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.

Ozhimuri

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In some ways Ozhimuri was a hard film to place. Many of the plot summaries around made it sound like a fairly dry film about legal and social change in Kerala with the cessation of matrilineal inheritance. The posters tend to position it as a cute romance, which is not the focus, or push a love = violence angle which is unpalatable and also not really the point. Ozhimuri is not a heavy message film, nor is it a simple “boy with angry dad meets girl”. It’s a beautifully engaging story of three generations of family, the tensions and unexpected similarities between family members.

Director Madhupal uses a concise montage to set the scenes with images of females, human and divine, sitting at the feet of males, then older images that show the reverse. The titles use scenes at a big religious festival (My goodness! Those children must be terrified!), and meandering through beautiful countryside to embed the story in rural and traditional culture.

Meenakshi (Mallika) files for separation, citing harassment. Despite being described as a “dead dog” at the age of 55, she wants her independence. But she wants some property of means of support, having been made to sign hers over to her husband. Thanu (Lal) doesn’t seem to want his wife but will not relinquish any property. The legal argument then hinges on whether she is entitled to get alimony. His young female lawyer Balamani (Bhavana), who you might expect to support a woman seeking independence, joins the chorus of naysayers telling Sharath (Asif Ali) to persuade his parents to stay together. He tries to persuade Balamani of his father’s cruelty, and as they spend time together their own relationship deepens. Kali Pillai (Shweta Menon), is a strong influence on all aspects of Thanu’s life, and not in the usual doting ma and son way. Described as a queen, with the gait and power of an elephant, she is a strong if remote figure.

Madhupal uses flashbacks to great effect, both filling in the past and showing different perspectives on incidents. Things that seem black and white become ambiguous, and characters also become more complex and realistic. One of the most rewarding things about watching Ozhimuri was the way more is revealed, completely changing my view without ever being untrue to the characters.

Lal plays Thanu and Thanu’s dad Sivan. Thanu is a hard case but as things are revealed the influences driving his behaviour make him if not sympathetic then relatable. Sivan is a rumbly giant of a man, sentimental and simple. Lal plays Sivan with a twinkle in his eye and Thanu with a perpetual sour twist to his mouth. There is more than just anger driving Thanu. He has mother issues, and he hates and fears strong women. What we would call a street angel and house devil, Thanu is a doting father in his own way and has his father’s softness underneath his mother’s harshness. Lal is compelling throughout. I felt sad for jolly Sivan, and for the boy who would grow up without his warm hearted dad. Lal plays Thanu in such a way that he gained my empathy without resorting to trite sentimental tricks.

Meenakshi is the unsung hero of the film for my money. Mallika brings dignity and grace to Meenakshi, showing her as a woman who endures rather than fights, but who is strong and resilient in her non-confrontational way. She genuinely sees the good in people and tries to keep that in mind. She comes to know what she wants out of life and understands finally what her mother-in-law had tried to teach her. And so she acts. Everyone asks Meenakshi why she wants a divorce but nobody seems to want to really listen, they just want to tell her what she should do. She remains calm and obdurate, using her strength for herself for once. It’s hard to see a woman apparently defending her abuser, but as things progress Meenakshi becomes less of a victim and more a complex woman who made some choices then and is making different choices now. Mallika and Lal have a volatile chemistry that take their characters from domesticity to physical violence in a heartbeat, and they never break that connection or seem out of synch.

Shweta Menon is charismatic and arrogant as Kali Pillai. You can see in Thanu that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Even if he didn’t hold a grudge about his father, they would clash and they both had violent streaks. Kali is all about tough love, showing her concern for Meenakshi by constantly picking faults and telling her what to do. She doesn’t like seeing her son overturn the natural order of things and treat his wife like a slave and her pride is wounded by his lack of respect for her. But she never gives up on him really and still tries to protect him in her own way despite their estrangement.

The obvious option would be to have Balamani (Bhavana) represent Meenakshi and go all Girl Power, but instead she is representing Thanu. She is quite socially conservative and believes divorce is bad for families regardless of the situation at home. I liked Bhavana a lot, and she nailed the characterisation of a pretty young professional who is a bit tired of the boys club around her but doesn’t feel the need to rock the boat. Her down to earth conversations with her grandmother are both funny and sad as grandma explains the role of women. Hint – it has a lot to do with breeding. She and Sharath talk about their own families and future plans, and while sometimes it comes across as clunky exposition they help draw out the subtleties of the divorce case.

Asif Ali is extremely likeable as Sharath, the good son who sees his father as Bad and his mother as a victim. As things become less clear cut, he also has to confront his own resemblance to his father and what that might mean. He gets hit with some big truths and I loved that he never made a big deal out of it or insisted anyone choose sides. He absorbed the new knowledge, struggled a bit, then moved forward. He was open to Balamani’s ideas and treated her as a valued friend as well as an eventual lover and future wife. And hurrah for a film where people can have consensual sex and not be hit by a meteor or any other form of judgement.

This is just a gorgeous film to watch. I had some initial concerns because of the topic but I didn’t find the violence was sensationalised or dwelt on beyond what needed to be shown. The performances are all top notch and Madhupal and writer Jeyamohan provide an excellent visual and narrative structure.

For anyone who laments the lack of strong female characters in Indian films, see this. If you’re interested in a sympathetic but not apologetic portrait of family dysfunction, see this. If you like beautifully made films with realistic characters and great production values, see this. 5 stars!

Ennum Eppozhum (2015)

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Mohanlal and Manju Warrier together sounds too good to miss but despite the casting and potentially interesting storyline, Sathyan Anthikad’s Ennum Eppozhum doesn’t quite meet up to expectations. The film tells the story of an erratic, middle-aged journalist and his attempts to interview a crusading local advocate but although the central storyline works well, diversions off the main path are rather less successful. However Mohanlal and Manju are excellent, the supporting cast is equally good and the down-to-earth ordinariness of the characters does work in the films favour.

Mohanlal is Vineeth N. Pillai, a lazy middle-aged bachelor who is notable more for his lack of hygiene and questionable work ethic than his skill with journalistic interviews. His lack of energy is noted by Vanitharatnam magazine’s new editor in chief, Kalyani (Reenu Mathews) which doesn’t bode well for Vineeth’s continued employment. Kalyani is just returned from London with plenty of new ideas and has no time for a slob of a journalist who doesn’t pull his weight. Luckily for Vineeth, the former chief editor still has a fond spot for him as the son of her dear friend and ensures that he gets a second chance to prove his skills.

Vineeth is sent to interview Deepa (Manju Warrier), an advocate who has been in the news for successfully campaigning to have potholes in the road fixed.

Deepa is the antithesis of Vineeth. She is a single mother and not only manages to raise her daughter, work as a successful advocate and campaign for better roads, but she also teaches dance and performs too, as seen in this beautiful piece from the film.

For more information on the dance style and more of Manju’s beautiful dancing check out the excellent post by Cinema Nritya here

In his attempts to speak to Deepa, Vineeth is accompanied by bumbling photographer Maathan (Jacob Gregory). Maathan also lives with Vineeth and the interactions between the two form one half of the comedy track to the film. The other half is supplied by a shady developer (Renji Panicker) and his inept security guard, but this is one of those diversions that doesn’t add anything to the storyline while the comedy is slapstick and not particularly funny. The comedy with Jacob Gregory also fails to raise much of a laugh but there are a few moments that warrant his inclusion. Vineeth is further hampered by his car that continually runs out of petrol, some dodgy advice from a young employee and his own inertia regarding the assignment. However as he watches Deepa, her busy life starts to make an impression and Vineeth is drawn into assisting when Deepa and her daughter are involved in an accident.

Deepa has her own problems to deal with, including her over-protective neighbour Kariachan (Innocent) and his wife Rosy (Usha S Karunagapally). They hover attentively around Deepa and her daughter Miya (Baby Adhvaitha) but seem to be more of a hindrance than a help. Deepa is also visited by a friend Farah (Lena Abhilash) who is another character who seems to run out of steam just when her story starts to get interesting. Farah talks about her marital problems which could potentially have been a major plot point, given that Deepa is also divorced from a rather obnoxious-sounding character. Instead the story goes nowhere and Farah’s inclusion seems fairly pointless except as a glimpse of ordinary middle class life in the suburbs.

There are more odd and pointless diversions that peter out just when they start to get interesting. Deepa has dealings with a gangster who seems to help her when she wants to keep some cases out of the court system. This had potential since Vineeth spots Deepa paying money to some shady looking characters, but instead the story fades away without reaching any resolution. Vineeth also seems to be on the cusp of developing a romance with Kalyani, who in turn has an amazing about-face when it comes to Vineeth and his work. For no apparent reason, other than perhaps a shared like of Rod Stewart songs, Kalyani decides that Vineeth can take as long as he likes to finish the interview, and even doesn’t seem to mind when he admits he may not be able to interview Deepa at all! The romance which almost starts in one scene then vanishes completely without Vineeth even appearing to notice.

The slow pace of the film suits the scenes of day-to-day living that form most of the story but it does mean that it takes a long time for Vineeth to approach Deepa. It takes even longer for the two to actually start speaking to each other, but when they do, they have a lovely and easy chemistry together. There is no real romance in the story, although the possibility is hinted at towards the end, but instead it is the characters and the details of their lives that are the focus of the story.

Ennum Eppozhum is at its best when showcasing the lives of the two main characters, their strengths and weakness and their interactions with the world around them. Without all the added threads that go nowhere this could have been an interesting picture of two very different personalities, but the noise created by the sub-stories dilutes the effect. However, it’s always good to have a strong female lead character and Manju Warrier is adept at portraying such roles. Mohanlal does an excellent job with his rather unpleasant reporter and yet still makes appealing enough that we want him to succeed and keep his job. Not a great film, but one still worth watching for excellent performances from all the cast and the pleasure of watching Manju Warrier dancing. It just could have been so much more. 3 stars.