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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May 23, 2017

Oru Mexican Aparatha

Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina  - thunders the rousing line in the song Kalipp, katta kalipp, as it tries to capture the pulse of young revolutionary Kerala in the movie, 'Oru Mexican Aparatha' (A Mexican Eternity/Infinity/Continuity anything but Enormity.) For a red-blooded Malayali who has not traveled much outside this tiny sliver of a state in southern India called Kerala, these Latin American countries are closer to his/her heart than say the capital of India, New Delhi. So was Russia at the some point, before glasnost and perestroika and finally Putin signed off on Russia's fall from grace in Malayalis' eye - but that's another story for another time.


2017 is painting the screens red for Malayalam cinema. The confluence of progressive young film makers and a communist-Marxist leadership back in power at the state has created a fertile time and space for left of the center films and all that amor for Latin America. In addition to Mexican Aparatha, there is CIA (Comrade in America) and Sakhavu, each showcasing a leading young actor in a left-leaning role and their posters literally painting Kerala red.


It's after a long time I have seen a movie with campus politics as its central theme. The election fever in a college campus and the political rivalry of Kerala's two main political parties - the so called right (Congress party's youth wing - KSU) and the Communist Marxist party's youth wing - SFI, is palpable in the film. The characters are real, make-up minimal, flags plentiful and songs rebellious and upbeat in this movie which is a tribute to the most politically conscientious audience in all of India.



The script is not the strongest, but I think the lack of knock-out dialogs make it more real and accessible. The first-time director Tom Ematty is probably exploring a scene and a place he is familiar with. Maharaja's College - a premier educational institution in central Kerala (Ernakulam / Cochin) has produced a lot of notable people - from Mammootty, Dileep and Aashiq Abu to Balachandran Chullikkad and Changampuzha. Maharaja's College and the men's hostel where they keep it real with charcoal graffiti and body building competitions in underwear form the backdrop for the story of a band of friends with SFY (~ SFI) affinity- portrayed by Tovino Thomas, Neeraj Madhav, Manu, Vishnu Govind and others. Their rival camp of KSQ (~KSU) has director-turned- actor Roopesh Pithambaran and Kalabhavan Shajon leading the pack.


The film takes place in two distinct time periods in Kerala's political history. The flashback part of it is played out in the watershed era of the seventies with the Emergency and its baggage of persecutions, rendered in the movie by a few bad wigs and a couple of songs. This was the era which gave rise to the biggest political warriors in Kerala's campuses like Simon Britto and Suresh Kurup. In the movie we have the martyr Kunjaniyan, representing this fire brand youth brigade. Most of the rest of the story supposedly takes place in the present time which confuses me a bit because, where are the cell phones? In the light of this glaring absence I can only assume that the movie takes place in the late nineties or early 2000s?


A minor episode of campus crush featuring Tovino and Gayathri Suresh is thrown in to add some color and songs. The story is an accurate sketch of the reality in Kerala's co-ed colleges where female political representation is usually confined to a sidelined Vice Chairman or an Arts Club secretary position. In the grand scheme of the things, this film belongs squarely to its male characters - Tovino and Neeraj Madhav, the heroes, who are counter-balanced by the amazingly astute anti-hero, Roopesh.  Tovino's might be the face that will sell the movie but the director has made believable actors out of Roopesh Pithambaran, Neeraj Madhav, Vishnu Govind and Manu.

I started to watch Oru Mexican Aparatha to while away a mindless hour or two. But the film captured my attention thrusting two handsome and charismatic heroes right-at-ya, right in the opening scenes,  Tovino Thomas and Che Guvera. Together they attained enlightenment in Mexico, fled the weapons-wielding bourgeoisie  and embraced the red becoming martyrs for the cause of downtrodden. Ask anyone who has roots in the land of chekavars (reference to a Neeraj Madhav dialog in this movie), this is a sure-fire way to gain our support. You placed your bets on the right story and the right people, Anoop Kannan.

May 15, 2017

Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbole

Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbole is a watchable movie starring Kerala's own, 'complete actor' - Mohanlal. For the discerning Malayali film viewer, post 1990s , watchable is a loaded term when it appears in the same sentence as Mohanlal. It is an anomaly, a singularity eliciting an anemic ray of hope that there is still room for improvement for Mohanlal, which he and his fans might not agree.



If Munthirivallikal is watchable despite Mohanlal or because of Mohanlal, depending on which camp you are in, a lot of that credit goes to its script writer M.Sindhuraj and director Jibu Jacob and in part to Anoop Menon. Never been a big Anoop Menon fan, but I loved the way he played the character of a ladies' man in the age of social media and cell phones - Venukuttan.


For me the problem with  Mohanlal movies - the ones after the 90s, is that the entire cast, script writers and directors genuflect before the presence of Mohanlal that they forget why they are there in the first place. It's not Mohanlal's fault that peoples jaws hit the ground in his god like presence. This movie is not free of such fawning over but there is an element of comedy and touches of reality which keep us entertained and hooked.


Mid-life crisis, life's regular crises and cries form the story line of this movie. It addresses the mid-way monotony and boredom of long term relationships.*SPOILER ALERT* In the movie, Mohanlal being the super human he is, succeeds in rekindling life into his vapid marriage with a little help from a red sari. While he is at it he also pulls of a rescue effort, extricating our next generation from teenage love, deemed sub-par compared to the love one might experience with one's life partner chosen through an arranged marriage.


...and thus the movie - Munthirivalllikal Thalirkkumbole (When Grapevines Bloom) ends with Mohnalal quoting Song of Solomon 7:12, a tribute to Padmarajan's masterpiece, Namukku Paarkkaan Munthirithoppukal (Vineyards for us to dwell in) which might have inspired its title and the choice of its main actor.





May 8, 2017

Blade Runner

Blade Runner dropped into my thoughts the other day in the form of Harrison Ford. I was trying to come up with the names of old Malayalam movies I wanted to watch and couldn’t remember even one. Then for some reason Harrison Ford popped up in my mind. Ford is not a particular favorite of mine. It is a mystery to me how he got himself into the two biggest movie franchises of all time – Star Wars and Indian Jones. Definitely it was not his looks or his animal charm. Some people are just plain lucky.

I might not have watched this Ridley Scott film earlier just because Ford played the main character. Anyway, without many choices last Saturday night, I paired a glass of Cabernet with Blade Runner and some cheese.It was an interesting combo. The casting of Rutger Hauer as the antagonist took away some of my hardship of watching a Ford movie. The rest of the cast was perfect, if you can excuse the 80s hair that seemed to have survived three and half decades of sculpted perfection.

Of all things a movie enthusiast might notice in a cult classic movie the first thing that struck me in Blade Runner's futuristic landscape of 2019 were the neon hoardings of the companies that no longer exist. Pan Am, Atari, RCA - all switched off their lights in 20th century. Later I learnt about the Blader Runner curse

Another observation is the absence of children. I will have to read Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", the sci-fi novel which served as the inspiration to this movie, to see if the introduction of robots nullified humanity's primary task - to procreate and propagate the species.

Watching this 1982 movie in 2017, two years away from the AI-rich dark future the movie is depicting, I am glad reality is considerably slower in pace than science fiction, and hopefully a lot less sinister. Blade Runner's dark and slick set design is quite a marvel. I read that the set design inspiration came from all over - from the Pope's sleeping quarters in Vatican to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House. In real life 2017 flying cars are still in conceptual stages but Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are ramping up on the efforts. After all cars are only slightly bigger drones and drones are ubiquitous now. 2019 is still two years away to fatten up those drones.

Blade Runner is a movie to watch if you are interested in good old fashioned sci-fi. But then again if you were, you must have already watched it. Blade Runner or rather Philip K Dick's story had anticipated and provided material for lots of movies and TV series that came afterward. The most recent ones of the AI strain I can think are West World (world apart, but a perfect conceptual match) and some episodes of Black Mirror.

May 7, 2017

Ezra (Malayalam) & Dora (Tamil)

It has been a week of paranormal movies for me. I watched Malayalam movie Ezra followed by Tamil's contribution to the week - Dora. First let's see how Ezra fared.

Ezra is a well-put together movie. Is it a great horror film? It is not a horror film; it is a ghost story, you earth bound being. It did not work for me as a horror movie at all because horror means I am looking for something that would bring on the chills like The Shining or The Silence of the Lambs or The Vanishing.

I could easily watch Ezra in the dead of the night without any one around. Even with the menacingly dark shapes of trees moving outside the window it miserably failed to create even a flinch in my ghost film meter needle. Movies with paranormal perpetrators do not make much of an impression on me, so that is not a huge minus. I could even predict who the ghost was trying to take a shot at. *SPOILER* Even ghosts cannot resist the handsome and intelligent Prithviraj, just like us girls. You cannot blame the ghost for choosing wisely 😉

For a first time director, directing experienced actors like Prithviraj is a commendable achievement. Good job, Jay K. Now do not ask the question whether Prithviraj swapped seats with the director anytime during the shooting of this film. When Prithviraj is acting in a new director’s movie I have a feeling that he gets possessed by the director persona quite often – ghost flick or not.

Prithviraj has controlled and contained himself, maturing further as an actor. I can see he had nursed a secret wish to play a 'nukular' scientist and he got to do it in this film. Soon as he donned the 'nukular' outfit it was obvious who would be irresistible (more irresistible than usual I mean) to the paranormal (and normal folks.) Priya Anand - good to see the Fukrey actress after a long time, although she has nothing much to do as a stand-in temp.

The Jewish backstory is the real hidden gem in this whole movie. Don’t go looking for other gems, there aren’t any. Beautifully filmed with great cast and production design it is almost like a self-contained short film within the main movie.

My general impression about Ezra is it is an effort in the right direction to introduce exotic spirits to Malayalis who are all round ‘spiritual’ people. But there is nothing really scary in there. If you want a real scary movie I just remembered a better one from our next door neighbors from not too long ago - Yavarum Nalam or 13B.

May 5, 2017

Devasuram

As I grow older, I have a newfound respect for I.V.Sasi – a prolific Malayalam movie director. I had dismissed his movies as having too much ‘masala’ (spice), or from a western context, my take was his creations were mostly pulp fiction movies. However, Malayali audience had none of my misgivings and had made many of I.V.Sasi films super hits over the years.

I watched Devasuram recently, an I.V.Sasi movie from 1993 starring Mohanlal and Revathi. Written by Ranjith and based on a real life person (Mullasserry Rajagopal), the protagonist of the movie Mangalassery Neelakantan (played by Mohanlal) has a permanent place in the pantheon of iconic Malayalm movie characters.

This hugely successful film has a melodramatic story tied down in place by its strong willed lead characters – Mohanlal as the feudal scion Neelakantan, Revathy as the danseuse Bhanumathi and Napoleon as the villain Mundakkal Shekharan. The restraint in the script and direction in filming a story that had plenty of opportunities to go overboard is appreciated by my older wiser eyes.

Devasuram created a new re-usable role for Mohanlal, that of an authoritative feudal/local boss-man who leaps down from a jeep in signature sandals and flicks his mundu up with one feet and saves the day knocking the living daylights out of the bad dudes. He reprised this role in his later movies like Aaram Thampuran, Ravanaprabhu (sequel of Devasuram), Narasimham and Naran. From the witty, unemployed, happy go lucky young man or the flamboyant don characters he played in his twenties Devasuram graduated him in to the hard-ass protector and leader roles of his thirties, which he continues playing even now, well past the expiry date.

Interesting things I learnt after Devasuram:

Varikkassery Mana, Ottappalam: Shown as Mangalassery tharavadu in Devasuram became a favorite location for Malayalam movie’s after Devasuram was filmed there
Napolean aka Kumaresan Duraiswamy: The villain is this movie is a multi-faceted personality. He is an actor, an MLA, MP, a minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, an IT company founder and CEO.

May 3, 2017

Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal

I write movie reviews for a couple of reasons. One is to keep my writing from becoming rusty. I write nothing much these days – no poems, no journals or blogs, only occasional hashtag sentences without spaces. All part of being one with the times. Alternatively, I could use the oft-resorted excuse of people with multiple progeny – busy as a bee about to go extinct.

The other reason for keeping this movie log is to keep track of the movies I watch and to capture my reaction and recollection of those movies. Unlike many film fiends that I know, who can belt out dialogs or keep track and explain back to me all the multi-linear narratives in Memento several years after they had seen the film, I tend to forget the details of a movie soon as I turn off the TV and put down the remote.

One night this week, between the evening rush, dinner and getting into bed rituals I watched a Malayalam movie I must have watched as a child, but have absolutely no recollection of. I can blame the passage of time, a quarter of a century or more, for my memory loss. Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal is often mentioned as one of the milestone Malayalam movies from the eighties. Directed by Fazil, it had beautiful songs and a leading pair who were pure eye candy at the time – Mammootty and Suhasini.

The story, as I rewatch it now, is pure Mills & Boons or Malayala Manorama – pick your poison. I wonder whether we (Malayali audience) were so melodramatic in the eighties that we could consume this movie without batting an eye. Not just that, we even made Fazil’s script and movie a big hit. Considering Puli Murugan’s success last year, we have not grown any wiser, only worse.

One thing I notice now about Fazil’s female characters is in most of his movies one of his pivotal female characters will die. This death becomes the undoing of all his other female characters who are then relegated to the sidelines and most often require a compassionate knight to see them through choppy waters. The box office success of Fazil movies were directly tied to the ability of his movies to work the tear glands of his female audience (in Malayalam  - sthree janangale aake motham kanneer aniyikkunna katha)

The female lead in Manivathoor, played by Suhasini leads a sheltered life that involves driving a Fiat (she is the default chauffer for all the male members of her progressive family) and idling around idyllic Ooty locales singing top 10 songs. She has absolutely no ambition other than making kanji (rice porridge) for her physician Dad and brother at dinner and chauffeuring them around, despite an early upbringing in the ultra-modern but morally corrupt London town.

It would be fair to say that a film with a female lead with such an uninspiring prosaic outlook is not going to get good grades from me and Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal gets a meh in my books. On to other forgotten(by me) eighties Malayalam movies on YouTube.

May 1, 2017

Titli

Titli is shot on the other side of New Delhi. It is the outer core of New Delhi's National Capital Territory and the dusty satellite cities of Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida where virulent skyscrapers and their support network of slums spring up on an everyday basis. Lutyen’s Delhi of wide vistas and imperialistic stone buildings could be another planet for the three brothers in this movie, who eke out a living in one of the many oppressive slums in this urban border zone.

Titli is not a story of geographies as my talk so far might have led you to believe. It is a story of people, people who follow unconventional means to make money and want to escape the claustrophobia of familial and economic dysfunction and move on to expansive landscapes with brighter possibilities.

Titli is the pet name of the youngest of the three brothers. A silent bystander in the beginning who then takes the story by the horns and turns into something of a coming of age movie for millennial youth from the lower strata of India’s urban society.

The movie extracts strong and memorable performances from its main cast that includes Shashank Arora as Titli, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shivani Raghuvanshi and the director Kanu Behl’s own father, theater actor-director Lalit Behl. As expected with the story, direction and the choice of actors one can predict that Titli is a festival circuit movie. It ended up bagging awards in different categories at several international film festivals, the most notable being the Camera d’Or nomination at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

It is an interesting movie to watch for a serious film viewer.

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