Amen – Pellissery’s Quirky Musical Comedy

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Lijo Jose Pellissery’s 2013 Malayalam film Amen has all the elements that should make it a tailor made movie for me.  It’s a quirky comedy about a band competition and the lead actor even plays the clarinet, the very instrument I played as a child.  The film reminded me very much of the comedies of Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson.  We have a cast of odd characters in this Kerala village.  Pellissery seems to have a troupe of actors he likes to reuse — like Wes Anderson does in his films.  The film has a magical realism element to it, like the film Amelie.  There’s an inherent sweetness to the story, and a nostalgia for life in this little village with it’s troubled church.

The film opens with a story about a prank delivery of a packet of faeces causing a fued between two families in the village.  This has nothing to do with the main story of the film, but sets the scene of a village where everyone gets in each other’s business.

The opening credit animated song was perhaps my favorite song sequence of the whole movie:

 

The cinematography of the film is stunning, set in the scenic Kuttanadan area of Kerala, where the most common mode of travel is by canoe or ferry boat.  The ferry brings a new priest to this village, Vincent Vattoli (Indrajith) but at first he’s not recognized as a priest because he wears secular clothes and dances with a young French tourist on the ferry boat.  He arrives at the church under the iron grip of the stern head priest Father Abraham (Joy Matthew) and the corrupt sacristan.  Father Abraham is ready to tear down the church and abolish the church’s band.

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Fahahd Faisal (Solomon) plays clarinet only in secret to his love Shoshanna (Swathi Reddy).  He’s the son of the most famous clarinet master player of the area who died in a boat accident.  Solomon can’t overcome his fears to play with the band, and in their yearly competition, until Vincent Vattoli comes to town.

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There are some gorgeous set pieces when Solomon plays his clarinet in the dark to Shoshanna, and on a boat in the moonlight.  But his character is such a nebbish that I had trouble sympathizing with his plight.  Shoshanna’s family locks her away after she almost elopes with Solomon.  Swathi Reddy does a decent job and has some spunk to her, but she doesn’t have a lot to do in the film.

There’s another one of Pellissery’s long tracking shots for a song set during a “toddy” shop fight between the two rival bands, with the cameramam ending the scene floating away in  a boat.

This film should be my catnip, as I love Wes Anderson films, but this Amen film just did not resonate with me.  The romance between Solomon and Shoshanna is sweet, but I really didn’t like Fahahd’s nebbishy wishy washy character.  I did like Indrajith’s priest character, and he even gets his own song as the French tourist fantasizes about him!

The music was interesting because it’s entirely Western musical instruments.  In fact, with songs like When The Saints Go Marching In, it had a sort of New Orleans Jazz sound to the band combos.

 

This is my third of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s films, and so far my least favorite.  I love, love, love Angamaly Diaries, and I really enjoyed City of God.  Evidently, before Angamaly Diaries, I think Amen is the director’s most crowd pleasing film.  It must evoke strong emotions for the Kerala audience that just didn’t translate to me.  I admire the technical brilliance of the film making, and Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood does a great job expanding on that aspect.  But, Amen for me is a film I admire, but doesn’t make me love it.

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City of God – Lijo Jose Pellissery’s moving hyperlink New Generation Malayalam film may have been ahead of its time

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After seeing the fantastic Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries last week, I couldn’t wait to seek out director Lijo Jose Pellissery’s other films.  City of God was the one recommended to seek out first, and glory be, it’s on Google Play for rental and purchase.  At $4.99 to buy, I snatched it right up.

City of God is part of the New Generation of Malayalam films with a hyperlink non-linear narrative of four interlocking stories.  It came out within months of Traffic, the first of the new wave Malayalam cinema, but City of God was pulled within a week of release.  It may have been a bit ahead of its time.  It felt much grittier and more violent than Traffic, and isn’t really suited to a broad family audience.  I felt Traffic relied a bit too much on the audience’s familiarity of all the actors in that multi-starrer, and I didn’t really get to know any character that well.  I liked City of God much more.

A signature of Malayalam New Wave films is an accident, and coincidences that bring people together and set off the events of the film.  City of God starts with a horrific car crash.  Prithviraj is driving a car that crashes into a street light pole, after hitting a motorscooter with a young couple.  There’s also a van full of toughs that pile out to confront Prithviraj after the crash, and then we flash back.  We see the events of the film from several perspectives, replaying various key scenes from the point of view of different characters.  This is a movie where you have to pay attention a bit to catch on to what is going on.

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Prithviraj is sort of a capo or enforcer for his rich friend Sony (Rajeev Pillai).  He gets lots of very cool fight scenes, mostly just kicking and punching his way out of various jams, but in the photo above wielding a firehose like a urumi sword!  Prithviraj looked pretty bulked up, and this film was around the time of the filming of Aiyyaa.  Hubba hubba.  It was super fun to see Prithviraj be a sort of gangster tough guy, smacking people down first, and asking questions later.

Sony is obssessed with a young actress, Surya (Rima Kallingal).  He had a romance with her in the past, but his parents made him abandon her, and he’s trying to get her back, even though she’s married to an abusive husband.  Surya is a big actress, and one of the big musical numbers is cleverly one she’s doing for a film within the film.  The director was very clever about the songs.  There  was this one during a film shoot, one big one at a wedding, and then a couple more playing on a radio and so on.

There’s a complicated land deal going on between some corrupt business types, Sony, and some mafia.  Prithviraj is sent out to “deal” with one guy, and his wife then vows revenge.

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My favorite story line involved the migrant Tamil laborers who were working on the building project for Sony.  My reader Mohzin let me know that half this film is in Tamil, including half the songs!  He said that the Malayalam audience didn’t need subtitles for the Tamil speaking parts.  The love story of Swarnavel (Indrajith) and Marathakam (Pavarthy) is just so wonderful.  It’s the heart of the whole film.  Marathakam has fled Tamil Nadu and her abusive husband.  Swarnavel obviously loves her, but holds back as she is already married.  Marathakam’s friend Lakshmi (Rohini from Baahubali!) urges her to marry again, but Rohini has other ideas than poor Swarnavel.  She tells both the other thinks of them as either brother or sister, and so Marathakam, heart broken, agrees to marry a supposedly wealthy man.  Then comes my all time favorite scene of the whole film.  The  cops come and arrest her husband, and then she finds the drunk Swarnavel to chastise him for letting her marry this thief.  Then the sparks just FLY once they realize they don’t view each other as siblings AT ALL!  When he breaks off her mangalsutra — so hot!  Another favorite thing is that she won’t kiss him as he’s drunk, and sobers him up with a bucket full of water over his head!

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This is the couple from the opening scene accident who were on the motor scooter.  Why they were so frantically racing on that bike gradually is revealed.

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Prithviraj doesn’t get a full on romance in the film, but he does rescue a damsel in distress and gives her very swoony longing looks through the rearview mirror.  Mostly, in this film, he just gets to kick ass in very cool fights, and he seems much more savvy and smart than anyone around him.  But then Prithviraj usually does seem like the smartest one in the room.

The tone of the film can change dramatically from scene to scene,as we’re going from one character’s point of view to the next.  There are several side characters who have comedic moments — quite a few sort of comedy uncle characters.  The main actors were all pretty good, but the guy playing Sony didn’t make much of an impression on me.  Prithviraj, Pavarthy and Indrajith were the standouts. Indrajith stole the whole movie, in my opinion.  I don’t really remember him from Classmates, but he’s in Amen, which I’m going to try to watch next.  Pavarthy looks so completely different from any other character I’ve seen her play, that I honestly did not recognize her until I saw her name in the end credits.  Once I went back and rewatched that HOT love scene song, I could tell it was her, maybe with darker makeup?  Quite the different look than in Bangalore Days or Charlie!

The cinematography was quite interesting.  Some cool different angles to many shots, and great editing.  The fights didn’t feel quite as intimate as the recent Angamaly Diaries.  There was a steadicam being shook up, I guess to  imitate the Bourne films, but it just made me dizzy.  It worked in Angamaly Diaries, and didn’t work for me here in the same way.

As I said earlier, I didn’t really enjoy the hyperlink in Traffic, as there were too many shallow stories that weren’t developed.  Here, there were four key stories that interconnected, and the characters were more fleshed out.  This film can be gritty and violent like Kammatti Paadam or Angamaly Diaries.  Maybe the audience 6 years ago wasn’t quite ready for an innovative film like this.  Angamaly Diaries is still the better film, but it was really fascinating to see this director developing his signature style.

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Angamaly Diaries – A Fresh Malayalam Crime Film that Knocked My Socks Off

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I saw a Malayalam film tonight that absolutely blew me away.  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood emailed me that she’d heard great things about Angamaly Diaries — did I want to join her tonight?  So, I went in knowing pretty much nothing about it, other than that @Mozhin123 raved about it to me on twitter, too.  Every single face in the film is new except one cameo by the debut screenwriter, actor Chemban Vinod Jose (Charlie, Kali, and Oppam).  I had director Lijo Jose Pellissery‘s film City of God recommended to me, but this is my first film of his.  Oh. My. God.  Pellissery is the rock star of this film!  The direction and editing knocked my socks off!

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Chemban Vinod Jose and director Lijo Jose Pellissery

From the very first moments of the opening credit sequence I could tell this was going to be a very different kind of Malayalam film.  There were lots of street shots, and close ups of real people, intercut with food, glorious street food, being made.  The food in this film is a whole character in itself!  From the first, I got a strong sense of this place, Angalamy, that pretty much the entire movie takes place in.  I looked it up when I wiki’d the movie when I got home tonight, and it’s a town of about 33,000 people.  The name means batttleground, an ancient battleground, which is so fitting for the script!

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The quick editing is a hallmark of the film, as well as steadycam shots that took me right inside each and every scene.  To get a sense, here’s a behind the scenes making of video, showing how the camera men ran along with the actors in chase scenes and got right into each fight.  I felt like I was right there in the middle amongst the characters in the action.

 

Another key aspect of what made this film so great was the soundtrack and the Foley sounds!  They added such tension and rhythm, with screeching metallic sounds in key action sequences that evoked pigs squealing — and pigs are key to the drama.  I have often complained that the soundtracks of Malayalam films just aren’t scary enough when they need to be – Ezra, I’m looking at you!  This soundtrack is a standout.

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As I was driving home, I reflected that the story of Pepe (newcomer Antony Varghese) is not that original in the crime drama Angamaly Diaries.  We have the familiar flashback to childhood, and the formation of the key male friendships that form the “team” or gang.  We have the innocent teen romance, and more serious relationships as he’s older. We have a rivalry with other toughs in town.  But it all still felt fresh because of the way it was filmed, and the fast paced editing.  This is not the sleepy paced drama that I’m used to in Malayalam film.  The bones of the crime and gang story and the set up feels familiar, but how it’s presented is new and original.  It just felt so gritty, so real and visceral!

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Tito Wilson and Sarath Kumar

 

There is a dramatic turn in Pepe’s life that happens just before the interval.  I was holding my hands over my mouth, stunned.  I needed that few minutes of the intermission to process it.  After the interval, the plot turned in some surprising ways. Sarath Kumar as Ravi and Tito Wilson as Rajan are Pepe’s rivals throughout the film.  They kill Pepe’s mentor Babuji in the first half, and then have a competing pork business to Pepe’s gang.  Things come to a head and fisticuffs, and then turn deadly.  If this was a Telugu movie, these seeming arch villains and rivals would be killed off by the end of the film by our hero, but that’s not what happens here.  Things are more complex, and I loved that, and how it surprised me.

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Pepe has two main romances in the film, one with Sakhi played by Binny Rinky Benjamin, but my favorite was Lichi, above, played by newcomer Reshma Rajan, the older sister of one of Pepe’s pals.  I just adored how she literally pounced on Pepe to let him know she was interested!  I also loved how Pepe’s main friend in the gang, ‘Pork’ Varkey (Kichu Tellus) has troubles because he’s dating a police woman!  Their wedding is one of the highlights of the film.

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The climax of the film is an incredible 11 minute tracking shot with no editing cuts.  We are immersed in a festival in the town and the procession, and follow the characters in and out of houses and encounters, and finally in a big fight and chase sequence.  That sequence is stunning filmmaking.  I was gobsmacked by it.

I was fascinated by just about everything in this film. The food.  The depiction of Christianity in the town, as most characters are Christian, and the festivals.  Even the pork business the gang was in was fascinating, with the open butcher stalls and all.  This film reminded me in some ways of the gritty Kammatti Paadam, but that film and its Dalit characters are all viewed through the perspective of the middle class Dulquer Salmaan.  This film was all about working class people and their lives in a way that I don’t really think I’ve seen in Malayalam films.  Most of the films I’ve seen, the recent ones at least, have been about middle class people.

I was really impressed that all these newcomers to film acted so well, even the child actors.  Antony Varghese is quite the looker, and I thought he did a great job.  Reshma Rajan as Lichi had sass and spunk, and I’d love to see her in another bigger role.  Going in, I kind of dreaded that I wouldn’t know a single actor in the film, but it served the story better that all the faces were fresh.  It made the drama more real feeling and visceral.  I am so excited that director Lijo Jose Pelissery has some older films for me to watch.  I will be seeking them out pronto.  Pelissery is such a talent.  He is one of the greats already.  This film is groundbreaking, and is garnering praise from everyone.  Anurag Kushyap tweeted that this is this is his film of the year so far.

I need to see this film again.  I’ll likely buy the DVD, because I have to see that ending tracking shot again, at the very least.  It was amazing.  I am so glad Margaret invited me to see this film!  Here’s her rave review.

Update:  Margaret and I did a podcast about this wonderful film.  Check it out!

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Fukri – A Mediocre Malayalam Family Farce

fukriFukri is an amusing timepass family comedy directed by veteran Siddique who also acts as the Fukri family patriarch in the film.  Jayasurya stars as Lucky.  Lucky is a wannabe engineer who with his band of friends tries different get rich quick schemes.  They accept a job for two young women caught skipping school for a Salman Khan film.  They girls want Lucky to pretend to be their cousin to meet the school principal.  Of course Lucky falls for the beautiful Nafsi (in the red scarf below) played by Prayaga Martin.

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The girls say he is the son of their long lost uncle who left after a violent argument with their grandfather over his interfaith marriage.  The girls saying that Lucky is their cousin sets everything in motion.  Both his Brahmin “grandmother” and his Muslim grandfather (Fukri) then want to meet Lucky and welcome him back into the family fold.  To complicate matters, the real child (Anu Sithara) of that long lost son reveals herself to Lucky.

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At first Lucky and his friends are enjoying staying in the wealthy homes of his “family”, but Lucky’s good nature lends him to try to mend the rift between the two families.  I’m sure you’ve suspected that the long lost son makes a dramatic appearance, and it’s Lal, so it’s quite the entrance.

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Family farce comedies like this are a staple in Indian film.  Mistaken identities, family feuds, arranged marriages to the wrong partner, all with happy ending wrapped in a bow.

I’ve only seen Jayasurya as a supporting player in films like Mumbai Police and Classmates, and he has impressed me in those roles.  He is charming here as the mischievous scamp with a heart of gold.  I don’t know if he quite though has the magnetic star power to carry a film like this however.  Lal has a powerful impact as the estranged son of patriarch Fukri (Siddique).  None of the actresses in the film blew me away.  They were fine, but not exceptional.

I’m not sure I’ve seen another of Siddique’s Malayalam  directed films, but I did enjoy the light Hindi film Bodyguard (remake of his Malayalam hit) starring Kareena Kapoor and Salman Khan.

I wouldn’t tell you to run out and catch Fukri in the theaters.  It’s a decent timepass to watch on a streaming service.  It had some amusing moments, but wasn’t consistently laugh out loud.

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Song of the Day – Evare/Malare from Premam

Ever since I watched the Telugu remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Premam, I have been playing the song Evare, and the original Malare over and over.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical voice of Vijay Yesudas in both versions just transport me into a place of peace.

The Malayalam song video I found has English subtitles.

Premam – Naga Chaitanya shines in this Telugu Remake of the Malayalam blockbuster

Premam [Love], the Malayalam film starring Nivin Pauly was one of the first Malayalam films I ever saw, and it remains one of my all time favorites.  When I heard they were making a Telugu remake of this massive hit film, I was filled with dread.  They’ll ruin all that made it special, no one could match Nivin Pauly’s charm in the three different ages, etc.  Then I saw Naga Chaitanya in Manam and discovered he was the lead in the Telugu Premam.  Now I HAD to see it because he was so adorable in Manam.  I saw one of the last screenings at my local theater, all alone.  For the most part, Naga Chaitanya captures the magic that is Premam.  He’s great in the three parts, playing Vikram (Vicky) at 16, 20 and his late 20’s.

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First, one of the best decisions of the remake was to have two of the actresses reprise their roles.  Anupama Parameswaran returns as the wild haired teen that is the object of 16 year old Vicky’s massive young love crush.  In the Malayalam film, she is the Christian Mary, here she is Suma.  The Telugu love song sequence references that great wild hair, slightly tamed in the Telugu remake.

In this first section of the film, I nearly thought that Chaitanya was doing an impression of Nivin Pauly as a teen.  He must have really studied Nivin’s performance, because so many expressions were similar and head tilts and so on.  If you’d never seen the Nivin Pauly film, you would love this Telugu film unreservedly.  One thing from this early sequence that differs is that I think the Malayalam film was in a more rural setting which added to the feel of innocence about the adolescent love story.

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The middle section is the strongest in the Malayalam film, and the weakest in the Telugu.  And that’s not Chaitanya’s fault.  He is fantastic as the college rowdy.  Since it’s a Telugu film, and they probably had a higher budget than the Malayalam, they take the initial explosion prank in the first college scene up a notch.  It’s a huge fireball explosion of a transformer instead of a little firecracker to disrupt the festival performance of their rivals.  And then the fight is not just a simple mud fight, but a big slow mo fight sequence in a construction sight with big sprays of sand, and bricks flying and what have you.  There is also a typically Telugu cameo of star Daggubati Venkatesh as Vicky’s uncle.

The issue with this middle section is that Shruti Haasan is no Sai Palavi.  The filmmakers have basically admitted that including Shruti in the remake was for financial reasons to have a name star.  She just does not have an ounce of the charm and for lack of a better word, gravitas, of Pallavi.  The romance doesn’t seem as deep.  I remember Malar and Vicky talking marriage in the original, but it doesn’t seem to go that far in the Telugu.  Since the romance isn’t as deep, the tragedy isn’t as deeply felt either by the audience.  Chaitanya doesn’t handle that overcome with grief scene as well, but granted, it’s probably one of the best Nivin Pauly acting scenes of his career.

In the Malayalam, part of what made this college romance section so special was that the rogue Vicky falls, and falls hard for a young woman with acne, and not just a little facial acne.  His friends mock him and don’t understand what he sees in her, but we the audience see how beautiful she is through Vicky’s eyes.  Shruti Haasan with her flawless porcelain skin?  Who wouldn’t fall for your teacher when she looks like that?

They used the same melody in both films for this beautiful love song  (Malare becomes Evare), and the scenery in this Telugu version is just jaw droppingly gorgeous:

One nice addition to the Telugu remake is that Vicky wins over Sithara (Shtuti) by making her a (Marathi??) traditional sweet for a holiday.  So that when we get to the final section of the film, and Vicky has become a prominent chef with his own restaurant, you see that he has taken his love of cooking from his college romance.  In the Malayalam the final section, where Vicky finds his bride was the the shortest and an underdeveloped romance, and the fact that he owned a bakery/sweet shop seemed to come out of nowhere.  This is supposed to be the love of his life and his bride, and maybe they ran out of money or Madonna Sebastian didn’t have longer dates for filming in the Malayalam version.   I had always wanted a bit more, and the Telugu gives it to me.

We get a love song in the Telugu!  It shows their developing relationship in the film, and when she reveals that her parents have arranged an engagement, the betrayal hits that much harder for Vicky.  I think Chaitanya really came into his own in this final part of the film.  Nivin Pauly played the older Vikram as reserved and lonely.  Here, Chaitanya’s Vikram is a busy chef who doesn’t care about the marriage arrangements his sister is trying to make in a phone call.  I really liked that they beefed up this section a bit more.

The wedding scene however, doesn’t have quite the same punch.  Shruti sees that same dessert on the buffet (that Vicky had made for her) and that spurs her memory, and she just looks back a little wistfully.  Again, she’s no Sai Pallavi.

So, not spoiling it, if you’ve never seen the Malayalam original ( and you should because it’s fantastic!), but this is a worthy remake.  The plot is nearly identical, with a few nice additions.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s no hardship watching Chaitanya for a few hours!  His father Naga Nagarjuna has a nice little cameo at the end as well.

Also, one of the things that had me laughing so hard out loud happened when a certain character is tied up and being beaten up.  His tormentor yells, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?!  Tell me!!”  LOL  Gotta love Telugu films.

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ABCD – The Dulquer movie, not the Prabhudeva one

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ABCD, the Malayalam film, is not Any Body Can Dance (the Prabhudeva film), but American-Born Confused Desi.  The comedy was released in 2013, early in Dulquer Salmaan’s career (after Ustad Hotel in 2012), and is obviously a showcase for him.

The interesting thing is that he plays a spoiled brat jerk who really doesn’t reform by the end of this comedy.

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Dulquer is Johns Isaac, son of a millionaire doctor who I think owns some sort of medical company.  (The name Johns is odd — it’s not just John, and for awhile I thought he was being referred to by his last name.)  Johns hangs out with Korah (Jacob Gregory) his best buddy in New York, and they drive around in a Lamborghini.  Johns has flunked out of multiple colleges, and is a spoiled brat.  Johns gets into a fight with a black guy at a club, and the gangsters shooting up his parents mansion is the last straw for his parents.

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They send Johns and Korah to  the ancestral place in Cochin, Kerala.  Dulquer is expecting a luxury vacation, and is horrified at the house his father rented for them, with no A/C and an outhouse.  They blow through $20,000 staying at a luxury hotel until suddenly the credit cards are cut off, and they’re stranded in India.  They get scammed by a guy in their neighborhood, and are down to their last $10.  (Their neighbor was pretty funny, played by S.P.Sreekumar)

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Dulquer’s dad then phones to say that he will pay them 5000 a month if they go to the local college where he has already enrolled them.

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This is where this American-Born Confused Non-Desi got really confused.  They meet Madhumitha (Aparna Gopinath) who is an activist at their college.  She basically has this stern expression this entire movie, to be honest.  There is absolutely no romance in this film whatsoever, even though there is an epilogue over the end credits that Dulquer sends his love from NY and she sends it back.  But that part of the film is severely underwritten.  We’re just supposed to fill in the blanks I guess.  It’s like a hate-to-love that stays in the hate part for pretty much the whole thing.

Anyway, what confused me is that Aparna sort of set them up as if they are political activists, protesting the rising tuition that drove a classmate to suicide.  She’s trying to put these spoiled American boys in their place, but to her consternation, they become social media celebrities, and they get invited to join lots of other protests, which they do, because there is usually free food.  Interviews with press, free food.  It all snowballs until one protest turns into a near riot with police beatings.

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The competing political parties that want these two American kids who have supposedly rejected their families’s millions to live the simple Gandhi-like life — these scenes were probably hilarious to people from Kerala, but mostly went right over my head.  There’s a basic level that was still funny, but I know I was missing a lot of the subtleties.

Johns and Korah read in the paper that they are in competition for young activist of the year — the 1 Lakh prize money they are planning to use to get back to the US.  Their main competition is the son of a local politician, and played by Tovino Thomas.  Again, it probably would have been hilarious if I knew what political party their rival was, and why he derided them for being Communist (I think?)  The slapstick fights with him and all, still funny, but the political satire that is the basis of most of the second half is beyond my limited understanding of Kerala.

These two spoiled jerks never really learn their lesson or reform.  I guess I won’t spoiler how they do find their way back to the US.  The satire of second generation NRI’s being clueless about India and spoiled brats– that humor I could totally get, and it was pretty hilarious.  Dulquer’s time at Purdue University probably helped him nail that part!

So, an amusing film, but you can definitely tell just how far Dulquer has come in a few short years.  And while there was no Prabhu, there was one catchy dance number from the NYC beginning part of the film, sung by Dulquer himself.

 

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Devasuram – A Malayalam Classic with masterful performances by Mohanlal and Revathi

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Devasuram [The God Demon] was recommended as a classic must watch Malayalam film from 1993 — one of the best of Mohanlal’s career.  It’s also considered one of the finest of director  I. V. Sasi.  The film was written by Ranjith who based the character of Mangalassery Neelakantan (Mohanlal) on his friend Mullasserry Rajagopal.   Rajagopal, bedridden for years, had a passion for music, and his wife was devoted to him.  He evidently joked that “Ranjith had not managed to show even half of what he did in his life.”

Mohanlal is Neelan, running through his inheritance from his father, a bit of a rowdy and a womanizer, but known for his love for music and the arts.  He has a devoted land manager/servant who is really a father figure to him, and a small group of rowdy friends.  The rowdy friends try to be loyal to him, but end up getting him into touchy situations.

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This film really has it all.  Mohanlal is this macho manly figure, not afraid to leap into a fight, but who has the soul of an artist.  He has a feud with a rival family that is revenge after revenge back and forth.    There’s a fantastic hate-to-love romance with Revathi, a young woman who is ready to start a career in professional classical dance.  (And we have established how much I LOVE the hate-to-love trope.)  Revathi is off the charts amazing as Bhanumathi, daughter of a feckless drunkard father.  She is so arrogant and proud, and she explodes at Mohanlal’s rowdies, who have come to ask her to dance at a temple event Mohanlal is sponsoring and help her fall down drunk father home after they find him in a ditch outside the house.  She assumes they are the ones who got him drunk in the first place, and yells at them to leave her property.

That sets up the whole course of events to follow.  Mohanlal seems to apologize to the father and make peace, but instead tricks them and the performance is to be for him and his friends at his house.  Her first dance performance should have been an auspicious event at a temple, and he treats her like a courtesan.  Her father cannot pay back the performance money, so she must dance.  This scene I have watched over and over and over again.  It is simply amazing.

Revathi’s classical dance performance is full of fire and anger.  The expressions she gives!  I’ve just started taking an Indian dance class, and while I’m no expert judge I think Revathi is an exceptional classical dancer.  The whole dance is a battle of wills.  He winks at the accompanying singer to try to trip her up, then he sends one of his friends to offer alcohol to Revathi’s father in the middle of the dance, and Revathi just glares and shakes her belled foot.  Then at the end Mohanlal motions to a cymbal player and another drummer to increase the tempo faster and faster, but nothing fazes Revathi and she just swirls and pounds her feet like a whirling dervish by the end.  She finishes the dance to acclaim, as she is left pouring with sweat and panting for breath.

The clip above has no subs, but she says to him, “You think you’ve won?”  He replies, “I always win.”

“You are not worth my dancing bells.  You’re an insult to my art.”  And then she takes off her bells from her ankles and throws them at him, vowing to never dance again.

She has cursed him, and suddenly all sorts of horrible things happen to Mohanlal.  Revathi and her family don’t fare much better.  They lose their home, and still she is too proud to take Mohanlal’s servant’s offer for help.  But when she is almost sexually assaulted at the home they are staying in, she finally gives in and they move into Mohanlal’s huge mansion house.

Devasuram Movie Stills-Mohanlal-Revathi-Classic Malayalam Movies
Devasuram Movie Stills-Mohanlal-Revathi-Classic Malayalam Movies

Mohanlal and Revathi avoid each other, but she can’t help see the depression and changes he undergoes at the death of his mother (and she overhears him rage in the rain one night, learning that he discovered he is a bastard at his mother’s deathbed.)  He tries to get her to dance again, and take up her career, but to her that would be losing and letting him win.  She is so full of pride!

One night he is beaten horribly by his rival and his goons, and he ends up paralyzed on one side.  Mohanlal’s character goes through so much in this film!  Revathi is chastened, and feels that it was her harsh words that did curse him, so she prays at the temple for him to recover.

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The romance grows slowly.  As he reforms, he’s a redeemed rake that doesn’t think he is worthy of Revathi.  He is determined to see her dance again, and to give her the career she should have had.  She retains her pride for a long time, not wanting to “lose” to him again. Once he is nearly bedridden, he begs her, “You said you would only dance again when I was dead.  I’m nearly dead, please let me repent this one sin before I die.”  She dances joyfully for him to give him a moment of happiness, and that’s what starts his recovery.  Both characters are so full of charisma, each with their own deep flaws.  They both need their own redemption, it’s not the usual one-sided story.

The film ends with an absolutely riveting confrontation between Mohanlal and his rival Shekaran.  If he fights back, they will harm Revathi who has been kidnapped.  So Mohanlan takes blow after blow until he sees she is safely rescued.  Then, this man who had been handicapped, comes roaring back like a lion.

I don’t know which actor I loved more.  Revathi was such a little spitfire in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Mouna Ragam.  But here, she was even better, plus she got to show off her classical dance training.  Mohanlal is the heart and soul of the whole film.  It is his master performance.  The supporting characters are particularly good, too, especially Innocent as Mohanlal’s father figure servant and Nedumudi Venu as Appu, Revathi’s (Bhanumati’s) father.  Napoleon, who plays Shekaran, is quite the villain — with a notable scene pinning down the paralyzed Mohanlal on the floor with his foot — “Get well so I can cut you into pieces next time!”

I’m so glad I bought this one on DVD so I could watch it with subtitles.  This is a movie I’ve already rewatched multiple times, and just that dance sequence alone many times.  Each time, I see something I didn’t see before.

This is justifiably a true classic, not just of Malayalam film, but of all Indian cinema.

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The whole film is available on Youtube, but without subs (but you can overlay a subtitle file through a Chrome extension.)

There’s also a great discussion of the film on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

Stop Violence – Prithviraj as Satan, for me as mindblowing as Colin Firth playing a gangster

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Can you review a movie when you watched it without subs and didn’t understand a single word?  (OK, I’ve watched enough Malayalam movies that I know illa means “no”, but that’s basically all I can get.)

 

Prithviraj is a fantastic Malayalam actor who has I think over 100 movie credits, and he’s only 33.  I’ve seen him in several romances and intense dramas, and in interviews I can tell he is a quiet, reserved, serious kind of person.  When I reviewed the medical drama Ayalum Njanum Thammil, someone suggested I should watch Prithviraj in Stop Violence, one of his very first films back in 2002 when he was only 19 and a notable negative role for him.  NINETEEN!  One my sons is nineteen, so it’s that much more incredible to me.

The entire movie Stop Violence is available on Youtube and ErosNow, but without subtitles and there are no subtitle overlay files I could find.  Just from watching his entrance scene, I had to watch the whole thing.  I even checked MyIndiaShopping.com to buy the DVD, but the DVD release doesn’t seem to be available with subs either.  I read the Wikipedia summary of the plot, and figured, heck, it’s mostly action, I’ll just try it without subtitles and it’s under 2 hours.

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I’m so glad I did.  Yes, the movie is a B-movie crime flick by a debut director who likes splashing fake blood around — a lot.  But Prithviraj commands the screen from the first moment he appears.  Look at that intense stare and that snarl on his mouth!  Someone told him to grow a beard so he would look older.  His character is named Saathan and he wears a “666” necklace that he fondles menacingly all the time.  I didn’t realize at first that his name is literally Satan!

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Stephen (Vijayaraghavan) is both a corrupt cop and the leader of a gang, and Prithviraj is his right hand man and enforcer.  Stephen sends Prithviraj to kill a rapist, and Angel’s (Chandra Lakshman) first glimpse of Prithviraj is watching him fling acid into the face of his victim.

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Angel has to take refuge with her cousin (? I think?) who is a female gang don, because Angel’s been raped, is pregnant and has been kicked out of her nunnery where she was a novice.  I was told this is not a fantastical plot but based on the real life rapes of some nuns in Kerala.  Prithviraj is sent to be their bodyguard.  Not completely clear all the relationships without subs, but that’s what I gathered.

There’s actually a scene where Angel is praying in a church, and Prithviraj hesitates to cross the threshold, and when he does all the candles blow out.  Yep, Satan!

Prithviraj delights in teasing and tormenting the naive Angel.  There’s a chemistry there, and she has a dream about him coming into her room one night.  Psych!  It’s just a dream.

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Prithviraj’s Satan has this thing, where he chews razor blades, I think with paan, and then spits razor blade pieces and red pulp into his enemies’ faces.  At one point, Angel thwarts him in his intimidation of someone who owes Stephen money.  He’s kidnapped the guy’s baby, but Angel gives it back to the mother, so he spits razor blades into Angel’s face.  Then tenderly picks them off after she just stands there and takes it.  He picks the razor shards off her face tenderly, which she feels as if he’s kissing her.  Oy.

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Prithviraj as Satan is falling under Angel’s spell, and he wants to reform, but Stephen won’t let him out.  Angel is let back in to the nunnery and Prithviraj visits her one last time.  To confess to her that HE is the one who raped her!!  I asked a friend who speaks Malayalam to translate that one last scene, and Prithviraj doesn’t even ask for forgiveness, just wanted her to know he was the cause of all her misery.  (And she doesn’t know that he confessed to the Archbishop so she can return to the church.)

Then he confronts Stephen on a railroad track and won’t let go so that both are killed by an oncoming train.  There was a HUGE splash of blood onto some goon cops who had jumped out of the way that made me laugh out loud.  Prithviraj was so intense in his death scene, and the director went a bit crazy with the fast flashing back and forth between the faces and then all that blood!

I think this is a fan made trailer, but it gives you a taste of what the movie is like:

 

There’s a fun movie within a movie reference, as the gang all watches Satya on TV together at one point, and the very end has the movie poster for Saathan’s story slapped onto a wall.

If you’re a Prithviraj fan, I’m not saying you need to watch the whole thing, but you should watch at least a clip or two to see how a nineteen year old Prithviraj commands the screen in one of his very first movies.  (I’ve tried to mark the video above at his entrance, about 11 minutes into the film.)  It was such a trip to see him in such a negative role.  For me, who had never seen Prithviraj like this, it was like watching Colin Firth be a mafioso goon in Mean Streets.  Mindblowing.

Two and a half stars out of five, being generous just because Prithviraj was intensely awesome.

 

 

Thenmavin Kombath – My first Mohanlal Malayalam film!

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I absolutely adored the romance in the classic 1994 Malayalam film Thenmavin Kombath (At the Top of Sweet Mango Tree).  It was my very first Mohanlal film, and came highly recommended by Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood.

I was confused at the beginning of the movie exactly what Mohanlal’s relationship was to the man he was traveling back from market with, and the woman he both referred to as sister and mother.  I finally figured out that Mohanlal was the key servant retainer of this farm owned by Sreekrishnan Thampuran and his sister, and had lived at the farm since he was 4 years old, away from his own family.  The relationship lines were blurred, as Mohnalal viewed the sister like his own sister, and as the woman who raised him.  Sreekishnan is like a brother to him.  The unclear lines of the relationships and the confusion is very pertinent to the plot and the misunderstandings that follow.

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On one of their trips to take their farm produce to sell in town, Sreekrishnan agrees to let a singer performer and her older uncle have a ride on their cart.  But Mohanlal doesn’t know that, and gets into an argument with the spitfire young woman (Shobhana).  It’s a total hate-to-love romance, which is my catnip!  On the way home, they are separated from the others and get lost together in the cart in a forest.  They’ve traveled so far that they’ve crossed a border and Mohanlal can’t speak the language of the inhabitants, but Shobhana can.  She is able to get directions, and agrees to help Mohanlal if he gives her a kiss, but she says that in the language he doesn’t understand.  He keeps asking all the villagers that phrase to try to figure out what she is saying to him, and gets into big trouble!

Later, as they’re on their way home, he overhears a woman asking her young child for a kiss with the same phrase, and my absolute favorite scene of the whole movie happens.  It’s like a lightning bolt hits Mohanlal!

The first half is just wonderful as their romance develops, but the second half deals with the drama of what happens when they return to the farm and the insular village.  The problem is that Sreekrishnan wants to marry Shobhana, so Mohanlal backs away.

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It was great to see  Sreenivasan (who I have seen in Traffic) as the villainous servant that sets in motion all the horrible things that befall Mohanlal.

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Mohanlal was very good in this, but he didn’t blow me away.  I know this isn’t his most famous role.  I saw him in Janatha Garage in the theater opening night, even if he was dubbed for the Telugu.  I really loved Shobhana in this film.  She’s such a spitfire!

Really enjoyable film with a great romance.

Four stars out of five.