Friday, February 15

Natholi - The BIG Small Fish.

Okay. Writing a blogpost about a movie after a really long time. And its about a movie which has been made by some very close people. VK Prakash Sir is my Guru, Shanker Ramakrishnan, Fahadh Faasil, Arun James, Mahesh Narayanan, Mridul Nair, Prasant Varma, Sajimon, Liji Preman, Rima Kallingal and many more close friends and colleagues have worked on this film. And I've also been involved here and there in this project (mostly in the pre-production level). Couldnt be part of it because our project Kili Poyi was happening simultaneously but I had loved the concept of the movie and was very skeptical as to how this would work out for the Malayalam audience. But now, after watching the movie two times, once with some extreme reactions from a really senseless crowd and the second time with a more mature crowd, I can really say that this is a fantastic movie watching experience, especially for those who've tried writing (anything - a story, novel, book or a screenplay) at least once in their lives. 

Now to detach myself and write about the movie. I'll speak about how I've liked each person's work and then summarize the rest. The three main people being VK Prakash, Shanker Ramakrishnan and Fahadh Faasil. I'm not writing this post to praise people whom I'm close to, but to express what all I loved about the movie. 

VK Prakash - I can surely say this is the most challenging script that has come his way and he has done full justice to it. To simplify such a complex concept and portray it on screen within an entertaining format is no mean task. From creating the right atmosphere to tell the story where you completely relate to Preman's frustrations of being the Natholi trapped in an apartment full of wild animals in the form of humans, to portraying the screenplay that Preman is writing based on those same people as it was happening for real; VKP Sir has pulled everything off with ease. And if you still say that you dont understand the film, you need to be a little more cinema literate. Or else you can still go watch the regular run of the mill films that are being churned out every week and kill your time. 
VKP's usual stylized shots  and amazing visual appeal might be a little less here, but still we do get some great visuals which help in carrying the story forward. Loved the way he has portrayed the imagery of Vyasan and Ganapati through a Pappaan played by P Balachandran (who comes at key points in the movie as various inspirations) and his elephant during sunset, when Preman decides to start writing. And of course, the self-mockery at the end was just too good, especially for people who know him and his restlessness when he doesnt have a movie to make. :) Thumbs up VKP Sir, this is one of the best movies you've made in the mainstream format. And yes, all this stemmed from VKP's own earlier offbeat film Freaky Chakra which was based on a similar concept. 

Shanker Ramakrishnan - Truly hats off to the vision here, Shankerettan! A writer taking revenge on the world around him through the story he's writing, what a thought! And that too while he's being guided by Dronacharyar to follow Vyasan's path. Like his contemporary and friend Anoop Menon, Shanker Ramakrishnan is also excellent with dialogues. And he has used all the opportunities in this screenplay to give us some great lines. The screenplay works on many levels - its a surrealistic account of a writer's imaginary world where characters slip away from his command when he stops writing on one level, and on another level a lot of the movie is also treated as a spoof. Like Fazil's own son playing a character who was born on the 100th day of Manjil Virinja Pookkal. Like the best actor we've had since Mohanlal, Mr. Fahadh Faasil being born into the story twice, once when Mohanlal makes an appearance in Manjil Virinja Pookkal and the next time when the same guy makes his character with the same name, Narendran appear as a villain who comes out of nowhere like Manjil Virinja Pookkal's Narendran. Kariyilakkulangara's Krishnan being a 'balalsangha' expert inducing memories of Balan K Nair and his brother being Sathar with names as innocent as Leelakrishnan and Geethakrishnan. A small nod to his Guru Ranjith when Arjunan tells his brother - Shekhara, Natholi Oru Cheriya Meenalla, in true Mangalasshery Neelakanthan style. The whole Natholi Puranam episode was one where Shanker could pull off all his tributes and spoofs in all their glory. 

And of course, the writer taking sadistic pleasure in the second half by twisting around his own story to take revenge on each of those characters who'd been harrassing him. A complex concept like this is not easy to bring out on screen, but VKP and Shanker have been able to do that very well. And ya, thanks Shankeretta, for using our title (Kili Poyi) in one of the lines in the movie. :D That was quite a surprise. The connect of this whole concept to the Mahabharata was also a brilliant touch. And of course, P Balachandran appearing at key points, as Dronar, Vyasan and a writer who's talking about how characters are the ones closer to the audience than the writer and that characters have a life of their own, on a TV show while a completely wacky practical joke is happening in the story. 

But I do have an issue as well. He had created some fine characters and characterizations in the first half taking a lot of time to establish each one of them. And they werent fully utilized once Preman starts writing his screenplay. Preman's screenplay was mainly focusing on Prabha & Narendran. He could've used the other characters much more in his screenplay. Dont know if that would've cluttered the film or made it lengthier, but I felt they had more potential to be used. And the scene which has been chopped off now - the one where Prabha tells Narendran about her past could've been a little better. (But now that it isn't there, no point talking about it). But otherwise, I love everything about the screenplay, especially because I could relate to Preman sitting there and trying to create a world of his own through his screenplay.  

Fahadh Faasil - Such a concept and such an execution would've completely fallen flat if not for a solid leading man. As I said earlier, Fahadh is the finest lead actor we've had since Mohanlal. And the both of them were introduced by his father Fazil. While he's used to playing a character like Narendran in many of his films so far, Preman is a completely new character. He's innocent, he's naive, he's cruel, he's insecure, he's talented, he's frustrated and so much more. From being a very naive boy-man who's treated like filth to the cruel man who has all the power in his own literary world, the transformation is portrayed extraordinarily by Fahadh. The peculiar laugh where he imagines things if it happens his way and the very weird way of running are enough to know how much of a solid actor this guy is. To analyse his acting chops, you just need to watch two shots from this movie - One where Preman is smoking beedi for the first time and his mother calls for him. He plucks some leaves and puts it in mouth before running to her; and the other when Narendran looks at the CCTV screen towards Preman helplessly after being the one accused of killing Zarina's child. The range of this actor can be defined in these two shots. Chappa Kurishu, Akam, 22 FK, Annayum Rasoolum and now this, we should be proud that we have this guy here in our industry now. 

Coming to the others - Kamalinee Mukherjee did a decent job, but an actual Malayali leading lady would've worked much better. (But since I know how much they searched for the perfect cast, I think she's not actually a bad option). Mukundan in a reincarnation of sorts is excellent. Aishwarya hams it up, but that suits her role. Sathar had nothing much to do, but his presence was nice. Krishnaprabha played the sultry servant very effectively. Joju George shined in the one scene he appeared. Mridul being his usual self, was very good. :D  Rima Kallingal in the special appearance, quite frankly, was too heavy for the role. People expect much more from her when she makes an appearance, especially after her pairing with Fahadh in 22FK. So her playing a dumb-bimbette like character wasnt gelling well with the movie. Chinnu Kuruvilla, Jayan Cherthala and others were adequate. P Balachandran was excellent in his different cameos. Arun James made a very impressive debut setting the perfect look for the movie staying very subtle throughout and not taking the attention away from the story while giving some beautiful frames. Mahesh Narayanan's editing is also very important in such a screenplay and he has done full justice to that. Abhijith has composed some great tracks and Bijibal's background score is excellent. Liji's costumes were very real and authentic. 

All in all, Natholi surely isnt like any other movie we have seen in Malayalam Cinema and VKP, Shanker and crew have to be appreciated for daring to do such an experiment here in Malayalam where experiments are met with boos and brickbats initially and  termed as classics ages later. Also, Aji Medayil and his co-producers for supporting such an experiment. Watch it with a mind open for experiments and to see what all one may go through during the process of writing. 

PS - Its been a year since I wrote a blogpost. Havent checked this post for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and all that. Just wrote whatever came to my mind, out of my love and respect for the movie. Hope it makes for a good read. :) 

Wednesday, May 23


Movie - Manjadikkuru (Malayalam)
Director - Anjali Menon
Producers - Vinod Menon & Anjali Menon
Story, Screenplay - Anjali Menon
Dialogues - Paliyath Aparna Menon & Anjali Menon
Cast -  Sidharth, Vyjayanthi, Rijosh, Arathi Sasikumar, Urvashi, Bindu Panicker, Jagathy Sreekumar, Rahman, Thilakan, Murali, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Praveena, Harishanth, Sindhu Menon, Sagar Shiyaz, Sridevika, Firoz, Thrissur Chandran and Prithviraj & Padmapriya (cameos)
Director of Photography - Pietro Zuercher
Music - Ramesh Narayanan
Editor - B Lenin
Theme Music - Francois Gamaury 
Art Director - Ratheesh Babu
Sync Sound - Harikumar Madhavan Nair
Sound Design - MR Rajakrishnan
Release Date - 18th May 2012

Manjadikuru is a beautiful little film which was made 3 years back with a stellar cast and a fine technical crew. It had its premiere at the International Film Festival of Kerala where I was able to watch it for the first time. I was bowled over by the simplicity and warmth of the film and thought it was one of the best Malayalam films I had seen in a long long time. The next thing that came to my mind was that I should watch this film with my family, but I had to wait until yesterday to do that. After waiting for 3 years, the film finally had a commercial release this week and I was more than happy to take my dad and mom along to see this lovely little movie. And inside the small Little Shenoys theatre which was around 40% full, there were a bunch of guys who had come to make noise and probably boo at the movie which gave out the feel of an art house movie to the audience somehow. They were restless initially, but as the movie progressed, even they became hooked on to the movie and maintained silence and finally the same people who were interested only in booing at the movie ended up giving a great applause once the movie was over. If a movie can achieve this, especially among the Malayali audience, I think it is definitely a landmark achievement. 

A 10 year old 'gulf kid' Vicky (Sidharth) comes to his ancestral home 'Kausthubham' in rural Kerala in the summer of 1980. But unlike every other time when he comes to spend his vacation with his favourite grandfather & grandmother, this time he has come for the last rites of his grandfather. Seeing all his relatives together in the same house for the first time, he is amused at the reactions that the death has caused in each one of them. In the meanwhile, he befriends the Tamil servant girl Roja (Vyjayanthi) and she later acts as the mediator for Vicky to be friends with his naughty cousins (Rijosh & Arathi). Together, these kids have the time of their lives while everyone else in the joint family have different plans connecting to the grandfather's death. The film gives us a child's point of view of the different adult relationships in a joint family in the times of a crisis like a death and the following partition of the house. Seeing the troubles that Roja goes through in the house and being concerned about her future, the kids devise a plan to send her back to her hometown Sivakasi and work towards it while the adults are concerned about who is going to end up with the maximum share of the property. With characters and situations that we all have seen and gone through in our lives, Manjadikuru captivates you by its simple, old world charm like what the sight of a small Manjadi would do to you. 

Anjali Menon has kept the story and screenplay simple on one level, but if you delve deep into it, its a very layered script. It talks about the joint family system, the failure of a rebel who embraced naxalism, child labour, greed, bragging, ego and in between all this, the invisible unifying force which binds together the family in spite of all these problems. Vicky is the silent spectator to the problems in the adult world and at the same time, he is the leader in the colourful world of the kids where they would like everyone to be happy like its depicted in Vicky's sweet dream song towards the end. A smart move by the grandmother keeps the whole family together for more time than they expected, which to an extent brings them closer and somewhere or the other resolves some of their problems with each other. And the children get more time to spend with each other as well. The writing is simple, but layered and extremely witty which makes the film a very entertaining watch. The narrative is light-hearted throughout and even when the film gets into emotional territory, the scenes end leaving a smile on your face. The most appealing factor of the film is definitely the nostalgia and the relatability of it all. These are characters and situations we've all seen and gone through in our families and families we know. The first version which I saw at the festival had no songs and was more tighter but the new version with some nice songs and additional scenes is great too. 

The movie has plenty of brilliant performers. First of all, it was amazing to see the late legendary actor Murali back on screen performing, 2 years after his death. Then there is Jagathy Sreekumar whom each Malayali is wishing a speedy recovery for, giving yet another incredible performance in a short role. Manjadikkuru also has Urvashi's career best performance as Vicky's gulf returnee mother showcasing all the various complex sides of a female so beautifully. Bindu Panicker in a very subtle role after a long long time is excellent. Rahman also gives his career best performance even though the lack of clarity in his Malayalam dialogue delivery becomes a problem here and there. Praveena is graceful. Sagar Shiyaz is hilarious and a great casting choice for an ugly Gulf-husband. Kaviyoor Ponnamma is silent for most of her screen time but does a great job at that too. Thilakan gives an ethereal presence. Prithviraj gives his voice for a wonderful narration as the older Vicky throughout and his dialogue delivery is put to the best use in this film. He should be commended for being a part of this small film and adding star value to it. He appears just for less than a minute at the end of the film but registers his presence through the wonderful narration throughout. 

But the real stars of the film are the 4 kids. Sidharth, Vyjayanthi, Rijosh and Arathi. Their innocence and spontaneity is what drives the film forward. Rijosh steals the show among all of them getting to deliver the best one-liners. Arathi is the adorably cute little sister and watching her in each scene is a delight. Vyjayanthi plays the Tamil servant girl Roja and leaves a lump in your throat with her performance. Sidharth as the young gulf-kid is apt and drives the story forward with his antics. He is especially good as the silent observer of the things that happen in the house every now and then. And his dialogues with Malayalam mixed with random English words like any other Gulf kid of those times (or even now :P) were very real. 

The cinematography of this film by the foreign DOP Pietro Zuercher is simply out of the world. He captures rural Kerala like never before and makes the whole nostalgic trip much more colourful and vibrant without going over the top for even a frame (Where as for regular Malayalam filmmakers, colourful and vibrant means frames dripping of over saturated bright colours. Sigh!). The sync sound makes every single performance completely authentic and real. Its still a mystery why Malayalam Cinema has not embraced this technology yet. The very convenient technique of prompting dialogues and dubbing them later is shunned in this and the actors are able to perform much more naturally without artificially giving voice to their performances much after they actually performed those scenes. Harikumar and Raja Krishnan have done a kickass job with the sound design of the film. Editor B Lenin keeps the narrative smooth and free-flowing without any drop in the intrigue-value even for a second, despite having a very simple narrative. The music is great in most parts, but in some scenes it seems like the score deliberately tries to bring about an arthouse feel to the film. The background score in these scenes is the only element in the film which might make it seem like an art or offbeat movie. Otherwise, it is very much like any other normal family movie. Only that this one is better than all of them. Art Direction by Ratheesh Babu recreates a rural Kerala tharavaadu in all its perfection. 

Nostalgia, old world charm, emotions, innocence, fun, laughter, relationships, separation, pain and a lot of satisfaction is what this movie gives us in 2 hours. And it does a beautiful job in weaving all this together. The film touches our hearts and many instances, makes us laugh out loud at some, makes us smile smile broadly thinking of similar things we have done or experienced, makes us share the pain of the characters and makes us enjoy the nostalgia of it all. Anjali Menon makes a fantastic debut as a director (She made the short film Happy Journey for Kerala Cafe after this one even though that released first). While everyone else is going behind the latest happenings and foreign DVDs to make new movies, she chose to return to her roots and make a simple and charming film which wins our hearts effortlessly. 

But the sad part is that this film is hardly getting any audience. Many people have a misconception that it is in art film because it was screened in many festivals and took a long time to release. But anyone who has seen the film wouldnt say that this one is an art film or an offbeat film. Its a very entertaining film which entertains us much more than the regular commercial films being made in Malayalam these days. So those who havent seen it, please to rush to the theatres next to you and watch it as soon as possible and support this film. Such films deserve success so that filmmakers are inspired to create more such beautiful films for an audience that is smart enough to enjoy good cinema. Take your parents and/or kids along to watch this brilliant film before it leaves the theatres. Trust me, they'll be happy that you did. :) And if you miss it, you will miss out on one of the best movies made in Malayalam Cinema. 

Bottomline - Thank You Anjali Menon, for giving us this beautiful film!!