Three-quarters of the year 2015 was pretty good in that many of the Malayalam movies that came out did not disappoint and I had many opportunities to wax eloquent about the superior quality and tastes of the Malayalam film industry compared to many others in India. But in the past few months, I’ve had to swallow my words.
Many of the movies I watched with great expectations turned out to be duds. Some were mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad. Others were dull, flat, like a puffed-up kachori that you bite into, and your teeth snaps in air, because there’s nothing inside. It’s empty.
Here are the movies I consider The Worst of 2015, not including the lot that sank without a trace.
This was our Diwali pick, one that our entire extended family went to watch with great hopes. To be fair, only I, SR, and a cousin were so badly disappointed by it. Here’s what I learned after watching Anarkali:
(1) Biju Menon, delightful and talented as he is, cannot rescue every crappy movie. Just the way plastering Sachin Tendulkar’s face on the tube could not save Sach toothpaste.
(2) There is apparently a severe shortage of actresses in Malayalam cinema. Which is why the makers of this movie had to go and find a wooden-faced doll to play the heroine. You will understand my sentiment when I say that Katrina Kaif can emote better than Priyal Gor has in this movie. It didn’t help that all her dialogues were stilted, melodramatic, and inspired by various Hindi soap operas.
(3) There is no limit to the quantum of drama you can pack into a two-hour movie, all to keep it going in the absence of an actual story.
Why You Should Watch Anarkali
(1) If you want to visit Lakshadweep but don’t have the money or the leave balance to go, watch this instead. The island is shown in all its splendor, and you get a glimpse of everyday life there.
First of all, I don’t understand why this movie is called Madhuranaranga. SR says it’s because it is ‘bittersweet’. Funny, I seem to have slept through all the sweet parts.
What I loved about it is the fact that I didn’t have to spend a penny on it. I watched Madhuranaranga when it was aired last weekend, as a Christmas special. All I gave up was 3 hours of my life.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jeevan (Kunchako) and Salim (Biju Menon) are taxi drivers and roommates in Sharjah. A girl runs into Kunchako’s car one day. She is a Srilankan refugee who has been brought to Sharjah illegally and sold to a brothel from where she escapes after injuring a molester. Out of sympathy, Jeevan offers her shelter.
Love happens. Sex happens. One baby happens. All without the government knowing. Then an accident happens. Arrests happen. Suddenly, Jeevan is lying somewhere in Kerala with one side of his body paralyzed. Thamara (the girl) is deported to Sri Lanka. The child is in an orphanage in Sharjah and up for adoption by a wealthy UK-based couple. I forget what happened to everyone else.
The rest of the movie is about how Jeevan and friends go to Sri Lanka to search for Thamara and bring her back so that they can reclaim their child. A lot of wasted film and a miraculous coincidence later (praise the lord!), they are all reunited.
When I told the story to my brother (who hadn’t watched this movie, the lucky dog!), he had just one question: why didn’t Thamara, after she reached Sri Lanka, just ring up Jeevan or his friends and give them her address?
She must have had her own dark, shadowy reasons.
The mystery remains.
3. Salt Mango Tree
This wasn’t as bad as some of the others, because the acting was pretty good and there were a few good laughs. The story goes this way.
There’s this couple (Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya) with an adorable four-year-old son, for whom they are trying to secure an admission in a top school in the city. But the system seems to test the parents’ socioeconomic status and general knowledge more than the IQ or EQ of the child. Preoccupied with getting him into one of these ‘gateways to a better future’, Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya don’t let him enjoy his childhood or spend quality time with his grandparents.
After multiple failed attempts, they enroll themselves in a coaching program conducted by Suhasini, where they get a lot of random, disconnected pieces of advice. (I went out during the interval to buy popcorn and got back to my seat only after the movie had resumed. For five minutes, I thought they were airing a video course in Personality Development as a filler)
The couple eventually attend an interview in which the child is asked a question he wasn’t coached for. As his parents freeze, he launches into a story his grandfather had taught him. But later, while everyone else on the list gets admit letters, he doesn’t.
An angry and frustrated Lakshmi Priya berates the child and drags him with his shoes on the wrong feet to Suhasini’s office (possibly to demand a refund of the course money) While she pours out her frustration, it is revealed that Suhasini had made the same mistake of pushing her own son beyond his limits, and he had attempted suicide. Seeing the bedridden teenager, Lakshmi Priya has a change of heart and runs to hug her son.
As an icing on the cake, Biju Menon comes rushing in with the news that their son is a scholarship student, whose admission news was conveyed directly by the Principal over the phone (which explains why he didn’t get the letter like everyone else)
What angers me is that the director and the script writer took a story with so much promise and so many characters with possibilities, and did… nothing with them. Instead of a happy ending, they could have had the child not get the admission, but his parents coming to terms with it anyway. Instead of showing Suhasini with a paralyzed son, they could have focused on how the grandparents’ lessons and stories helped the child more than the tuition classes and mugging sessions they had forced on him. There were so many possibilities, none utilized. That is disappointing.
On an aside, I’ve realized as I write this article that I am a sucker for Biju Menon movies. I see that guy’s name on the list of actors, and I am convinced that the movie has to be good. Despite a string of disappointments, I don’t stop. Maybe it’s just his mustache and the deep voice. Or the crinkly, smiley eyes. Yeah, probably that.
4. Oru Vadakkan Selfie
I must have lived with my head in a hole in the ground, because until I watched it, I thought Oru Vadakkan Selfie starred Vineeth Srinivasan and Namitha Pramod. Well, it doesn’t.
The first half of this movie has a lot of laughs. Nivin Pauly, Aju Varghese, Vineeth Srinivasan and the rest of the cast enact their roles to perfection. And right up to the interval, you are excited to know what happens next. But then you spend the next 1.5 hours in a state of bewilderment.
“Where the fuck is this going?” is the thought foremost in your mind. And this thought never leaves you, even after the movie ends.
What starts out as an extremely interesting slice-of-life movie about a good-for-nothing fellow in a village, slowly turns into a road trip-cum-mystery-cum-drama-cum-I-don’t-know-what-else movie. At some point, it even turns into a discourse on cyber safety.
If they air it on TV, should you watch it? Sure, sit around for the first half. You’ll know when to get up and walk away.