Maheshinte Prathikaaram

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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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Guppy (2016)

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Guppy is the beautifully filmed début from writer/ director Johnpaul George featuring Chethan Lal and Tovino Thomas in the lead roles. The story is set in a small sea-side community in Kerala, and the scenery is stunning with vibrancy of colour in every frame. Cinematographer Girish Gangadharan makes the most of the beautiful location and with excellent music from Vishnu Vijay the film appears magical even before the wonderfully iridescent CGI guppies appear on-screen. The story follows the day-to-day life of Michael (Chethan Lal) aka Guppy and the problems that develop when an engineer comes to the colony, but mainly it’s the story of a young boy, his struggles to help his disabled mother and his relationships with the various people he interacts with on a routine basis.

Michael is known to everyone in his community as Guppy after the small fish he sells to supplement his income. He also works at a tea stall beside the local school where the owner Pappan (Alancier Ley) seems to be something of a father figure for Guppy as his own father is dead. His mother (Rohini) had a stroke after her husband died which left her paralysed from the waist down and Guppy looks after her as well as he can. His major goal is to buy an automated wheelchair for her so that she can get around when he is not there – and his fish sales are a vital part of that plan. The guppies are bought by local government officer Lalichan (Sudheer Karamana) as part of an initiative to help reduce the mosquito population by placing the fish in areas of standing water in the hope that they will devour the mosquito larvae. Despite knowing all about Guppy’s home situation and the plans for his earnings, Lalichan keeps half of the money for himself and only pays Guppy a small amount for each fish – a petty corruption but a common theme in his various deals with pretty much everyone throughout the film. It’s not just Lalichan either. Everyone in the community seems to inflate prices and expect bribes suggesting such corruption is normal and expected, even in such a small and remote village. Most disturbing is the acceptance of the practice as normal – shocking from my perspective that this is perceived as common practice and that no-one is even remotely bothered by it.

The first part of the film paints the picture of Guppy’s life – looking after his mother, working to raise money for her new wheelchair, breeding and selling guppies and hanging out with his friends.

There is a romantic interest in local schoolgirl Aamina (Nandhana) who wears a veil and is kept close to home by her grandfather Upooppa (Sreenivasan) which means all the local boys hang around at every available opportunity, trying to catch a glimpse of her. The other members of the community all have a role to play too and each slice of community life adds depth to the depiction of life in a small seaside village in Kerala.

Guppy’s relationship with his mother is beautifully depicted and there are some great moments, such as how he deals with his mother’s snoring, the way she prepares his fish food for him every morning, and the care Guppy takes each day in giving his mother her bath. Chethan Lal is excellent here, his emotions are perfectly displayed and the mix of joy and wonder when he feeds his fish, and excitement as he nears his goal of buying the wheelchair are superb. This is my favourite part of the film as each interaction gradually weaves the pattern of Guppy’s life, and although there are difficulties, there are also moments of happiness and camaraderie with his mother and friends.

Guppy is well liked in the community. His initiative in breeding the guppies is admired and his devotion to his mother is also appreciated by everyone who knows him, so it’s a shock when newly arrived engineer Thejus Varky seems to immediately take a dislike to Guppy. The engineer has been brought to the village by aspiring politician Onachan (Noby Marcose) and village officer Krishnan (Dileesh Pothan) to build a bridge over the railway but he doesn’t appear in time for the grand celebration prepared for his arrival. Which is a pity since it is rather special! Who could resist Michael Jackson, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth singing a Christmas song together?

Thejus is an odd character who immediately stands out from the rest of the village due to his motorcycle, his unusual dress sense and his bushy beard. Although Tovino Thomas is excellent in his portrayal of an egotistical and rather arrogant engineer, the character of Thejus doesn’t seem totally plausible – even after his full story is revealed later in the film. Thejus can be charming, as when he meets with his friend Krishnan or in his dealings with his landlord in the village, but all too often he is haughty and appears to look down on the villagers he has come to help. He is easily frustrated by the railway crossing supervisor Upoppa and rudely snubs his offers of tea and a place to sit, while his vendetta against Guppy is strangely childish and immature. Guppy’s reaction is a little more believable, given that an adolescent may be expected to act in an occasionally irrational manner, but this part of the film seems rather more contrived and filmy. However, the tension between the two is well-developed and despite a few unrealistic twists, the conflict between Thejus and Guppy becomes compelling.

What works well in the film is the story of Guppy and his mother. Guppy’s struggles to raise enough money for a wheelchair are realistically dealt with. I love that he first sees a fully automated wheelchair when watching the film Bangalore Days – up until that point he has no idea that such things existed. The love between Guppy and his mother is beautifully depicted and blends seamlessly into the general warmth of the whole community. The conflict between Guppy and the engineer is less successful but there are still some excellent scenes, particularly between Thejus Varky and Chinappa (Poojappura Ravi), the older man who runs the guest house where he has set up his tent, and his interactions with both Onachan and Krishnan. All the actors are good in their roles and their performances ensure that the occasionally convoluted storyline doesn’t get too bogged down with all the detail.

The excellent cinematography is another reason to watch the film. Even though the CGI fish are obviously not real, they are still wonderful to look at, and Johnpaul George weaves guppies into the story in many ways. The fish appear as painting on the walls, in lightbulbs in Guppy’s house and as decorations on his friend’s vehicle as well as swimming around in the drainage canal behind the school. The whole look of the film is just as colourful – whether it’s the brightly painted village, the stunning seascapes or the vibrant villagers, it all looks beautiful and instantly makes you want to move to a seaside village in Southern India!

What doesn’t work quite so well is the sheer number of characters and some of the extraneous plotlines that don’t really add anything to the main story. Each character seems to have to have their own small story and while some are quite fun, most only serve to divert attention away from Guppy and his story. However it’s hard to quibble too much, since the characters are generally fascinating and it gives even more of an opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery.

This is a lovely little film that takes a different look at adolescence, neatly giving Guppy rural innocence but enough street-smart knowledge to ensure that he can match wits with the likes of an engineer. Well worth watching for Chethan Lal and Tovino Thomas, plus the excellent support cast, and to savour yet more stunning images of Kerala. 4 stars.

Chaappa Kurish

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Chaappa Kurish tells the story of two men: one a successful land developer who lives in a smart uptown apartment and the other a slum-dweller who works as a cleaner in a small supermarket. It seems unlikely that their lives would ever intersect, but when Arjun (Fahadh Faasil)) loses his phone and Ansari (Vineeth Sreenivasan) picks it up, their lives intertwine in an unexpected way with unintended consequences. Sameer Thahir’s debut film is a study in power relationships and how even a small amount of advantage can alter outlook, change relationships and even affect personality. While one man starts to gain control the other begins to lose it and the fall-out has far reaching effects for both.

The film opens by contrasting the lives of the two men. Arjun is woken in his modern apartment by the ringing of his smart phone and wanders into his spotless kitchen to have cereal for breakfast. Ansari also has a phone, but his is an old-fashioned mobile and his single room is a long way from Arjun’s luxurious apartment. He sleeps with his mattress on top of his shirt to press it for the morning, and has to pay and queue for his turn in a shared toilet. Breakfast for Ansari is a roti in a local café and his journey to work by bus and ferry is vastly different from Arjun’s smooth ride in the back of his chauffeur driven car. Their relative positions define their personality too. Ansari is quiet, pushed around by everyone who comes into contact with him and unable to stand up for himself. He walks apologetically – hunched over and hesitant, and he doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes even when they are talking to him. Arjun on the other hand is autocratic, demanding and very well aware that he is the boss.

Although Arjun is engaged to be married to the daughter of a family friend, he is also in a relationship with a work colleague Sonia (Ramya Nambeeshan). Sonia is a modern working woman who seems to be in control of her life but despite her apparent comfort with her relationship with Arjun, she is devastated when she discovers he is engaged and is organising his wedding. Her despair and sense of betrayal is made even greater when she discovers that Arjun has filmed the two of them together on his phone during their lovemaking session. Sonia has lost her lover and her self-respect in an instant and seems likely to lose her job too, all as a result of Arjun’s selfish behaviour. She threatens to tell his fiancée Ann (Roma) about their relationship and it’s during the resultant argument that Arjun loses his phone. As well as the video, Arjun’s phone contains details about his latest dodgy property deal and it’s a toss-up as to which concerns him more – the loss of the deal or the possibility that the video might make it onto Youtube.

Ansari picks up Arjun’s phone when it falls at his feet in a café, and in the spur of the moment decides to keep it. He has little idea of how to operate the phone and is frightened by Arjun’s demands for his phone’s return when he does turn it on. However slowly as Ansari realises Arjun’s desperation, he starts to feel the effects that holding even such a small amount of power can bring. His new found confidence spurs Ansari on to pay back his various tormentors but it also affects his relationship with his co-worker Nafeesa (Niveda Thomas). She doesn’t like the new Ansari and eventually persuades him that he has to return the phone – but it may already be too late.

Sameer Thahir’s story is simple but very effective as he takes time to establish his two main characters and how they each fit into their place in society. The contrast in the two men is well described and the characterisations of each are natural and realistic, while still maintaining their differences as each are at opposite ends of the social scale. The gradual transfer of power is subtly done but very effective and the alteration in each character occurs almost imperceptibly at first. Although the story is at times very dark, there is a strong sense of hope that runs throughout, mainly shown by Nafeesa who is the one bright spot in Ansari’s life and by the end it seems possible that both men have altered for the better. It’s a film that gradually draws you into Arjun and Ansari’s struggle for control while at the same time showing exactly how difficult life can be for those who lack confidence.

Both Fahadh Faasil and Vineeth Sreenivasan are excellent and their performances ensure the effectiveness of Sameer Thahir’s story . Vineeth Sreenivasan does a fantastic job with his portrayal of a downtrodden man who slowly starts to gain some confidence. His body language and demeanour is perfect throughout and his facial expressions brilliantly capture his thoughts. Ansari is a man who has had little to hide in his life and he lets his emotions play out over his face when he thinks no-one is looking. The furtive sullen looks gradually make way for sly grins and rising excitement when Ansari realises the power he has over Arjun and that finally he can tell someone else what to do. Everything just works to build up a detailed picture of a lonely underdog who has a miserable life but no real motivation to change anything and no awareness that change is even possible.

Fahadh Faasil is just as good in his role as a rich and conceited businessman who rarely thinks of anyone other than himself. His fiancée is an inconvenience and he avoids her phone calls whenever possible – although given how inane and annoying she is; I can understand his reluctance. Sonia is beautiful and convenient since she works with him and he initially treats her distress as an annoyance, until his friend John (Jinu Joseph) manages to get through to him just how much more Sonia has to lose if the video becomes public. It’s a classic picture of a self-absorbed jerk, but what makes Fahadh Faasil’s performance so good is the way he gradually changes and shows Arjun’s desperation so clearly. The realisation of what he is about to lose and his absolute frustration with the situation is excellently shown while his fraying grip on his composure is perfectly done.

The rest of the cast are good too. Ramya Nambeeshan doesn’t have a lot to do, but her outrage and then absolute despair are nicely portrayed and she is good as a woman brought to the very edge by emotional upheaval. Jinu Joseph and Niveda Thomas provide the stability and act as the ‘voice of reason’ to the two main protagonists while Sunil Sukhada brings a good dose of oily sleaziness to his role as the Store Manager of the supermarket where Ansari works.

Rex Vijayan’s soundtrack is excellent and this song is beautiful. The picturisation here isn’t the same as in the film where it’s shown over Arjun’s search for Ansari and his phone, but this does give a good overview of the film and the main characters.

There are a number of things I really liked about Chaappa Kurdish. The many differences between the two men are well characterised without being too clichéd and provide a revealing look at society in general. The slow shift in the balance of power is nicely done, even if in real life I don’t think Ansari would have have been quite so brave. I also like that Sonia has some resolution and that having a physical relationship with her boyfriend doesn’t mean that she is automatically a ‘fallen woman’ with no possible options. With all the positives there are only a few negatives. The climax is repetitive and goes on for too long – a shorter, sharper resolution would have helped and I would have liked a little more of Nafeesa and her relationship with Ansari. Overall, Chaappa Kurdish is an excellent début film from Sameer Thahir and definitely well worth a watch. 4 stars.