The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Jan 30, 2012

Never Let Me Go

This is a movie that never could be American. An American would never sit back and take it, as cliched as it may sound, it is true. Never Let Me Go is an English film that can only be made in a non-Hollywood place where they speak English, which makes the prime choice for such a location – England. 

Is it Orwellian? Not really, because beyond the limits of the special boarding school called Hilsham, which is the focus of the movie, free society exists. The unpersons or persons without a future only exist within similar such boarding schools. The color scheme and the mood is subdued in browns and beiges, tinted with a pervasive sense of melancholy.

The most obvious question a viewer will ask at the end of the movie is, why don’t they try to escape? Maybe the best answer comes from the author of the novel that the movie is based on, Kazuo Ishiguro in an interview about Never Let Me Go explains that he meant the lives of the donor children (the children who are brought up in these special boarding schools) as a metaphor of our lives, as to reflect on why we accept death as the end and do not try to escape it.

There is no rebellion against fate anywhere in the story, only weak requests that fizzle our before they begin. It is a difficult story to capture in film, it is a better fit as novel where you can explore words and allegories, chew upon the its and your existential cud. On screen, when you watch characters play out these doomed roles, you want to exhort them not to sit back and take it. 

But the script(Alex Garland), actors, director(Mark Romanek) and the art has worked together to bring a challenging narrative to a beautifully made film. Who would’ve thought to cast Keira Knightley in a dark role with black bangs to match? Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield fits the bill as film's subdued and hapless protagonists. The children who portrayed the characters in their childhood are just as good as the adult actors. A touching and dark movie.

Jan 19, 2012

Christian Brothers

In tough economic times a paisa vasool movie is a blessing for the audience. Paisa vasool is desi way of saying, ‘to get bang for your buck’. Movies that fall into this category give you a chance to see all the major heroes in one place and will be also be a veritable avial showcasing comedy, tragedy, songs, romance, hot babes, cool cars, reunions, breakups, action, reaction and whatever else you could ask for in a 2.5-3 hour package. You purchase a ticket to watch a movie and come out feeling like you’ve watched 5 movies for the price of one. The producer is pleased and the audience satiated and Christian Brothers avial clinches number #1 spot at the box office.

Mohanlal (who else can play a Mumbai underworld don in Malayalam cinema) is the foundation of this movie’s brotherhood. Mohanlal has the copyright of don roles from the early nineties ever since he became the good boy turned goonda in Kireedom and moved to Mumbai in Adhipan and came back to Kerala in His Highness Abdullah. Too bad that Mammootty missed that boat. 

Dileep is the other brother and he fields all the comedy balls and Suresh Gopi is the brother(-in-law) who like Mohanlal has a copyright on a certain type of hero -  the police officer who swallowed an English dictionary. (Isn’t it time we awarded a honorary IPS to Suresh Gopi like Lt.Col title conferred to Mohanlal by the Indian Army (122nd Infantry Battalion)?) Sharat Kumar, the manliest of actors from Tamil in the 50-60 age group is imported to be Mohanlal's buddy.An interesting face that flickered by was Vivekandan, the actor who played the teen lead in 1990 movie - Kshanakkathu, as one of Mohanlal's sidekicks.

Saikumar is the father who created these brothers and the entire Christian brotherhood is often challenged by another set of brothers from a different mother, this one led by Biju Menon and fathered by Vijayaraghavan. Mother figures are non existent, no wonder the boys are running wild. Female actors are all damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by the appropriate Christian brother. In fact cars and guns play more important roles than ladies in this movie. This is our very own Guns, Gems(of actors) and Steel, for your daily dose of the aforementioned three items watch this movie in installments.

Jan 14, 2012

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a little late for me, Memento, Requiem for a Dream, Mulholland Drive, Inception and a handful other movies whose names I don’t remember have already taken the viewers down the path of alternate realities played out inside character’s heads. If you are the analyzing type, this is one movie whose real meaning you can dissect to death after multiple viewings.

Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite writers of casual fiction. I loved his Mystic River and remember eagerly waiting for the film version when I heard Clint Eastwood was directing it. I have not read this work of his – Shutter Island but if Mystic River (the book) is anything to go by Shutter Island the movie has been glammed up a bit into a Hollywood script under Martin Scorcese. Of course when a movie is set in or before 1950s, the leading man can be no one else but Leanardo Di Caprio, the real Benjamin Button of Hollywood who is perpetually stuck in a screen time somewhere between the Great Depression(‘30s) and the Great Prosperity(‘50s)

This time he is stuck for real in an island penitentiary/mental asylum called Shutter Island as US Marshal Teddy Daniels investigating a mysterious disappearance of a female inmate. That is just the start. Things get murkier and stormier as the film progresses. But somehow from the very beginning I had the feeling that Mark Ruffalo was acting. Another reason to doubt the story was, did Scorsese have the guts to cast Ben Kingsley, the man who played Gandhi, in a negative role?

All that said, Shutter Island has an interesting story, the director has delivered it as a tight almost waterproof package, although the movie's predominant element is water. There are metaphors, allegories and symbols placed through out the movie left for audience's interpretation including the famous last line that Di Caprio's character utters at the end of the movie, throwing a monkey wrench into the already confused machinery of audience's mind.

Jan 9, 2012


As a topophiliac I am partial toward movies with place name titles. Changes in geography shaped and reshaped under the wheels of time interest me to no end.  Madrasapattinam made me look at the origins of the so-called authentic Tamil name, Chennai which became Madras’s official name in 1996. Wikipedia says Madrasapatinam and Chennapatinam were two different but nearby places. Madrasapattinam was a fishing hamlet near Portuguese fort St. George and Chennapattinam was the settlement which sprang up near the fort. Both their histories go back to 15th century. Between the two how did the administration decide which one was more original? 

Madrasapattinam, the movie favors Madrasapattinam over Chennapattanam. It is sort of like Tamilian’s Titanic cleverly adapted for pre-independence era Madras. There are telltale signs of Titanic strewn through out the movie starting with the old lady, the necklace, the old lady’s grand daughter, flash back to a doomed and fleeting love story and a handsome self sacrificing hero who never gets old. Like Titanic – the movie, Madrasapatinam was created to ride the box-office waves, not to sink without a trace. It has romance of the most forbidden kind – gori mem falling for a dark skinned dhobi, in the backdrop of the simmering Indian freedom struggle almost nearing its date of fruition.

Arya and Amy Jackson play the roles of lovers separated by class, race and political tensions. One of the positives about this movie is we do not have Indians in crusty pancake makeup and blond wigs playing the role of the British. Although twenty first century British dialogs sound Dickensian, viewers’ misery due to this strait-jacketed language is restricted to a few opening scenes.

The city of Madras plays itself. The director had me in his pocket when he showed the transformation of Coovum river from a scenic serene waterway to a narrow channel between trash heaps in the present day Chennai. CGI although not seamless as historic Hollywood movies, is definitely better than Salman Khan’s Veer a period piece from Bollywood with more money and CGI.

Madrasapattinam has a lot of flaws in the script and story department if you go at with a magnifying glass. Most of the public who spends money to watch this movie in Chennai’s cinema halls won’t be having such a glass in their possession. This is dreamy movie for the underdog, about someone who attained the unattainable, with a strong thread of love and related emotions binding it together, movie success at the box office is a proof that we Indians always fall for that time tested trick.

Jan 6, 2012

Boss Engira Bhaskaran

Jamshad Cethirakath aka Arya – a Malayali from Trikkaripur(Kerala) brought up in Chennai with Diana Kurian aka Nayantara – a Malayali from Kottayam(Kerala) brought up in Gujarat and Kerala, both find stardom in Tollywood and join hands as hero and heroine in the 2010 super hit Boss Engira Bhaskaran. 

It was touted as Nayantara’s comeback hit and breakthrough commercial hit for Arya. With all this Mallu pride overflowing in the first paragraph it should be self evident that this review is written by a Malayali whose distinction is that I have not watched many Tamil movies. But I have been trying to correct this drawback this last week by multi-threading a few Arya and Dhanush movies.

Bhaskaran otherwise known as Boss(Arya) amongst his friends and family is a happy go lucky unemployed youth living in Kumbhakonam. A lot of middle class Tamil film-goers will be able to identify with his story and the surroundings. Arya’s natural comic timing and strong support on the comedy front from Santhanam makes the movie a laughter-fest from start to finish. In this they are aided by a humurous and unexpectedly sound script. Even the supporting characters have engaging dialogs, except for Nayantara’s ‘pardon’, which was a tad irritating but it was afterall intended to annoy Boss.

Boss Engira Bhaskaran is funny romcom perfect for lazy afternoons. Even the villians are cast in a witty mold. There are not many lessons to take home except to take life light-heartedly like Boss.

Jan 4, 2012

Top Malayalam Movies of 2011

2011 was a milestone year for the discerning Malayali movie-goer, one who was tortured years on end with too many Dubais, Naatturajavus, Christian and Uppukandam Brothers. It goes without saying that I consider myself belonging to this category. This was the year I finally found some contemporary Malayalam films I can recommend to my film-buff friends (non-Indian and therefore non-Malayali) and did not have to go into hiding after the recommendation for fear of losing their friendship.

2011 was also the year when Malayalam cinema woke up and sniffed a new formula  and started playing with it – integrated multi narrative track, already perfected by Alejandro Inarritu, Wong Kar-wai and David Lynch, so there are plenty of places of draw 'inspiration' from. In the process of learning there were some misfires like The Train and The Metro, but some like Traffic and City of God hit the target.

Another surprise winner of 2011 is the non-superstar, in the line of Times Person of the Year – Protestor,  Malayalam cinema’s star of the year was not Mohanlal, Mammootty , Prithviraj or Dileep, (or not even Suresh Gopi,) it was the dependable second benchers, the reliable middle-of-the-pack actors like Lal, Jayasurya, Shweta Menon, Kunchako Boban, Indrajith, Asif Ali, Salim Kumar, Reema Kallingal, Indrajith, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Remya Nambishan, Fahad Fazil and Samvrutha Sunil who took the cake this last year. Also worth mentioning is the new crop of movie-makers who were instrumental in bringing a paradigm shift in the way we make movies in Kerala – Lijo Jose Pellissery, Samir Thahir, Aashiq Abu, Listin Stephen, Bobby n Sanjay, Rajesh Pillai and the like.

On to movies, my five favorite films of the year in no particular order,

Salt N Pepper (Woohoo! Malayalam has its first real…..Read more)

City of God (The end is the beginning is the end as….Read more)

Chappa Kurish (Chappa Kurish - Kochi speak for heads or tails, whatever the outcome of this coin flip…Read more)

Beautiful has shades of compassion and comraderie and gives Anoop Menon an opportunity to sling a guitar on his back and walk/ride the streets, which movie star has not dreamed of playing such a James Dean-ish character. Jayasurya as a paralysed millionaire with a  love for life gets to emote with his eyes and flirtatious talk. It is an interesting movie and yet another one which pays tribute to Malayali male’s endless fascination with that ageless Padmarajan classic – Thoovanathumbikal.(Read more)
 Indian Rupee has a good story and tight script. Though more laudable is the fact that it is the one and only movie which keeps Prithviraj (barely) in the ship that sailed from Kerala’s movie ocean in the second decade of twenty first century bearing the flag of new promise and hope. Prithvi is on the verge of becoming a latter day Mohanlal (not the Mohanlal of Nadodikkaattu but the Mohanlal of Natturajavu), if not for rare movies like Indian Rupee.

Also rans
Gaddama : (Women in flight (no, not Amelia Earhart), escaping their wretched existence make...  Read more )

Traffic: Probably the most commercially successful multi-narrative movie of 2011, it not only is technically sound but has drama and melodrama to top it off. Read more

Adaminte Makan Abu: A typical festival circuit movie, Malayalam budhi-jeevi(intellectual) directors have been churning out since the fifties and sixties, because third world poverty and desperation sells, tugs the heart strings of movie intelligensia at Cannes and Berlin and Toronto helping to bring home an award or two. Salim Kumar and Zarina Wahab have faithfully executed their roles as an aging couple waiting to go on a pilgrimage to Haj and the rest is textbook award movie stuff.

Pranayam, maybe.

Jan 3, 2012

Dr Love

If you are in a mood for a semi-decent campus movie of recent origin in Malayalam, Dr-Love might be worth looking into. The movie has no super stars or so says Kunchako Boban, the only star in the movie. Considering his advanced age and receding hair line, the film makers gave him a very important role in college canteen, which is where you’ll find aging movie Malayalam movie stars who just can’t get enough of college life even if they have sired grandkids of college-going age. College Kumaran Lalettan is the prime representative of this species. Compared to that Kunchako could easily pass off as a PhD scholar at SB College, Changanassery.

 But Kunchako’s character – Vinayachandran is not into studying to gain a doctoral degree. Vinayachandran, a struggling writer manages to get a Dr prefix by offering consultations on love and romance, thus becoming everyone’s darling Dr.Love. 

The most convincing apsect of this movie is all college kids look like college kids. Sudheesh and Idavela Babu have been given a rest and their roles given to real youngsters like Bhagat, Hemant, Vidya Unni, Ananya, Manikuttan and others. Since just helping a few love lorn teens is not going to sustain the image of Dr.Love forever, the film makers introduce a cliched and predictable twist in the form of Bhavana in the second half. Thankfully the movie gets over before it twists itself into a knot.