Monday, August 1

Salt n Pepper - Ente vayaru niranja kadha... :)

Movie - Salt n Pepper (Malayalam)
Director - Aashiq Abu
Producer - Lucsam Creations
Writers - Syam Pushkaran, Dileesh Nair
Cast - Lal, Shwetha Menon, Asif Ali, Mythili, Baburaj, Vijayaraghavan, Ahmed Sidhique, Kalpana
Music & Background Score - Bijibal
Cinematography - Shyju Khalid
Editing - V Saajan
Art Direction - Suresh Kollam
Costume Designer - Sameera Saneesh
Release Date - 8th July 2011

There's a scene in Salt n Pepper where an enthusiastic Baburaj eats a dosa from a lesser known thattukada for the first time and exclaims 'Ithivide ondayittu nammal ariyaandu poyallo!!'. I can bet that any filmmaker or writer who watched Salt n Pepper would've had the same thought about the movie after watching it. Such a beautiful story was there around and nobody noticed it. Until an awesome team of Aashiq Abu, Syam Pushkaran & Dileesh Nair decided to tell that story - of a middle aged man and woman, both lonely in their own ways, bonding over the best things of all - food, and falling in love eventually. And by telling this story, with utmost sincerity, genuineness and above all, with a lot of heart, they've won over each and every person who has seen the movie. And voila, we have the first true-blue romantic comedy in Malayalam. 

Kalidasan (Lal), an unmarried archaeologist finds his daily share of joy in a bottle of rum and the exquisite food prepared by his favourite cook Babu (Baburaj) whom he lives with. His nephew Manu (Asif Ali), a flirt also lands up in Thiruvananthapuram and stays at his place while searching for a job. Maya (Shwetha Menon), a not so young dubbing artiste and a major foodie herself, is also leading a lonely life without any companion and stays with Meenakshi (Mythili), her student roommate and her beautician landlord (Kalpana). A wrong number dialed by Maya out of pure craving for a dosa, gets her and Kalidasan talking over the phone. The relationship matures from fights to friendship and bonding, over their favourite topic - food. But when they decide to meet each other finally, insecurity crops up in both their minds, which leads to complications they didnt ask for. Salt n Pepper then moves on to tell us what happens to their relationship eventually. 

Aashiq Abu opens his film with a mouth-watering title song 'Chembavu' in the rustic vocals of singer Pushpavathy and prepares us for the delicious feast he has in store for us. The simple love story works brilliantly because of the wonderful storytelling, three dimensional & human characters, great but subtle humour, amazing performances and some fantastic technical work. Unlike every other Malayalam film, there's no particular hero, heroine, villain, comedian, and other supporting characters just for the sake of it. Each character in the movie has a soul and a story to tell. Vijayaraghavan's love story, how Baburaj met Lal and his attachment to his master, the silent and always smiling Mooppan, upadeshi KT Mirash, Kalpana and her beauty parlour, the Muslim lady who wants to look beautiful for her husband even though she is just another burqa clad woman for the rest of the world and so on. These characters with their individual stories and back stories make for such an all round experience of watching the movie. 

Another thing which makes the narrative rich are the simple day to day activities done by the characters in different scenes. Lal trying to get an antique table fan running over the course of a couple of scenes, preparation of food at both Lal's and Shwetha's places, the casual banter and interactions with colleagues at their respective offices and so on and so forth. All these touches make the narrative as close to reality as possible and we never get the feel that we are watching a film made by some people. It unfolds as if it is happening around us. When most other filmmakers now are trying to thrust their signature styles upon the audience in all possible ways, Aashiq Abu simply takes the audience to a comfortable space which they can all relate to and lets them enjoy their time there. 

The movie has two equally important lead characters played by Lal & Shwetha Menon. Nowhere do we see an effort to make the movie a hero's movie or a heroine's movie. Both of them get equal space and time and we see both their view points effectively. Lal is an absolute treat to watch. The mimicry artiste-turned-writer-turned-director-turned-producer-turned-actor is simply fantastic in this film. The rugged, indifferent and tough outer cover and the soft, romantic and insecure inner side of Kalidasan are safe in Lal's hands. And the writers have designed a special tribute to their lead actor in the climax of the movie and those lines get the loudest applause in the movie. Given the right roles, this man can give all our superstars a run for their money. ;) Shwetha Menon, after a whole bunch of heavy duty roles (both glam and de-glam) gets to play a simple character which she plays with utmost conviction. Be it her professional parts as a dubbing artiste, or her craving for food and bonding with Lal over the phone or her insecurities over her looks and life so far in the second half, she is outstanding in the movie. Her Maya is surely one of the most memorable female characters in Malayalam in a long time. Malayalam Cinema's favourite dubbing artiste Bhagyalakshmi who dubbed for the dubbing artiste played by Shwetha also has done an amazing job as usual. 

Asif Ali knows to pick the right films. The youngster has been part of some very important films in the 2 years he has been in the industry and has also gained experience working with some of the best directors we have. He plays the second lead, a complete contrast to whatever Lal is, and plays that with flourish. His voice, which is usually a negative in his performance has been put to good use here and fits naturally to the character. His comic timing has also improved tremendously. Mythili is not that great. Neither does she look good or there is anything special in her performance. Yes, she has done much better compared to the other films she has done so far. But one wishes for a better girl in her role at times while watching the movie. 

The rest of the supporting cast are brilliant. Baburaj who goes for a 360 degree turn in a wonderful comic role is the best among the lot. One could never guess that this guy who comes just to get beaten up by the hero in every damn movie, could perform so well. Kudos to Aashiq Abu for this exceptional casting choice. The scene where Lal meets Baburaj is a gem. Vijayaraghavan shows a romantic side to him, which was unknown to us until now and makes his scenes memorable. Newcomer Ahmed Sidhique plays the irritating upadeshi friend of Asif's, KT Mirash and brings the roof down with his antics. The character was damn interesting and one wishes for some more scenes featuring him. Watch out for this guy, people. :) The Mooppan is a wonderful presence. Kalpana is just about fine. And of course, the horny bearded director was a scream. (One must be an idiot not to realize whom the joke is on). Archana Kavi's 5 minute cameo is much better than all her earlier performances (other than Neelathamara) put together. 

For the second time this year, two writers have done Malayalam Cinema proud. While it was Bobby & Sanjay with Traffic earlier this year, its Syam Pushkaran & Dileesh Nair with Salt n Pepper now. Their simple, warm and tight screenplay is the backbone of the movie. Various types of food and even Lal's Premier Padmini car with a defunct radio plays an important role in the narrative and its interesting to see how they've used these devices in their storytelling. And combined with Aashiq Abu's able direction, its a perfect recipe for success. And yes, like Dil Chahta Hai changed the way dialogues were written in Hindi Cinema, Salt N Pepper's dialogues are sure to have a similar impact in Malayalam Cinema. They are fresh, witty, conversational and do not sound like written dialogues (unlike most other Malayalam movies). Three cheers to Syam & Dileesh. :) 

Shyju Khalid's cinematography is exquisite. The way his camera has romanced food in this film has to be seen to be believed. The Juan's rainbow sequence is sure to get each and every one's mouth watering and is one of the most awesomely filmed sequences in recent times. SnP is also one of the first movies to be completely shot on the Red One digital camera in Malayalam and the result is as good as film. V Saajan's editing keeps the film going seamlessly and you never realize how smoothly one sequence has given way to the next. Art Direction by Suresh Kollam is another great positive. The colours used in the houses and spaces of each character is distinct and tells a lot about the characters themselves. Antiques at Lal's house, the warm colours in Shwetha's & Mythili's space, etc are great touches. Sameera Saneesh's costumes are attractive, yet as real as they can get. 

Bijibal is perhaps one of the best composers we have today. And his job in SnP reinforces that fact. The movie begins with the rustic 'Chembavu' and sets the mood. And later the sublime 'Premikkumbol' plays out in the beautiful vocals of Jayachandran & Neha Nair when Kalidasan & Maya's subtle romance starts blooming. The song has been edited very well by Saajan and the kind of chemistry they share in this song, without meeting even once is lovely. Its the same chemistry that is the absent in the song featuring the young couple Asif & Mythili - 'Kanamullal'. The song is shot very well, but somehow doesnt give the required romantic feel due to the lack of chemistry between the two. And the 'Neela Vaanam' inspired reverse technique (which itself was inspired from elsewhere) doesnt work. And of course, the movie concludes with a kickass music video of Avial's Aanakkallan which leaves us in high spirits. The background score stays with you much after the movie is over. 

All in all, Salt n Pepper is a delicious feast served hot by Aashiq Abu and team, putting all their heart into it, and it has got everything in it to satisfy Malayalam Cinema which has been starving for change. A simple, lovely romantic comedy which breaks all the present conventional formulas in Malayalam, this one is surely a must watch. A big Thank You and hug to Aashiq Abu, Syam Pushkaran, Dileesh Nair and all the other 'Smart Boys' who worked together to make this lovely movie. 

Bottomline - Ente vayaru niranju, manassum!!

P.S. - As an aspiring writer & filmmaker, I had been writing my scripts for Tamil and was developing a romantic comedy idea for Tamil/Hindi despite being a Malayali and having so much love for our cinema, thinking that there's no hope left there and such a genre would never exist or be accepted in Kerala. But SnP has now given me confidence to try it out in my own mother tongue - Malayalam. :) :) 

P.P.S. (To the team of the movie) - Aa Avial T-Shirts evide kittum?? Thattil kutti doshayum.