Wednesday, May 23

Manjadikkuru



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!!