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A Palette of Color
Charlie is a shout out to the inner spirit within us straining to get out of its self-imposed restraints, a joyous call to the wild and free. This is not as much a movie of strong plot line as a palette of fresh colors and exuberance, at the center of which are two characters unrelenting in their search for meaning in the disorderly and their sheer rejection of the order which familiar society tries to impose on them.
The story? We have Tessa, played by a luminous Parvathy escaping from the confined environs of her extended family (and from a job in Bangalore), especially her mother, who want to impose order and compliance onto her supposed wayward lifestyle by getting her betrothed to one of the present party. She ends up in a ramshackle rented room in one of the less savory parts of Kochi, and is captivated by the fascinating remnants of the life of the previous occupant (Dulqar Salman) of the place. As she tries to trace this seemingly almost mythical presence, she gets further emotionally drawn into this kindred spirit who appears to have perfected the art of living for anecdotal episodes of an unpredictable life, while at the same time leaving a mark with his humanity on the lives he has touched.
The episodes with disparate characters are wonderfully captured. There is the thief who tries to break into his place, but who ends up being accompanied by Charlie on a night of unpredictability. The young woman whose life is indelibly influenced by Charlie also has a poignant tale to tell, while the long suffering Kunjappan (Nedumudi Venu) may hold the key to the hopeful final meeting of the two. The story arc involving Kalpana is another touching and bittersweet portion of the movie which endears all the characters to us. This is one of my favorite Malayalam films of the year and also one of the best pairs I've seen in a while, though the actual number of scenes in which they are together is quite few. The climactic reveal amidst the vibrant colors and pomp of the Thrissur pooram is delightfully handled, and this is one movie where a sequel may be genuinely warranted, if only to see where these characters end up.
Speaking of which, Parvathy finally seems to be holding up her end of the bargain and finally fulfilling the immense promise she showed from her Notebook and City of God days. Here she captures the viewers as the throbbing heart of the movie and wins us over. Dulqar Salman as the titular character also exudes some great screen presence and has great chemistry with Parvathy. The supporting cast too is flawless, and adds on to make this one of the best movies of the year.
Alia Bhatt's coming of age
I was starting to think commercial cinema had ensnared Imtiaz Ali in its tempting web with the quality of his movies progressively declining each time. However, this has reaffirmed his stature as a once promising film maker. A story of suppressed sadness and rage and a quietly building crescendo of emotions, the unlikely pairing of Alia Bhatt's spoilt rich girl on the eve of her wedding, and her would be kidnapper, Randeep Hooda works magic as they traverse a route on some even more magical landscapes. As she struggles with her long suppressed inner demons and discovers a freedom she hadn't ever experienced before with her captor, Alia Bhatt is the heart and soul of this movie. Her emotional outburst towards the end of the film was one of the best pieces of acting I've seen from a Bollywood actress in recent times and gripped me enough to not lift my eyes from the screen.
Double Barrel (2015)
This was one crash and burn like none other. As an ardent admirer of the Lijo Jose Pellisery school of film making and an even bigger admirer of Prithviraj (and to a lesser extent, his brother too), this was one flick I was betting the year on. Lijo's first movie was an under-appreciated little gem 'Nayakan' with Indrajith in a role which should have catapulted him to the big time, but didn't. Sadly, his second movie, and probably his best, City of God, was commercially noticed even less, but was one of my favorites of that year. But considering the huge supporting cast of big names and the Tarantino-sque trailer for this one, plus the fact that Lijo had finally cracked the commercial approval code with 'Amen', this had to be a surefire winner right?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Speaking as someone who loves experimental Malayalam cinema, I have to say I found nothing really to recommend here. The first sequence, in fact, was quite promising with the arguing couple, the silent gunman and the explosive culmination of it in a black comedy of errors. But from then on in, I could only watch with growing disbelief as the movie descended into farce of unbelievable proportions. The silent gunman, played by Sunny Wayne, was probably the best part of the movie, and not nearly enough time was devoted to this character. A farcical tale on the pursuit of two diamonds, Laila and Majnu, which together are valuable beyond your wildest dreams but worthless individually, a whole cast of characters come together (or blow apart) in its chase. Leading the pack are the duo of brothers (Prithvi and Indrajith), small time crooks trying to break the big time. Chemban Vinod Jose and Arya play another track of small time hooligans trying to bury a couple of bodies their mobster boss killed. Speaking of which, how in the world is Arya such a huge star in the neighboring state? His lack of emotive skills and even poorer dialog delivery shows exactly why he probably could not make any in roads into the currently competitive Malayalam industry.
The ingredients were all there for a wild and quirky romp in a Mallu stoner attempt at Tarantino. Unfortunately, the biggest problem here is that the situations and dialogs are just not funny. What was meant to be rib tickling funny fell flat most of the time. Most of the story lines (apart from the silent assassin one) did not connect and it was way too long, clocking at a mammoth 2 hours 40 minutes.
There is almost nothing redeeming in this misadventure except maybe for the fact that every director is allowed a misfire, and considering this is Lijo's first, he will hopefully bounce back with a bang.
Salinui chueok (2003)
It's been a while since I wrote a movie review, but so blown away was I by this masterpiece of moody suspense that I had to pen down something. I have seen only two Korean movies in my life so far and both have been among my favorites this one and Oldboy. If that's not a sign to watch a few more of Korean cinema, I don't know what is.
At its heart, the story is based on a real life incident in the 1980's in a small province in South Korea. A couple of women are found murdered - their corpses mutilated and their faces gagged with their underwear. It's a brutal crimes, the kinds of which has probably not been witnessed before in this sleepy town and the bumbling local detectives prove themselves hardly adept at apprehending the perpetrator. Crimes scenes are muddied over, evidence mishandles and suspects brought in on a whim to be tortured or otherwise brutally interrogated by the two cops put in charge. A third detective, who comes from Seoul, is assigned to help them and his evident disdain for the local cops' methods and his reasoning of this being in fact the work of a serial killer puts him initially on the wrong foot. However, when a third murder in similarly creepy circumstances is uncovered, the serial killer theory appears validated.
That may seem like another cop movie on serial killers and their hunt, but it is anything but. The story is taken as merely a canvas to paint a wide tapestry of human emotion and character which focuses more on the internal demons which haunts each of these characters. The cinematography and music perfectly captures this mood slow burning, understated, grime tinted and devastatingly effective. This is not a neatly wrapped up ready to order thriller. This is a movie where the cinematic techniques and writing are at their most superlative. The ending can be considered open ended, unsettling and maybe unsatisfying for some, but bear in mind this was based on a true story, and this was never meant to be just about the case. A more popular movie which it brings to mind is David Fincher's underrated but very good movie, Zodiac, in terms of its similarities of theme and approach, but I would say this is still miles ahead of that little gem. This is brilliance painted on the canvas of our movie screen. One of the rare 10's I'm giving.
One of the best Indian sports movies probably...
A finely crafted, nuanced tale of a cricket obsessed youth in a cricket obsessed nation with some beautiful cinematography of the lush landscapes of a village in Kerala. The sense of nostalgia this may evoke in those who have lived in similar setting is enough to recommend this movie. But, on the other hand, this is also a carefully plotted coming of age tale of youthful desires, the slow progress of adulthood and reality and opportunities lost as well as eventual redemption. There are no real villains here apart from the gradually encroaching tentacles of time, but this is an example of the recent breed of Malayalam Cinema's new age creators at their best. Nivin Pauly is an actor who never really convinced me till now, but this year he seems to be coming into his own with some delightful turns. Add in some fabulous supporting actors and great technical aspects, and we have a real winner here. And, as with all great sports movies, you can be totally immersed in this even if cricket is not your cup of tea.
Honey Bee (2013)
It's definitely trippin'!
Honeybee is like one of those delectably enjoyable sweets which linger slowly onto your taste buds and remains there. I have to admit, I was prepared to dislike this film or pass it off as one of those very average meaningless flicks which get a great run at the ticket windows purely based on the majority audience's tendency to promote mediocre fare in the name of entertainment.
Full of meaning it may not be, but genuinely fun and endearing it surely is. But a word of warning to older viewers or those who don't like much cuss words and alcohol/drugs in their movies stay away. I'm not a fan of promoting intoxicants in the movies, but this was done very naturally here and you do tend to believe that there are plenty of groups of friends like that shown in the movie. However, I do think it takes a younger audience to appreciate it more fully.
The basic storyline is nothing much. A group of friends live and party together in some part of the city and they seem to be involved in organizing dance shows or performances. This aspect is not focused on much in the movie. Two of this group is Seb (Asif Ali) and Angel (Bhavana) who are a bit closer to each other. However, all is fine till the days up to Angel's wedding, when she confronts Seb and asks whether the love bug ever bit him. Though he answers in the negative then, later in a state of drunken stupor he realizes the folly of letting her go and hatches a plan with the rest of the gang to kidnap her from her home the night before her wedding. What happens next after they wake up the next morning and Angel's fearsome brothers (led by Lal) decide to hunt them down forms the rest of the story.
What works here big time is the camaraderie and chemistry between the friends. Of particular mention should be the antics of Baburaj and Sreenath Bhasi who prove to be the life and soul of the film and provide genuine hilarity. Both have been growing from strength to strength in the last couple of years, though ironically both are at different ends of their careers. Asif Ali and Bhavana are fine, but I can't shake off the funny feeling that both are pretty lucky actors who have made by in their careers with some pretty average abilities and the luck to be associated with some good filmmakers and supporting actors. Maybe they will prove me wrong yet, but this is not the movie for that. Lal (the director's father) appears as the head of the gang of fearsome brothers and is amply supported by Suresh Krishna and the others.
All in all, a genuinely fun watch with some original comedy rather than the recycled muck the superstars and old time filmmakers keep dishing out but like I said, may not be suited for all families.
Mumbai Police (2013)
A police procedural with a difference - Engaging and bold
Mumbai Police is a revelation. I cannot proclaim it to be the best thriller I have seen, but it has to be applauded for what it tries to accomplish. Roshan Andrews has gone a notch above the standard genre fare we have come to expect in Indian thrillers and gave us something which will, in turns, haunt and genuinely surprise. This is in no small part to the accomplished writing duo of Bobby-Sanjay and the brilliant Prithviraj.
ACP Anthony Moses (Prithvi) is just about to solve a crime and report it to his boss, Farhan (Rehman), when he is caught in a bad accident which leaves him without any memory of his past. Farhan tries to help him jog his memory and get the name of the culprit, but Anthony has no clue to his past or to his impending future. However, his reflexes and training from his previous life are still in tact and he realizes he would need to use these to piece both his life and the case together again. The crime is of a very personal nature to both the officers, as it involves the murder of their colleague and close friend, ACP Aryan John Jacob (Jayasurya) while he was receiving a gallantry award. Together, the trio had been known as the 'Mumbai Police' owing to their earlier presence in the Mumbai police department. As Anthony re-pieces together the jigsaw, he realizes everything is not as it would seem and the seemingly bizarre directions and conflicts the investigation takes as opposed to the initial attempts in the case alienates his team and further confuses his already addled mind. All this ultimately leads up to a climax which can only be termed as amazingly bold and genuinely shocking in its denouement.
Apart from the climactic reveal, the movie also must take plaudits for its mostly different approach to the standard police thriller. There are hardly any bombastic dialogs and mustache twirling here. The investigating officer is not exactly the epitome of all vices, as he himself realizes in the course of his second life. The introduction of alternative sexuality into Malayalam commercial cinema has to be hailed as a landmark in this generally conservative segment of viewers. Background music is pretty apt and gripping for the most part and there are no songs to break the flow.
The supporting characters all do a great job. Jayasurya, Rehman, Aparna Nair and Riyaz Khan (in a cameo) are all commendable. There is also a surprisingly strong performance from the veteran, Kunjan, as one of the officers on the team. However, this is Prithviraj's show all the way. He has done tougher roles than this and will probably have bigger hits. But the conviction of a mainstream actor of his stature to take up a role which pushes the envelope in terms of what is 'acceptable' for commercial leading men in Indian cinema has to be thoroughly appreciated. I have been a fan of this guy for a while now, and he keeps giving reasons why, despite all the unfounded criticism against him, he will always be relevant. Take a bow, Prithvi, Roshan and Bobby-Sanjay, for hopefully bringing in a much needed wind of change in this industry.
Intriguing and intense character study
Akam is an intriguing addition to the recently burgeoning stable of new age Malayalam cinema. While the movie has its flaws, it is still an engrossingly made film relying mainly on mood and pathos to take things forward.
At its core, it is about a young and confident architect, Srini, who seems to be reaching a good place in his life with great career prospects, an opportunity in the US waiting for him and a loving girlfriend. However, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. The accident which ensues leaves him almost hideously disfigured on one part of his face and a limp in his leg. But more telling is the impact it has on his personal life and confidence. His girlfriend, Tara, leaves him out of her own confusion on how to deal with the startling turn of events. The self pity and pathos Srini delves into is the fulcrum on which the movie is made. He meets a mysterious lady, Ragini, one day and they quickly become close. Despite his disfigurement, she seems to have no problems loving him and they end up getting married. However, Srini's boss and friend, CK, believes she is bad news and allegorically compares her to a yakshi, sucking human blood and flesh. Slowly, Srini descends into a state of confusion and self loathing and starts to literally believe what his friend suggested. The rest of the film deals with his response to Ragini in the light of this perceived revelation and the effect this has on certain other people around him.
I haven't read the original novel on which this is based, so I can't say if the ambiguity in the character of Ragini is intended or if this was a feature lost in translation to the big screen. While it starts off in a intriguingly moody and spooky manner, later on this same sense of mood serves as a dampener as the story seems to virtually halt at a point. Whether Ragini is, in fact, what Srini thinks her to be or not doesn't seem to be an important question in the director's or storywriter's mind as this is left as open ended as possible for the viewer. It is here that the movie falters in the second half, going the way of so many art house fare in seemingly mistaking vagueness for profundity. Ultimately, the movie does not achieve the aim of either being a spooky horror flick or an intense character study (though it does better in the latter, primarily because of Fahadh Faasil's performance).
However, for those of you who like to dabble in the unconventional, this is definitely worth a watch. The performances are mostly amazing, led by the dependably awesome Fahadh Faasil as Srini. The depressive intensity, self hate and doubt are captured perfectly by this poster boy of new gen Malayalam fare. The ladies both do a great job, as Tara and Ragini. With a bit more fleshing out, Ragini could have been a great character. One of the best things about the film is the perfect cinematography which elevates this piece to an entirely different level. The bustle of the metro, the claustrophobic interiors of plush apartments and musky old cinema halls, and the green of the open countryside are captured exquisitely on screen. The minimal background score serves very well on this kind of film too.
While this is not one of my favorites and has its fair share of shortcomings, Shalini Usha Nair is definitely someone to watch out for and I definitely would be waiting for a second effort from this team.
An ambiguous visual masterpiece
Kutty Srank is shrouded in enigma, much like its primary protagonist. I first caught this film in a small cinema in Thrissur soon after its release back in 2009. While I found it to be an interesting work of art, I was left confused on what the actual intentions of the movie was.
Is it a treatise on the many masks a man is forced to wear to adapt to his changing surroundings? Is it about the enduring effects of love on the human psyche? Or about the strength of the female form and the nature of the bonds she can have with a man?
The movie kept playing at the back of my subconscious for a few years, before I finally decided to re visit it. Once I started it, I was caught in the spell it weaved on me. Lush, lingering and beautifully shot, this is a film which has to be soaked in its moments and one which the viewer should allow to subtly and evocatively make its mark on him/her.
Essentially, it is about a dead sailor who washes up on the shore and the different women who recollect him from their perspectives to the local police. Perspective is probably the key word here. Each of the women seem to recollect a different man from the one the other remembers.
First up is Revamma, a quietly powerful performance by the dependable Padmapriya. The daughter of a rich and influential man, she had lost her innocence at a young age, because of the cruelty she seemed to have witnessed her father inflict on others. The blood which splatters on her face keeps coming back to her and she left home a long time ago to Ceylon. Now she is coming back and her father has big plans for her. Kutty Srank is his trusted helper, and he trusts his master to the point of blind devotion. When he goes to receive her, she has come with a young Buddhist monk in tow. Fearful of what her father might say, her uncle and aunt force Srank to keep it a secret from him and hide the young man in a dilapidated home. Srank feels the guilt at what he perceives to be his betrayal when Revamma abandons a party her father had held for her. He manhandles the young priest but is stopped by Revamma who tells him that she plans to run away and become a monk with him. The story unfolds in Srank being betrayed in turn by his master and in him helping Revamma escape.
The second story is my favorite of the three. Pemanna is portrayed beautifully by Kamalinee Mukherjee with an underlying sense of allure and seduction. She has always been an actress who, at least in Malayalam, wants to do only strong roles that offer her scope for performance, and she doesn't disappoint here. After helping Revamma escape, it appears they end up somewhere close to Cochin, where he gets involved with a local drama troupe headed by Pemanna's brother Loni. For the lead role, he chooses Srank, which upsets one of the regular actors, Joppan. Pemanna is entranced by her co-lead in the drama and very subtly tries to seduce him. There is a scene here which is probably the first nude scene I have seen in Malayalam, but it is so aesthetically shot that you can only marvel in the mood as Srank walks in on Pemanna in her state of undress. The jealousy in Joppan forces him to try and turn the public opinion against Srank by confiding and colluding with the local priest (Siddique) to defame him. The priest sees Srank as an affront and adversary to the control he holds over the local citizens using the fear of God, as Srank is skeptical of it all. The tale ends up in one deceit after another with more than one death involved. The acting in this piece is exceptional, but I have to give special mention to Suresh Krishna as Loni. Sadly typecast in commercial mallu fare, here he finally gets a role where he can display his range and comes up with an exceptional performance.
The final part of the recollections come from a mute woman who is adamant that the dead man is not Srank, and who should know better, as she claims to have been married to the man and is carrying his child. Considered a curse and harbinger of misfortune by the local village she belongs to, she met him when he was actually coming to finish her off, as his boss Unnithan (Saikumar) feels she is the reason for his family's misfortune. On seeing her pitiful condition and her fear, Srank could not bring himself to do it and instead becomes her protector and friend. The progress of their relationship to one of love is captured by Unnithan's daughter in law, who seems to be caught in a cage of her own in the household and finds in Kali and Srank an outlet for her suppressed desires, as she writes about them.
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Kerala on its own is a enthralling beautiful place and it becomes a sight to behold when framed through a creative lens. The acting is almost flawless for the most part, though I don't think Mammooty is the only one who deserves credit here. In fact, I would say it's the powerful supporting characters I took away the most from the movie.
But at the end of the day, if you ask me what it was all about and what was the point, I may still not be able to give a concrete answer. However, maybe that's not the point. Like all great works of art, Kutty Srank is an experience to be savored in the moments. Just like life.
Chaappa Kurish (2011)
A Brilliant Effort...
I haven't written a review here for some time now, but the critical reception to what I feel is one of the best movies to come out of the Malayalam film industry in recent times moved me to pen down my thoughts.
Critics seem to have not been very favorable to this work of art, which is quite beguiling. The desperate desire for change which most lovers of Malayalam cinema have been holding onto since Malayalam films took a turn for the worse at the turn of the century seems to be finally arriving, and while a few fine efforts are getting appreciated (eg. Salt 'n Pepper), this one doesn't seem to be. I can only assume it is because of the lack of commercial elements, which I guess something like a Traffic (while it is a good film, I get a feeling it was so appreciated because of the commercialized aspects of it) did well.
The movie explores the lives of two individuals living on two socially opposite edges of a metro. While Fahd Fazil plays a sophisticated, rich and young corporate honcho who is also an inveterate flirt, Vineeth Sreenivasan plays the role of Ansari, a sweeper in a supermarket. Arjun and Ansari would normally have never had to interact with each other, as both live lives of vastly different circumstances. Arjun has the arrogant, confident outlook of someone who has probably made achieving things (professional and personal) a habit. He does not notice most of the grime surrounding him in the city and has no problems sleeping with his secretary, Sonia (Ramya Nambeesan), while at the same time planning his wedding with Ann (Roma). Ansari, on the other hand, is someone who has always been timid and used to being beaten down by life.
Arjun, on a spur of the moment decision, records a lovemaking session he has with Sonia on his phone camera. When Sonia finds out about his impending marriage with Ann, they have an altercation in a café, which leads to Arjun losing his phone. As fate would have it, Ansari picks it up. From then on in, the story becomes a cat and mouse game as Arjun tries to get back the phone from Ansari, worried as he is that the clip he recorded will end up on some website. Ansari, on the other hand, experiencing having power over someone for the first time in his life, plays around with Arjun getting him to do things Ansari could not. The game ends in a gritty, raw and thrilling denouement with one of the best fight sequences picturised in Malayalam.
Fahd Fazil is brilliant and carries the movie. A perfect role for him, he exudes the uber cool handsomeness and arrogance needed for this kind of role and I sure hope he continues doing stuff like this in the future. Vineeth Srinivasan provides an able foil as the down on his luck Ansari. Remya Nambeesan was a revelation. It was so refreshing to see a leading lady in Malayalam who is not your coy, village belle kinds and who doesn't mind expressing herself on screen. Nivedita as Ansari's colleague and burgeoning love interest is also nice. The music by Rex Vijayan is quite interesting and different from the usual fare seen mostly.
While good movies like Salt 'n Pepper are getting the critical and commercial appreciation they deserve, I hope this one also does not fall under the radar and gets the recognition it deserves.