From the moment the theater lights are switched on signaling the end of Paradeshi, a pair of eyes starts following you everywhere. The deep sunken eyes of a helpless octogenarian is all you see. The eyes carry a tale of struggle; a tale that should be narrated with care and craftsmanship; a tale that should be listened to with utmost patience and perseverance. Valiyakathu Moosa might be a cakewalk for the versatile Mohanlal but Paradeshi is a milestone in Indian Cinema.
The opening credits start with the black & white stock footages of the historical events that lead to India - Pak partition. From there we are taken to the present day where an 80 year old Moosa is waiting outside Manjeri Police Station to "mark his attendance" every month, like a petty criminal. The opening frame itself sets the atmosphere, showing the seriousness of the situation. Soon Moosa is joined by a freelance reporter Usha (Padmapriya) who wants to do a story on the hapless Pak citizens in India. From there on we are taken on a time-line of events that took Valiyakathu Moosa from Manjeri to Karachi and back, at different stages of his lifetime. We meet his family, friends and relatives, some of them survived the test of time, while others succumbed to fate. The saga continues, showing what happens ultimately to these deported citizens in Pakistan.
I must confess - I am NOT a fan of art house cinema. I hate staring at stationary frames, waiting impatiently for the next frame to happen. Therefore it is no surprise that I found the first half to be dragging a lot. Can't blame director PT Kunjimohammad, as there are lots of characters who should be covered in the first half itself. But second half picks up the pace (comparatively) and finally takes you to a well-etched climax. PTK's command over the medium can be seen throughout the movie.
Performance is the backbone of Paradeshi. PTK has given the necessary depth for each and every character in the film. Even the 10 minute cameo by TG Ravi strikes you instantly. Ditto for Jagathi's guest role too. It is one of the strongest cameos I have seen in the recent times. Coming to Mohanlal's performance, what can I say? To say it is the performance of the year, will be an understatement. Valiyakathu Moosa definitely ranks among the mightiest performances in Indian cinema. The high points in Moosa's time-line is portrayed effortlessly by the actor. One of my favorite scenes is where Moosa foresees his future "My father died the patriotic death of a martyr at the hands of the Britishers. How will my end be? As a traitor?". In another scene, Usha takes Moosa to advocate Pradeep (Madhupal) to discuss about the procedure involved in getting an Indian citizenship. In between the talks, Pradeep jokingly says "Usha, you always bring troublesome cases to me". And all 3 of them laugh. But the way Moosa laughs, you will wonder if he is actually enjoying the joke. Or was he mocking at his cruel fate? Also the climax and pre-climax scenes will really wet your eyes. When an 80 year old Moosa attempts to evade chasing police officials, you know he doesn't actually believe in making it. Yet his desire to die as an Indian made him do so. And the climax in the desert where he breaks down seeing the body of one of his compatriots, is truly mind blowing. Hats off to this class performance.
Shwetha Menon as Moosa's wife is a revelation. Here is a perfect example of how a non-actor will be transformed to a class actor when he/she is surrounded by a pool of talent. Whoever dubbed for her deserves equal credit for bringing out such a wonderful performance from someone who hasn't played a worthy role for a long time. Lakshmi Gopalaswamy's character might leave the audience confused as to whether she really loved Moosa or why it was never reciprocated. Director should have taken a little more care here. Jagathy's cameo as the mentally ill Abdul Rahman is excellent. There is a scene in which Padmapriya informs Jagathy that she is there to help him. Immediately he pops up the question "Are you here to help me like Jinnah who helped Muslims in 1948?". A truly unforgettable cameo. The rest of the supporting cast including Siddique, Padmapriya, Irshad, Cochin Haneefa, Riza Bava have all done their parts well. PTK's characterization depth has really helped each of them in bringing out their best performances in the recent times.
The technical side is equally good as the performing side. Makeup of each character, both period and present, is absolutely brilliant. Musically Paradeshi is melodious, and is perhaps the only factor that makes it standout from an out-and-out art house production. But the same cannot be said about the background score. True it's simply marvelous most of the time, but it stoops down to ridiculously amateur levels at quite a number of sequences. In a particular scene involving Padmapriya and Madhupal, the background score shifts from tension to relief to melodrama, all within a 5 seconds span!!! Thats too fast for the audience to change-over. Art work is top notch. Using stock footage videos from Indian Railways archives was a clever trick by PTK to avoid the cost of renting old railway engines.
To sum up, Paradeshi is a befitting tribute to India's "PAK" citizens who are seen as traitors by the Government and the public. Once again a Mohanlal movie takes up a socially relevant issue, transforming it to a celluloid poetry. Remember the awareness on Alzheimer's that Thanmathra raised in 2006. Paradeshi will come up with something similar in 2007, but this time about a totally ignored community of hapless human beings.
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