Movie - City of God (Malayalam)
Director - Lijo Jose Pellissery
Producer - Anil Matthew
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Babu Janardhanan
Cast - Prithviraj, Indrajith, Rima Kallingal, Shwetha Menon, Rohini, Parvathy, Rajeev Govinda Pillai, Anil Murali, Jagadish and others.
Cinematography - Sujith Vasudev
Music & Background Score - Prashant Pillai
Editor - Manoj
Art Director - Salu K George
Soung - Renganaath Ravee
Stunts - Different Dany
Release Date - 23rd April 2011
Lijo Jose Pellissery made an impressive debut last year through the technically captivating Nayakan, starring Indrajith and people hoping for at least 'some' kind of a change in Malayalam Cinema, noticed a lot of promise in him. His second movie got a bigger budget and bigger stars, but he still stayed away from the mainstream Malayalam cinema cliche and made a film that showed his substance as a director and a good storyteller. Like this year's pathbreaking movie Traffic, this one also has multiple narrative which overlaps each other and goes back and forth through events unfolding in each narrative. The name of the Brazilian crime classic by Fernando Meirelles has been used for this movie, and I must say that they havent done much damage to name of the classic. And they might have kept it as a tribute to Brazilian Cinema, which has influenced the kind of storytelling adapted in this movie - especially the style of Alejandro Innaritu in his cult film Amores Perros where a road accident kicks off three different stories of different people meeting at the same point during an accident. (For those who havent seen Amores Perros, refer Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva which also adapted this screenplay technique)
The movie has three parallel storylines - A business tycoon (Rajeev Govinda Pillai) who wants to get back with his once girlfriend, filmstar Suryaprabha (Rima Kallingal) much to her displeasure and his friend Jyothilal (Prithviraj), a henchman who will do anything for his boss. A construction site worker Swarnavelu (Indrajith) and his world in a slum occupied by Tamil immigrants in Kochi and his love for Marathagam (Parvathi), a fellow worker. The third track features a shrewd widow Viji (Shwetha Menon) who would go to any lengths to avenge her husband's murder. The stories and characters cris-cross each other in Kochi, which is referred to as the City of God by the movie's title.
Nayakan showed that Lijo Jose Pellissery had promise and that he'll deliver much better stuff if given a good screenplay. And Babu Janardhanan, who already gave us the very interesting non-linear screenplay of Thalappavu 3 years back, has done just that. Lijo has treated the engaging screenplay with precision and finesse making it into a completley riveting and gripping experience for most parts. There is not one scene where you lose interest in the movie. The characterizations are nothing like what we see in usual Malayalam films. Nobody in this movie is fully black or white. Each and every character has a fair share of grey to him/her. And one interesting thing is that the ladies are given as much or even more screen space and situations to perform than the lead actors, which is quite unusual. Lijo has dared to move away from the much-abused path of regular commercial cinema and has made a product that deserves an intelligent audience to appreciate. The cyclical narrative keeps the audience hooked on to the film and it is interesting how each narrative ties up to each other and culminate together in the climax. Out of the three, it is Prithviraj & Rima Kallingal's track which is the most interesting. Indrajith's Tamil track provides the entertainment quotient in the movie and Shwetha Menon's revenge plot, which is in a way related to Prithviraj's plot also works well. The constant shifting of perspectives in the narrative requires close attention to be fathomed correctly. The film presents Kochi as the city of dreams, the city of crime and the city of hope and maybe thats why the title - City of God.
As for the performances, the ladies walk away with the top honours. Rima Kallingal is brilliant as the actress who is going through a turmoil in her personal life. This young actress shows a different side to her and proves that she has immense potential and can deliver amazing performances if challenged. Her dialogue delivery was criticized in some of the other reviews, but I felt it was just right for her character. She emotes naturally and gives a mature performance which would put many of those so-called top heroines in Malayalam to shame. Rima is matched in every way by Parvathy Menon, the VJ turned Filmfare award winning actress (Notebook, Flash, Poo) playing the Tamil girl Marathagam. She brings in a certain raw appeal which makes her vulnerable as well as aggressive at the same time. Watch out for her awesome chemistry with Indrajith. We need to see more of this actress in Malayalam. Shwetha Menon is also great as the scheming femme fatale out to get revenge for her husband's death. Rohini does away with all her poise and plays a slum-dweller with utmost conviction. But the scene at the bar where after she gets drunk, could have been better.
Among the men, its Prithviraj who shines. The actor gives a kickass performance after a really long time in a role that fits him to the T. His dialogue delivery, looks and brooding personality makes a huge impact in his role of a henchman which he does with ease, without going overboard at any point. He goes on to prove that he is always good in roles with negative shades. And its appreciable that he took out time to act in an experimental movie like this during his busy schedule. Watch out for him in the stunt sequences and the scenes involving him and Rima Kallingal. And of course, there is Prithvi's elder brother Indrajith playing a Tamilian with as much authenticity as we can imagine. He is a delight to watch on screen. Though he reminds us of Surya in Pithamagan or Madhavan in Aayitha Ezhuthu at some instances, thats not a bad thing at all. Lijo has made sure that his first hero gets to shine in scenes tailor made for him, in their second movie together as well. Model-turned-actor Rajeev Govinda Pillai, making his debut as the business tycoon Sony Vadayattil, looks great and has a good screen presence. But when it comes to portraying villainy towards the end of the movie, his face turns wooden and cannot bring out the needed emotions, hence lessening the impact of those scenes.. Anil Murali was very good as a real estate-cum-quotation agent. This would perhaps be Jagadish's best performance in the past 10 or 12 years. He has underplayed so well compared to the overacting he has been doing in every single movie for the past 10 years. Kishore Sathya who played Mehboob, Rima's husband was excellent. And the other bald guy (a Sathyan Anthikkad regular, forgot his name) who plays Sony's partner Babychan was also very good. The rest of the supporting cast also did a great job, except for Nandu who went overboard in every single scene that featured him.
One major irritating factor in the movie was the hand-held camerawork. Sujith Vasudev has taken some great shots which help a great deal in moving the story forward. But him and Lijo, along with fight choreographer Different Dany has shot some really irritating shots for the innovatively choreographed stunt sequences. The camera is never still and keeps moving here and there, zooming in and out and with lots of action happening within the shot. This gives almost 90% of the audience an eyesore. And it happens with every single action sequence in the movie and there are quite a lot of them. Even the innovatively conceived single-shot fight sequence featuring Prithviraj at a movie set doesnt make the required impact because of such irritating camerawork. But other than the fight sequences and few other instances, the cinematography works very well. Manoj's editing is perfect and he does not go for editing gimmicks unlike many of our famed editors who cut action films. The narrative flows seamlessly keeping you engaged throughout. Renganath Ravee's sound design was also excellent.
And then we come to the next most interesting aspect of the movie - the music, by Prashant Pillai. The film has a great soundtrack which offers a wide variety of songs, that too in 3 different languages - Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil. While the haunting duet 'Nee Akaleyano' is the best among the lot, the lovely Tamil song 'Kaalangal' is beautiful as well. There's dappankoothu in the form of the racy 'Annan' and a melancholic Hindi song 'Betaabi'. The film shoot song 'Prayam' is also a good number. (Unfortunately, parts of the 2 Tamil songs were chopped off in the print I watched). The background score sets the right mood for the entire film, right from the titles to the end credits. (I loved the use of Kamal Haasan's 'Kaadhal Vandiduchu' in a certain comic portion involving Indrajith).
On the whole, City of God is a gripping thriller told amusingly through a multiple narrative format, with great performances, great music and fab technical support. Lijo Jose Pellissery proves that he surely is a man of promise. Watch out for Rima Kallingal, Prithviraj, Indrajith & Parvathy. The film got released after a lot of financial issues and has not been marketed properly. So as lovers of good Malayalam Cinema, it is our duty to go watch such films in theaters, and encourage them, so that more makers dare to make such movies. Otherwise, we would just keep getting those mundane masala movies or multistarrers which make no sense, but still make a lot of money.
Bottomline - A visit to this City of God is worth every penny spent. Go watch!!