Maheshinte Prathikaaram

maheshinte-prathikaaram-poster

Maheshinte Prathikaaram is the début film from Dileesh Pothan, who has previously worked as an actor and as an assistant director on a number of Malayalam films. The experience has stood him in good stead as Maheshinte Prathikaaram is a well-crafted and entertaining film with a good balance of drama, comedy and romance. Screenwriter Syam Pushkaran has based the story on true events in his home town, building a simple tale of revenge into a more complex plot with plenty of interesting characters and situations. Fahadh Faasil stars and is excellent in the lead role, but the support cast are also good and with Shyju Khalid’s superb cinematography and Bijibal’s steady hand on the music, Maheshinte Prathikaaram is well worth a watch.

Mahesh Bhavan (Fahadh Faasil) is a photographer in Kattappana where most of his work involves taking passport photographs with a well-rehearsed spiel, although he does occasionally attend weddings and funerals and other such functions too. He’s a generally happy bloke, if rather quiet and somewhat set in his ways, possibly because he lives with his ageing father Vincent (K.L. Antony Kochi). Fahadh Faasil is always excellent as an ‘average bloke’ and his performance here perfectly captures the day to day life of a small-town businessman with plenty of details that ensure the character has plenty of charm. It’s the small touches that resonate so well, such as his bathing in the river, feeding his dog or fishing pieces of egg shell out of the bowl when he is cooking. Mahesh is a well-developed character and as such it’s easy to understand why he behaves the way he does for most of the film.

Mahesh is in love with his childhood sweetheart Soumaya (Anusree), but due to her job they only meet occasionally. When Soumaya returns home for her grandfather’s funeral her father approaches her with a marriage offer from an NRI living in Canada. He has a good argument too – presenting the offer to Soumaya when she is washing clothes the old-fashioned way and asking her if she wants to stay in the same town all her life, or if she would prefer a more comfortable life overseas. Soumaya’s indecision is beautifully written and it’s obviously a difficult choice for her, but finally she decides to follow her head rather than her heart and end her long-standing relationship with Mahesh. There is much here to enjoy, from the way Soumaya realistically agonises over what to do and her method of finally breaking the news to Mahesh, to Mahesh’s stoic acceptance, his appearance at the wedding to reassure Soumaya and his despair when alone. The relationship and the two characters are well portrayed to ensure the situation is kept believable but light without dipping into melodrama.

At the same time, Mahesh is dealing with the day-to-day running of the studio, helped by his father and his friend Baby Chettan (Alencier Ley Lopez). Baby runs a printing shop adjacent to the photography studio and has a good relationship with both Mahesh and his father. Baby is assisted by Crispin, aka Crispy (Soubin Shahir) and between them Baby and Crispy share most of the comedic dialogue in the film, although the rest of the cast also add some humour as the story progresses. Thankfully, instead of relying on slapstick and crude jokes, the comedic dialogue here is often subtle and relies on the characterisations carefully built up in the preceding scenes for its full effect, while overall the comedy fits perfectly into the main narrative. It’s effective and genuinely funny too, although I suspect I still missed a lot due to relying on the subtitles.

Events become more serious when Mahesh is involved in a fight with Jimson Augustine (Sujith Shankar) and loses badly. The build up to the fight is one of the best scenes in the film, as is the end where, in a move to save face, Mahesh vows to stop wearing his chappals until he has revenged himself on Jimson. However by the time Mahesh discovers exactly who is his nemesis and that he works as a welder, Jimson has moved on to Dubai for work. Rather than back down however, Mahesh continues to go barefoot, although there are times when it looks as if he regrets his vow, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be much chance that he will achieve his objective of revenge any time soon.

Mahesh also takes a hit professionally as his attempt to take a studio photograph for university student Jimsy (Aparna Balamurali) is less than successful with Jimsy ridiculing his work. However, her comments inspire Mahesh to stretch his photographic skills and in the process, he falls in love with Jimsy too.

Although initially the character of Jimsy is irritatingly brattish, she redeems herself later, turning out to be a pleasant young woman with a good understanding of how to nudge Mahesh out of his comfort zone. She’s frank and unafraid to speak her mind, and Aparna does a good job of ensuring her occasionally prickly character is still friendly and approachable when appropriate. She’s good in the more romantic scenes too, although here again her character is refreshingly down to earth and pragmatic. Plus any film with a flashmob scene wins my approval!

The entire concept of the fight and Mahesh swearing not to wear shoes until he has his revenge seems incredibly juvenile to me, but I can see that Mahesh feels his masculinity has been questioned by his defeat. Mahesh is not a natural fighter and has never been in trouble before, so his resolution to beat Jimson does make sense, even if the concept of a rematch seems a fairly pointless way to demonstrate he can fight. Sensibly, he responds by taking karate lessons and although they may not help much when it comes to fighting Jimson, at least it gives Mahesh something to do while he waits for his nemesis to return. I love that Jimsy and her mother appear to have the same opinion as me about the potential rematch, while Baby Chetan and Crispy are rather more encouraging, although they too try to persuade Mahesh to start wearing shoes and forget all about Jimson.

Maheshinte Prathikaaran

The story flows well and the blend of comedy, romance and drama ensure that there is never a dull moment. The film looks beautiful too with gorgeous shots of the Idukki region and local wild-life, even on the rainy days which seem to be the most common.

The songs and background music are also well suited to the narrative, adding more light and shade to the story. With excellent performances from all of the cast, particularly Fahadh Faasil and Alencir Ley Lopez, and a funny but still insightful screenplay, Maheshinte Prathikaaram is a refreshingly different and thoroughly enjoyable movie. 4 stars

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Salt N Pepper

Salt N Pepper poster

I liked Aashiq Abu’s Salt N Pepper for lots of reasons, many being things the film isn’t. It is a romance but it’s not the usual gorgeous young things plunging into insta-love. People have their emotional baggage but no one is so traumatised by rejection or ill fortune that they have to become vengeful killing machines. People cook, eat, and share what is important in their lives. Friends do the wrong thing sometimes, but might also do the exactly right thing and either way, life goes on.

One day Kalidasan (Lal) receives a phone call from Maya (Shweta Menon), who mistakenly thinks she has called a restaurant to order a particular dosa. He cuts the call and when she rings back to chase up her order, he tells her off. Once the rancour settles and the misunderstanding is cleared, Maya and Kalidasan speak often. They are both a little older, have their own lives and careers.  While they each want love and companionship, they lack confidence in their ability to attract and keep a partner.

 

Salt-n-Pepper-it begins

Both are foodies, and their conversations develop around cooking and local delicacies. Manu (Asif Ali) comes to stay with his uncle Kalidasan. Manu is enthusiastic, likeable and not one to overthink the consequences. Maya’s closest friend is the confident glamour girl Meenakshi (Mythili). When Kalidasan and Maya decide it is time to meet and see if their burgeoning relationship might take off, they both make the same decision, born out of their insecurities. They send stand-ins. Manu and Meenakshi meet, pretending to be Maya and Kalidasan and their chemistry is evident. Manu pursues “Maya” for himself and Meenakshi is keen on him too. So when Maya and Kalidasan each decide to stop the pretence and meet for real, what will happen?

Lal’s performance brings the solitary Kalidasan to life. He is a man who has grown accustomed to his circumstances even though he sometimes wishes there was a bit more to it. Usually a sensible and organised man, his occasional drunken antics range from appealingly silly dances to temper tantrums. Lal puts it all together to add depth and shade to the character, and has bit of teddybear charm behind the growly voice. Kalidasan has some self-awareness and is not afraid to offer a heartfelt apology or reflect on his own behaviour so he remained sympathetic despite, or sometimes because of, his almost adolescent outbursts.  Despite his reserve, Kalidasan has a handful of good friends and he warms to Manu immediately, making him a welcome addition to the household. He seems like a nice, slightly quirky, guy.

Shweta Menon is perfect as Maya, a dubbing artist. Maya cooks partly to connect with her memories of her mother. She connects with Kalidasan when he recounts the story of a cake made to celebrate a soldier’s return to his wife, and they make their own versions. Shweta Menon gives us a heroine who is a woman not a giggling stick insect in minimal clothing. She is articulate, attractive but not glam, and wants love not transient lust. Like Kalidasan she has a few close friends. They sit on the roof terrace and get drunk, telling stories and making plans. Maya usually hides her feelings but sometimes the façade cracks and she is a sensitive, hopeful girl that wants a nice guy to love her as she is. Maya is an independent lady and she navigates the various challenges at her workplace and home every day. She knows she has to do things for herself, even when it seems difficult.

Asif Ali and Mythili are both good in their roles and I liked Manu and Meenakshi despite their occasional selfishness and dimwitted behaviour. I wasn’t as convinced by their relationship developing as I was by Maya and Kalidasan but there was enough substance there to make it seem likely. Maybe my personal preference for not pretending to be someone else and dislike of lying and sneaking around is tinting my view. Manu is a manchild, and Asif Ali had the right blend of innocent enthusiasm and delusions of hotness. I have to say he seems to kiss with the finesse of a St Bernard pup which was a worry. Mythili played up the glam and Meenakshi came across as that girl who had always been pretty and popular and had total confidence. This pair were featured in a romantic duet that not only put them in bed, but also in matching sarees. Or maybe his ‘n’ hers togas.

One of my favourite scenes is Kalidasan going to meet a prospective bride and returning single but with their excellent cook, Babu. Baburaj plays another in that long line of filmi stalwarts, the cook/confidant/general factotum. Babus’ observations give an insight into Kalidasan and while their relationship is often tested by Kalidasan’s demands, the mutual respect and affection shines through. I enjoyed seeing Kalpana as Maya’s landlady Mary. She is one of my favourite filmi aunties and while her role is small, she is expressive and fun to watch. I liked the running jokes that Maya’s moods were a result of the project she had been dubbing for. Apparently family soaps make you child-intolerant. Vijayraghavan plays Kalidasan’s colleague and friend, and doles out some sensible observations at the right time. Everyone has a backstory and enough detail to make them plausible.

There are some refreshingly low key moments. When a director (Dileesh Pothan ) propositions Maya, she makes it clear he is dreaming. He is not a creepy rapey villain, but a guy who likes lairy shirts, fancied a shag, and thought he saw an opportunity. (The subtitles said ‘togetherness’ but my ears heard ‘sex’. I wonder why.) If this was a typical mass film, he would have spent the next hour or so plotting Maya’s downfall, but as it happens he chose a completely different approach.

The film is set in Trivandrum and looks to have been filmed on location. City life permeates the action as Maya and Kalidasan move between the hectic streets and their residences, even unwittingly crossing paths. Kalidasan’s house is gorgeous but fusty, full of family mementoes and old fashioned furniture. His car is a character in her own right (and even gets a credit). Maya has crisp modern textiles and a light airy room, a space she has made for herself. It’s easy to believe in these people and their lives.

I largely enjoyed the humour and the relaxed interplay between characters.  However the whole Mooppan subplot is completely unnecessary and went nowhere. The Joan’s Rainbow cake sequence is one of the few false notes in the film, largely due to the endless simpering by yet another awful European extra. I did like the different cake construction and decorating style that Kalidasan and Maya chose. (If I was judging, Maya’s cake would be the winner.) Ahmed Sidique’s character was annoying and pointless. Considering the film runs under 2 hours, Abu spent too long on these tangents.

There are only a few songs, and they range from the appetising Chembavu which lists food after food, through a few inoffensive ballads (all by Bijibal), to the indescribably naff closing song by Avial. It seems Keralan “alternative rock” is not my thing – although I enjoyed the video for the segments with the actors playing starry versions of themselves.

Director Aashiq Abu has created a film romance that is smart without being too clever, has warmth without excessive histrionics and is populated by likeable people who possess (varying degrees of) common sense. 4 stars!