Malayalam Reviews

Dakini Review: Where Interesting Characters Are Let Down By Unimaginative Writing

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Director: Rahul Riji Nair

Cast: Pouly Valsan, Sarasa Balussery, Savithri Sreedharan, Sethulakshmi, Chemban Vinod, Aju Varghese

Composer: Gopi Sunder

Rahul Riji Nair’s directorial debut, Ottamuri Velicham, was a dark indie drama on marital rape, set in a realistic environment with minimal embellishments. Its script and performances were powerful. While it bagged the Kerala State Film Award in the Best Feature Film section and three other categories, it hasn’t yet come to theaters. In the interviews that followed, Rahul opened up about his commercial cinema ambitions, and revealed that Ottamuri Velicham was more of a stepping stone to the industry than his manifesto.

Dakini, Riji Nair’s second feature film, has no superstar cast or a mainstream male hero, but four senior citizens – women – who live in the same apartment complex, and meet up every evening for a game of cards or a glass of wine. The film, a comedy, starts off from scenes that showcase their camaraderie, and soon moves into the territory of adventure-drama.

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They drive to Ooty in an SUV, dance at a local bar, and take on a dreaded don who is believed to have supernatural powers.

The best moments in the film happen in its initial parts. The scenes inside the apartment complex show the women for what they are – friends living like one big family. One of them has a son who lives in the USA with his family. The guy rings up the mother every day, but the coldness in their conversation (caused by years of living apart) is evident. Another one, Rosemary, a former theater artiste, loves to speak melodramatic lines, and this makes her a butt of her friends’ jokes. The women’s relationship with Kuttappi (Aju Varghese), their favourite sidekick and errand boy, is endearing.

Riji Nair develops the characters carefully. Molly (State Award-winning actor Pouly Valsan), who runs an automobile workshop, is an iron lady who had to bury her emotions to make a livelihood and be financially independent at an early stage in life. Throughout the film, she retains a calmness that doesn’t break even in the face of crisis. Rosemary dances, sings and gets distracted like a child. The film has comic-book aesthetics – the frames are colourful and brightly lit, and characters’ names are sourced from the popular Malayalam comic Mayavi. 

However, the fun is superficial. The narration is too incoherent and unimaginative to retain the promise that the premise, characters and the initial sequences display. Once the women leave the home turf for Ooty, the film loses its sense of direction. The punch moments in the story are too weak to be memorable, so that it totally relies on Gopi Sunder’s background score to eke out some drama and intrigue.

The film gets torn between its urge to showcase the curious sight of old women celebrating life like millennials, and its duty to contain these characters in an interesting story. All that it takes the women to rattle Mayan (Chemban Vinod), the dreaded don, is an anonymous phone call where they introduce themselves as Dakini and declare war on him. Molly takes up the job as a domestic help at Mayan’s house to trace her lover, Kuttan (Alencier) who has been kidnapped by the former. Her friends manage to steal his favorite weapon, a dagger with a diamond handle. However, these scenes add up to nearly nothing. The women don’t have the physical strength to beat the don, and thanks to bad writing, their intellectual power doesn’t seem to be particularly strong enough either. Naturally, it’s hard to take this cat-and-mouse chase any seriously.

Yesteryear character actor TR Omana makes a comeback in a comic cameo that she pulls off perfectly. The four women – Sarasa Balussery, Savithri Sreedharan, Sethulakshmi and Pouly Valsan – deliver earnest performances as the sprightly friends. Saiju Kurup as Vikraman, a local thug, is a perfect addition to the women’s squad. If only these delectable performances weren’t washed out by clumsy film-making.

*****

The Dakini 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.

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