Prithviraj and Biju Menon star opposite each other in this tense Malayalam drama from director Sachy. I caught up with this film on Amazon Prime.
Melanie on Splitscreen Podcast with Shah!
Shah Shahid invited me as his guest on his Splitscreen Podcast where we talked about Bollywood news and upcoming films. It was a wonderful conversation! We talked about the Sanju trailer, and Veere Di Wedding. I also introduced a few Regional film trailers to Shah, including Ranam Detroit Crossing, Mahanati and Naa Peru Surya.
Malayalam Trailer Roundup
With the holiday of Onam, there is a cluster of big releases in Kerala. There are new releases from Nivin Pauly, Mohanlal and Prithviraj. Also we’ve had a few teasers now for Solo, Dulquer Salmaan’s upcoming film Solo.
Mohzin (@mohzin_azad ) reports from Kerala that the Prithviraj and Nivin Pauly films are doing well in Kerala and getting decent reviews, while the Mohanlal is average. There can be a couple of week delay until we get Malayalam films here in Chicago, but I hope I can catch some of these new films in the theater.
Here is my song reaction to Enthaavo from Nivin Pauly’s Njandukalude Naatil Oridavela. Enthaavo has been on the top of the Malayalam charts on Saavn.
There’s also been a trailer and a song from Mohanlal’s Velipadinte Pusthakam. Mohanal plays the vice principal of a school in the film.
Adam Joan is a new thriller starring Prithviraj. It seems to have been mostly filmed in Scotland.
And finally, we get another teaser trailer from Dulquer Salmaan — the character Siva from Solo. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Dulquer play a gangster like this.
City of God – Lijo Jose Pellissery’s moving hyperlink New Generation Malayalam film may have been ahead of its time
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Ezra – A Malayalam Horror movie about a Jewish dybbuk that I found hilarious
A new Prithviraj movie is worth a 40 minute drive, and his latest is Ezra which finally came to a few US theaters this weekend (it released in Kerala on Feb. 10). Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I met to see a matinee, and the movie was playing at a theater that doesn’t usually play Malayalam movies, so there was a sparse crowd.
I didn’t see the 2012 horror film The Possession, but remembered the trailer with the family finding an antique box that turns out to house a dybbuk, an almost demon like spirit that possesses the body of a living person (from Jewish folk lore). The Yiddish word that dybbuk is derived from is “cling”. There was even a handy featurette for the The Possession movie explaining dybbuks:
The Malayalam film Ezra, directed by Jay K, is not a direct copy of The Possession but it is obviously inspired by it. The Possession film, in turn, is inspired by The Exorcist, as the possessed person is a young girl.
In Ezra, the possessed person is Prithviraj’s young wife, played by Priya Anand, who buys the dybbuk box while shopping for their new house in Kerala. The couple have moved to Kerala from Mumbai for Prithviraj’s job with a nuclear facility. Priya has a strained relationship with her parents because she married a Christian. The box has ended up in the antique shop, because the last Jewish person has died in Cochin. One of the most ancient Jewish diaspora communities in the world used to be in Kerala, but as this article says, the numbers are down to the double digits. That last Jew dying releases the curse put on the dybbuk in the box.
I don’t generally seek out horror films. They’re not my thing, but it’s Prithviraj. Horror movies don’t need to have a big budget to be scary. This one relies on the usual dark haunted house kind of jumps and scares. It’s just not tight enough of a movie. There’s a lot of excess time spent establishing that Prithviraj and Priya are a loving couple (song montage!), and then a lengthy back story on how the dybbuk got in the box. Jay K has used a lovers prevented from marriage story which is similar to the one in The Dybbuk Russian/Yiddish play from early in the 20th century, but he makes it interfaith, to mirror our modern couple.
I have several issues with Ezra. I did jump a few times, but it wasn’t scary enough for me, and the narrative should have been tightened up. Horror films shouldn’t be two and a half hours long.
But the biggest thing is that the movie made me laugh, which I don’t think was the intention. I didn’t grow up Jewish, but my husband is, and I’m on the board of our synagogue. The way the rabbis and the Jewish people in this movie dressed made me giggle hysterically.
For someone who only knows Jews from Seinfeld and Woody Allen movies, I guess dressing up rabbis in Catholic bishop vestments seemed perfectly logical. How else are Mayalalis to know that the rabbis characters are clergy if they don’t have white priest collars? And the tallit (the prayer shawls) are worn in the movie like sari scarves wrapped this way and that.
For the record, rabbis in the US generally just wear suits and the small yarmulke skullcap, but Hassidic rabbis, who practice Kabbalah (mystic Jewish faith) would look like the below, and I actually found a Chabbad rabbi in Kerala. Jay K, Google is a wonderful tool.
The exorcism scene made me laugh the hardest, because they had to drag in 10 random Jewish tourists to complete the ritual (yes, many Jewish prayers need a minyan of 10 Jewish men, so that’s real). It was the random tourist thing with their weirdly draped prayer tallit that made me guffaw. That, and the HUGE shofar horn the rabbi had to blow.
Prithviraj, I love you, but your red eyes were much scarier in Stop Violence.
I have another bone to pick. The flashback for the dybbuk’s story goes back to 1941, and Ezra’s father actually says that the Jews want to take over the world. Argh. Let’s think a moment just what was happening to the Jews in 1941. Again, smh. That deserves a double Seth.
There were some Jewish touches they got right, like an older rabbi gives a priestly blessing over some kids, a hand gesture familiar to Star Trek fans, because Leonard Nimoy used the Cohen hand position for Spock:
I could see how The Possession would have been creepier just because a child was the one possessed. I wouldn’t urge you to race out to the theater to catch Ezra. It’s not Prithviraj’s best, and it’s not the greatest horror film. It’s an okay timepass once it comes on streaming services.
2016 – My Movie Year
Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch. They have a very cool year in review feature. I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post. I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!
So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches. That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week. Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it. I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.
2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love. There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016. It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.
Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14! That man is in EVERYTHING!
This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star Prithviraj. I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many! I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.
The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars. The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers. Yeah. Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.
2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.
How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family. I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement. It was bought by BET and aired this summer. You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!
Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.
Oozham – My first Prithviraj movie in the theater!
I was excited that Prithviraj’s Onam Malayalam release Oozham [Turn] was coming to Chicago, but I was forewarned that it wasn’t his best film. I didn’t care. I was still excited to see Prithviraj on the big screen for the first time. I have not yet seen writer director Jeethu Joseph‘s previous films Drishyam (Mohanlal) or Memories (Prithviraj). From the reviews I’ve read, and especially this savage 1/2 star take down by Anna Vetticad, the disappointment in Oozham is particularly acute because Jeethu Joseph’s previous films have been so great.
I didn’t hate Oozham like Anna, but I certainly don’t love it either. It’s okay — and with Prithviraj, I also would expect better than okay. The man has made what, 100 films? I’ve only been watching the cream of the crop, and they can’t all be at the level of Mumbai Police.
Spoilers ahead warning –
The set up of this revenge film is fantastic. Oozham means turn — and Prithviraj turns the tables on the man who had his family killed, because he has special skills. Not a particular set of skills like Liam Neeson in Taken.
One special skill — Prithviraj’s job in the US is as an explosives expert engineer (building demolition and such.) And it’s super handy that his adopted brother is a white hat hacker! That is a hook that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, in Hollywood or Indian cinema, having the good guy be an expert in plastic explosives.
The film starts with a van full of bad guys with guns (almost a clown car level amount) who are in search of someone, and there is a small explosion when they try to open an apartment door. Prithviraj is behind that door! The film cuts between this action sequence of Prithviraj on the run, and fighting with groups of these chasers, throughout the happy family scenes, the setup, and most of the film, frankly. Our director is too clever by half, as he uses a visual transition every blinkin’ time – focusing on a shoe in the chase, and then a shoe in the happy family scene, etc. Every. Single. Transition.
Prithviraj is visiting his family for a few weeks for his sister’s engagement. He’s the oldest, and besides his sister is an adopted Muslim brother (who lived next door, and who lost both parents.) Prithviraj’s dad is a health inspector, and very busy with some sort of virus outbreak and always rushing off looking worried. He has a police officer friend who drops by for dinner with his younger sister to set her up with Prithviraj.
The happy family scenes dragged quite a bit, but I really liked the relationship Prithviraj had with his younger sister. Prithviraj was, of course, the best actor in the whole film. I liked how flustered he got being set up with Divya Pillai as Gayathri. And in the physical fights he looked like a guy who wasn’t necessarily an expert fighter, but you can totally believe he is clever enough for all the plans that follow the family tragedy.
Once back in the US after the engagement, he’s Skyping with his sister, when he witnesses her murder and the murder of his parents. The bad guys look right into the computer screen, but don’t know they are on camera as she had minimized the Skype window. Prithviraj makes you feel his horror and helplessness as he is thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.
The cop friend is killed the same day by a “terrorist attack”. Prithviraj, his adopted brother and the sister of the cop think that coincidence very strange, and they get into their father’s email and piece together who had a reason to kill him. The villain is head of a big pharmaceutical company that the father suspected was putting a virus into drinking water (this part was very vague and not explained.)
Watching the revenge plot unfold was the best part of the film. They do try to approach the police, but of course one of the killers is a rogue corrupt cop. There were some very clever sequences, as they pick off the conspirators one by one, using controlled explosions.
The villain (Jayprakash) to be honest wasn’t that scary, and he has two lines in English that Anna Vetticad calls out as inexcusable. He hires his own explosives expert, Captain, to protect him and find out who his adversary is. Captain (Pasupathy, who was the rebel terrorist leader in the Tamil Kannathil Muthamittal – A Peck on the Cheek) has failed to protect someone close to Jayprakash and he says “How Dare!” and the subtitles say How Dare You both times. One time I could excuse that they didn’t have time to reshoot an emotional scene, but twice? The subtitles were pretty bad, but the English sprinkled throughout the film wasn’t good either.
My main issue with the film is the pacing. I can give a slow buildup in the first half. The inter-cutting with the chase/action fight scenes was pretty good. But the film should have moved at a swift pace in the second half as the action heated up, and it lagged. I really did like the ending, except for one thing.
My beef is that the villains are of course killed — but the virus that they spread in the water or what have you? That issue is completely ignored in the conclusion. You had a hacker for cripes sake! He hacks all their emails to track the villains’ movements — how about sending all the incriminating emails to the press or the authorities? In a Hollywood film, I think that would have been a major part of the revenge plot.
So, I wouldn’t necessarily run to a theater to see this film but it would be worth a rental.
Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw it together. She agreed that Oozham was just “okay”.
Stop Violence – Prithviraj as Satan, for me as mindblowing as Colin Firth playing a gangster
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ayalum Njanum Thammil – Prithviraj in the story of a young doctor and his mentor
Ayalum Njanum Thammil (Between Him and Me) is a 2012 Malayalam film starring Prithviraj as a young doctor and the relationship he has with his mentor and teacher. It has a tragic romance in it, but the main focus of the film is Prithviraj as Ravi and his first job out of medical school in a rural hospital.
I’m on a bit of a Prithviraj kick at the moment. I am absolutely amazed that this actor is only 33. He’s made over 80 films! He’s just so great in any film that he is in. He has a worthy actor to play against in Ayalam Njanum Thammil as director and award winning actor Pratep Pothen plays his mentor, Dr. Samuel. I really loved Pratep Pothen in this role.
Lal Rose, who also directed Prithviraj in the classic Classmates, uses a similar flashback structure in Ayalam Njanum Thammil that he did in Classmates. We start in the present day, and Prithviraj is a dedicated doctor at a large city hospital. He’s brought in to consult on a young girl that needs heart surgery, but he can’t convince the parents to approve the surgery. He does the surgery anyway, and the girl dies. A mob forms outside the hospital, and Prithviraj gets a call, and leaves out the back way, but gets in a car accident and vanishes. His friends and family try to reconstruct where he could have gone, and through the flashbacks we learn about how he became the dedicated to maybe an extreme surgeon he is in the present day.
His best friend relates how they nearly flunked out of med school together, and even tried to cheat on tests. They all thought it was a big lark. Prithviraj’s family is Christian, and he had a long term relationship with his Muslim classmate Sainu (Samvrutha Sunil).
Prithviraj is given an ultimatum by the school dean. Pay the rest of his tuition bill, or serve as a rural doctor for two years. He’s confident his father will pay, but his father thinks doing some growing up away from home will be good for him.
Dr. Samuel (Pratep Pothen) takes Prithviraj (Dr. Ravi) under his wing, and shows Prithviraj just how much he has left to learn in his medical education. One of my favorite moments comes when Dr. Samuel accidentally calls Dr. Ravi Rahul which is his estranged son’s name, showing that he’s come to think of Prithviraj as a son. There’s another young woman doctor at the rural hospital, Dr. Supriya (Remya Nambeesan) who becomes his fast friend.
Prithviraj has a run in with a local cop with a car accident that comes back to haunt him later. His love Sainu is about to be married off by her parents, and Prithviraj has arranged through his friend to meet her back at the medical school to get a registry marriage. But he’s delayed by helping Dr. Supriya with a touch and go patient. When he finally starts driving at 3 am, there’s a roadblock and the cop won’t let him through. How he retaliates against the cop later when the cop has an ill family member is a very tense scene in the movie, and a key moment in his relationship with his mentor, Dr. Samuel.
I don’t think this movie will go down as one of my favorite Prithviraj performances, but it was very good. He believably goes from mature competent dedicated super surgeon in present day, to madcap goof off student in the flashbacks. Prithviraj’s acting carries us through the journey of Dr. Ravi growing as a person and a caring physician.
The ending is not what I would call happy, but more wistful. It’s not the typical tidy ending one usually expects.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Read Margaret’s review of Ayalam Njanum Thammil on Don’t Call It Bollywood where she compares it to Dr. Kildare.
Aiyyaa – How can a movie be so sublime and so awful all at the same time
I love Rani Mukherji so Aiyyaa was on my watchlist, but it moved right up to the top after I saw this video:
I have only seen a few Prithviraj films, and my impression was of a very good serious actor in Ennu Ninte Moideen, Classmates and Mumbai Police or even Aurangzeb. But I hadn’t seen him like this:
Holy moly. (Is it getting hot in here?)
Aiyyaa means Oh, My! Aiyyaa was a comeback film for Rani, but was Prithviraj’s Bollywood Debut. (He made Aurangzeb around the same time.) The film was produced by Anurag Kashyap and was directed by Sachin Kundalkar.
Rani is Menaskshi, a young woman who loves zany Bollywood films, the more over the top the better. The songs in Aiyyaa are her fantasies. She imagines herself at the beginning as Madhuri, Juhi and Sridevi. Her parents want to arrange her marriage, but first she gets a job at the local art college.
She is struck speechless by the appearance of art student Surya, and is entranced by his smell. (The director Sachin Kundalkar, had done a previous Marathi film about the senses.) She asks around to learn more about her crush Surya. He always has red eyes so the rumor is that he’s on drugs or spends all his nights drinking. He barely ever speaks to Rani, and is very mysterious and standoffish. She finds him sleeping in doorways and hallways. She knows he speaks Tamil to the chaiwallah boy, who she bribes to teach her to speak Tamil. “How do I say I like dark skin people, not fair skin?” The chaiwallah recommends she watch the Tamil Midnight Masala TV channel.
Rani dreams she’s in a Southern Masala film, and we get this insane number that made me just laugh in delight:
As Prithviraj said in an interview — it’s Bollywood’s crazy view of Southern films. What I absolutely love about this song sequence is that I’ve never before seen Prithviraj so silly, and you can just see him going for it with gusto.
He just has this crazy grin through the whole song. They rhyme humping and thumping, and he bobs his head following her waist gyrations. Prithviraj’s having his own fun spoofing regional song sequences. Having seen several South Indian films, I felt like I was in on the joke.
Rani’s eccentric family have placed a matrimonial ad and she grits her teeth through meetings with several suitors. One very nice average guy she reluctantly agrees to see again. He’s kind and sweet, but he just doesn’t float her boat like Surya – who seemingly doesn’t even know she exists. While shopping for wedding saris, she has the lustful Aga Bai fantasy song from the top of the review.
I wouldn’t have minded if Surya had just been a fantasy and she ended up with the nice average Maadhav (Subodh Bhave). On the day of her engagement, she escapes the house and follows Surya. Finally she discovers the source of his intoxicating scent, and they connect. The romance is just so swoon worthy. It’s sublime.
But unfortunately, Prithviraj, Subodh and Rani aren’t the only people in the film. Rani’s family is at first amusingly eccentric. In the first half, it’s not so bad, but her brother character especially in the second half just goes off into crazyland. The very worst character is her co-worker Maina, who has big buck teeth and comes to work with vodka in a bear shaped water bottle. She’s not only un-funny, she’s just blatantly offensive. The writer-director was going for zany, and he veered too far on the wacky spectrum. You know it’s bad when Johnny Lever would have brought subtlety to this film. If this film instead had had the comedic tone of something like Dum Laga Ke Haisha it would have been perfect. It was just so uneven lurching between the extreme awful comedy and then the swooniness of the romance.
I loved the romance bits of this film so much I have rewatched it already, but I fast-forwarded through all the family scenes and the Maina bits. Rani in her fantasies in Aiyyaa reminded me a bit of Amelie, that magical realism French film:
So dear reader, I have trouble whole-heartedly recommending this film. The film has a great message about cross-cultural romance and even with a male director is interested in the female gaze and point of view. If you’re a big fan of Rani like I am, you’ll agree that she was fantastic as Meenakshi. If you love Prithviraj as I am beginning to, you’ll love seeing him be almost Mr. Darcy like, and also having zany fun being a sex symbol. If you can stand to watch not so great films for the transcendent good parts, just do yourself a favor and keep your finger on the fast-forward button.
Three stars out of five. Aiyyaa is available on ErosNow, which is where I watched it.