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!! 

Tuesday, February 28

Ee Adutha Kaalathu

Movie - Ee Adutha Kaalathu (Malayalam)
Editor, Director - Arun Kumar Aravind
Producer - Raju Malliath
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Murali Gopi
Cast - Indrajith, Anoop Menon, Murali Gopi, Nishan, Mythili, Tanushree Ghosh, Lena, Baiju, Manikandan, Indrans, Krishnaprabha AND Jagathy Sreekumar.
Cinematography - Shehnad Jalal
Music & Background Score - Gopi Sunder
Art Director - Jyothish
Release Date - 24th February 2012

Cocktail was a much-talked about movie in 2010. Even though it received a lot of flak of being an adaptation of Butterfly on a Wheel, it was a well-made film and Arun Kumar Aravind was noticed as a director. Murali Gopi couldnt do wonders with his first script Rasikan with Lal Jose even though it had sparks of intelligence here and there. And the both of them have come together to give their next flick - Ee Adutha Kaalathu. From the photoshoot to the trailers and song promos, this movie generated a lot of intrigue among the youth. Going with the recent trend of hyperlinked narratives, this film tells the story of a bunch of characters as different as chalk and cheese, in the city of Thiruvananthapuram. 

Vishnu (Indrajith) is a poverty stricken young man with an ill mother, a wife who's a housemaid and 2 daughters. He picks up random stuff from the city's biggest waste dump and converts them into interesting toys and sells them on the beach, and also plays cricket matches with kids to make a little money. Ajay Kurien (Murali Gopi) is a frustrated man who's extremely insecure and sadistic towards his wife Madhuri (Tanushree), a former B-movie actress in Bombay. The reasons for his frustration are slowly revealed in the movie in an interesting manner. Tom Cherian (Anoop Menon), who'd received special training in Scotland Yard is under scrutiny for not being able to solve a series of murders happening in the city and is the butt of all jokes among his colleagues. Rupa (Lena) is a feminist journalist who's covering this murder and whom Tom has a soft-spot for. Then there's Rustam (Nishan) who's trying to lure Madhuri into a special relationship with him, with other plans at the back of his mind. And finally, the yellow journalist Thee Ramachandran (Jagathy Sreekumar) who also serves as the narrator of the film. Then there's a serial killer, a gangster, a broker, a home nurse, a bedridden mother, an oversmart kid, a foolish Brahmin landlord and loads of other characters making the narrative rich. 

Murali Gopi has weaved together important current events and so many day to day activities superbly in his very well crafted screenplay. The issues addressed include the huge and messy waste-dumps in the city, old couples living alone without any security, influx of North Indian workers whom nobody has any idea about, the quotation groups in the city, the super-successful 'mallu aunty porn' industry, etc. and they actually act as plot-points propelling the story forward at key points. It's definitely a tough task, and Murali has done that in style. Each and every character has his/her own individuality and are not like the regular characters we see in Malayalam movies. They all look alive on screen, something that's missing in many other screenplays these days. A beauty-conscious Police Commissioner who's actually sleepy when called on to a murder spot in the middle of the night; a home-nurse who's always on the phone;  a frustrated husband who's trying by all means to prove that he's having a fantastic sex life to his wife whom he feels insecure about; a simpleton who decides to do a crime and then ends up helping his victim and so many more interesting characters with their own unique quirks and traits. Another interesting fact is that there is no hero-heroine (like it is usually in such scripts) and every character has shades of good and bad. And when we've really gotten sick of all the Fort Kochi movies with every nook and corner of Kochi being captured on camera for some movie or the other, it is quite refreshing to see a true-blue 'Thironthoram' movie shot authentically in the city. The characters and their spaces give us the feeling of the city it is, rather than being just a mere backdrop. And the dialogue and slang used is not the cheap one which was made famous by a certain guy from Venjarammoodu, but the actual accent which Thironthoram people have which is authentically reproduced in the movie. We've had a bunch of Thironthoram movies back in the 80s made by Priyadarshan, Venu Nagavalli, et al. This one would probably be the first modern Thironthoram movie. :) 

Arun Kumar Aravind has matured into a fantastic director in his second film. That can be seen in his super-effective handling of Murali Gopi's fantastic script. Throwing in visual references of Bible Quotes, book names, movie posters, television show sound-cues to even an Angry Birds game, were intelligent touches from Arun. And since he is also the editor of the movie, he knows when to spice up the narrative and when to keep it slow and give enough stay. The first half builds up slowly and steadily into a shocker of an interval point and then builds up to an intriguing second half where everything comes together like a Rubik's Cube at the end of it all. Adding to the Thironthoram flavour of the script, he shoots it in areas specific to Trivandrum like the Brahmin agrahara-theruvu's, RSS camps, construction sites for IT companies, silent colonies, etc. There are some other very smart touches in the movie like when Indrans tells Prithviraj's brother Indrajith on how to make some 'Indian Rupee'; a couple of smart digs at Mammootty & Mohanlal which are not offensive; a total insult of a certain budget car; casting a certain actress as the wife of the editor of a yellow magazine which actually refers to the magazine which had carried a news item about her and so on. Coming from the Priyadarshan school, he has an amazing frame sense and gives us some captivating frames during the initial montages and later at various instances in the movie. 

Coming to the performances, the masterstroke from the directorial team, was getting the cast right. Each character is cast perfectly and almost all of them pitch in splendid performances. Indrajith in a career best performance, leads the pack. He is so effectively natural, subtle and effortless in his performance. His subtle Trivandrum accent, body language and ability to pull off minute expressions shows us the incredible talent he has inside. Its a surprise that this guy is not considered a star yet! Mythili, who is paired opposite him, is a revelation. I hadnt found her to be a good actress so far, but in this one she is damn good, playing the strong wife to a soft-spoken Indrajith. She looks convincing as a mother of two, and by dubbing herself in her hoarse voice, she has made her character more authentic. Murali Gopi as the eccentric, frustrated husband (a regular role for his late, legendary father in many films) is fantastic. And yes, we are reminded of his legacy many a times when we watch him perform, bringing out all the complexities of his character in awkwardly hilarious situations. 

Tanushree Ghosh, as his wife is not a bad actress, but her bad lip-sync does affect her performance, especially in emotional scenes. She makes up for it with her last shot during the tail end of the movie, where even she gets her share of applause from the audience. Anoop Menon is hilarious as the beauty-conscious, Scotlandyard trained officer and is again very natural. The Mohanlal hangover creeps in here and there, but then again, even an actual Police Commissioner can have a Mohanlal hangover, so it aint a bad thing at all. He has established himself as a brand for good Malayalam cinema by being an important part of many such films. Lena in her most meaty role (after Traffic) is excellent and shows us that she has the capacity to do a wide range of roles. And again, opting for dubbing in her own voice, she brings authenticity to her Mumbai-based journalist character.

Nishan also performs very well, maybe for the first time after his debut Rithu where he showed some promise and casting him as a North Indian speaking in broken Malayalam in his own voice, was again a smart move and helps Nishan to behave naturally in his very interesting role. Baiju as the gangster was fantastic and it was great to see him on screen after a long time. Manikandan as the nosey Brahmin landlord was decent, but his Tamil didnt sound right. Krishna Prabha as the home nurse was perfect! Indrans was effective in a small role and so was the smart alec kid who played Murali Gopi's son (except for his poor English). And yes, finally Jagathy Sreekumar. What can we say more about this amazing man, that we havent said in all these decades. Watch him in a scene with Murali Gopi behind a glass door without dialogues and you'll know why he's THE best, always!! 

Shahnad Jalal, the State Award winning cinematographer painstakingly captures Thiruvananthapuram in a very raw and rugged manner, in a never-seen-before style. No gimmicks, no show-offs, but straight-forward and effective camerawork. Arun Kumar as an editor knows how he wants his film to be like and he has kept the rythm of the narrative accordingly. The scene where Indrajith makes a box for his mother which is very well cut and there are some other very fine cuts in the movie too. Gopi Sunder has given a fantastic music score and its impossible to get the theme music of the film out of your head once you've seen the film, or even its trailer. The songs are also melodious and shot very well. Jyothish's art direction is authentic and very imaginative, especially how Indrajith's house is done up with innovative objects created out of trash. 

The film is a little too bold for Malayali audiences and might not be advisable for so-called family viewing (It is another fact that those so-called family movies have much worse stuff in them). Sexual insecurities, frustrations and incompetencies are discussed very well in the movie in one of the tracks bringing out many humorous situations as well. There are abusive words here and there but they're beeped out, but those beeps sound much more cooler than not having those words at all. Kudos to Murali Gopi for taking the boldness to the next step with his writing and to Arun Kumar for executing it so well. It shows the finger many-a-times to the Malayali double standards when it comes to morality. And thats something worth applauding. Let the naysayers keep on barking, but our cinema is getting bolder and better. :) 

And ultimately with a brilliant tail end tying up all the loose ends and the Rubik's cube getting solved, the movie comes to an end, not before we see another North Indian sales-rep talking in Hindi to Murali Gopi's character(Not a spoiler, but those who've seen the movie would get the significance) and also a great line from Jagathy Sreekumar about women and secrets. So yes, Ee Adutha Kaalathu is a must watch, if you havent realized that from this extremely long post already. Arun Kumar Aravind has turned into an ace director & Murali Gopi, into an ace writer-actor (Competition for Anoop Menon?) Go watch, the very next show!! 

Bottomline - Ee Adutha Kaalathu kanda ettavum nalla cinema!! പിന്നല്ല!!