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Thrillers in the backdrop of civil wars is relatively new for Malayalam cinema, unless you consider Major Ravi's turkeys as films. This one here by a debutante director thoroughly impresses, mostly because of its gut-wrenching story based on true events that is highly relevant as we move forward in 2017...
Sameera (Parvathy) is a nervy young Muslim woman who is the sole breadwinner of her family. A nurse at a local hospital, she, along with few of her colleagues, has now received an opportunity to go and work for the Iraqi government. Money is the only motivation for her right now, and the fact that she is a divorcée acts as a thorn to her ultimate quest: lead a merry life. Cajoled by her family, she finally reciprocates her love for Shaheed (Kunchacko Boban), a fellow nurse at her hospital. They marry and leave for the Muslim country as a couple, unbeknown to the reality that is waiting to encapsulate and destroy their healing lives...
The story follows Sameera, her husband, and a bunch of Indian nurses who find themselves in the middle of the ongoing civil war in Iraq. Director Mahesh Narayan and writer P V Shajikumar have developed a tight story to drive home few messages, the primary of which involves the existence of hope and how it helps you fight the darkest of fears. With the ISIS controlling their part of Iraq, it is Sameera's leadership and conviction that the writers try to highlight here, referring a lot of relevant, stark social causes along the way.
Director Narayan has crafted his story well, closing all loose ends and narrating the story in an efficient way right from the beginning. Once you ignore and go past the spelling mistakes in the opening credits and a very long preamble, things start catching pace as Sameera spearheads the screen with her absolutely nuanced performance (one of the best of 2017 so far) as the highly-strung woman. The little bits of pulpy storytelling with dashes of fervent realism, humor, and romance makes the first half an engaging experience. Viewers can definitely relate to the characters: be it that of Sameera or one of her in-laws who are torchbearers of suppression.
Sameera is full of anxiety because she has this bucket of responsibilities over her head that she has to deal with, and at the same time has to sustain the heavy societal pressures that challenge her ambitions as a whole. Feminism is not really the topic here, but the makers definitely hint at the hardships that women have to go through in a conservative society, here, in spite of being the only working person in her family. Sameera is an independent woman and the story focuses on her conviction to stand abreast even when a rifle's barrel is pointed at her forehead. The extents that she goes in the second half to do what she has to do is a powerful rendition of all the strong voices that sway in the air around us, making us all have faith in our world riddle with hate and chaos.
With a powerful score backing the on screen happenings, the bloodshed, the shelling, the horror - the film does not sit idle one single moment. Viewers are bound to see themselves on the edge of their seats, rooting for the characters even as the emotional thriller starts tugging at your vulnerable heart strings. It wouldn't be surprising to see a tear escaping your eye as you follow Sameera's journey through the bullet-ridden streets of Iraq. Moreover, there's some great photography here, depicting the bloodied parchments of Mosul and Tikrit - which all add up to the film's superiority in terms of storytelling and production design. I was not really impressed with the camera work, but the cast performance is so brilliant, you can easily ignore it.
As mentioned above, Parvathy is fabulous as Sameera, the main protagonist of the film. She is well-supported by Boban, Fahadh Faasil, Asif Ali, and Prakash Belawadi. It is the performance and realistic portrayal of the characters that helps one ignore all the minor shortcomings of the film which has something to do with convenience and forced writing. However, the film asks you to look at the brighter side, so that's what we should do. Narayan has directed his actors well, and created a gripping package for the Malayalam audience to watch and get enthralled at after last month's Jay K's groundbreaking horror film, "Ezra".
If you remove the civil war part from the film, it is evident that the focus is on the masterly profession of nurse. And the film as a whole pays ode to that profession, saluting the millions of nurses (White Helmets, Red Cross) who courageously defy the odds and fight for people's good health even in times of absolute despair. A la Raja Krishna Menon's 2016 blockbuster Bollywood film, "Airlift", this one is a real triumph in Malayalam cinema, giving us a great, heart- wrenching take on the ongoing war.
Had there been a meme for this film, the text in it would summarize the story of the film as "Restoring faith in humanity". With an F- word sampled towards the end, this film achieves more things than it originally signed up for and that makes me extremely happy.
BOTTOM LINE: Mahesh Narayan's "Take Off" is a well-crafted story about the power of hope in a world threatened by growing terrorism. It samples a lot of emotions that is so rare in Malayalam cinema, it is like a breath of fresh air. Book a ticket and watch it in your nearest theater now. It's a film that couldn't have released at a better time.
Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES
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