Big B

In term of its story development, production and editing Big B seems more like a Hollywood film than a typical Southern Indian action film, so I wasn’t really too surprised to learn later that it was based on a US film called Four Brothers. However there is plenty of local flavour and like all Malayalam films I’ve seen the cinematography is first class with great scenic shots, despite the film being primarily an action thriller. I haven’t seen the American film but after watching Big B I really can’t imagine anyone else but Mammootty in the lead role. Although the other characters are almost all well cast and give good performances, it’s Mammootty who makes an impact as the rather dour and resolute Big B of the title, and it’s his film the whole way through.

The film opens with the murder of Mary John Kurisingal (Nafisa Ali), more commonly known as Mary Teacher, or just Teacher. She’s well known in Kochi for her social work which mainly involves looking after orphans, and over the years has adopted 4 of them.  The opening scenes of Mary as she goes about her daily life helping the poor are very powerful and director Amal Neered succeeds in painting a detailed picture of a compassionate woman in just a few moments. And despite her lack of physical presence, Mary appears throughout the film in lots of small gestures and in body language as her adopted children mourn her loss when they notice the empty place at the table or are reminded of her as they move through her house.

We are introduced to the four brothers through the eyes of SI George (Vijayaraghavan) as he explains to ACP Balaji (Pasupathy) who’s who in the funeral procession and it’s an efficient way of letting us know a little about the characters.  While second eldest brother Eddy (Manoj K. Jayan) has been living in the area with his wife and daughters, working in a tourist restaurant and generally helping his mother, the youngest brother, Bijo (Sumit Naval), is a student in Coimbatore and Murugan (Bala) is a stunt director in the film industry. However the eldest brother Bilal (Mammootty) was banished by Mary Teacher after he killed a man in a street brawl and his entrance into the film is dramatic as befits a character with such a dark past. Bilal’s feet appear first as he gets out of his car into the rain-drenched streets and slowly walks across to join the funeral cortege. It is very OTT but effectively establishes Bilal as a force to be reckoned with.

After the funeral the brothers get together to try to discover exactly who killed Mary Teacher and why. They have no faith in the police investigation believing that corruption in the force and general apathy will lead to a cover-up. There are various other subplots including a couple of romances, but the focus of the film is firmly on the search for Mary’s killers. When Bilal left Kochi he had quite a reputation and he certainly hasn’t mellowed in the intervening years.

Bilal is the driving force behind the investigation and seems to use his search as a way to atone for his previous crime which forced Mary to close her door to him. While Bilal gives Mammootty the opportunity to be menacing, cold and vicious there is a more compassionate side to his character and there are glimpses of this in the way he deals with his brothers. The relationships between the four forms the secondary focus of the film and their differences in background, religion and opinion all disappear when they have a common enemy. Their camaraderie is well depicted and although I’m not very familiar with the actors here, they do all appear to be well suited to their roles.

Manoj K. Jayan is excellent as Eddy and gets it right as the hard-working family man who is more concerned with protecting his wife and children than cornering his mother’s killers. This reluctance to get involved in the investigation ends up making the others suspicious and the scene where the three brothers interrogate Eddy is very well scripted and filmed. I love the way Eddy is framed in the shot here, with a background showing family pictures and his brothers glaring down at him. The cinematography is excellent and the script is fast paced and seems well suited to the action although sometimes the subtitles do seem strange – perhaps this refers to measured speech??!

Not everything works though. The romance between playboy Murugan and Rimy (Mamta Mohandas) is generally well depicted and Murugan’s affection does seem to solidify into something more permanent, but there is a rather oddly placed song featuring the two frolicking around on a beach. It seems as if the director felt a ‘romantic’ song was needed to tick all the boxes for an Indian film, so in it went without any real thought as to how well it fitted with the story – which in my opinion is not at all. However it’s a good song that just needed to be in a different film. I do like Rimy’s character though, as she knows exactly what she wants and goes out to get it. Innocent appears in a brief role as Rimy’s father providing some comedy relief which isn’t particularly funny, but isn’t too annoying or intrusive either.

There is also an item song at the villain’s rather swish lair, which again seems to be rather oddly pictured with lots of tourists roped in to dance around and provide a party atmosphere. Again it doesn’t really work for me as it doesn’t quite give the debauched tone that I think it was trying to convey (and it’s also a remix of a Shakira hit).

The other disappointment is the villain of the story. Tony (Sherveer Vahil) is a horribly hairy man with a disconcerting habit of rolling his tongue which does make him sound appropriately villainous. But he’s too much of a caricature with his depraved and immoral parties, drug taking and enjoyment in beating up his minions as a bizarre form of training. He seems too unbalanced and quite frankly too psychotic to be able to lead a gang competently, let alone organise the killing of Mary Teacher. His co-conspirators are better and are more menacing and believable as bad guys, with the much appreciated added benefit of not removing their shirts unnecessarily. I warn you – Tony has no such scruples.

Big B is a relatively violent film but it’s all integral to the plot and the fight scenes are excellently choreographed by Anal Arasu. The casual brutality that Bilal displays is as much a part of his character as his ability to reason through the connections to find his mother’s killer. Bilal’s links to the various figures in the underworld and his fearsome reputation are also essential elements to determining exactly who was involved in the murder. But each of the brothers has their part to play in the investigation and the final showdown has a good mixture of suspense and action.  The background music by Gopi Sundar seems to fit the film better than the songs by Alphons Joseph although the ‘Yo Big B’ theme music and the beautiful Vida Parayukayano are excellent. The clip below does feature Bilal’s attack on a street thug so skip from 2 min 45 to 3 min 15 if you don’t like violence but the song is lovely and beautifully sung by Shreya Ghosal.

Apart from horribly hairy Tony the support cast are all good and overall it’s a slick and well-made film that looks fantastic. Amal Neered started in the industry as a cinematographer and early in his career worked with Ram Gopal Varma which seems to have been an influence on his directing style. He makes very good use of cinematographer Sameer Thahir’s camera work and as ever Kerala looks amazing – even in the rain.  I’m a Mammootty fan and have enjoyed all of his films I’ve seen so far, but I love him in this film as he gets everything right – he’s cold and ruthless when he needs to be but there is still plenty of emotion raging away underneath. Big B is well worth a watch for his performance and for a film that is a little bit different in its approach. 4 stars

Temple says:

I’m not sure what Heather means by saying this film is more Hollywood in style. To me it bears many  hallmarks of South Indian cinema – beautiful visuals, a sense of place/locality (in Kochi), a story heavily centred on the male star, flashy editing and sound effects, an emphasis on family loyalty, songs whether the film needs them or not,  a flexible attitude to the law, and a long lead up to a crunching finale.

It all sounds good on paper. But despite Mammootty delivering a compelling performance, there just isn’t enough to keep my interest throughout. I kept picturing the production team watching the rushes, congratulating themselves on bagging a brilliant actor and then one day asking each other that awkward question ‘Did YOU remember to write the rest of the story?’. The opening is brilliant and builds up the suspense and sense of loss very economically. But then the film wallows in repetitive scenes of the brothers’ unhappy reunion, and it starts to feel laboured. There isn’t enough conflict, character or relationship development to consistently keep my interest over the first hour. It’s all quite predictable, and while the actors are competent, I never cared much for the characters apart from Mary and Bilal. It is too easy to work out whodunit and who is marked for death so there is little suspense. Once things do ramp up in the quest for revenge, the story becomes more engaging but then goes off the rails again. As Heather said, Tony is a caricature. The opportunity for a real menace was lost so Bilal is the only convincingly scary bad guy in the final confrontation.

The songs were badly placed and poorly picturised, serving only to pad out the running time. The background score is probably OK if you like florid strings and angelic choirs but I found it intrusive and it detracted from the acting. Visually, there are far too many instances of the freeze frame, fast edits, quirky camera angles and accompanying sound effects when they aren’t really warranted. I felt that they were trying to inject some excitement into the draggy scenes by using effects. But what they needed was a bit more work on the story and structure.

See it for the excellent characterisation by Mammootty and the beautifully filmed scenery and interiors. 3 stars.

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