Suraj’s heart is a nameless cameo he did in Abrid Shine’s 2015 film Action Hero Biju — that of a lower middle-class man who approaches a local police station to claim custody of his little daughter from his estranged wife who eloped with his friend. 

“Initially, Abrid approached me for another role that appears throughout the film. Somehow, it didn’t work out. He told me there was another role that I could do, if I was interested. It was a small one, he said. But when he finally narrated the concept to me, I hopped aboard instantly,” says Suraj. 

He attributes the character’s fineness to Abrid Shine. “He narrates stories so well,” says Suraj. “He told me about this man who loves his daughter more than anything in the world. One day, his wife leaves him and takes the child along. I was moved by his situation,” he says.

Abrid asked him to give the character a name and an address. “He asked me why the man would wait for a few days before filing a missing complaint. I said, maybe, he was waiting for her (the wife) to come back, since he knew she had eloped with his friend. That was how we created that story.”

That film was shot using sync sound. “I was nervous when we filmed it. I was fresh from the National Award. I had to prove I was worthy of it. There was no make-up, and no rehearsal. The scene was completed in the first take. There was absolute silence in the room; not even Abrid said a word. A few minutes later, he came to me and hugged me. I noticed that he was crying.”

Sync sound is a powerful device, says Suraj. “It’s just that Malayalam commercial cinema isn’t very used to it. I am an actor used to the comforts of a dubbing studio. In several films, I have improvised dialogues in the dubbing studio. It’s not easy to pull off sync sound perfectly. But sync sound brings out the best in you. We can perform like we do on stage.”

Before he debuted as an actor on television, Suraj worked as a dubbing artiste. And before that, he worked as an ‘announcer’ for roadside vendors and textile merchants. “We would travel across Kerala in a jeep and announce, ‘Discount Discount! Punjab Silks has slashed its rates to half!“(laughs). “I have even been to remote villages in Idukki. My advantage was that I could announce in both male and female voices. People liked that and would pay attention.”

Later, his voice would launch him to fame in Malayalam cinema. He also helped Mammootty perfect the Thiruvananthapuram dialect for his role in Anwar Rasheed’s Rajamanikyam

“In at least 10-15 movies during my initial days, I was forced to use the Thiruvananthapuram dialect for comedy. Now, when someone asks me to do it, I ask them if the story demands it. I will use that slang only if it’s part of the character’s identity,” he says.

*****

Suraj thought he wouldn’t find success in cinema. “My right hand isn’t fully functional. I had a fracture as a child. I can’t bend my hand or use it freely. I lived with an inferiority complex. But acting isn’t something that only perfect human beings can do. Actors need not have a perfect body.”

We talk about Thondimuthalum Drisksakshiyum again. In the second half of the film, there are long, raw and realistic chase sequences involving Suraj and Fahaadh Faasil. The latter played a thief who stole a gold chain, the only valuable possessed by Prasad and his wife. “We completed the running sequences in six days. We shot it without using a dupe. After the shoot, I took Ayurvedic treatment for my sore muscles,” he laughs.

“In the fight sequence in the climax, I had to jump into a stream. Right before the take, I whispered to Fahadh about my right hand. He assured me that stuntmen would do the scene. And when the take was ready, there stood Dileesh asking, ‘Aren’t you two ready to jump?'” Suraj laughs, recalling the incident. When he expressed reluctance, Dileesh told him, “See if you don’t chase him (Fahadh) and tackle him now, you will lose that gold chain forever. So, run!”

A senior actor like him could have asked for a dupe to perform the stunt that could have damaged his hand permanently. “Dileesh wanted everything to be as realistic as it could be,” he says. “When you are on a film set where every crew member is working hard, and you have a director who knows what he is doing, you also want to contribute to the best of your ability.”

*****

Veteran director-screenwriter Saeed Mirza was part of the jury that chose Suraj for the the National Award. 

Mohanlal told Suraj what Mirza felt about his performance. Switching to Mohanlal’s voice and mannerisms, Suraj narrates that phone conversation to me, “Mone, have you heard of Saeed Mirza? He is a great man. He has seen my film Vasthuhara and he said your performance in Perariyathavar reminded him of me in Vasthuhara!”

But it’s not Mohanlal, but actor Jagathy Sreekumar whom Suraj considers his biggest icon. “When I was young, I used to imitate him. Is there another actor like him in Malayalam cinema who can handle such diverse roles with finesse?” He also recounts watching Shobana’s portrayal of Nagavalli in Manichithrathazhu. “That performance haunts me even today.” 

A day after our interview, I get a phone call from Suraj. “I forgot to mention the name of an actress I admire the most. Urvashi,” he says. “An actor with exceptional comic timing.” Suraj worked with Urvashi in a number of films post her comeback to Mollywood through Sathyan Anthikkad’s Achuvinte Amma in 2005.  

*****

I mention the several films in which his characters unabashedly used sexual innuendos and rape jokes to evoke laughter. In Mr Marumakan, he played a conman whom the film’s protagonist,  played by actor Dileep, hires to rape the villain’s daughter. A certain scene in the film has the rape victim crying in bed, and Suraj, Dileep and Baburaj engaged in a comic performance in front of her.

“Those were my characters, not me,” he says. After a pause, he continues, “For a long time, no one used to give me the script before shoot. And I was hesitant to ask for the script because I was still a junior actor. I feared I would be thrown out of the film for asking for the script. In fact, a few times, I have expressed concerns about such scenes. But I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to do such scenes. Now, I have a say, and I try to use it. When asked to do such a scene, I confront them and ask if the scene is really required for the film. The industry has changed. Even first-time actors are handed the script without a second thought.”

He adds, “The script-writers wrote those scenes and dialogues. If those films were any good, the audience would have accepted them.”

Suraj says that many a time in the past, he had done films that he had no interest in. “In order to reject the film politely, I would try hiking my fee. That was interpreted as arrogance. I couldn’t be curt enough. Also, I have done many films to maintain personal relationships only to be ridiculed because those films were silly. I finally realised one should never help another by agreeing to work in their bad films. I would rather help them financially, than by using my career.”

In 2016, Suraj played a comic character – a bathroom-peeping pervert – in Mohanlal’s mega budget film, Pulimurugan. The film took the box-office by storm, in spite of its outdated form of story-telling and insensitive humour. 

His upcoming film, Aabhaasam, takes a dig at the concept of Aarsha Bharatha Samskaram. Directed by Jubith Namradath and produced under the banner of Rajeev Ravi’s Collective Phase One, it is touted to be a satire that hits out at society’s inherent misogyny and hypocrisy. Suraj’s co-stars in the film include actress Rima Kallingal and transgender activist Sheethal Shyam. 

“We don’t have many good political satires in Malayalam. I hope Aabhasam will make up for that dearth,” says Suraj, adding that he has clear-cut political views. “I don’t go around talking about them, but I make sure that I use my electoral rights carefully. Also, I want to do my job sensibly and sincerely. That’s my biggest social responsibility as an artiste.”

*****

The Suraj Venjaramoodu interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Simran Review: Engaging Yet Inconsistent Film, Shouldered By An Excellent Kangana Ranaut

In the opening shot of Hansal Mehta’s Simran, the camera follows a young woman in apron casually walking into a laundry room of a hotel. It’s a sign. We, the audience, get no invitation into her universe, rather we are tailing her and watching her quietly from a corner.

Simran is a dark tale that bears striking features of a screwball-comedy. It is centred around a young NRI woman in Atlanta. Shortly into the film, she – Simran aka Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut) – bares her unguarded side. She is proudly weird and impulsive, yet possesses a buoyant quality that makes her different from others around her. She isn’t interested in pleasing anyone. She is unapologetic about the not-so-legal solutions that she finds to go ahead in life. We realise this isn’t going to end well for her. One step at a time, she is walking into an ever-tightening noose of financial liabilities and social isolation. It’s a non-judgmental portrait of a woman who doesn’t want to live according to the rules set by the society. 

Mehta brings Praful closer to the audience through little scenes set at breakfast tables, box-rooms and living rooms. For one, the scene where she has a heated argument with her father, a small-time businessman in Atlanta, is eloquent. The scene proceeds organically, from a casual conversation about saving money and culminating in an explosive point where the daughter calls out the father’s hypocrisy. You can see through the father’s anger. Clearly, he regards Praful’s status as a divorcee as a matter of shame, and and her ambition to be independent as a sign of arrogance. She storms out of the house, and you get a close-up of her trying to not cry. It’s an impressively executed scene. 

Praful, like Fleabag, isn’t a particularly likeable character. The goof-ups she does in life might not earn her the audience’s sympathies. But she commands your attention. Her life, a murky mess, unfurls delightfully, thanks to the actor, Ranaut, who interprets it rather brilliantly. She perfects the quirks and dilemmas of the character in her inimitable style. It could be seen even in the most minor of the scenes, like where Praful runs towards her car after committing a bank robbery. There, she is an actress whose prime objective isn’t to look pretty on-screen. Sometimes, she performs like she is in a solo mime show, pushing her co-stars out of the frame. Sometimes, she is a subtle and complementing presence in the scene. 

But the film also wavers time and again, and characterisation becomes inconsistent. The scenes that you get when Praful lands in Las Vegas are great. Like a nondescript desi tourist in a flamboyant city, she goes around, bargaining with street vendors. Suddenly, the film moves on to another territory where Praful, a street-smart woman who had been carefully saving up her money for her beloved house, gets glamorously dressed up, and pours her hard-earned money down the drain in gambling business. The transition happens so quickly that it isn’t credible.

In a later scene, she takes Sameer (Sohum Shah), her fiance, to her favourite spot in the city – a meadow by the side of a lake. She spreads her arms, and tells him they are her wings. Looking up at the sky, she says, “This, what you feel right now, is freedom.” That type of romanticism doesn’t fit well in this film. The entire episode of robbery is presented like a lazy spoof. You don’t get a close look of the character’s mindset. Isn’t she scared? Does she feel lonely and tired? Is she enjoying this new identity as a bandit? What we get are scenes of token emotions. A scene where Praful watches her friend’s happy family and shedding tears. Another, where she is breaking the news of her new identity to Sameer. 

The music is chirpy, assuring you that every crisis in Praful’s life would end up fine. 

For the most part, Mehta’s film is naturally humorous. It collapses whenever it makes effort to be funny and water-down the unfolding tragic tale. This eagerness to milk comedy from every possible situation is evident in Ranaut too. She, at times, overdoes her attempt at physical comedy, risking the credibility of her character. Sohum Shah’s portrayal of Sameer is interesting. He is the gentle yin to Praful’s aggressive yang. Despite the plot’s emphasis on the part where Praful shows signs of falling in love with this unfashionable good-hearted man, he isn’t an intrinsic element in this film. In fact, no one is an intrinsic part of this tale, but Praful. Simran, above all, is a film about a woman’s dazzling relationship with her mad whimsical self. 

****

The Simran 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.

‘Yodha,’ The Indiana Jones Of Mollywood, Turns 25

Twenty-five years ago, in the September of 1992, Malayalam cinema was held by its hand and led beyond the Himalayas by two brothers from Thiruvananthapuram. Yodha, directed by Sangeeth Sivan and shot by cinematographer Santosh Sivan, unfurled in Nepal, a turf the film industry had never explored before (or after). It remains as the only Malayalam film that features Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman’s music.

Decades since its release, Yodha is an intrinsic part of Malayali popular culture. The film’s songs sound fresh even today, and its humour continues to crack people up. The gibberish words that the film contributed — Pokhra, Akosoto and Kuno — are now part of the Malayali vocabulary. 

The film, an action-drama, is styled on the lines of an Indiana Jones film. There are temples, Buddhist monasteries, a secret sect that does black magic, and a hero, Ashokan (Mohanlal) who has on his hand a perilous task of sneaking into a heavily guarded fortress in a Himalayan forest, fighting off armed warriors, and rescuing a kidnapped child who is the crown prince of a peaceful Buddhist group. The plot gallops ahead relentlessly, without pausing for a casual break. Unlike the American archaeologist, Ashokan’s interest in this rescue mission is not monetary or professional.

Yodha is essentially an Eastern movie. The protagonist is the ‘chosen one’ to save the boy who is regarded as an incarnation of Buddha. The film doesn’t doubt the existence of God and Devil, or question the essence of Buddhism that looks at itself as a philosophy rather than as an organised religion. 

In its simplest form, Yodha is a smart entertainer. It is brilliantly funny and adventurous. The action sequences are great, and the romantic track that involves Ashokan and his estranged cousin, Aswathi (Madhoo), whom he meets in Nepal, is brief, yet palpable. His rivalry with Appu Kuttan (Jagathi Sreekumar), the other cousin who travels from Kerala to Nepal with the sole intention of screwing him over, is one of the most hilarious narrative tracks in Malayalam cinema. And better, none of these supporting characters stick out of the main story. They are part of the larger picture that eventually has Ashokan risking his life to save the kidnapped Lama. 

And the film doesn’t portray the rescue mission as a mere clinical one. Ashokan is emotionally invested in it, for the child is his only friend in the mountain country. Immediately after landing in Kathmandu, Ashokan loses his luggage, and his wallet that carries the address slip of his uncle, gets stolen. He winds up on the street, penniless and hungry. He meets the Lama who is running away from bad men, and they bond over their shared homeless status. For an average movie-goer in Kerala, this adorable friendship between a Malayali man and a little boy who doesn’t speak his language, is the highlight of Yodha. Ashokan introduces the Lama to unniyappam, a ball-shaped sweet from Kerala, and gives the latter a nickname ‘unnikkuttan’, for his shaven head resembles the sweet. The child calls him Akosoto, a mispronounced version of Ashok-ettan. The duo go street-shopping, and Lama happily swaps his Buddhist robe for a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and a baseball cap. The child even shows up in Ashokan’s dream where he is dancing with Aswathi to a cheerful AR Rahman track. 

The song sequences are impressively shot. The song, Kunu Kune, has great choreography, and picturesque visuals. Santhosh Sivan’s camerawork has the flamboyance of a picture postcard. He lights up the frame like a maverick. The lovely little curls of Madhoo that the lyrics of Kunu Kune sing about, are strikingly noticeable. The song, Padakali, that comes in the first half of the film, is a genius collaboration of Rahman, lyricist Bichu Thirumala, Santhosh Sivan, and the actors — Mohanlal and Jagathi Sreekumar. It has a fiery war-cry, and a hilarious rustic number simultaneously. 

Although Yodha had its core generously lifted from Eddie Murphy’s Hollywood potboiler Golden Child, the film lacks the silliness that the latter proudly wore on its sleeves. In Golden Child, there are instances where villains burst into flames, and turned into anime creatures with horns and tail. In Yodha, the ambience is more mystic, and the fantasy is invisible. If in Golden Child it’s a parrot that leads the hero to the kidnapped child, in Yodha, he is first summoned through a dream, and then, to quote Paulo Coelho, the universe conspires to take him to Nepal. 

Yodha’s use of melodrama is minimal — something unusual for the time it was made. As the villain is leaving the premises of the monastery with the kidnapped child, an old warrior shows up at the entrance with his chief disciple. The young man puts up a good fight against the villain, in order to save the child, but gets brutally killed. You see the old man weeping. His disciple is gone, and he couldn’t save his God. Santhosh Sivan captures the image of the weeping old man in a long shot, and the film doesn’t wait to watch his grief. Similarly, Ashokan loses his eyesight and his lover in the pursuit of the child. Curious enough, Yodha doesn’t use heartbreak as a song opportunity. It smoothly moves on to one of the film’s most interesting parts — a blind Ashokan getting trained in martial arts under the old warrior. 

Rahman’s music for Yodha is, by far, one of his best, yet criminally underrated. It came out the same year as Mani Ratnam’s Roja that launched Rahman to the centrestage of Indian film playback music. Yodha’s theme music, an excellent instrumentation that blends the sound of flute and Buddhist hymn bells, builds a sense of foreboding throughout the film. The flute music that the Lama plays while he is held captive in the evil man’s fort, and the music that sets the background to the black-magic rituals (with Malgudi Shubha’s vocals) can linger in your head for a long time. 

***

Image from: Mathrubhumi.com

Adam Joan Review: Prithviraj Plays A Grieving Dad In A Cold & Aloof Film

In Jinu Abraham’s Adam Joan, Prithviraj plays the titular role, Adam, a man who goes all out to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter in Scotland. Much like the actor’s Ezra and Memories, religion plays a major role in this crime drama. Adam has to fight off the members of a dangerous cult to save the child, and in the process, he unravels some secrets about his brother and sister-in-law.

The grey misty landscape of Scotland easily lends the film a cold enigmatic look. The story unfolds inside quiet English cottages, and in abandoned castles in the middle of nowhere. The sombreness of the setting is further accentuated by dim lighting used in interior scenes. To an extend, it helps the story-telling. You don’t refuse to believe when the plot shifts to subjects like Satan worship. 

The elephant in the room, here, is Prithviraj whose highly contrived theatrical acting makes it hard to take Adam’s plight seriously. He looks great, and has a commanding screen presence. His oeuvre has over 100 films that belong to diverse genres. However, Prithviraj is yet to display an exceptional ability to disappear in a character. Even in intense emotional moments with artistes like Bhavana, who plays his sister-in-law, Prithviraj doesn’t underplay or work in sync. He is full of himself in every frame.

Adam falls in love with Amy (Mishti), a Jewish girl whom he meets at a church wedding ceremony. Their tragic love story pans out clinically, without making any impact on the audience. Amy dies at child birth, and heartbroken Adam refuses to acknowledge the baby. His brother Alan (Rahul Madhav) and his wife Shweta (Bhavana) adopts the baby and brings her up in Scotland while Adam goes back to his plantation business in Kerala. It is after seven years he returns to the UK, when he is informed that the child, Ila, has been kidnapped, and his mother, murdered. 

The long-winded narration betrays the intrigue built up by the milieu. In Memories, Jeethu Joseph’s screenplay effectively carried the emotional turbulence of its protagonist, Sam (Prithviraj), and the thrilling murder investigation hand in hand. Like Sam, Adam Joan is also a grieving man who lost his family. However, the film wavers inconsistently, and culminates somewhere between a mediocre emotional drama and an unsatisfactory crime thriller. 

Deepak Dev’s background score is loud and overpowering, and his songs, unimpressive. Jithu Damodar’s cinematography might remind one of a brand commercial. Everything looks pretty and dramatic, yet ordinary. Among the actors, Bhavana delivers an impressive performance. The rest of the cast are largely forgettable. 

Adam Joan is yet another ambitious project anchored by Prithviraj that ends up on a disappointing note. It is a cold and aloof film, much like the actor’s performance and the landscape where the film is set in.  

***

The Adam Joan 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.

Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela Review: Too Many Desserts Can Spoil Your Dinner

A father sits down with his family of three adult children, a son-in-law and a grandchild at a high-end restaurant, and with a sombre face, tells them that he has something important to discuss. He wants to tell them that his wife, their mother, has been diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer. “Life offers you many dishes, but sometimes, you won’t like the taste of some of them…” he begins, trying to ease them into the bad news. The children, supposedly reasonable adults, immediately think their dad is talking about the chicken curry that they just had. “Oh, I had a bad feeling about this curry,” they say, and summon the bearer.

For a moment, this confusion might seem funny. On a second thought, you look at them closely, and see that they are playing fools for your sake. The makers of Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela (A Break In The Land Of Crabs) believe that every serious situation has to be watered down with a joke, no matter how awkward it might look. The film has bright buttery visuals, and interesting music. The production design is quaint. The little stunts and tricks done in the editing part have worked out well. The actors are good-looking, and their wardrobe is pretty. Melodrama has been carefully replaced with casual conversation and action, exaggerated theatrical facial expressions replaced with blank expressions that could mean many things, and gloom with jokes and more jokes. 

But there is little beneath the film’s surface. Blame it on Vineeth Sreenivasan, the new-age Malayalam feel-good films are syrupy tales that scream bland life-affirming messages. They have become too familiar, and hence, predictable. They might as well be written by Shiv Khera. 

NNOI, directed by Althaaf Salim, is a feel-good tale of an opulent Christian family in Kochi. In good times, they resemble the family in Vineeth’s Jacobinte Swarga Rajyam. Only that the lead characters here are much more unabashedly imperfect than they were in JSR. The elder son, Kurien (Nivin Pauly) is a loafer who loves food. The father, Varkey (Lal), a jolly-good realtor, isn’t shy to confess to his wife and kids that he is not very brave. However, the film doesn’t hold together these positives.

When Sheela Varkey (Shanthikrishna), a college lecturer, finds out one day that a lump on her body might be cancerous, she shares her fears with her husband, Varkey. This puts him in jitters. The couple goes to a doctor who confirms their fears. They break the news to their children, and together, the family prepares for Sheela’s fight against cancer. It is a situation akin to the Titanic. The ship has hit the ice-berg, and death is imminent. Instead of running helter-skelter, the family has to stay calm. 

In Shakun Batra’s Kapoor And Sons, a brilliant family drama, it is in the scenes set at dinner tables and living rooms, the grey shades of the characters come to the light. The family members indulge in talkathons which begin passively, explode midway, and culminate at a point so delicate.

In NNOI, such spontaneous long conversations create no hard-hitting impacts. After a certain point, they become exhausting. There is a long-winded romantic track involving Kurien and Rachael (Aishwarya), a girl he bumps into at the chemotherapy ward where he had accompanied his mother. Her dad is a cancer patient too. They embark on a cute relationship, and the film invests in a romantic song sequence on their relationship arc. Because this film is not just about people beating cancer, but also about by-standers of patients finding life-partners from cancer wards. There is too much hope and positivism stuffed into this film. It is one thing to be cool about cancer, and another to stay real and behave sensibly. 

Of the actors, Nivin Pauly, who is also the producer, delivers the weakest performance.  He wears his tried and tested mask of a ‘clueless young man’ again in this film. He sure looks like a loafer, but goes overboard with his ‘playing the fool’ act. He looks weary here. Lal is utmost natural in the role. His Varkey is funny and helpless at the same time, and Lal’s fine-tuned acting helps you sympathise with him. Ahaana Krishna, in her second outing, has done a neat job. She has an interesting screen-presence that commands attention even in the most casual scenes where she has little to do. 

The actor who steals the show here, is Shanthi Krishna, the yesteryear heroine whose brilliantly subtle performance shoulders the film. It’s her restrained acting that adds layers to Sheela, an otherwise one-note character. When she is scolding her family members, you can see that it’s not just anger that is driving her. Shanthi Krishna helps you see the life and character of Sheela beyond what the film shows you. She makes Sheela’s vulnerabilities poignant. 

There is an undeniable glimmer of talent in Njandulakalude Naattil Oridavela. There are several brief moments that speak highly of the skills of Althaf Salim and cinematographer Mukesh Muraleedharan. However, the film is pulled down by mediocre writing that discounts any possibility of grey in life. It is a dinner where you are served dessert seven times, and nothing else. 

***

The Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela 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.

Pullikaaran Stara Review: There Is No Starshine In This Tone-Deaf Film

In Pullikaaran Stara (He Is A Star!), directed by Syamdhar, Mammootty plays a multi-faceted genius named Rajakumaran. He is noble, intelligent, courageous and above all, a handsome man women are instantly attracted to. But there is a predicament. He is too shy to put those good-looks and charisma to good use. Although he looks like he crossed the threshold of 50 long ago, he is still single. 

It is an utmost run-off mill film. The plot has an inconsistent tone, and the technical departments are awful. In its adverts, Pullikkaaran Stara is touted to be a film for kids. Professionally, Rajakumaran is a trainer to school teachers. He imparts to them lessons on how to be good human beings, and treat little kids with love and respect. Occasionally, he sings with children, and saves them from perils. There is a song sequence that comes out of the blue where kids, dressed in candy wrappers, dance to a cute song that Rajakumaran wrote for them. Occasionally, he also performs the services of a marriage counsellor. He asks a female friend to go back to her cheating husband because ‘men are like children who make mistakes, and women should shower on them motherly love’.

And in the same breath, Pullikkaaran Stara cracks a lot of adult jokes and use sexual innuendos.

When he isn’t at work, Rajakumaran takes advice from his friends – a sexually frustrated former police officer who lives in an apartment next-door, a young girl whom he saved from a suicide attempt on a train, his classmate from school, and the security guard of his apartment complex – on how to woo women smoothly and quickly. The girl, Manjima (Deepthi Sathi), who is old enough to be his daughter, tells him that women love it when men talk to them in a hushed voice on phone, and engage them in coquettish conversations. Hence, Rajakumara phones his friend, Manjari (Asha Sharath), a fellow school teacher, at night and asks her what was she wearing. 

The film has a cringe-worthy sense of humour. It opens to sequences from Rajakumaran’s childhood in a village in Idukki. Master Varkey, the adorable child artiste who appeared in Salt Mango Tree, plays little Rajakumaran. What the film does to this child is undeniably cruel. You see him chasing a pretty bird, and climbing a tree to touch it’s tail. A woman bathing in a stream beneath the tree passes him for a pervert, and subsequently, the whole village laughs at this child, who is of no more than 6 years, and nicknames him a shower-peeper. Is this incident of any consequence to the story that follows? Hardly any. 

In another instance, you see Rajakumaran risking his life, and climbing down a steep gorge, to save a little girl caught in a road mishap. You are put through a good few minutes of mediocre computer graphics and nonsensical camera angles, and then the film moves on pretending that nothing happened. It is as if they shot fillers showcasing Rajakumaran’s exploits, and used it in random points throughout the film. 

Artiste Raveena Ravi has dubbed for Deepti Sathi, and it is a lethal combination. If Sathi’s performance is clumsy, Ravi’s voice and the peculiar accented Malayalam that she uses, do not go in sync with the Malayalam dialogues written for Sathi’s character. None of the other actors make any particular impression. 

Over the years, Mammootty’s handsomeness has come to be a part of Kerala’s mythical pool. He might look like a healthy and highly talented 60-year-old actor to a sensible world, but to the state’s popular culture and its followers, Mammootty defies age. He continues to do films where co-characters, every once in a while, would remind him (and the audience) of his irresistible charm and good-looks. In his previous outing, The Great Father, Mammootty was a gun-wielding man in expensive leather jackets, going all out to kill the man who raped his daughter. The film was a blind ode to the actor’s classiness and glamour, than anything else. This repeats in Pullikaran Stara.

If veteran highly-accomplished actors like Mammootty aren’t able to not collaborate in hollow films that ride on their star power, if they aren’t able to see through nonsensical scripts that demand them to flirt with girls half their age, what does star power mean?

***

The Pullikaaran Stara 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.

 

 

 

Velipaadinte Pusthakam Review: Mohanlal Wasted In Lal Jose’s Worst Film To Date

Like an elephant at Kerala’s famed Thrissur Pooram, Mohanlal is at the centre of director Lal Jose’s film Velipaadinte Pusthakam. And like that majestic elephant, he has very little to do.

Every character treats him like a demigod. 

When Mohanlal enters the screen, cycling into a college campus, some students are waiting to harass him. Then he does a little stunt on his bicycle. In slow-motion. The wind blows. Leaves fall on him. And the students watching him are awestruck.

A considerable amount of time is spent here, in this poorly executed scene. Even though Lal Jose is a veteran director with several commercial hits to his credit. 

It is not just the technical part that is all wrong. The plot is unoriginal, and lazily executed. There are actors aplenty, but the characterisation is shallow. Crowding every frame, they leave without making an impression.

Except for the sounds of silly and contrived dialogues. 

***

The story unfolds in the backdrop of a college campus in a coastal village where kids from the fishermen community study. Salim Kumar plays a vice-principal who loses his position when the authorities find out about his sexual perversion. In his place comes Michael Idikkula (Mohanlal), a professor of Malayalam and a devoted Christian priest.

This role is a crossover of Vishal Krishnamoorthy from Devadoothan and Vinayachandran from Life Is Beautiful.

It’s a role that Mohanlal can sleepwalk through.

The students love him, the lady staff members admire him, and some of the male teachers are jealous of his charisma.

Under Idikkula’s leadership, the students and teachers decide to make a feature film to raise money for a new college hostel building. A film based on the life and death of a fisherman named Viswanathan (Anoop Menon), who fought a powerful landlord for the land on which the college stands.

No prizes for guessing that Idikkula ends up playing the film’s hero, the dhoti-clad macho man Bullet Viswam.

***

Velipaadinte Pusthakam‘s plot concept has been tried out by a number of crime-thrillers across the world. While shooting their film, Idikkula and his crew discover something –  a murder and hushed up secrets about Viswan.  

Just like Mohanlal’s Vishal Krishnamoorthy did in Devadoothan, an eerie romantic film. Just like Jayaram and Prem Kumar did in Puthukkottayile Puthumanavaalan, an unassuming comedy-drama.

The difference is, there’s little suspense in Velipaadinte Pusthakam. After a point, one wants to get up and leave. It’s that hard to pay attention in the second half. 

***

The college campus in Velipaadinte Pusthakam is more outdated than the one in Lal Jose’s Classmates (which was set in the ’90s). There is a song sequence which has students dancing in unison to a rhythmic, as smiling teachers watch. When a clash breaks out, boys run for hockey sticks. You know, the traditional weapon of college campuses in Malayalam cinema. 

How are these clichés not extinct? 

***

Every indoor frame is infused with an unreasonably bright light that neither adds to the film’s aesthetics nor makes any sense. It looks visually disoriented. Especially when, as in several scenes, there is a mismatch between action and reaction shots. 

This is easily one of Lal Jose’s worst shot and edited films. 

The cast has talented young actors like Arun Kurien, Sharath, and Krishna Padmakumar, acting in only their second film. They deliver wide-eyed sincere performances. But it’s wasted in a film that strikes no honest chord, and lacks both soul and originality. In fact, it looks most like one of those hastily-made festival films that tries to cash in on the holiday crowd.

For Lal Jose, this could be the right time to introspect. Because Velipaadinte Pusthakam is a more amateurish work than his debut film, Maravathoor Kanavu, ever was.

***

The Velipaadinte Pusthakam 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.

When Socio-Political Issues Become Handy Promo Tools: Sidharth Malhotra’s Tweet On MSG Verdict Is Just Another Bollywood Problem

On August 25, actor Sidharth Malhotra wrote – “People of Punjab ! Please take care and stay safe” – on his Twitter page. Then, he added a few more words – “Hope you can see our film soon #AGentleman #PeaceAndLove”.

The tweet immediately kicked off a controversy, and the young actor was slammed for insensitively promoting his film without any concern for the violence that was unfolding in Panchkula and other parts of north India in connection with a CBI court proceeding against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (now convicted in a rape case).

Malhotra was certainly foolish to have posted that tweet, but his actions shouldn’t come as a surprise, for the film industry he is a part of, is infamously insensitive to social issues. He was one of the stars who came under criticism for performing at Saifai Mahotsav, a high-profile cultural programme organised by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in 2014. The event happened at a time when the victims of Muzaffarnagar riot were reported to be living under dismal conditions in rehabilitation camps.

It was in the same breath that Twinkle Khanna, former actress, star-wife and a celebrity author, tweeted the photograph of a man taking a dump on a Mumbai beach, with the caption, “Good morning and I guess here is the first scene of Toilet Ek Prem Katha part 2 “, a nod to her husband’s latest release, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

 Ajay Sharma of Arre rightly posed a question in his piece: “How could this man simply be pooping on her beach? Especially since her husband had just eradicated the problem of open defecation in his own million-dollar movie?” Khanna’s tweet seems to have stemmed from a lack of concern for the millions of urban poor who live in Mumbai’s crammed slums where a built-in toilet is considered a privilege. 

*****

Marketing films is a giant department that continues to grow taller and wider. From a modest age when there were just movie posters or pamphlets, we now have teasers, trailers, motion posters, teasers of trailers, song teasers and more. In the age of social media, stars have taken upon themselves the responsibility of luring and herding the audiences into the theatres to watch their films. The male stars on whom the big-budget projects often ride, are all over the place when the film is due for release. 

Hritik Roshan tagged his Bollywood friends and organised a video challenge ahead of the release of his Bang Bang, and the makers of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo launched a series of videos of Bollywood stars shaking a leg to the title song of the film. Shortly before the first look of Jab Harry Met Sejal was released, Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, the lead stars of the film, indulged in a buddy chat on Twitter, discussing the film’s title. Stars like Alia Bhatt joined the fun conversation, and names like Ranbir Kapoor were slyly mentioned, creating a rosy picture of Bollywood. The camaraderie between the stars that the Twitter chat projected, garnered way more attention than the film when it was finally released in August 2017. All India Bakchod, in a funny video, took a dig at this Bollywood camaraderie. “We will ask Arjun to post a video challenge on Twitter, and tag Alia and Sraddha. That way, everyone will think Bollywood is full of BFFs,” says one of the comedians in the video.

These promotional strategies, however, are benign when compared to those that conveniently use a socio-political issue to promote films. Often, a star, who has never been known to be socially conscious, speaks up for a certain cause before the release of their movie, only to forget about it later.

Aamir Khan, whose marketing skills are regarded as the best in the industry, joined the Narmada Bachao Aandolan, a people’s movement against the Narmada Dam, in April 2006, two months after his film, Rang De Basanti hit the screens. Khan played a young revolutionary who took up arms to fight corruption in the film. However, his film Fanaa hit the screens in May and Khan had to face the ire of the BJP party in Gujarat, who refused to let the film be screened in Gujarat. Khan was never heard speaking of Narmada ever again. 

Salman Khan has enthusiastically proved his social commitment time and again, especially after he launched a charity brand, Being Human Foundation in 2007. In 2012, shortly before the release of his film, Ek Tha Tiger, a spy-thriller set against the backdrop of India-Pakistan conflicts, Salman Khan launched an online petition for the release of Sarabjit Singh, who was then serving a prison sentence in Pakistan. Never before had Khan spoken of Singh, who was arrested by the Pakistan police in 1990 and convicted on terrorism charges. 

Amitabh Bachchan’s open letter to his grand daughters shortly before the release of Pink deserves a mention, too. The letter begins with an emphasis on the girls’ paternal ancestors, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan and H P Nanda, and Bachchan reminds the girls of the valuable legacy they carry on their shoulders. The letter doesn’t mention the women in the family, and social media quickly called him out for hypocrisy and using feminism to promote films. Months later, at an event, Bachchan was asked if the letter was a promotional ploy. He’d said, “You can look at it the way you want to…Shoojit (co-producer Shoojit Sircar) said, ‘why don’t we take the essence of the film and put it in the form of a letter and why don’t you write it to your granddaughters’… It will be a nice gesture and it will be something that we will be able to convey to the audience without revealing the story. So what you saw in the letter, was the essence of Pink.”

Meanwhile, Sidharth Malhotra’s A Gentleman seems to have had a dull opening weekend, despite all the promotions and a pre-release rumour that the film had a long kissing scene that got longer because the lead stars, Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez, ‘couldn’t stop kissing‘. The film, according to reports, has collected only Rs 8.40 crores at the box office in the opening weekend. 

*****

A Gentleman Review: This Siddharth Malhotra Action-Comedy Is Fun, Yet Forgettable

Sidharth Malhotra plays a nice young man in A Gentleman.

His character Gaurav has neatly set hair and a perfectly sweet smile. He works with an American IT company where he is frequently wins the Best Employee award. 

When we first see him, he is happily posing for a picture in front of his newly acquired house in a plush Miami neighbourhood. His best friend is a funny family man, Dixit (Hussain Dalal), whose biggest worry in life is that Americans mispronounce his name as Dix/Dicks.

Gaurav is secretly in love with his best friend, Kaavya (Jacqueline Fernandez), a good-looking Indian girl who speaks Hindi with an American accent. He likes cooking and cleaning. is ready to get married, settle down, and have several children and a dog.

But Kaavya isn’t happy. She wants a man who is a little tougher and spicier than Guarav. Someone who loves adventures.

And you know what they say. Be careful about what you wish for. 

***

The Gentleman is directed by Raj and DK who previously helmed films like Go Goa Gone and Shor In The City in which the protagonists were neither gentle nor sweet. As expected, here too a rough daredevil young man gallops into the screen fairly soon, and takes over the plot. 

The story is fun, albeit predictable. There is a general aversion for melodrama which works in the film’s favour. Close friends betray each other, people die, a romantic proposal is turned down, and all the while, the film doesn’t bat an eyelid.

On the other hand, for Raj and DK, whose last film had men fighting zombies in an island in Goa, logic and reason aren’t all that desirable.

In The Gentleman, we have an assassin, with no background in IT or engineering, quickly becoming a successful employee in a high-profile IT firm. Murders and cover-ups are a cake-walk, and at least two buildings blow up with men walking away as if nothing happened.

Suniel Shetty plays Colonel, a man who has been controlling a team of trained warriors who operate a clandestine mission that will compromise national security. India’s National Security Agency and other international agencies are hot on his heels, yet we keep seeing him in cities like Bangkok, Mumbai, and Miami. 

What keeps the film going is the non-linear narrative that the makers have executed reasonably well. The pace is swift, and there’s little time to ponder over the rationality of what we just watched.

***

Siddharth Malhotra as the meek and sweet Gaurav repeats his Hasee To Phasee act, but with some remarkable improvements. He plays Rishi, a trained fighter and assassin, with equal earnestness. Yet, he isn’t all that convincing. 

In fact, Rishi is reminiscent of characters from many other Asian action comedies. He is not easily scared. In an early scene, he is perilously tossed on the road from a moving bike after his vehicle rams into a car. Bleeding profusely, he sits down on the road and tries to smoke a cigarette.

Siddharth just doesn’t look like a guy who can pull off that coolness. He isn’t funny. At least not at this stage of his acting career. 

Kaavya might seem like a bimbo, but the film has more planned for her. Her daily routine includes getting arrested by cops for speeding. She works as Rishi’s buddy when villains come firing bullets.

When Rishi asks her if she can use a gun, she replies, “It’s America babe!” Trump would be proud. 

Kaavya isn’t Terminator‘s Linda Hamilton. She isn’t an independent and strong woman worth rooting for. She is kind of women Bollywood action-comedy potboilers love. She can do a strip-tease and pole-dance, and she can kick ass. Jacqueline has a flawless body that she proudly flaunts. Her acting prowess is almost non-existent, but she makes it up with giggles, pouts and a certain voice-modulation and accent that is popularly perceived as cute. 

***

The Gentleman is more rooted and a more sincere attempt than films like Race or Welcome. Yet, it doesn’t try to transcend Indian action-comedy’s candyfloss genre. There are amusing jokes, a couple of humorous sequences, and some neatly choreographed action sequences.

But nothing makes an impression.

It’s like getting caught in a routine traffic jam in a city. When the signal turns green, there’s no lingering memory of the faces and vehicles in the chaos. 

*****

The Gentleman 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.

Mohanlal Pays Tribute To Himself In His Television Debut, ‘Lal Salaam’

A horde of actors, filmmakers and other artistes were guests on the first two episodes of Lal Salaam, the eponymous show that marked actor Mohanlal’s television debut last week. One by one, they graced the stage, and heaped praises on the superstar and his exploits over the past three decades. Recollecting snippets from their time with Mohanlal, they harped on the latter’s talents and virtues.

“I would take a look at Mohanlal while acting, and it would melt my heart,” said actress Rekha who was Lal’s co-star in Aye Auto, a super-hit comedy in which Lal played a simpleton auto-rickshaw driver named Sudhi. “Mohanlal would just skim pages of dialogue, and when he goes for the take, he would get it right effortlessly,” said actor Maniyan Pillai Raju, the star’s long-time friend and colleague who produced Aye Auto. Manju Warrier, apart from speaking about how nervous she was while working in Aaram Thampuran (in which she was paired opposite Mohanlal), performed a dubsmash with Lal, mouthing dialogues from one of the most famous scenes in the film. 

Unlike other eponymous shows from across the world, Lal Salaam seemed to be an ode to the superstar who anchors the show.

It wasn’t unexpected, though. Right from the teasers to official statements from Team Mohanlal, Lal Salaam was conceived not as a programme on cinema, but as a tribute paid to Mohanlal by Mohanlal himself. In random intervals, the actor and his friends would stop their chat and invite special guests – non-celebrities who are involved in extraordinary charity work – and introduce them to the world. 

Over the first two episodes of the show, Mohanlal hosted Jolly Johnson who runs a charitable institution called H20 for the disabled and the elderly destitute, and a group of auto-rickshaw drivers from Thiruvananthapuram who ferry cancer patients for free. 

The show also saw Mohanlal acting as a shrink for the studio-floor audience. “Laletta, what should I do when senior citizens board my vehicle?” asked an auto-driver, seeking the advice of the actor who played the most famous auto-rickshaw driver in Mollywood, Sudhi in Aye Auto. “Give them discounts,” the actor smiled. The man who posed the question nodded his head, and sat down contently. The next question was more complicated. “How do I chat up the pretty women passengers who board my vehicle, without making them feel uncomfortable?” asked a wide-eyed young auto-rickshaw driver. Lal replied, “You can just start talking to them. If you are particular about not making them uncomfortable, don’t chat at all.”

*****

Although Mohanlal is known to be a recluse when it comes to giving interviews to the media, he has proved time and again that he can be a spirited host. He is the most energetic when working on a show/event in which he calls the shots. Be it Lalism, the disastrous musical event / PR exercise that cost him a lot of goodwill, or the one-man shows at various high-profile film award ceremonies, Mohanlal has been quite enthusiastic off movie sets as well.

In Lal Salaam, he uninhibitedly sings hit numbers from his films, and urges his guests to join him. When Meera Nandan, the secondary anchor of the show, welcomes the audiences in English, he protests lightly. 

The show, thus far, has offered nothing particularly interesting other than the pleasure of watching a veteran actor, immensely talented and acclaimed, dish out endless narcissistic toasts to himself. Overall, it is mindless fun, but when you have super-hit talk-shows of a similar nature in which film personalities are invited over for warm chats (Asianet’s Badai Bungalow, for instance) on Malayalam television, what exactly does Lal Salaam seek to achieve?

We’ll find that out this weekend, perhaps.

Lal Salaam airs on Amrita TV on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm.

*****

Pic: Vinodadarshan.com

When Travel Movies Go Beyond Stunning Visuals & Picture-Perfect Characters

A decade and a half later, the Dil Chahtha Hai phenomenon still holds sway with our road movies. Picturesque landscapes, perfect itineraries, rich, urban youth having a whale of a time in foreign lands – travel in Indian movies rarely portray the lovely, often dangerous unpredictability that the experience is all about.

What if Tara in Imitiaz Ali’s Tamasha was a closet psychopath? Would Ved have guessed this secret about her in their first encounter when they flirtatiously decided to do spend the rest of their vacation together?

That nightmare is what Clare (Teresa Palmer) goes through in Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome. She is roaming the streets of Berlin and photographing its architecture, when she bumps into a handsome young German named Andi. He is friendly, and speaks a broken version of English that she finds cute. She drifts towards him like a leaf towards a whirlpool, unaware of the looming danger. After a night of love, she wakes up in his apartment to find the front door tightly locked, her phone SIM card gone, and a word ‘mine’ stamped on her shoulder. She tries to break the window, but fails for it’s double-paned. When Andi comes home from work, she tries to reason with him, plead with him to let her go, and when he refuses, she attacks him and runs away, only to be chased and caught. He breaks her arm like a piece of twig, and warns her never to try running away again.

What a disastrous turn to a solo adventure!

Although most of Berlin Syndrome unfurls inside an apartment and the lead characters aren’t on the move, it has the soul of a travel movie. Andi chains Clare to him as though he doesn’t want to let her wander ever again. In a beautifully shot scene in the film, Clare is alone in the apartment. She whirls down a dim-lit living room on a rolling chair, towards a glass window. Her hair is dishevelled, and the apartment is wrapped in an eerie silence. But she contradicts the sombreness of her surroundings with her lively movements. She spreads her arms as though they are wings.

At the end of the film, predictably, Clare escapes Andi, and the final shot is of her in a taxi, clutching her passport and papers, on her way to the airport.

Berlin Syndrome is a remarkable film for its unabashed unromantic approach to solo travel. It is not a theme that many filmmakers have taken a liking to. For a long time now, characters in Indian films have hit the road for sublime experiences that transform them into better individuals. The long, unfamiliar road that the characters tread provide immense cinematic moments too – like the stunning sunset that Ved and Tara (Tamasha, 2015) watch from a cliff in Corsica, or the tender sight of a wild stream that touches a chord within Hari (Fahadh Faasil) in North 24 Kaatham (Malayalam, 2013). More practical and real problems that a traveller encounters – like the hotel reservations that go unreserved, the cash that run out, and the words that get lost in translation in foreign countries – are comfortably overlooked. 

That’s one of the things that If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium (1969), a vintage comedy which had a super-hit run in Madras, is centered around: the awkward misadventures of a bunch of American tourists on a bus trip through Europe. The tourists are on a tight itinerary. They stop at cities like Venice, Rome and Amsterdam, do the regular touristy things, and mess it up a little. The film is remembered for its realistic (and immensely fun) take on a Euro trip. 

The potential troubles that a traveller can get into is also the subject of National Geographic Channel’s acclaimed documentary series, Locked Up Abroad.  It features some gripping tales of people who were arrested for various reasons while travelling abroad. 

*****

The unpredictable nature of travel aside, some of the best road/travel movies in the world also give a honest, fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of the landscape and the era where they are set in. For one, Walter Salles’ Motor Cycle Diaries takes you on a tour of Latin America and the socio-political turmoil in the region. Wim Wender’s Paris Texas is a portrait of the rugged American terrains, among many other things. Oscar-nominated Easy Rider (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper, mirrors the morally corrupt and tense America in the Vietnam war-era. Berlin Syndrome has an interesting under-layer that cracks open the gloomy oppressed atmosphere of East Germany where Andi spent his childhood. When If It’s Tuesday, It Has To Be Belgium was shot, Europe was less busy, less complicated, and lovelier than it is now. Euro wasn’t there yet, and tourism wasn’t a hideous industry. 

‘Tamasha’ starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone

Indian travel movies though, rarely betray the vulnerability – of the traveller or the destination. Also, the most striking thing that Indian travel movies show is the spending power that the characters wield. Statistics indicate that it has not been very long since Indians, in large numbers, started vacationing in foreign countries. A Make My Trip survey says that there is a 245% rise in the number of international travellers from India in the period between 2006 and 2016. 

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the three guys in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are able to indulge in exotic adventures of their choice in a European city, without any material concern. In Imitiaz’s most recent Jab Harry Met Sejal, a young woman from Mumbai roams around Europe, spending money lavishly, in the pretext of searching for a ring. The two movies do not touch upon the socio-cultural context of the places they travel to, through. They are superficial near-fantasy romantic dramas. 

It is safe to assume that this penchant for flamboyant travel films about urban youth distressed by identity crisis, was launched by Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai (2001). It established that travelling was, over anything else, a journey towards one’s own inner conscience. In Dil Chahta Hai, three youngsters from Mumbai make it a point to travel to Goa every year. They pack light, and drive a convertible through the beautiful road that cuts through Western Ghats. In Goa, with a Shankar Mahadevan title track playing in the backdrop, they stare into the sea from Fort Chapora (which is now informally known as Dil Chahta Hai fort), pondering over life and relationships. Such was the influence of the film on Indian pop-culture that 15 years later, a Malayalam film, Anandam (2017), paid a cinematic tribute to it.  

*****

A still from ‘Nau Do Gyarah’

The glamorous travel films from the sub-continent appear to be a recent phenomenon, though. 1957‘s Nau Do Gyarah, is one of the earliest Indian movies in which road plays a major role. A young man, Madan (Dev Anand) is driving an old van to Mumbai to meet his uncle and make a claim to his wealth. He is joined by a run-away bride, dressed up as a Punjabi boy. There are long and wide shots of the sprawling countryside through which they drive the van. It’s summer, and you can feel sweat dripping down the characters’ brow. Nau Do Gyarah, in spite of being a breezy romantic tale, was not a glossy film.

The first road movies made in Malayalam and Tamil – Kannoor Deluxe (1969, Malayalam), Madras To Pondicherry (1966, Tamil) – were short town-to-town journeys during which the travellers solve a crime and get into some low-key adventures. The focus wasn’t on the sights on the way, but entirely on the time that the passengers spent with one another. External conflicts played central to the plot, not the internal turmoils of the characters, unlike what the recent Indian travel movies focus on.

*****

One of the most romantic and popular road movies set in India is a Hollywood production – Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Three American brothers set out on a trip to Darjeeling on a luxury tourist train to meet their mother who is working in a monastery in the north-eastern hill station. Anderson milks the most out of the Indian landscape through which the train travels – stunning shots of the small towns on the way, the hills and villages where snakes and monkeys are worshipped, and so on.

Dev Benegal’s Road, The Movie, meanwhile, is an adventurous journey of a young slacker through the heart of Rajasthan in an old rickety van which used to be a travelling cinema. There are scenes in the film where villagers turn up in groups to watch old classics that the film’s protagonists screen in odd places. It shows you the kind of visuals a young millennial expects to see on his first road trip – a magical mela in the middle of the white desert, an alluring gypsy woman who appears out of nowhere, some misadventures with a local water lord and his gun-wielding men.

Both The Darjeeling Limted and Road, The Movie unintentionally beam the perceptions of certain sections of the world about India. While TDL sticks to the world’s idea of the exotic country that India is, Road, The Movie is the picture that urban India has, of the wild, rural India. 

‘Neelakasham Pachakkadal Chuvanna Bhoomi’

Samir Thahir’s 2013 film, Neelakasham Pachakkadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, is, on the other hand, a naive, yet sincere attempt at road movie genre. Dulquer Salmaan and Sunny Wayne played two bikers who ride to north-east India from Kerala, passing through towns and villages in the country’s east coast. There was a sense of unpredictability in the film’s proceedings. The characters took whatever the road offered them. They fight off bandits, live with a bunch of villagers in West Bengal, eat Biryani from Kolkata’s favourite eatery, and even come across a village where a communal riot is underway. There are long moments of silence in the film, where the characters do nothing, but get lost in the serenity of the moment. The film, shot by Gireesh Gangadharan, has beautiful visuals of the region the guys travel through.

A number of road/travel movies are now in the pipeline. Saif Ali Khan’s upcoming film Chef, directed by Raja Krishna Menon, is a food movie that involves a road trip through various cities in India. Irrfan Khan has teamed up with two southern stars, Parvathy and Dulquer, in two separate travel movies, directed by Tanuja Chandra and Akarsh Khurana respectively. A vast, versatile landscape brimming with a lot of sociopolitical and cultural turmoils, this could finally be the age Indian cinema produces some of the best travel movies ever. 

*****

The Sathyan Anthikad Interview: “It Hurt When ‘Pingami’ Flopped”

An accomplished filmmaker, writer and lyricist, Sathyan Anthikad is one of the most popular figures in the Malayalam film industry. After working as an assistant to director Chandrakumar in over 20 films from 1973 to 1982, Anthikkad made his debut film Kurukkante Kalyanam in 1983. The 62-year-old director has made 54 films in a career spanning three decades. His films such as Sandesham, Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu and TP Balagopalan MA have attained cult-classic status over the years. In 2001, his Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal, won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam. He has won the Kerala State Award five times.

The village of Anthikad lies on the outskirts of Thrissur, a fast-developing city where Sathyan Anthikad’s last release, Jomonte Suvisheshangal is set. The roads are narrow and cut through a lowland that was once a sprawling paddy, but is now waterlogged from the monsoon.

The paddy in front of the house

The place looks like a perfect Anthikad filmscape, where life is slow-paced and laidback; a place where everyone knows another. “That is the house you are looking for,” a shopkeeper points towards an unmanned gated compound. Inside, surrounded by trees, is a house with a well-maintained kitchen garden in the front yard.

I am ushered into Anthikad’s sun-lit living room. Books and the latest editions of Malayalam magazines lie on a teapoy. “That is my favourite spot in the house on summer days,” says the filmmaker, pointing to a parapet next to a green fish pond.

Anthikad has just returned from a sojourn with close friend Sreenivasan, the National Award–winning director-actor-screenwriter, to work on his next script. “We had to cut short our trip when we heard that Vineeth (Sreenivasan) had a baby boy,” he says. 

It’s been 16 years since the two worked together. They have made numerous films together though, such as Sandesham, Nadodikkattu, and Thalayana Manthram. “We worked last in Yathrakkarude Sradhakku. We consciously took a break from each other after that film, so that both of us could make movies in our individual style. We had hoped to get back together after a couple of years. But, the break dragged on,” he says. 

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you usually begin the script-writing process?

We just completed the character development. That’s usually how I begin. It almost never begins with a story. There is no written rule about how you should write a script. Sometimes, the subject comes first. Thalayana Manthram was born from a theme that Sreeni (Sreenivasan) suggested – about the vanity of middle-class wives. Sandesham was born from a one-liner about how the political culture in our country affects the life of the common man. I wove Indian Pranaya Kadha around the character of Aymanam Siddharthan, which was written to break Fahadh Fazil’s onscreen image as a metrosexual guy.

What do you prefer – working on a screenplay written by another person, or writing your own?

I have never made a film from someone else’s readymade screenplay. I always add my input to it. That said, I prefer working on a script written by another person. I like working as a team. With another person, you get a new perspective. When I work alone, I seek an opinion from my assistants, my friends in the media, and colleagues in the industry.

You have also adapted two novels into films – ‘Irattakkuttikalude Achan’ and ‘Appunni’. 

Appunni was born out of my admiration for Vadakkke Koottala Narayanankutty Nair’s works. VKN himself wrote the basic screenplay of the film. It was a rebellious work at the time. Since then, I haven’t come across a short story or a novel that inspired me to make a film. Earlier, literature and cinema used to be similar in style. Nowadays, writers focus more on subtext, and that cannot be translated into cinematic language. But, I’ve never felt a dearth of stories. I make just one film a year. 

Dulquer Salmaan and Mukesh in ‘Jomonte Suvisheshangal’

Many of your contemporaries such as Fazil aren’t making films these days. 

I never cut myself off from the society I live in. That’s why I am able to continue making films. I am still able to connect with the audience effortlessly. I learn about youngsters from my children, and others. If you watch my first film Kurukkante Kalyanam and Jomonte Suvisheshangal, you will see how much my style of storytelling has changed. My films now compete with those of Dileesh Pothan and Vineeth. I am aware of that.

How important is box-office success to you?

It is of utmost priority. But, I will not sell my soul for a box-office win. Have you looked at the kind of news being shown on our television channels — on the abduction and sexual abuse of an actress. Do they display any sensitivity or logic there? All they care about are TRPs.

Anthikad  gets a phone call from a friend. They chat about a Whatsapp audio clip that he has forwarded to his media friends. “Let them listen to what ordinary people think of the on-air discussions on their channels.” 

He continues: “I try to make successful films without adulterating them. Some of my best films were not superhits at the box-office. TP Balagopalan MA, for one, despite being a good film, only broke even. But, I am glad I never compromised for the sake of the box-office. The most crucial chapter of my career began with TP Balagopalan MA. It brought together Mohanlal, Sreenivasan, Vipin Mohan, and I. Till then, I had been doing movies in random genres. I lacked clarity.

With Balagopalan, I knew the kind of films I wanted to do. One of my most loved films is Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu. It is close to my heart. People keep asking me to make something similar. But, life is so much faster these days. Where does one find that kind of laidback village? Maheshinte Prathikaaram, however, reminds us of that era – when life was slow-paced and relaxed.  In fact, Dileesh and Syam  told me that they’ve watched Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu at least a hundred times.

I never let success go to my head or let criticism and failure bog me down. I am always thinking about my next film. 

Bhagyadevatha was a commercially successful film. But did it not back the dowry tradition? 

I don’t make a movie to reform society.  I know many people slammed the movie. For me, the film wasn’t about dowry, but about a young man whose life comes full circle. He mistreats his wife because she couldn’t bring him dowry, but goes through the same pain later. My story was about that irony. 

Sandesham, one of your most successful films, is also among your most controversial. A section of the audience criticises it as being dangerously apolitical.

I am aware of the flak Sreenivasan and I received for Sandesham. It might look like an apolitical film that urges people to remain selfish, to confine themselves to their middle-class existence. But, look at the two characters the movie is centred around. They are irresponsible and selfish. I think we made our point through the line Thilakan says, “Politics is a profession for hard-working, sincere individuals. Brats like you ruin its name.” 

Sandesham isn’t about capable political leaders. It’s a story about two irresponsible foot-soldiers.

Despite being an important figure in the film industry, you are not an active member of any cine organisation.

I was an active member when MACTA (Malayalam Cine Technicians Association) was founded. Now, there is FEFKA (Film Employees Federation of Kerala). I am not an active member there, but am in touch with members. I don’t think I am a good organiser. I prefer living a quiet life in this sleepy village. I can’t even handle the chaos of a city like Kochi, let alone take part in heated discussions at meetings. I like to laze around. I take long vacations between two films, and spend time ‘doing nothing’. 

Your films are grounded, and inspired by real life characters and situations. In spite of having seen the film industry from close quarters for many decades, why didn’t you ever make a meta film?

I never wanted to make a meta film. Generally, I look at things around me and think about how I can use them in my next film, with a hint of comedy — be it outrageous talk shows or the adulterated food at supermarkets. More than the film industry, it is the society at large that I am most interested in. I think only an industry insider would be able to relate to the humour in a meta film. 

Pingaami flopped at the box-office when it released. But, youngsters now love it.

Mohanlal and Sathyan Anthikad on the sets of ‘Pingaami’. Courtesy: Mohanlal FC

It hurt when Pingaami failed. We were confident about the film, and it wasn’t in my usual style. It was based on a short story by Raghunath Paleri, titled Kumarettan Parayaatha Kadha. Although it was set around a crime and its investigation, Pingaami was not an action drama. It was a dark film that proceeded at a peculiar pace. I believe the film failed because of one bad decision. We released it alongside Priyadarshan’s Thenmaavin Kombathu, which was a thorough entertainer. Priyan had told me this might happen, and asked me to postpone the release. That hit my ego. I thought, ‘Hey, why can’t Priyan postpone the release of his film?’ (He laughs.). But, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that first-day collections are not that important. 

Achuvinte Amma released to a lukewarm response at the box-office. There was a popular multi-starrer playing at that time –Udayaanu Thaaram. Naturally, Achuvinte Amma, which had two women in the lead, got held over in the first week itself. But, only a few days, public opinion turned in our favour. The film completed 100 days. I was confident that it would. 

I was similarly confident about Pingaami. But, the harsh criticism hurt me. Later, I happened to meet Mani Ratnam in Kozhikode. He had come to meet MT Vasudevan Nair for a story discussion. He had just made Thiruda Thiruda, which ended up being a flop. “Ellaarum Thitturaanga,” he said, disappointed.

I watched Pingaami first as a child. The scene with the murder of the father was quite a haunting visual. 

When I read a scene, I visualise it. I worked with (director) Chandrakumar for a long time, but my films do not look anything like his films. All I learnt from him was the technology of film-making. I believe a lot in the power of improvisation. I read a scene and look for the emotion that needs to be stressed upon. I learnt visual language from the films of other directors. 

Take, for instance, that famous scene in Kilukkam where Innocent’s Kittunny is told that he has won a lottery. Another director would have composed that scene with mid-shots and trolley shots with both actors (Innocent and Revathi) in the frame. But, Priyadarshan knew that the humour lay in Innocent’s facial expressions – which comically switch from scepticism to shock. He shot it as a close-up single shot.

In Pingaami, the father’s murder is shown from the perspective of Kumarettan (Thilakan), who is hiding in the bushes at a distance, with a crying baby in his hands. I doubt the scene would have had as much impact if I had gone in for a closer shot of the man being set on fire. It was an instinctive decision. 

I discuss every shot, every scene, with my cameramen. I am not an autocrat on the sets. I have been taken for granted because of this approach, but I believe it’s always better to trust the ability of your technicians than interfere in their work. I have absolutely no qualms about taking note of ideas suggested by crew members. 

For instance, it was a light boy who suggested that we take an overhead shot of the makeshift set of a railway station platform in front of a hotel for a crucial scene in Yathrakarude Sradhakku. He said that when he saw the set from the terrace of the hotel, it looked like a real railway platform. It was S Kumar who suggested that the bus scene in Vinodayatra be a single shot. I had initially planned it differently. Cinematographers Venu and Vipin Mohan have even contributed to dialogues. For instance, in Sreenivasan’s Vadakkunokkiyanthram, there is a part where Parvathy asks Sreenivasan if she should bring him tea. It was Venu who suggested the line, “Chaya vendi vannekkum”; it went on to elicit much laughter.

The title card of Nadodikkattu says it is based on a story by Siddique-Lal. How did that happen?

There is a strange story behind it. Sreenivasan wrote the story, dialogues, and the screenplay of Nadodikkattu. Siddique and Lal own the credit of a single sequence in which protagonists Dasan and Vijayan are cheated by Mammukkoya’s Gafoor, who takes them to Chennai, convincing them that it is Dubai.

That bit was part of a short story (‘Kaalilla Kolangal’) they had written to make it into a feature film. It’s about two unemployed youngsters who accidentally solve crimes.

When I was shooting Pappan Priyappetta Pappan, they were working as assistant directors. Sreeni and I were just off from Sreedharante Onnaam Thiru Murivu, which had flopped. We desperately wanted a hit. Sreeni told me this, and I thought that sequence from Siddique-Lal’s story would perfectly fit our film. We asked them for permission, and they readily agreed since they had dropped the idea of making it into a feature film.

We paid them and also decided to give them credits for the base story, because we felt that particular scene was the hook point of the film. The producer had said that a simple ‘thank you’ would do. Siddique and Lal were happy. I think Nadodikkattu helped their careers too. However, it created a lot of misunderstanding among the general public. They thought Siddique and Lal had written the story of Nadodikkattu. “Aa nanma njangalkku thanne kurishaayi maari”. (We were kind, and that went against us).

Years later, even Siddique and Lal started to agree with the popular misunderstood version. Once I saw an interview of Siddique-Lal where they said something about Nadodikkattu being their story idea. That one time, I sent them a message asking them to find a single line or word in the entire film that Sreenivasan hadn’t written. I told them that if they could, I would give them the entire credit for Nadodikkattu.

The crucial idea of two unemployed men arriving in Chennai and presuming it is Dubai, is their idea. The rest – Ananthan Nambiar, the CID thread, Pavanayi… – that’s our brainchild.

Your older films are still much loved…

My older films reflect the reality of the times they were made in. Nadodikkattu was shot when unemployment was rife. Sanmanassulavarkku Samadhanam was about the politics of space. My recent films are more light-hearted and built on unusual storylines. For instance, Jomonte Suvisheshangal is about a man who tries to double his wealth through a tricky business deal but goes pauper. Indian Pranaya Kadha was about this funny caricature – Aymanam Siddharthan. My new film with Sreenivasan is about the general sense of mistrust in our society. People do not know whom to trust and what to trust. Everything is commercialised. 

The current political atmosphere in the country isn’t supportive of independent filmmakers who want to make daring, bolder films. 

The political atmosphere in the country is very communal now. The truth is that it wouldn’t be possible to make a classic like Nirmalyam today. Artistes do not enjoy the kind of freedom they used to. My films have not really come under political attacks, so I haven’t been personally affected. Yet, there have been incidents. A critic panned me for a scene in Vinodayatra, where Murali is stabbed by a man wearing a belt that is usually worn by Muslims. He said I was anti-Muslim.

In Kadha Thudarunnu, there is a dream sequence where the child is chased by people wearing black cloaks. I wanted to depict death, but some interpreted it as purdah-clad women.

Two of your films – Ennum Eppozhum and Innathe Chinthavishayam – have very different takes on marriage and divorce. In Innathe…, the three female protagonists are sent back to their irresponsible husbands. You conclude it by saying that, no matter what, couples should live together to save a marriage. In Ennum…, you seem to have a different opinion.

I never saw this link between these two films. Innathe… was built on an idea I had when I came across the family torn apart by a hapless divorce case. I noticed that divorce cases were on the rise in Kerala. I wove a story around this topic. Incidentally, two actresses in the film, Mohini and Sukanya, were going through a divorce during the making of the movie.

Ennum Eppozhum was based on a famous quote by Madhavi Kutty about how difficult it is to share a room with someone you despise. KR Gauri has also shared similar sentiments. The film had Manju Warrier in the lead, so people interpreted it as her story.

In fact, Dileep didn’t talk to me for a long time after the movie was released. Later, we reconciled.  I did not deliberately take a U-turn. As Manju’s character says in the film, I think it is better to part and stay happy, than stay together unhappily. The role of women in marriage has undergone a lot of change, hasn’t it? New-age marriages are founded on friendship. That is how it should be. 

Mohanlal and Shobana in ‘Nadodikkattu’

You have a distinct style of portraying romance. Dasan and Radha in Nadodikkattu, or Reji and Gauri in Manassikkare not typical filmi lovers. 

I like to portray romantic relationships with a touch of subtlety. My characters do not confess their love for each other in words. Romance is in what they do for each other. Romance is developed at a slow pace in all my films. 

Jomonte Suvisheshangal somewhat resembles Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Jacobinte Swargarajyam.

Isn’t it commonsense to not copy the story of a recently released super-hit film, that too, one directed by my friend’s son? My favourite part in Jomonte Suvisheshangal comes in the second half, when the father and son live like friends. That, in my opinion, is my film’s crux.

You won’t find that in Jacobinte Swargarajyam.

The affection with which you treat the character of Jomon isn’t there in your older films. Has growing older changed how you look at youngsters?

True. It must be my age that made me look at Jomon affectionately and treat his irresponsible nature with patience.

I thoroughly enjoyed making that second-half, where the father-son relationship is explored. I had portrayed a similar relationship in Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal too.

I am not an authoritarian father. I am my sons’ close friend. One of them fell in love with a colleague , and opened up to me. She belongs to a Muslim household. I invited her family over, we had a formal talk, and arranged their wedding. It is as simple as that. They are happy together.

I don’t think  youngsters are vile, irresponsible or insensitive. They are kids. Sometimes, they make mistakes.

Online trolls attack you for making village-oriented pastoral films. 

Actor Salim Kumar once said that I am not a good director because I never take risks. He said, ‘Sathyan Anthikad is like a bus driver who takes the safest road all the time.’ I take that as a compliment.

My films ride on someone else’s money. It is my responsibility to take the safe route. I do not like to take big risks.

In Pingami, Jagathi Sreekumar’s motorbike hits a jeep and falls into a lake. The stunt went wrong. The stunt master and his men had to jump into the water, cut the rope with which the dupe had been tied to the bike, and save him. If we had been late by even two minutes, the stuntman would have died.

Ever since, I’m afraid to shoot such scenes. In a film like Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu or Thalayanamanthram, we could shoot scenes like we were on a vacation. Film-making should ideally be like that — fun and artistic.

Did you come to cinema through literature or theatre?

My film career began at a very young age. I was just 19, and a  voracious reader. My stories and poetry have been published in Mathrubhumi’s children’s section, Balapankthi. I’ve never been very interested in theatre.

Is there a writer who has inspired you?

There is no writer who influenced my generation as much as MT Vasudevan Nair. He is still our hero. I’ve never worked with him. Sometime ago, while flipping through a weekly, I saw a photograph of MT sitting inside a second-hand bookstore in Calicut, going through its collection. I was astonished to see the passion with which he still reads. He is very inspiring. 

Writer KS Sethumadhavan contacted me after watching Jomonte Suvishehsangal. I asked him what he was doing these days. He was reading a non-fiction about Tipu Sultan. KS is older than MT. They are our role models. They don’t seem to be affected by age.

They overcome the frailties of the body through art and reading.

It was MT’s stories and other writings that inspired me during my early days in cinema. My reading habit became sporadic after I joined Chandrakumar’s team as an assistant. He was a very busy director. He made about 11 films in one year. Imagine! And, assistant directors had twice as much work to do. 

Now, I deliberately take a break after each film to relax and read. My goal is to read at least about a fourth of the books I have bought. Currently, I’m reading Jacob Thomas’ ‘Sravukalude Koode Neenthumbol’. Sometime ago, I read B Jeyamohan’s novella that was published in ‘Bhashaposhini’. It was a great read. And, I love ‘Soviet Kadhakal’. One of my favourites is ‘Malakaludeyum Steppikaludeyum Kadhakal’, published by Prabhat Books. It’s a fantastic Malayalam translation of a set of Russian stories, and reading it  is like watching a Russian film. 

You were once an acclaimed lyricist too.

It was by chance that I started writing lyrics. And, fortunately, all of them became popular numbers.  Also, it was nice to listen to my name mentioned in radio announcements. A Christian devotional song that I wrote for a brief scene in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal is even sung at church ceremonies. Later, I hung up my boots because it was not easy to take the pressure of both pre-production and lyric-writing.

Mohanlal continues to joke that an old Malayalam teacher used to ghost-write the lyrics in my name, and that I don’t write these days because he is dead. 

I remember a poster of Innathe Chinthavishayam which said something about Meera Jasmine’s costumes for the film being a hit among the audience. Is costume a department you take particular care about? 

For Sanmassullavarkku Samadhanam, I asked Karthika to choose the clothes for her character. She picked what a lower middle-class office-going girl would wear. In that film, Mohanlal wore just about seven shirts. My films in that period were about middle-class people who had more basic problems to deal with.

For my recent films, such as Jomonte…and Innathe…, I paid more attention to choosing the costumes. In the latter, Meera Jasmine is a fashion designer, and in Indian Pranaya Kadha, Amala Paul a young Canada-returnee. I had to bring in a youthful, stylish look to those films and characters.

Youngsters have access to international movies over the Internet. Making films for such a generation must be difficult.

I like the company of young people. I am not a bitter person who is critical of their way of life. Maybe, because of that, I never found it difficult to make films that youngsters could connect with. I know they are fond of international movies. But, I’ve never wanted to experiment on those lines.

My films are not inspired or copied from Mexican or Korean films. Yet, they become-box office hits. Why should I worry?

I thoroughly enjoy watching the films of the new generation of filmmakers such as Dileesh Pothen, Abrid Shine and Rajeev Ravi, among others. However, my biggest inspiration is Sreenivasan, the genius.

Rajeev Ravi recently harshly criticised Sreenivasan for writing Sandesham.

Yes, but I never spoke to him about it. I remember Sreenivasan’s remark: “Did my screenplay bite him?” That’s just Rajeev’s opinion. I am sure many do not agree with him. 

Sreenivasan is known for his strong opinions on social and political issues.

Yes, but his words are often misinterpreted. He is often surprised when he sees these “quotes”. He has never completely dismissed modern medicine. But, there were reports that Sreenivasan said cancer centres were useless. He farms on a 14-acre plot in Wayanad. He has conviction in that lifestyle.

I have always led that kind of a life. I mostly eat vegetables cultivated at home by my wife and I.

Thilakan also spoke courageously. 

Yes. He was a  regular collaborator of mine until his health deteriorated. He is an actor I admire. I never tried to keep him away because of the alleged bans by film associations. But, he misunderstood me. After the release of Rasathanthram, he told me, “I should have played Gopi’s role.”

I don’t think it’s possible (or right?) for any organisation to ban any artiste. Organisations such as  AMMA and FEFKA are meant to help unemployed artistes and those with poor health, and do charity.

Thilakan had alleged that the industry is casteist, but I don’t think anyone thinks of an artiste’s caste while working with him.

Women in the film industry are speaking out about the sexism they face.

Ask the women artistes I have worked with – Nayanthara, Sreebala (K Menon)… I’m sure none of them had any bitter experiences. If you ever face a bad experience, you should have the courage to speak up about it.

When you do not name the person and just say the industry is bad, it creates a distorted image. 

The people I have worked with are individuals with self-respect and integrity. Naturally, I have never seen any [sexism] from close quarters. I’m not undermining the Women In Cinema Collective. Just because I have not seen such an incident does not mean I can dismiss the bad experiences women have faced in the field.

Recently, Youth Congress members marched to Innocent’s house, protesting against some statement he made at a venue the previous day. When I met him, he looked shocked, wondering where he’d gone wrong.

I told him to be extra careful in choosing words, now that he’s a parliamentarian. He apologised later, but  the matter had gone out of hand. 

Superstar culture and fan frenzy is also on the rise…

I think the superstar culture is slowly declining in Malayalam cinema.

Young male stars aren’t doing many films in a year. Angamaly Diaries,which had an all-fresh cast, is a super-hit. Ann Maria Kalippilaanu had Sunny Wayne and a little girl in the lead. It was a hit too.

If there is a profusion of good films with good screenplay, there will be no superstar culture. Fans of superstars might create a buzz on the first day of release, but cannot save a bad movie.

You have closely worked with two excellent music composers – Johnson Master and Ilaiyaraaja. 

I have worked most with Johnson. He was an excellent collaborator; it was as if he could read my mind. For instance, there is a dream sequence in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, where Jayaram goes to Samyuktha Varma’s house at midnight to meet her in secret. He tells her, “Come beloved, let’s sit under that flowering tree.” His character is that of an amateur theatre artiste. While shooting the scene, I thought it would be good to use an old theatre song as the background score. Johnson, to my surprise, did exactly that, although I had said nothing.

After doing many films together, I decided to part ways with Johnson, since I felt our work was becoming repetitive. Ilaiyaraaja then came into the picture.

Johnson happily let me use another composer. He was very professional about it. After 12 films, people started to say my collaboration with Ilaiyaraaja had also turned monotonous, so I joined hands with Vidyasagar.

These days, a lot of film songs are in the form of background scores. They cannot be sung. But, I think people love old fashioned melodies. Alphonse Putharen proved it with Premam.

Good songs definitely help storytelling. Our kind of films is  founded on it. 

Almost all your films have at least one portion set in Tamil Nadu. What prompts you to go back to this region every time?

Tamil Nadu is a landscape close to my heart. My first and second films were made while I was living in Chennai. Naturally, those films were set in Chennai. Later, when I shifted to Kerala, I started making films set in the villages and small-towns there. Yet, I keep going back to Tamil Nadu whenever I see an opportunity. It is like Kerala’s closest cousin in terms of culture and language. Jomonte Suvisheshangal was partly shot in Tiruppur. While we were shooting, the workers came in large groups to watch. 

You have worked with almost every top actor in the industry. 

Yes. But, I’ve repeatedly cast Mohanlal  because his body language and face suit the type of characters I write – be it Dasan of Nadodikkattu or TP Balagopalan MA, which was an image breaking role for him.

Both he and Mammootty happily acted in my films, where they had to play dhoti-clad villagers. This was when they played underworld dons in action-dramas and thrillers.

Mammootty has a body language made for serious character roles. But, if you give him a well-written comic role, he will deliver well. Like in Pranchiyettan And The Saint.

Once, SN Swamy and I put our heads together and wrote a light-hearted story about a cat-and-mouse game between a young thief and a police man. That was Kalikkalam.

Mammootty is a peculiar actor. Cast him in a role, and he will call you up at odd hours to ask for details about the character. He was so excited about his role in Kalikkalam, that he called me at odd times to ask, “How does the character walk?” and “What are his quirks?”

He would drive me nuts (laughs). 

That’s the level of dedication and involvement he brings to his roles. Mohanlal, on the other hand, doesn’t think of his role until he reaches the set. He magically transforms himself into the character in front of the camera.

After Sreedharante Thirumurivu flopped, I took it as a challenge to deliver a hit with Mammootty. Venu Nagavalli and I created the character Ben Narendran; we highlighted his good looks and stylishness. People loved the film and his character. That chic jacket that wore in the song sequence, Shyamambaram, was a hit among youngsters.

Urvasi and Sreenivasan in ‘Thalayanamanthram’

Among actresses, I have worked the most with the excellent Urvashi. I cast her in Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu in a comic role as a village girl, at a time when she was playing sombre roles in IV Sasi’s dark dramas. I thought she had the right looks to play Swarnalatha.

There are scenes in which she lies through her teeth keeping a straight face – that’s when I realised she was an exceptional actress. Later, I cast her in films such as Thalayana Manthram and Achuvinte Amma.

I make it a point to write female protagonists who get equal screen-time and space as their male counterparts. Shobana in TP Balagopalan MA and Karthika in Sanmanassulavarkkku Samadhavam were modelled around women we see around us.

Generally, I never face difficulty in getting the dates of actors and actresses, because, for some reason, they trust my filmmaking abilities. Sometimes, they call to ask if I have a role for them in my next film. But, there was this one time when Mohanlal’s dates were just not unavailable. Then, I made films such as  Sandesham and Sasneham, which were again superhits. 

Do you read critiques?

Does  anyone write good critique pieces these days? Writers prefer sarcasm to any serious discourse on cinema. I see pieces written by popular critics on the Internet and in print. They are either appreciation or sarcasm. My films are mostly laughed at. I don’t understand the basis of star ratings for films. I don’t think they are of any importance.

 

*****

The Sathyan Anthikad interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Honey Bee 2.5 Review: Time To Bring Down The Shutter On This Franchise

A young aspiring actor walks into the shooting location of Lal Jr’s Honey Bee 2. He claims to be an acting graduate from a prestigious film school, but displays no talent whatsoever. He goes into the kitchen of the shooting unit, and topples a mountain of steel vessels. An assistant director casts him in a passing shot, but he foils the entire day of shoot. He falls in love with a make-up assistant, but shows no guts to open up to her about it. He is gullible, naive and boring. 

It’s around him, Honey Bee 2.5 is woven. You need not look around to see what is about this film that is getting on your nerves. If the patchy characterisation and an outrageously bad script was what ruined Honey Bee 2, this film has a dull lead character played by a mediocre actor whose film entry can be explained only by the word nepotism. 

Directed by Shyju Anthikad, Honey Bee 2.5 is a meta-film shot entirely on the sets of Honey Bee 2, which released in March this year, and bit the dust at the box-office. There are actors like Baburaj, Asi Ali, Bhavana, Balu Varghese, Lal and Sreenivasan playing themselves. Their off-screen camaraderie appears natural, and is fun to watch. Baburaj cracks a dirty joke, and Asif Ali teases him, “Shut up, don’t say such things in the presence of a woman (Bhavana),” and he replies, “Darn! I keep forgetting that she is a woman!” It’s interesting to see these co-actors treating her as a cool friend with whom they can hang out, and nothing else. Especially at a time when Malayalam cinema is facing severe backlash for being misogynistic and anti-women. 

Askar Ali, brother of Asif Ali, plays Vishnu, whose only ambition in life is to make it big in cinema as a lead actor. His widowed mother and sister back him unconditionally, while his grandfather, a Kathakali enthusiast, tells him on his face that he is a good-for-nothing. Grandpa might have a point there. Vishnu’s friends, two over-enthusiastic pompous fools, launch a fan association for him even before he gets cast in his first film. Their jokes are just not funny. Vishnu is told that the casting for Honey Bee 2 is done and fixed already, but he refuses to leave the sets. He stays there, doing menial jobs and making friends. Finally, Lal and Lal Jr casts him in a pivotal role because they are touched by the young man’s sincerity, innocence and relentless endeavour. No points for guessing that Vishnu messes it up too. Because that is where his talents lie. 

Honey Bee 2.5 is a movie sans any charm. The blooper reel of Honey Bee franchise would be a more engaging watch than this film which is devoid of anything new or substantial. Lijamol who plays the female lead, Kanmani, has delivered an impressive performance, but there is only so much that a female lead can do in a movie as trivial as this. However, in all fairness, Honey Bee 2.5 is not as appalling as Honey Bee 2, which was a mishmash of bad adult comedy and soulless relationship tracks. Going by how the last two Honey Bee ventures have fared, it is time they brought down the shutters on this franchise. 

***

The Honey Bee 2.5 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.

Karutha Joodhan Review: A Moving Tale Let Down By Clumsy Execution

How does it feel to come back home after many years and find out that there is no home anymore to welcome you back? Karutha Joodhan, writen, directed and co-produced by actor Salim Kumar, is about a man who lost his home to time and societal systems. It also deals with the historical event of Jewish exodus with a certain morbid fascination. It is on the heights of gloom that Salim Kumar builds up his film. Incidents of death and loss drive the plot. Several scenes have rain drizzling in the background, adding to the gravity of the tragic tale that is unfolding.  

Aaron Illyahu aka Avaron Joothan (Salim Kumar) desperately tries to cling on to the house in which he grew up, even if that means he will eventually have to give his life to it. His friends, family members and neighbours migrated to Israel, the holy land that their community regards as their ultimate ‘home’. But for Avaron, home is Mala, a small village in Kerala where he grew up. For a year, he roams around north India, looking for graves of his Jewish ancestors, to record the details of a forgotten fragmented piece of history of Cochin Jews, the dark-complexioned community who migrated to Kerala during King Solomon’s time. Eventually, the history swallows this frail man who lived his life as a social reject.

While watching the film, one can’t help shake off the feeling that Karutha Joodhan would have made a great novel, than a motion picture. The subtext is of immense potential, and the narration and dialogues are sublimely poetic. But Salim Kumar fails to translate it to an engaging cinematic language. The visuals are uninspiring and redundant, marred by the kind of dramatic lighting that you only get to see in theatre plays these days. You would rather look away from the screen and listen to the film’s prose with your eyes closed. 

The best part of Karutha Joodhan is, perhaps, the history that it attempts to narrate. The story of the black Jews who settled down in central and north Kerala, away from Mattanchery where the celebrated white Jews lived, is fascinating. The landscape that the film features adds to the story’s mystical appeal. 

And Salim Kumar whose performance as Avaron is deeply moving. He interprets the loneliness and grief of Avaron with a lot of empathy, and he ingeniously uses the frailties of his body to his advantage. There are instances where the camera and production design go wrong, and his co-actors ham it up, but Salim Kumar brings credibility to the proceedings on-screen. Babu Annur who plays Beeran, Avaron’s friend, delivers a remarkable performance too. 

Had Salim Kumar’s beautifully-written story been brought to silver screen by a more creative filmmaker, who loves the complex grammar of cinema as much as he loves great stories, Karutha Joodhan would have been a fine movie. Now what we get is a clumsily executed film that would lull into sleep even the most curious person in the audience. 

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The Karutha Joodhan 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.

Legacy Of The Partition: Vasthuhara, A Tale Of The Dispossessed

“Why didn’t you seek our opinion when you decided to cut our country into two?,” asked people to their leaders. “What you see here aren’t refugees. They are Vasthuhaaras – the dispossessed. The people who lost everything, thanks to you!” 

One of the most authentic portrayals of the chaos that the British left behind in India in 1947 is Vasthuhara (The Dispossessed), directed by Aravindan, the genius filmmaker known for films like Chidambaram, Utharayanam and Oridam. Released in 1991, Vasthuhara was the swan song of Aravindan. He passed away shortly before the release of the film.

The film, adapted from a short story written by CV Sreeraman, was named the best feature film in Malayalam in the National Film Awards, 1991.

As per official records, the Partition displaced over 10 million people, and resulted in the brutal killing of over a million. Set in 1971, Vasthuhara takes off from where Nemai Ghosh’s Chinnamul (The Uprooted) culminated. Twenty years since the Partition, Kolkata is overflowing with refugees from East Bengal who moved to India as the state’s ‘permanent liabilities’. Violence has subsided, but sufferings haven’t. Refugees are still roofless and deprived. There are no jobs, and the socio-political atmosphere is tumultuous.

Aravindan looks at the situation through the eyes of Venu (Mohanlal), a young government officer from Kerala who is on a mission in Kolkata to rehabilitate a section of the refugees to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For Venu, who comes from a bourgeois Nair household, the sights that he come across in the refugee camps in Kolkata are harrowing, but there is a sense of aloofness in his conduct. He is just another passive government employee until he comes across a lean gloomy woman whom he identifies as the wife of his uncle Kunjunni, a man whom he loved and respected as a child.

There is an underlying pessimism in Vasthuhara that is hard to shake off. The time is peculiar. Three hundred years of British Raj is over, and the country is finally a free republic. The political boundaries that formed 24 years ago, has become hard and fast, and the country is passing through a phase which, many decades down the line, will be seen as the dawn of a modern India. There is already, indeed, a bustling new India, well cut off from the distress of poverty and destitution. Yet, all you see around is miserable human lives.

The film was shot in real locations in Kolkata, using sync sound, which was unheard of in Malayalam in those days. The steady stream of cacophony in many outdoor scenes in the film, lends to it a fluid quality. Some of the most moving, personal scenes in the film have this commotion in the background. 

Aravindan focuses on the individual lives that were vandalised in this great process of nation building. The disconnect that Venu feels in Kolkata is, in many ways, what a certain section of India, safely cut off from the harsh impacts of Partition, experienced then. The film seamlessly uses Malayalam, English and Bengali, and crisscrosses between a chaotic Kolkata and a serene Kerala, from insensitivity of the upper middle-class to the helplessness of the refugees, and creates a perfectly fragmented world for the characters to function. He mourns the bright young minds that turned disillusioned and disoriented, thanks to the tenuous political ambience; those who lost their rightful home when an apathetic political line divided a region into two countries. He ends the movie abruptly, leaving the fate of the characters oblivious, with another war looming in the background, triggering yet another refugee exodus.

The character of Aarti, wife of Kunjunni Panicker, a rebellious Malayali intellectual who left Kerala for East Bengal when Venu was a child, is particularly haunting. The woman goes through the experience of being dispossessed and discarded twice — first by her husband’s family who refused to acknowledge her or open the gate of their family home for her, and then, by the country. Nilanjana Mitra plays the role brilliantly, internalising the years of sorrow and turmoil Aarti goes through, while displaying an indomitable will to struggle and survive.

Her first meeting with Venu is poignant. The camera lingers on their faces for a few seconds before they greet each other. There is no melodrama. He looks perplexed. She looks numb. She asks him in broken Malayalam if he was a Malayali. “I was. Now, I am a Bengali,” he jokes about the state of being rootless to Aarti who pleads with him in an earnest voice to include her name in the list of refugees who will be shifted to Andaman Islands. “I am a refugee too. I want to save my children from this nightmarish city,” she laments. 

It is with a very palpable subtlety Aravindan portrays the relationship dynamics of Aarti and Venu. Look closely, and you would know it is this personal connection that triggers in him a sense of guilt and subsequently, an accountability to the refugee crisis. Deep within, perhaps, he starts to hold himself party to the act that resulted in this huge tragedy. He travels to his home town, and makes efforts to convince his relatives to help Aarti and her children. When nothing seems to work, he holds them close, like family. Aarti’s daughter Damayanti (Nina Gupta) is a young revolutionary, serving a jail sentence in Kolkata central prison. She treats Venu with contempt at first. She accuses Malayalis of being opportunistic, but soon, she finds an ally in the warmth that Venu extends. 

One of the most memorable scenes in the film comes towards the end, where Aarti and Damayanthi come to see off Venu, who is leaving for Andaman Islands with a ship full of refugees who will start life anew there. The scene is shot with the refugees boarding the ship in the background. Damayanthi breaks down in tears as Venu hugs her. “Write to me, Dada,” she cries out as his ship leaves the dock.

You see them from Venu’s point of view as the ship is moving away — two helpless lonely human beings. It’s a profoundly distressing shot. Who is abandoning them there, in a nightmarish city, where hope is long dead? Who seized from them every little possession they had in life? Vasthuhara points the finger at us. 

***

Thrissivaperoor Kliptham Review: A Jumble Of Characters, Absurd Situations And Hollow Humour

Debutant director Retheish Kumar’s Thrissivaperoor Kliptham (Thrissur Limited) had an interesting trailer. If you have seen it, you would know this film is about a bunch of men in Thrissur town who were classmates at a local government school. They were rivals in school, and they are determined to carry on the rivalry as further as they can in life. The trailer had also promised some interesting twists in the story, and some quirky characters worth looking forward to.

However, the film has nothing that holds your attention. The actors deliver an earnest performance, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Thrissivaperoor Kliptham is a mess composed of patchy characters, and badly edited sequences that leave loose ends everywhere. 

The film opens to an upper-class Christian household where the members are getting ready for the betrothal ceremony of the youngest scion. There are close-up shots of sumptuous pork curry, for food shots and food talks are essential in the making of a new wave Malayalam film. There is Zarina Wahaab as a fiery grandma, badly lip syncing to Thrissur slang of Malayalam. The sequence culminates in a convoluted plot point where the groom, David Pauly (Chemban Vinod), hides a bottle of rum under his shirt and gets caught red-handed during the ceremony, in front of the church priest and guests. It doesn’t seem reasonable that Pauly hid the bottle under his shirt, while he could have easily kept it in his room. 

Several times in the film occur instances as this, where situations look staged, and actions and consequences are disproportionate.

Jose has invited a high-profile celebrity, an actress known for her hotness, to inaugurate his jewellery show room. To ruin his plans, David and his friends hatch a plan. They meet the actress’ agent, and hire her for one night of sex. But she will sleep with only one of the men and that too, for a whopping sum of money. So, David’s gang has to decide who among them would be the lucky one. A good deal of time is spent on solving this confusion. A simpleton named Girija Vallabhan (Asif Ali), a new entrant to the gang, gets chosen, but he is in short of money. There begins another exhausting sequence where the characters run around to pool some money to break Girija Vallabhan’s long-preserved virginity. 

The fault rests with Dileesh Pothan and Rajeev Ravi, the filmmakers whose raw and realistic style of film-making swept Mollywood off its feet. Now on every other Friday, releases a Malayalam film where characters indulge in earthy visceral matters like food, sex and crime. Efforts are made to ensure that the fight sequences look natural and dirty, and dialogues and characterisations are rooted in the surroundings. There is a new style to shooting comic scenes. Dileesh got it right twice, with Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, and Rajeev Ravi, with Annayum Rasoolum and Kammattipadom. But the imitations lack the intelligence and precision that made the above-said films works of genius.

Siddharth Bharathan’s Varnyathil Aashanka had raw and visceral situations and characterisations, but its story-telling lacked a neat rhythm. Thrissivaperoor Cliptham has its focus on the relationship shared by a bunch of foolish, egotistic and violent men. But the plot fails to hold them together. Many a time during the film, you would want to get up and leave, for the antics of these men do not seem interesting at all. They are old enough to realise how silly they are, but refuse to rein themselves in. For one, nothing explains their obsession with Girija Vallabhan, a good-for-nothing young man who is too clumsy to complete a single job with minimum neatness.

There is a parallel story-line about a young girl, Bhageerathy (Aparna Balamurali), who works as an auto-rickshaw driver in Thrissur town. She has a troubled past – as an infant, her mother had abandoned her in a slum and eloped with her lover. Her present is troubled as well – her half-sister’s family is being harassed by a pimp. This part of the film bears a resemblance with Lohithadas’ genre of stories. Anupama’s performance might remind one of Manju Warrier’s in Kanmadam, but she is disappointingly one-note. True that she is an underdog struggling to survive in a hard world, but why would Bhageerathy drive her rickshaw with a furious face? 

Even composer Bijibal, who seldom disappoints, is out of form here. He offers a mishmash of songs that pass without making any impression. Thrissivaperoor Kliptham is a forgettable movie that offers hollow laughs and absurd characters. 

***

The Thrissivaperoor Kliptham 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.

 

Toilet Ek Prem Katha Review: The Message Makes Sense, The Amateurish Filmmaking Doesn’t

At one point in Toilet Ek Prem Katha, you see officials of the central government’s Swachh Bharat Mission working spiritedly to help Keshav (Akshay Kumar), a villager, whose marriage is in peril. His wife is resolved to return to him only after he builds a toilet in his house. When a journalist asks Keshav if it was lack of political will that ruined his life, he replies, “Instead of blaming the system, why don’t we look into ourselves and correct our own mistakes.” In another instance, a chief minister in the film asks his men to lock up washrooms in government offices because that, like demonetisation, will make people realise the importance of building toilets. 

Akshay Kumar is a clever man. He gives Vidya Balan’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan videos a commercial twist.

That Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is not a public service video is a disclaimer that the makers should have included in its opening credits. It displays an ardent loyalty towards the ruling government, and portrays village women as the flag-bearers of an important social movement, much like many of the short videos produced by the Film Division of India. 

At one instance, you see Jaya (Bhumi Padnekar) buying spinning wool from eBay using a mobile app. She clicks a button here, a button there, and yes, the order is placed. Those who laughed at Narendra Modi when he said online cash transactions are quite easy and quick, should watch this film. There is another pivotal product placement scene, where Jaya, while applying Dettol on Keshav’s wound, explains to him the importance of modern medicines. “It’s alright. I will apply some mud and the wound will heal, ” he says, and she asks him to shut up.

Multi-national companies and the government work hand in hand in Toilet Ek Prem Kadha, to make the life of Keshav, a simpleton villager, better. The film might as well have ended with a shot of the government officials in Khadi kurta and shining formal wears smiling at the camera in the background, while Akshay Kumar telling the audience, “The government is with you in every step towards progress.”

Over anything else, the film looks amateurish, as if the makers were not bothered at all about the quality of visuals or the smoothness of the edit. The lighting and colours look uneven, and camerawork is jarring.

The relationship of Jaya and Keshav is, perhaps, the sole interesting part of this film. She is gutsy and sensible. He is a bachelor, closing in on forties. She is a state topper in board exams, he is a simpleton who would fall at the feet of anyone who can speak good English. He cooks and cleans the house without making a fuss about it. She loves books. Their first encounter is at the door of a toilet in a local train, and right from the morning after their wedding, toilet becomes a villain in their marital life. She refuses to defecate in the open field. He takes a while to understand why she is right about the need for a toilet. Together, they embark on a mission to reform the village. 

                                                                                             ****

Akshay Kumar’s performance is bad. He is self-assured, and comes with a lot of experience. Yet, his acting prowess has not seen any improvement over the years. Bhumi Padnekar effortlessly steals the show from him. She is energetic, and looks like someone from ordinary surroundings. In emotional scenes, it’s her restrained acting that distracts your attention from Kumar’s hyperbole cringe-worthy performance.

Unlike Kumar’s previous films like Airlift and Rustom, this film isn’t blatantly jingoistic. There are instances where Keshav takes on the stern upper-caste patriarchs of the village who place ‘sanskar‘ and ‘sanskriti‘ over basic things like sanitation. There is Jaya confidently talking back to her father-in-law who asks her to cover her hair. 

At the same time, Toilet Ek Prem Katha’s take on patriarchy is a comfortable one. It doesn’t contest the age-old tradition of a woman having to leave her own house and settle for whatever her husband’s house has to offer. It places the whole responsibility of the nation’s welfare and sanitation on its women, pretty much like the old country saying, “If a woman goes astray, the community will go to dogs.”

Toilet Ek Prem Katha ends up as a forgettable drama that ignores the complexities of reality and reduces the subject of sanitation to the issue of open defecation. It doesn’t pose questions to those who deserves the most to be questioned. Its earnestness and concerns do not come across as genuine. And it is essentially a lazily-made mediocre film that doesn’t respect the art of film making. 

***

The Toilet Ek Prem Katha 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.

The Many Moods Of Rain In Malayalam Cinema

In an old aristocratic household in a quiet Kerala village, live three old men and a lonely little boy. One night, the boy wakes up from sleep, and looks out of his window, to see torrential downpour. He steps out of his room, and goes to the verandah, and sees one of the old men drawing water from the well in the courtyard. “Why are you doing this when it’s raining heavily?”, asks the boy, and the old man laughs out. “You must be kidding, boy!” When he is on the verandah, the boy notices that there is absolutely no sign of rain on his body or clothes, as if there was no rain at all. Was there rain at all?

In Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Anantaram (1987), rain is a spell cast by an invisible magician.

Padmarajan’s Thoovanathumbikal was released in theatres the same year as Anantharam. If Adoor used rain as a curtain to separate reality from dream, Padmarajan used it as a mystic cupid that heralds the romantic relationship of Jayakrishnan (Mohanlal) and Clara (Sumalatha). The first time the couple meets in a hotel room, it is raining heavily outside their window. They fall in love, and the morning after, she disappears, leaving no trace.

The famous Perumbavoor Raveendranath G composition, Megham Poothu Thudangi, penned by Sreekumaran Thampi, talks about their sweet first encounter:

“The clouds have bloomed,

Desires are pouring down

And the earth heard a new beat in its heart”

Many months later, a letter arrives to him from her, on a rainy afternoon, announcing her visit. Padmarajan, in his inimitable style, infuses the beauty and intensity of rain into Clara. 

***

It’s only natural that Malayalam cinema has several marvellous rain sequences, for Kerala, the favourite region of South-West Monsoon in the peninsula, is bestowed with a long rainy season. 

In Shaji N Karun’s Piravi, rain is the manifestation of the grief of a father who is searching for his missing son whom the state forces whisked away during the tumultuous period of Emergency. The pathos of Piravi is unbearably heavy. Shaji N Karun and cinematographer Sunny Joseph use rain to punctuate the emotional turbulence in the narrative.  

Director Kamal has an affinity for rain on screen. One of the most famous rain songs in Mollywood belongs to his film, Azhagiya Raavanan. The lyrics of Pranayamani Thooval tosses in several cute prefixes for rain:

“The rain that falls furtively in the middle of the night, like my secret first love”

Kamal’s Mazhayethum Munpe (Before the rain) and Megha Malhar have a reference to rain in their title. In Madhura Nombarakkattu (The Bitter Sweet Wind), rain divides the time-frame of the narrative. The film begins on the rough arid terrain of Palakkad where there is no sign of rain, and a flashback sequence shifts you to wet green village where the protagonist, Vishnu (Biju Menon), hails from. His younger sister loves playing in the rain, and one evening, she sneaks out of her house to enjoy the rain, away from the watchful eyes of her sister-in-law, Priyamvadha (Samyuktha Varma). A tragedy unfolds then. She is brutally raped by a friend of Vishnu, and when Priyamvadha finds this out, she murders the man in a fit of rage. As though rain acted as a facilitator for the crime, the film takes the couple away from this rainy village forever. 

In Bharathan’s Padheyam, it is a rainy night that works as the turning point in the storyline. On an evening, Kolkata is sunk in heavy floods and cloudburst, a young woman takes shelter in a friend’s house. The cold and the heavy downpour stir them up, and the friends become lovers that night. Their lovechild, Haritha, is the anchor of the film’s narrative. 

Vaishali, directed by Bharathan, is the story of an ancient kingdom which has seen no rain for the past 12 years. The king and his team entrust a young girl with a mission to bring the teenage son of a powerful monk who resides in the forest, to the country, for he alone can perform a special ritual to make rain. The girl lands in the forest, meets the boy, and the two fall in love. In Vaishali, romance unfurls under a sunny sky, and the arrival of rain spells doom for the lovers. The film culminates in a rain dance, with the whole kingdom dancing in the shower. However, the happy moments are inter-cut with the tragedy that befalls Vaishali whom the king and the countrymen betrays mercilessly.

Of late, rain has been used rather as a set prop than as a narrative element. In Amal Neerad’s 2007 film, Big B, the highlight was the stylised camerawork that captured falling rain in slow motion. It is at a funeral Mammootty’s Bilal is introduced. It is a spectacular sequence. You see a line of black umbrellas first. Mourning relatives of the deceased, Mary teacher, walk in the procession, getting drenched in the falling rain. Suddenly, from a black vehicle parked in one corner, emerges Bilal – a shot of his shoes, splashing rain water around, then an overhead shot of his umbrella. Amal Neerad effectively uses rain in many scenes in Big B, to accentuate emotions and often, to add some gloss to the visuals.

In 2015, RS Vimal set his film, Ennu Ninte Moideen, on the backdrop of incessant heavy rain. In the film, a tale of two star-crossed lovers, there is rain as a witness to every crucial event in the couple’s life. The visuals in the film, captured by Jomon T John, are stunning, yet the magic that was seen in Thoovanathumbikal is absent in Ennu Ninte Moideen, for here the rain looks like an element of production design, added to the film to make it glossier. 

In Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaram, an overcast sky and occasional rain represent the blues of Mahesh (Fahadh Faasil). His lover has betrayed him. He was humiliated in front of the people he knows by a bunch of bullies. His esteem is running low. And there comes the song, Cheru Punchiri Innale, where a cool colour palette is used to denote the gloom. When Mahesh finds love again, the weather becomes brighter. The lyrics of the song, “Mounangal Mindomoree” has a poetic line,

“ഇന്നെൻ നെഞ്ചം നീലാകാശം

And today, my mindscape is a bright blue sky”

Finally, the sweet fragrance of summer has arrived in Mahesh’s modest life. 

***

When Men Do Not Know How To Love: An Interview With Director Ram

Men are not able to open up to women, Ram declares during our interview. “Especially contemporary Tamil men. They carry many prejudices. They have a set scale to measure women – by her looks, status, ‘character’… the men are not able to cope with the changes in the society, they feel humiliated and suffocated; they react violently.”

Taramani, director Ram’s upcoming movie, is a take on gender equations.

*****

If there’s something that director Ram is asked often, it’s a question about the characters in his movies. He’s asked how much the characters resemble his real persona. That’s one of the things that Ram emphasizes during our conversation.

Vehemently.

I am not any of my characters, he says, when we speak on the phone one January evening, between editing sessions of his upcoming Peranbu.

“So, don’t judge me based on them.”

He also doesn’t sympathise with the lead character of Kattradhu Tamil MA and Thanga Meengal. Both were dark-themed films, about complex misfits who constantly rebelled with their surroundings. In Kattradhu Tamil MA, a young post-graduate in Tamil literature is alienated in a world that has no space for arts and humanities. Thanga Meengal, on the other hand, was about corrosion of values in the education system. It also featured Ram in the lead role as the father of an eight-year-old girl.

“People tend to think I am an angry, emotional guy – like Prabhakar in Kattradhu Tamil MA or Kalyani in Thanga Meengal,” he declares, “I hold a Masters in Tamil; that’s probably the only thing that connects us.” He understands their angst, their frustrations – but it stops right there. “I’m a totally different person.”

Actor Jiiva, who played Prabhakar in Kattradhu Tamil, had to undergo therapy to get out of the skin of the character.

The film was emotionally draining, Ram admits. “Jiiva was in his early twenties then. He is a sweet chap. But it was torture for everyone because it’s a depressing movie. The plot is dark. Its lighting pattern and locations are melancholic. It was stressful.”

*****

Director Ram at Stone Bench Creations Launch

In a career spanning nine years, 42-year-old Ram has directed two films, and is working on two others – Taramani and Peranbu – that belong to a lighter genre. Taramani, starring Andrea and Vasanth Ravi, is the last film in his Globalisation Trilogy. His fourth film Peranbu, according to the director, is the most important one in his career.

It stars Mammootty, whom Ram calls a “wizard on screen”.

Also because Ram learned “the art of acting” from him. “Of all the actors I have worked with so far, Mammookka belongs to a different league. The days I spent with him on the sets of the film were workshop on acting and film-making.”

Mammooty plays the lead role, Amudhavan, in Peranbu. It was the actor who recommended Anjali, a transgender actor, to play an important role in the film, which happens to be Mammooty’s first Tamil film in the last 12 years (after Vishwa Thulasi in 2004).

Mammooty, Ram says, told him that the hallmark of a good actor is that he knows when not to act. “I had heard that from other people, too,” Ram recalls, “but Mammooty actually does it. He shows you how true it is.”

Of course, there were some disagreements on the sets, routine ones, really, “but every conversation with him helped me learn something new,” the director declares, “If I didn’t like a particular shot, I would explain it to him. He would readily agree for a re-take if my explanation made sense to him. Also, he never does night shoots. But for Peranbu, we had to do a lot of night shoots in Chennai, and some early morning sunrise shoots in Kodaikkanal. He gladly did all of that. I have been lucky enough to work with two masters in my career – Balu Mahendra and Mammookka. Now I think I should do my next film too with Mammookka.”

Ram’s favourite films of Mammooty include Thalapathy, Sukrutham, Amaram, Thaniyavarthanam and Mrugaya. “Kattradhu Tamil has faint shades of Sukrutham,” Ram says.

*****

Taramani is Ram’s first film set in urban spaces. A take on gender equations, “it’s about how gender roles and man-woman relationships underwent drastic changes in the post-globalisation era,” Ram says, adding that the movie doesn’t take sides.

A significant change was that women became more self-reliant, he observes. “Globalisation created a liberal space for women to express themselves. It gave them an identity, beyond the usual tags of mother, sister, wife, and daughter. At least to a great extent. More and more women travel these days, that too with their own money. However, are the men who live with them and work with them able to understand the change? That’s one of the questions Taramani is handling.”

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, many films of Roman Polanski, Alfonso Cuaron’s Mexican drama Y Tu Mama Tambien, Tamil films like Marupadiyum and Aval Appadithaan, and many literary pieces served as inspiration for Taramani.

That, and those real-life relationships that he got to witness: of independent women, and violent men.

It’s unfair to call the whole Tamil film industry misogynist, Ram declares when I steer our conversation to recent events. “As far as I know, this kind of humiliation never happens in the space I work,” he says, referring to the interview in which a director made derogatory remarks about actresses. “A lot of women work in every department in Kollywood. When I joined the industry, this wasn’t the case. There were few women, and it was very difficult for them to foray into direction. Now, things are different. I treat my co-workers, actors and actresses as artistes playing the characters I created, not on the basis of their gender. The costumes I decide for my lead actress are always according to the character she plays. I have never, and I will never try to make money by exhibiting an artiste’s body.”

*****

Ram graduated from Madras Christian College in the 90s. After a stint as a script-writing assistant, as part of Balu Mahendra’s team, he moved to Mumbai to work with Raj Kumar Santhoshi in films like Lajja and Pukar. The progressive, cosmopolitan college campus, and the highly professional work spaces changed his perspective about gender roles. “I studied Literature in college,” he says, “Literature helps you understand the other gender in a better way. I grew up in a family where women were given more importance than men. My sister was sent to an English medium school, while I was put in a local Tamil medium school. In Madras Christian College, there were people from all over the world. Interactions with them widened my view.”

Kattradhu Tamil MA, too, taught him many lessons. “Till then, my knowledge about cinema came from the time I spent with Balu Mahendra and Santhoshi, and from movies and books. I didn’t know much about about film-making, thus I was more free-minded. We shot the film in guerrilla style. I did it for the sheer pleasure of making a film,” Ram says.

None of the director’s films have antagonists. It’s difficult to do a mainstream film without an antagonist, he says, because it makes it tougher for the audience to understand the protagonist. “So, I give more exposition to the protagonist, but it makes me look like I am sympathising with the lead men of Kattradhu Tamil and Thanga Meengal. I am just using them as a tool, though. I always begin a story with a thesis. I create the character to present my thesis. I’m more emotionally connected to my thesis, than to the characters.”

While Kattradhu Tamil was an argumentative film, it’s not about Tamil language as many people see it, Ram adds, “The film might look arrogant and emotional, but it is about how liberal arts and humanities are neglected today. It’s about how the society is creating a sociopath. That the lead character is a Tamil graduate is just a coincidence. Initially, I was planning to make the film in Hindi.”

And, it was easier to make his first film than the rest. “I think as you gain more experience, you tend to lose originality. After the first movie, I became a serious film student. When I was making Taramani, I had more clarity. I could balance what I learned from my previous two films with theoretical knowledge.”

Ram’s a “better filmmaker now”, and is “evolving”. He’s no longer the person who made Kattradhu Tamil; is more calm and mature, and doesn’t get angry easily.

I’m more grounded, he says.

*****

It was Gautham Vasudev Menon – a filmmaker known for his romantic dramas – who produced Thanga Meengal, a dark and raw film. Despite the stark contrast between the genre of their films, the duo was quite comfortable with each other.

“GVM loved Kattradhu Tamil. He likes the kind of films I make. I like his films too. We bonded well because we had no ego differences. For me, working with anyone is easy. I try to accept people as they are. It’s important to rein in your ego because film-making is a team work. A director should respect everyone – from a set assistant to the film’s lead actors. Managing a set is the most difficult thing. It requires a lot of skills.”

On the sets of Thanga Meengal, the whole crew lived like a family, Ram says.

A video of GVM singing Aananda Yazhai, a popular number from the film, had gone viral in 2013. The soundtrack made the movie even more popular among the masses.

“I don’t know anything about music. In my films, there are great songs because I don’t know anything about music,” Ram laughs, “I don’t give my music directors any instruction in particular. If the music conveys the emotion of the film, I give the nod. If the music doesn’t suit the situation, I would reject it. Even if it’s a great composition.”

Aananda Yazhai had also fetched Na Muthukumar, the late lyricist, a National Award. Muthukumar and Ram had grown up together.

“We studied together. He helped me become what I am. He understood my scripts like no one else. He would listen to my rants endlessly, and would understand me perfectly. I don’t know where I am going to find a friend and colleague like him,” he says, “I miss him.”

Editor’s Note: Taramani is releasing in theatres on August 11, 2017, four months after this interview was published. The film was awarded an A certificate by the censor board of India for reasons such as it shows a woman drinking liquor neat. Ram took on the board in the posters of the film which features a cheeky (fake) conversation: Anjali’s characters asks a man, probably her husband, “Why are you watching the film without me?” The man replies, “Because it’s an A film.” Her reply goes,“Fish you, aren’t women adults too?”

*****

The Director Ram interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Bejoy Nambiar Interview: “I Would Love To Live In Sai Paranjpye’s Universe”

How would a filmmaker, who identifies himself as a Mumbaikar, cater to the growing appetite for rooted films in Kerala? Bejoy Nambiar talks about making Solo, the bilingual featuring Dulquer Salman, growing up with and around movies, and his love for silence. 

A late Saturday evening; Sreekar Prasad’s editing studio in Saligramam brims with life. It’s the day after Dulquer Salman’s birthday, when the teaser of Solo was released at a low-key event at LV Prasad Film Academy.

Sreekar Prasad and his team flit in and out of the rooms in the old, one-storeyed building. They are busy; the post-production work of Solo is currently underway, and the editing studio is a hotbed of activity.

This is where I meet Bejoy Nambiar, the man behind Solo.

I’ll never make a bilingual again, he sighs as we sit for a long conversation. “It is exhausting because you do twice the work.”

A moment passes by, and he laughs.

“But, I am sure I will end up making another after such promises.”

Solo is an oxymoronic title for a collection of four stories. Dulquer Salmaan plays the lead in every segment, and Bejoy promises that the film will feature an “entirely different side of Dulquer”.

*****

Bejoy Nambiar is a quintessential Mumbaikar. He grew up in a household of movie-buffs. “Everyone at home loved watching films. VHS library was like my second haven. Naturally, I grew up watching a lot of films, and listening to a lot of music.”

When he was in Bangalore as a student, he worked with the Theatre Club Of Bangalore, for which he directed a play, ‘Getaway’ – also the name of his production house. In 2005, he shot to fame with his first directorial, a short film titled Reflections, with Mohanlal playing the lead role. He also assisted Mani Ratnam in Guru (2007).

In 2008, Bejoy, who was 28, won Sony Pix’s Gateway, a celebrated short-film contest judged by Ashok Amritraj, Rajat Kapoor and Anurag Basu, along with Santosh Sivan. “He truly represents the Indian filmmaker of today with his style and technique,” remarked Amritraj, chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment, an internationally renowned production company. Post the win, Bejoy underwent an eight-week internship with Ashok Amritraj and Hyde Park Entertainment in Los Angeles.

His Hollywood career never took off, but Bejoy announced his entry in Indian cinema in 2011 with Shaitan, a brilliant crime drama centered on a bunch of youngsters, played by fresh faces. One of the producers of the film was Anurag Kashyap. The film won him several awards, including the Screen Award for the most promising debut director.

In 2013, he made his first bilingual, David, a drama, in Hindi and Tamil. The film had an ensemble cast – Vikram, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Jiiva among others. The film tanked at the box-office, and earned mixed reviews. However, its unconventional narrative structure, stylised visuals and great music didn’t go unnoticed. In 2016, Bejoy made Wazir, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar. A dark crime thriller, the film was scripted by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

Solo is his first Malayalam movie, and also, his first anthology. “Shaitan and Wazir had parallel narratives. I think I prefer complex narratives to a simple story. I had done that once, for a telefilm for Zee about a dysfunctional relationship. It’s not yet out,” he says.

Bejoy Nambiar, Mani Ratnam and Dulquer Salman at Solo Press Meet

But why was Solo made in two languages?

“During one of our meetings, Dulquer said, ‘why don’t we make this film in Tamil, too?’

I liked the idea. If we could cast it correctly, it could work. And Dulquer is a familiar face in Tamil Nadu. If I’d had a chance, I would have tried to make it in Hindi too. It’s just a matter of time before he cracks it in Bollywood. I know many filmmakers in Hindi who are keen to work with Dulquer. I am pretty sure he will be there very soon. If not with anyone else, I will do a film with him there.

The film has an ensemble cast. It must have been quite a task to manage the set.

Every story had its set of cast, and we were doing it in two languages, so some stories had two sets of cast for each language. But I had an excellent team working with me. The production department made sure that things went as smooth as possible.

Are you a good manager?

I have a Masters degree in Business. Something that I’d learned there must have rubbed off here; but at the end, filmmaking is also about managing people. To convince people to follow one vision, and to get them all to help you execute it, requires a certain kind of skill that you acquire over a period of time. The first one might be rough; you learn from the first – in the second, there has to be some progress, not just with managing people, but also to get the work done.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned over the years?

To work with people who are as enthusiastic as you about the project. They should want to work for the film, rather than reasons like money and fame. Also, they must possess the need to do something different – both actors and technicians. They are not doing an easy job.

Is this also because of the fact that sometimes when production gets delayed, and plans go awry, you need people with conviction to stand by you?

Most of the time, production gets delayed. Solo was supposed to be released in June, but it had to be pushed. We have two sets of actors, three different camera men; we were supposed to have four cameramen, but then, there were logistical issues. We couldn’t get the date. So Gireesh (Gangadharan) was sweet enough to step in. All that took time.

Do you rehearse and plan a lot before the shoot?

I am someone who rehearses and does a lot of workshop before the shoot. For all my films, I have tried my best to rehearse as much as possible. Shaitan, I think, was the most rehearsed film of mine. Every scene was planned carefully. That luxury, I have not had for my other films. I don’t believe in the concept of just going [without preparation] to the sets. It really helps me. It gives me an idea of how the actor’s going to do in a scene, so it’s not a surprise. We don’t work without a bound script, and a shooting script. Dialogues, sometimes we improvise [on sets] to make them better.

When scripting, what comes to you first – visuals, or the plot / characterisation?

I don’t know if it’s a bad thing to love good visuals, but it has to go in tandem with the storytelling. The moment it starts to dominate, it’s only about looking at post-cards. There needs to be balance. I look forward to what each person brings to the table. Be it the cameraman or the actors. Although we go with a shooting script, I always wait to see what they can contribute to the film that I haven’t imagined yet. You know, I wait for that magic to happen. It’s not just about clinically executing a written scene, but also to capture that one moment which may or may not be there in the script. I am someone who pushes forever, not just with actors, but with technicians and everyone else. It harks back to what I had been talking about how charged they are about the film we are making.

For instance, during Wazir, it was also about how Sanu [cinematographer] interpreted a scene, how he saw the story happening. I kept giving him a mood board, he took that and internalised it to give me something better. I have been fortunate that whoever has worked with me so far has not only matched my wavelength, but also managed to take it further. I hope that streak continues.

The Thaikkudam Bridge music video, ‘Aarachar’, was shot by Ravi Varman – but it was totally different from the kind of visuals he is known for. The music video is very much a Bejoy Nambiar work.

It was shot in one day. I am a big fan of Ravi sir. I happened to meet him at a party. I told him about this project, and he was enthusiastic about it. We scheduled it for two days, and we finished it in a day. You should see the energy that he brings to the sets. Unimaginable. I am really looking forward to working with him in a feature project sometime down the line. In fact, we worked together in Kaatru Veliyidai, and became close. That energy was channeled into the visuals, I think. I am very happy about the way it turned out. We were trying to up the bar for we thought no one was creating good music videos. We wanted to create a benchmark. Also, I wanted to work with Thaikkudam. The other music video by Thaikkudam in the Navarasa series, One – I was so envious when I saw it. It was shot and directed by Littil Swayamp. It’s a phenomenal music video. I thought I had done something great, but this one was mind-blowing. You should check it out sometime.

The sound department in your films is special.

I work a lot on sound. Even then, I feel it’s not enough. During David, I remember, on the day of the release, we were trying to refine the sound more for the prints that were going somewhere else. I never feel it’s enough. I try to make it better and better. Because, it’s one department that’s generally neglected. In Mollywood, I hear, they get a week or so to do the sound part of the film – I can never do that. That’s one department I am very obsessive about.

Where does this particular obsession, or rather fascination, with sound stem from?

Many a time, while writing, I keep a sound cue in mind. I write with music cues. I have music in my head, and I want to shoot scenes on that rhythm. When I do that, only 20% of the job is about planning and shooting a scene, and 80% work is in the sound part. They [sound engineers] have to design the sound according to how you want it. That will consume a lot of time. Some scenes will require a certain kind of sound design. So each film has its own challenges. I enjoy the process very much.

I have noticed that you make great use of silence, too.

I am a big fan of silence. In fact, my first short film had no dialogue. I like a lot of moments in films, in general, when things are communicated in silence, and as the audience, you are supposed to understand. I like that kind of narrative a lot. Somewhere, it creeps into my storytelling, too. Shaitan had a husband and wife who never spoke; in David, there was a deaf and mute girl Vikram’s character fell in love with; Neil’s character barely spoke, too. Also, just before Neil’s character is shot, there is a big question that he asks his mentor, and there is no answer. It’s silence. In Wazir, there are moments of silence that we played on. In Solo too, there are such portions. There is one big element of silence that I have used. Let’s hope people receive it well.

Our commercial films aren’t really used to silence.

Yes, unless we push the envelope. You hammer it until people say stop doing it. It’s just that. We keep trying. I am not worried about failing. As I said, there is a particular element in Solo, written with silence in mind. The story revolves around that. It’s something novel, and I was anxious to know how the first person I narrate the script to would react to it. Luckily, the reaction was very positive. Then I narrated it to a couple of other people, they liked it too. Then I narrated it to Dulquer, and he was the most excited about it. You really need that kind of encouragement to try new things. For me, it has worked beautifully in the film.

There are filmmakers who say it’s important to not use multiple composers in a film, for that might ruin its consistency. You have used 11 music directors in Solo.

This works for me. In David, there were eight music directors. I use them because I liked their music and I felt the story can take that kind of sound. While writing the script, I start collecting music. I know this song is going to be played here, in this portion. Of course, when you put [everything] together, you will need more, and then, I go around shopping for songs.

You worked with two huge stars – Mohanlal and Jackie Shroff – in two short films, Reflections and Soap. The latter had Shroff in an entirely novel avatar. Reflections has an unconventional narrative. How did you convince these stars to act in the films?

I am lucky that way. That’s all I can say (laughs). Shroff was part of the Sony show. All of us had to pitch him a story, and he picked mine. We had a blast shooting it. He was very excited to play the role of a brooding man who sees his future on a television.

Incidentally, both short films feature middle-aged men feeling insecure about their lives.

They are just stories that excited me at that point of time. Soap was supposed to be a feature. It worked well as a short. In a longer format, it might not have worked.

I made one more short film, Rahu, a 40-minute Malayalam film which isn’t out yet. That’s not about middle-aged men. That was the last short that I made.

When Reflections came out, Kerala was raving about this Mohanlal film, but it is possible that not many people understood what it really meant.

(Laughs) It was very ambiguous. You could interpret it the way you wanted to. That was the idea. It was my first attempt at doing something. I had no idea how to put the visuals together, although I knew this was the story – a man re-imagining his life as he is sitting and watching people at a restaurant. That was the one-line idea.
I narrated it to Mohanlal as such. The whole hook was that you get to know that only in the middle of the film. The initial part is invested in domestic moments – a family of three in a car. When the family walks into a restaurant, everything changes.

What was Mohanlal’s response when he watched the final output?

I will never forget what he said when I showed him the film the first time. I came to Chennai to play the film for him. In the restaurant scene, you see the character smoking. He asked me if he was smoking up, and making up stuff? I said no, he was not (laughs).

You come from a theatre background. How did the transition happen?

My heart was always in cinema. Theatre and cinema are miles apart, but theatre makes one understand actors much more. In theatre, acting happens on a gut level. It helps you judge the actors’ performances. It is a great platform for any actor to start his/her career with. I wanted to understand how the medium worked. When I was in Bangalore, I noticed an advertisement that said Bangalore Theatre Club was looking for actors. My friend and I went for the audition without reading the ad properly. They were looking for only female artistes. We didn’t get the job, but we joined the place as volunteers. The people who run the theatre club, Abhijeet and Poile Sengupta, they are my mentors. They guided me to the world of theatre. I worked with them on their plays, and over the years when I wrote a play, they helped me put it together.

What was your first play about?

The play was called ‘Getaway’, after which I named my production company. It was about three old men who rob a bank, and how it goes wrong. We had a blast. Getaway was the first feature film script that I wrote. It didn’t get made. Prakash Belawadi, who is a rockstar in Bangalore theatre circle, and now a big Bollywood star, was one of the protagonists in Getaway. He did a role in Wazir, and in Solo, he is doing an important role. I think the theatre connection I had is still going very strong. I am aching to go back and do one more play sometime in the future.

Your films have received mixed reviews.

Yes, average to low responses. David almost got no response.

How do you handle failures?

I handle it by aiming for the next, working hard for the next. I don’t waste time waiting and wondering why my film didn’t work. As long as I get to do my next the way I want to make it, I am okay.

Isn’t it difficult to stay afloat in Bollywood without a big blockbuster?

It is difficult everywhere. Even a 100 crore film director will say it is difficult.

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Before the release of Shaitan, in 2011, Bejoy hosted a private screening of the film in Chennai for his mentor, Mani Ratnam, whom he’d assisted in two films, Guru and Raavan. Such is Bejoy’s love and respect for the veteran filmmaker that he went back to assist him in his latest film, Kaatru Veliyidai. Mani Ratnam was the chief guest at the teaser launch of Solo.  

You were an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. What is the most important lesson that you learned from him?

I am still an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. I am constantly learning from him. That’s the reason I went back to work with him; that’s the reason I will go back to work with him again. It doesn’t matter even if my films aren’t like his. I guess my whole approach to cinema is very close to what he does. I subscribe to his kind of [film] framework a lot. Over the years, I’ve watched all his films, so some time or the other, it creeps in. In Soap, you see Jackie Shroff watching television, and it is Mani Ratnam’s films that are playing on the TV.

You wanted to remake Agninatchathiram?

Yes. It is his most masala film ever. One of his most commercially successful films. I like the film, and also, I feel a fresh take on it will work well. It was way hip for that era. Personally, trying to adapt a Mani Ratnam film is a huge, very huge challenge. Then of course, it was a movie that was far ahead of the time when it was released. To remake it is a challenge. I don’t even know whether I will be doing it. I am focusing on Solo right now. At one point, I was very enthusiastic about doing it, was very close to making it. But it didn’t fall in place.

Being a person who has worked in the non-feature film industry, what is your take on the big debate about Netflix?

It is not like I am dying to work with them, depends on if there is a story worth saying in that shorter format. You have to find synergies, people who are enthusiastic about such a shorter format. I don’t want to get pulled into that debate. All I know is, I too go back home and binge on Netflix. I must say there are some excellent pieces of work there. We are spoilt for choice. If I get an opportunity to do something on that level, why not?

Would you make short films again?

At present, there is no revenue model for short films. Digital platforms are slowly figuring something out. There is a short film idea that I have been toying with for some time now. I will make that film someday.

Has it become easier to find producers now?

With every project, you think it will be easier now, but it’s always a struggle. I am a Mumbai guy. I consider myself very much a part of Bollywood. I don’t know if I belong to the club or not. Now, as I am doing films in Malayalam and Tamil, I try to get to that level.

Malayalam film industry, at the moment, is fond of movies that are very rooted. Being a person who isn’t familiar with the Malayalee way of life, how do you hope to get it right?

It is such an interesting time in Kerala. Very rooted stories, and the audience is accepting them. It is almost like there is a revival of sorts, a renaissance of good stories, and people are taking it. There is a surge in good content and young people are attempting novel stuff. Otherwise, there was a phase, a very strange time in Malayalam, when they were just aping Telugu and Tamil cinema. Now it’s like they are going back and starting afresh.
Let’s see how they respond to Solo. It’s not a typical Malayalam film, although it has a typical Malayalam hero who has got a target audience – the youth. I am pretty confident that the stories that I am trying to say will find resonance with them.

Do you follow the censor board issues that Indian cinema is grappling with at the moment?

That is a never-ending issue. As long as the government is silent, as long as they are not talking or taking this seriously, this issue will go on.

What are the movies that excite you?

I don’t have a favourite genre. Recently, I watched Dunkirk. I had read some mixed reviews, so I went in expecting not to like it much, but I ended up being so impressed. I loved Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Fahadh (Faasil) was phenomenal. Dileesh is a director to watch out for. The first film for any director is special, and in Dileesh’s case, it was phenomenal. I loved it so much and I still think Maheshinte Prathikaaram is better than Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. And, the second movie is always the one that gives a sense of the director’s real potential. That is what Dileesh proved with Thondimuthal. It is such a clutter-breaker. Not a regular film at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have been hearing a lot of friends in Mumbai saying that they don’t get to watch southern films. There are random shows. So I wanted to create a platform through which they can get to know where these Tamil/Malayalam films are playing in the city. We started it with Angamaly Diaries, and then did films like Jigarthanda. We are soon going to do Thondimuthal.

It’s high time regional cinema breaks barriers, and gets audiences from across all languages. Angamaly Diaries, for one, deserves to be watched, for it’s really great.

Prashant (Pillai) and I are friends from long ago. Lijo and I were on that short film show. That’s where both of us started. We have stuck together since then. We keep bouncing off our work to each other. Rather than colleagues and contemporaries, we are friends. I don’t have any friends in the industry, so these are the people I hold on to.

Who are some of your favourite directors?

Many filmmakers. In Malayalam, I love the films of Bharathan, Padmarajan and Sathyan Anthikkad, among others. Then, there are films of Balu Mahendra, and of many directors in Tamil. In Bollywood, Mukul Anand is an all-time favourite. I keep watching his films. I love films of Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and of course, Sai Paranjpe. Once on Twitter, there was a question – ‘which filmmaker’s universe would you like to live in?’ – for me, it would be Sai Paranjpe’s.

*****

The Bejoy Nambiar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Chunkzz Review: Terrible Film That Unleashes An Assault On Human Sensibilities

Omar Lulu must have had a great time explaining his film’s plot to his cast members. To the bunch of young actors in the film, he must have told, “Act natural. Be your perverted best. When you see a woman, try to grab her. Lech, ogle, drool.” For the women in the film, he must have had just a one-line cue, “Be sexy and hot.”

Omar’s Chunkzz is arguably one of the most obnoxious Malayalam movies to hit the screens in this decade. Some of the other films in this league are Dileep’s Mr Marumakan, Jayaram’s Achayans and Omar’s Happy Wedding. Chunkzz lazily passes the ugliest of human tendencies, such as misogyny, homophobia and racism, as humour.

The sleaze that it stages is underwhelming for the standards of an adult comedy, and worse, the film comes with a clean U certificate awarded by the censor board.

Whether you like it or not, Chunkzz is garnering cheers, hoots and laughs in movie halls across Kerala. The prime audience of the film are the state’s college-going young crowd. One of the instances where the audience response is the loudest is where the young men in the film ring up a former girl friend of one of them, to take revenge. They innocuously ask the girl, a junior pharmacist, if her medical store had condom, sanitary napkin and baby diapers. If condom and sanitary napkin are objects of youth fantasies in 2017, there is something very wrong about our society. Or if that phone call in the scene is a veiled rape threat, the danger is even more serious.

Minutes into the film, the lead characters — college students of 20 years and below — ask their professor if he liked female navel, throwing a suggestive glance at a young female teacher seated beside him. A little further into the film, a classroom full of young boys are seen drooling over a lady teacher’s bosom and midriff. This is followed by a song sequence where the young men are lamenting the absence of female students in their batch.

Sexual curiosity and sexuality of adolescents has been the subject of many wonderful movies across the world. But in Chunkzz, there is no decent plot that makes this sleaze-fest look reasonable. Plot is an excuse, and the film’s focus is entirely on the cheap laughs that situations as these offer. The reactions of the women characters aren’t normal by any measure. They happily play along with the jokes that the men crack on their expense. This is Omar’s universe where even Clockwork Orange’s Alex could be a funny guy with a libido problem.

Honey Rose has been cast in a role no actress in a film industry deserves to be punished with. She is Riya, a rich fair-skinned girl, who joins the mechanical engineering department in a college where sexually deprived young men are having a free run. The boys look at her as if she is a piece of delicious meat, and the camera gorges on her body. The day she lands in the college, a classmate of hers publicly announces in the canteen that she is quite a ‘charakku‘ (ware), a Malayali pervert’s favourite synonym for women. 

In Chunkzz, moments as these are not used as a social commentary, but as fodder for comic scenes. At an age when a steady serious discourse on sexism and feminism is running on media, Omar’s film confidently uses tropes such as Pulsar Suni, homosexuality, misogyny and rape to make the young audience laugh. 

Is Riya capable of making decisions, or forming opinions on anything — we never know. At one point, she comes to know that her childhood friend, a guy who is now her classmate, had been boasting to his friends that Riya was his sexual partner. “We do sex three times a day,” he had told his friends, and to corroborate it, he’d sent half-naked selfies with Riya, who is sleeping on her bed oblivious to the presence of this man. The first thing that she utters, after coming to know of the lies that this guy had been piling up, is, “I love him!” 

Isn’t this the film that Pahlaj Nihalani had been talking about, which depicts ‘fantasy above life’? 

When Riya rejects the romantic proposal of Romario (Balu) for reasons such as his dark skin tone, he and his friends vehemently dance to a song that has lyrics that ask some pertinent questions like “don’t guys who aren’t handsome and fair skinned deserve to be loved.” Irony dies here because some scenes ago, one of these guys had body-shamed a girl, called her ugly, for interfering in a flirtatious conversation he had been having with her fair-skinned friend. 

In other departments, Gopi Sunder’s songs can bleed your eardrums. Alby’s camerawork is flashy and mediocre.

Chunkzz is a terrible movie, devoid of any aesthetics that make a good cinema. It doesn’t display any sensibility or intelligence that makes up for the lack of cinematic values. It underestimates human intellect, and reduces commercial cinema to a mindless show of vulgarity, with eyes set on box-office. If movies were people, Chunkzz is that person the society would rather keep imprisoned forever.

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The Chunkzz 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.

Spirit At A Funeral: Indie Filmmaker Don Palathara’s ‘Shavam’ Peeks Into A Grief-Stricken Family

Young filmmaker Don Palathara’s Shavam (The Corpse) is a monochromatic portrait of a funeral. The film peeks into the interiors of a lower middle-class Malayali household where the after-death rituals of a young man is underway. There are characters aplenty, walking in and out of the frame, marking their attendance through a glance, a movement, a wail or a loud sigh, or a subtly imprudent or sympathetic remark. 

There is no loud dramatic moments in Don’s film. It is cold like death itself, and the pace at which the camera travels from one room to another, and from one face in the crowd to another, has an aloofness that is not normal for a film set in a grief-stricken ambiance. There is an eeriness in the way Don and cinematographer Prathap Joseph have composed the hand-held shots, as if there is someone invisible watching the proceedings from outside the frame with a sense of solemn indifference. 

Emotions aren’t monochromatic in Shavam. The film prudently breaks into the private conversations in the dead man’s house, to cut open the grey underneath human sentiments. It explores the varied degrees in which the death has touched the people around the deceased. The widow of the dead man is more exasperated than mournful. The church priest who arrives in a hurry to oversee the funeral ceremony leaves after holding an impersonal conversation with the deceased’s hapless teenage son. A bunch of facilitators at the funeral are seen engaged in a verbal spat over the expenses. 

Shavam is 31-year-old Don’s debut film. It is one of the few Malayalam language films acquired by Netflix. 

After doing a film-making course from International Film School in Sydney, he returned to Kerala, where he made a documentary on Cinema Vandi, the travel cinema of Kazhcha Film Society. He made Shavam in 2015, on a shoe-string budget of Rs 7 Lakh. The 63-minute film is produced by Travancore films, a company founded by Shijo K George, Aneesh Chacko and Don. In 2017, he directed his second film, Vithu (The Seed), centered around a 60-year-old father in Idukki, and his city-bound son.

Lack of budget was one of the reasons why Don chose to shoot Shavam in black and white medium. “I wasn’t going to have extravagant colours, but at least, the power to choose the required colours would have been there (with proper budget),” he told Silverscreen.in. “I had actually repainted the whole house for the shoot. Later, when we did some sample shooting we liked the black and white look.” 

Dialogues are minimal in the film. There is a lack of exposition that leaves many characters and situations ambiguous.

“That was purposeful,” says Don. “Subtlety is something I admire in films. Expository dialogues can ruin the film-watching experience for me. My attempt was to make a film the way I would love to watch it. We were trying to bring a third-person perspective to the film — the way he looks at incidents and people. That means, every character might not get a lot of screen-time,” says Don. 

There are over 40 actors in the film; most of them unfamiliar faces to the regular film audience. “Not all of them were unseasoned actors,” says Don. “I was not looking for a familiar face. When it comes to directing actors, communication is the key. They are talented actors, so all I had to do was explain the situations to them convincingly,” he says.

The shooting process went smooth, says Don, who adds that he would gladly cast fresh faces and lesser-known actors in his films again. “They are intelligent people. If you give them enough space and respect, they would perform the way you want them to, or even better than your expectations.”

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Varnyathil Aashanka Review: This Comic Caper Is Impressive In Parts

Siddharth Bharathan’s Varnyathil Aashanka is not a very smart film. It takes a while to find its rhythm, and sitting through its initial 60 minutes is not easy. The character establishment sequences are long-winded, and, in the first half, the film often meanders and digresses to insipid, monotonous comic sequences.

But, beyond this, it is an impressive caper and a social satire backed by some brilliantly executed scenes and great acting.

In the latter half, the characters find their purpose, and their antics start making sense. The  narrative begins to take a fantastic spin, and sometime before the end credits, Suraj Venjarammood delivers a marvellous performance reminiscent of the vintage Mollywood icon, Jagathy Sreekumar. 

The film is centered around a bunch of swindlers in the suburbs of Thrissur, who team up for a heist. The unofficial leader of the gang is Shivan (Kunchakko Boban) whose claim to fame is a moderately successful jewellery robbery. His friend, Wilson (Chemban Vinod), a simpleton with no prior experience in the field of theft, joins the gang because he finds it cool. Pratheesh (Shine Tom) is a young loafer in dire need of money. Gilbert (Manikantan) is a seasoned petty thief who wants to go up the professional ladder. The four men hatch plan to rob a reputed jewellery store in the locality on the night after a Hartal. While they are on it, a fifth man makes an inadvertent entry to the scene, and steals their thunder. 

Varnyathil Aashanka has the simplistic spontaneity seen in movies such as Angamaly Diaries and Maheshinte Prathikaaram, although Siddharth’s effort fails to match up to their charm. The dialogues and the actors’ performances are natural. The characters are rooted in their milieu. The way Shivan deals with his brother, a young political leader, is diagonally opposite to how Dayanandan (Suraj Venjarammood) handles people in his surroundings. The latter, an irresponsible alcoholic, is sly and tactical, while the former is impulsive and short-tempered. If Shivan is always dressed in flamboyant colours, Dayanandan’s shirts are dull. Later, during the robbery, you see this contrast in their nature play out strikingly. Wilson, with his naivety and a goofy obsession with coconuts, is a character akin to Mannar Mathai of Mannar Mathai Speaking. And, these quirks stay with the characters through the movie; Siddharth has skilfully maintained the character consistency.

Some rough improvisations have worked out marvellously. On the night of the robbery, Dayanandan walks home alone through the town’s deserted roads. He is drunk, and is in the mood for some music. He plays on his phone a classic Vayalar number with poetic lyrics that he animatedly lip-syncs to. You see Dayanandan dancing and singing with abandon, and walking towards the spot where the clumsy thieves are at work. You can sense the mounting tension in the proceedings – this dancing fool could spoil their plans – but, at the same time, you can’t help laugh.

The women in the film are victims of the wayward life the men lead, but the film does not focus on delivering a message of social revolution or women’s empowerment. Dayanandan’s spouse (Rachana Narayanankutty) is a suffering wife, but also a smart individual who has adapted to her surroundings. Similarly, Gayathri Suresh’s Thanima knows the tricks to stay afloat in a masculine world. These women are funny and lively – a quality that makes up for the meagre screen-time they get.

The use of chaste Malayalam in the title of the film extends to the title cards too, where Subtitles are called ‘Upasheershakam‘ and Financial Controlling, ‘Saambathika Niyathranam‘. Some parts of the narrative are styled on the lines of the caper movies of the black-and-white era. For instance, the use of jump cuts and the effect used in the flashback transition. 

The resemblances end there. Varnyathil Aashanka is a social satire that isn’t interested in making characters appear as heroes or villains. There are clashes between political parties, and momentous political resolutions in the background, but the film’s focus is on the fascinating human instinct of survival, which, when watched through Siddharth’s camera, is great fun.

But, this love for the chaotic moments of daily life is also what causes the film fall short of its potential. At times, the strain taken to keep things simple is glaringly evident. The camera gets carried away by the nondescript interiors of Dayanandan’s house, and lingers there too long. That sequence, like several others, fails to engage. The film’s pace is undesirably inconsistent. 

Shivan is, perhaps, the most testosterone-driven role taken up by Kunchakko Boban in his career. The actor perfects the impulses, ego conflicts and the recklessness of Shivan. Chemban, Manikantan and Shine play their parts flawlessly, but the one who grabs the limelight is Suraj Venjarammood, who mesmerised the audience in his last screen outing in Dileesh Pothan’s Thondimuthalum Drisksakshiyum. The actor is going through a wonderful phase in his highly-impressive career. At first glance, he looks like an unexceptional man, but in a matter of seconds, transforms into a genius artiste, illuminating the screen  with his fine talent.