There is a corniness to Vineeth Sreenivasan’s writing. Even the most mundane of scenes in his films look carefully staged; the formulaic dialogues and situations bear his distinctive imprint. Like the climax sequence in Malarvadi Arts Club or the famous college corridor scene in Thattathin Marayathu. You know he is there behind the scenes, pulling the strings to spin out feel-good yarns. Quite unlike the recent Maheshinte Prathikaram or Kali, whose directors step aside and let the stories run their natural course. However, Vineeth Sreenivasan’s distinct brand of commercial film making has undeniable appeal at box-office.
His latest directorial, Jacobinte Swarga Rajyam (Jacob’s Kingdom Of Heaven) is partially a biopic. The story is inspired from the life of a Dubai-based NRI business man and his six-member family. Once a happy haven, Jacob’s (excellently played by Renji Panikker) kingdom starts to collapse when a trusted collaborator cheats him of a large sum of money. Jacob has to travel to a god-forsaken African country to escape from the Interpol, and his oldest son, the immature and confused Jerry (a very convincing Nivin Pauly) takes charge of the family and its business. Jacob’s wife, Sherley (Lakshmi Ramakrishnan), stays cool and composed through the storm, and supports Jerry as he tries to restore peace and happiness to the empire.
The family’s tale is remarkable, and equally impressive are the actors’ performances. Panikker’s heart-felt laughter, the gentle banter between the siblings – Nivin, Sreenath Bhasi, Aima and Stacen – and Lakshmi Ramakrishnan’s affectionate smile are memorable vignettes. Even Ashwin’s villainy. The actors are convincing in their roles and they make up for shortcomings in the writing.
There are some genuinely poignant moments. Like the one where a distressed Abin opens up to Jerry, and where Jacob breaks down in front of Jerry at the airport. Then there are sequences where characters decide to behave as if they are in a stage play: TG Ravi, who plays Jacob’s driver, tells Nivin that they should go for a drive in the family’s Benz, before selling it off.
Although Vineeth effectively uses silence in many frames, a number of other portions have been marred by long and very theatrical dialogues and voice-overs. In the opening scene of the film, an excited Jacob is climbing a sand dune, with a dull Jerry following him. The father animatedly preaches to the son the importance of nourishing a dream in life. “This modern city of Dubai was built by hard-working people who dreamed big”, he tells his son. Although the scene is backed by buttery lighting, mellow music and fine performances by both the actors, the scene just does not belong. The motivational lines that Jacob churns out time and again belong more to a self-help book than to a family drama.
Jacob, – oozing positive energy throughout – shoulders the first half. He is there in every scene, either imparting life lessons to Jerry, or breaking into a celebration. Even in the second half, where he is physically absent from the screen, his presence looms over the movie in every scene. And this omnipresence of Jacob goes overboard. “You are Jacob’s son. Don’t you dare lose your heart”, Phillips (Sai Kumar) tells Jerry. “I am Jacob’s wife. I know how to handle these situations”, says Sherley, when crisis knocks at the door.
Jerry’s transformation from an immature second fiddle to the man of the household is an important story which deserves a serious treatment. But Vineeth’s trademark corniness reduces the young man’s feat to a childish gimmick. For instance, when his search for financial aid hits a dead end, Jerry searches on internet for ‘self made businessmen’ in Dubai. He walks straight into the office of Yusuf Shah (played by Vineeth himself), a successful businessman, and asks for financial help, in a way which can only be described as ‘typical Nivin Pauly’. In no time, the self-made millionaire becomes a close friend of Jerry, whose only credibility is a good-looking face. In a later scene, Shah is heard talking to Jerry on phone like a long lost friend. Also, a jarring song featuring Jerry and his brothers running around Dubai with a pair of tourists happens just when the the family is supposed to be scrambling to find money save Jacob from a legal tangle.
Shaan Rahman’s music perfectly sets the film’s mood. His background score is neat and seamless. Jomon T John’s camera work is a lot less flamboyant than in his previous films (like Ennu Ninte Moideen). The cinematography forms a part of the movie, rather than leading a life of its own.
Many years ago, Mohanlal starred in Naduvazhigal and Suresh Gopi did Rajaputhren – movies that told stories of sons who are forced to step up and save their families from sinking. The veteran stars played larger-than-life heroes, who beat up villains and avenged their father’s losses. Nivin Pauly’s Jerry, on the other hand, is a much more realistic lead man. Jacobinte Swarga Rajyam, in spite of all its flaws, is a heart-warming tale of a family’s Pursuit Of Happyness.
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