Maheshinte Prathikaaram – Fahadh Faasil is great in this unconventional revenge story

Maheshinte Prathikaaram (Mahesh’s Revenge) is a delightful Malayalam Comedy-Drama starring Fahadh Faasil.  I think this is actually only my third Fahadh Faasil film, but I have many of his recent films in my watch list.  I loved him in Bangalore Days.  Oh, my gosh when he revealed that huge tattoo!  I hated him for most of the movie, and then he totally won me over in those emotional scenes.  I really didn’t like him in Amen, but then his character was such a nebbish!  He was true to the character, which was a character I didn’t like that much.

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Mahesh, however was such an interesting character.  As was the whole small town setting of the movie.  I loved this peak into the Indukki area of Kerala, which has very tough women.

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Like many Malayalam films, the entire first half meanders it’s way through character introductions and not a lot really happens until almost the interval.  But I didn’t mind at all.  I picked this movie to watch on a day that I had been watching news of the shooting massacre in Las Vegas.  I relished getting away from it all to this beautiful small town in Kerala.

Mahesh has a photo “shop” where he takes passport photos, “Chin up.  Shoulders down.”  He’s a fixture taking photos at every wedding and funeral in town.  He’s not very good.  He has a long distance relationship with a girl he’s had a crush on since childhood, and then she gets another marriage offer from an NRI.  Mahesh is passive.  He doesn’t pursue the girl.  He’s satisfied just taking passport photos.

And then there is an incredible cascade of arguments and spats that starts with a disagreement at a funeral and ends in a brawl.  This whole sequence of one fight leading to a bike accident, to the next argument, and on and on was one of my favorites.  It was very clever.  One person’s ill temper leads to the next situation and so on.

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And finally Mahesh gets drawn into a brawl with some rowdies from a nearby town and gets literally hit in the head — pushed into the metal bar of a rickshaw.  He is so thoroughly trounced that his elderly father has to step in to say “enough” to the rowdy.  Mahesh is humiliated and vows to go shoeless until he gets his revenge — throwing his flip flops away!

And Interval.

That’s the set up.  This passive, happy to just go along in life guy, suddenly wakes up.  And starts to make things happen.  He meets a girl.  He realizes he doesn’t really know how to take pictures, and learns to appreciate photography as art.  And he does get his revenge, eventually.

The gentle story telling makes those couple of intense fight sequences all the more visceral.  They felt very real. The final scuffle was so intense I cried out because I though someone had a broken limb and my son came out of his room to see if I was okay.  “Oh.  It’s just a movie.”  LOL

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What’s delightful is just letting this movie wash over you.  I just loved the meandering gentle story telling.  Learning about all the people in this small town, and especially the spunky girl Mahesh meets.  Young actress Aparna Balamurali was absolutely fantastic as Jimsy!  She’s blunt and speaks up for herself in a very straight forward way.  “Love me if you’re brave enough.”  Both the women in this film totally were able to make their own choices.  Even the ex-girlfriend when presented with an arranged marriage offer is given free choice by her family.

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The supporting cast was all universally great, too.  I particularly liked the performances of Alencier Ley Lopez as Baby, Mahesh’s best friend who owns the next door shop, and Soubin Shahir as Crispin, Baby’s new employee.

Maheshinte Prathikaaram won the Malayalam National Film Award and I can see why.  Director Dileesh Pothan and screenwriter Syam Pushkaran transported me to Kerala for a few blessed hours.  The cinematography and music were very nice too.  There was a flash mob scene with Aparna which I though was a brilliant way to have a big dance number in a natural feeling film like this.  It totally fit her character!

 

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Amen – Pellissery’s Quirky Musical Comedy

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Lijo Jose Pellissery’s 2013 Malayalam film Amen has all the elements that should make it a tailor made movie for me.  It’s a quirky comedy about a band competition and the lead actor even plays the clarinet, the very instrument I played as a child.  The film reminded me very much of the comedies of Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson.  We have a cast of odd characters in this Kerala village.  Pellissery seems to have a troupe of actors he likes to reuse — like Wes Anderson does in his films.  The film has a magical realism element to it, like the film Amelie.  There’s an inherent sweetness to the story, and a nostalgia for life in this little village with it’s troubled church.

The film opens with a story about a prank delivery of a packet of faeces causing a fued between two families in the village.  This has nothing to do with the main story of the film, but sets the scene of a village where everyone gets in each other’s business.

The opening credit animated song was perhaps my favorite song sequence of the whole movie:

 

The cinematography of the film is stunning, set in the scenic Kuttanadan area of Kerala, where the most common mode of travel is by canoe or ferry boat.  The ferry brings a new priest to this village, Vincent Vattoli (Indrajith) but at first he’s not recognized as a priest because he wears secular clothes and dances with a young French tourist on the ferry boat.  He arrives at the church under the iron grip of the stern head priest Father Abraham (Joy Matthew) and the corrupt sacristan.  Father Abraham is ready to tear down the church and abolish the church’s band.

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Fahahd Faisal (Solomon) plays clarinet only in secret to his love Shoshanna (Swathi Reddy).  He’s the son of the most famous clarinet master player of the area who died in a boat accident.  Solomon can’t overcome his fears to play with the band, and in their yearly competition, until Vincent Vattoli comes to town.

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There are some gorgeous set pieces when Solomon plays his clarinet in the dark to Shoshanna, and on a boat in the moonlight.  But his character is such a nebbish that I had trouble sympathizing with his plight.  Shoshanna’s family locks her away after she almost elopes with Solomon.  Swathi Reddy does a decent job and has some spunk to her, but she doesn’t have a lot to do in the film.

There’s another one of Pellissery’s long tracking shots for a song set during a “toddy” shop fight between the two rival bands, with the cameramam ending the scene floating away in  a boat.

This film should be my catnip, as I love Wes Anderson films, but this Amen film just did not resonate with me.  The romance between Solomon and Shoshanna is sweet, but I really didn’t like Fahahd’s nebbishy wishy washy character.  I did like Indrajith’s priest character, and he even gets his own song as the French tourist fantasizes about him!

The music was interesting because it’s entirely Western musical instruments.  In fact, with songs like When The Saints Go Marching In, it had a sort of New Orleans Jazz sound to the band combos.

 

This is my third of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s films, and so far my least favorite.  I love, love, love Angamaly Diaries, and I really enjoyed City of God.  Evidently, before Angamaly Diaries, I think Amen is the director’s most crowd pleasing film.  It must evoke strong emotions for the Kerala audience that just didn’t translate to me.  I admire the technical brilliance of the film making, and Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood does a great job expanding on that aspect.  But, Amen for me is a film I admire, but doesn’t make me love it.

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City of God – Lijo Jose Pellissery’s moving hyperlink New Generation Malayalam film may have been ahead of its time

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After seeing the fantastic Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries last week, I couldn’t wait to seek out director Lijo Jose Pellissery’s other films.  City of God was the one recommended to seek out first, and glory be, it’s on Google Play for rental and purchase.  At $4.99 to buy, I snatched it right up.

City of God is part of the New Generation of Malayalam films with a hyperlink non-linear narrative of four interlocking stories.  It came out within months of Traffic, the first of the new wave Malayalam cinema, but City of God was pulled within a week of release.  It may have been a bit ahead of its time.  It felt much grittier and more violent than Traffic, and isn’t really suited to a broad family audience.  I felt Traffic relied a bit too much on the audience’s familiarity of all the actors in that multi-starrer, and I didn’t really get to know any character that well.  I liked City of God much more.

A signature of Malayalam New Wave films is an accident, and coincidences that bring people together and set off the events of the film.  City of God starts with a horrific car crash.  Prithviraj is driving a car that crashes into a street light pole, after hitting a motorscooter with a young couple.  There’s also a van full of toughs that pile out to confront Prithviraj after the crash, and then we flash back.  We see the events of the film from several perspectives, replaying various key scenes from the point of view of different characters.  This is a movie where you have to pay attention a bit to catch on to what is going on.

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Prithviraj is sort of a capo or enforcer for his rich friend Sony (Rajeev Pillai).  He gets lots of very cool fight scenes, mostly just kicking and punching his way out of various jams, but in the photo above wielding a firehose like a urumi sword!  Prithviraj looked pretty bulked up, and this film was around the time of the filming of Aiyyaa.  Hubba hubba.  It was super fun to see Prithviraj be a sort of gangster tough guy, smacking people down first, and asking questions later.

Sony is obssessed with a young actress, Surya (Rima Kallingal).  He had a romance with her in the past, but his parents made him abandon her, and he’s trying to get her back, even though she’s married to an abusive husband.  Surya is a big actress, and one of the big musical numbers is cleverly one she’s doing for a film within the film.  The director was very clever about the songs.  There  was this one during a film shoot, one big one at a wedding, and then a couple more playing on a radio and so on.

There’s a complicated land deal going on between some corrupt business types, Sony, and some mafia.  Prithviraj is sent out to “deal” with one guy, and his wife then vows revenge.

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My favorite story line involved the migrant Tamil laborers who were working on the building project for Sony.  My reader Mohzin let me know that half this film is in Tamil, including half the songs!  He said that the Malayalam audience didn’t need subtitles for the Tamil speaking parts.  The love story of Swarnavel (Indrajith) and Marathakam (Pavarthy) is just so wonderful.  It’s the heart of the whole film.  Marathakam has fled Tamil Nadu and her abusive husband.  Swarnavel obviously loves her, but holds back as she is already married.  Marathakam’s friend Lakshmi (Rohini from Baahubali!) urges her to marry again, but Rohini has other ideas than poor Swarnavel.  She tells both the other thinks of them as either brother or sister, and so Marathakam, heart broken, agrees to marry a supposedly wealthy man.  Then comes my all time favorite scene of the whole film.  The  cops come and arrest her husband, and then she finds the drunk Swarnavel to chastise him for letting her marry this thief.  Then the sparks just FLY once they realize they don’t view each other as siblings AT ALL!  When he breaks off her mangalsutra — so hot!  Another favorite thing is that she won’t kiss him as he’s drunk, and sobers him up with a bucket full of water over his head!

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This is the couple from the opening scene accident who were on the motor scooter.  Why they were so frantically racing on that bike gradually is revealed.

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Prithviraj doesn’t get a full on romance in the film, but he does rescue a damsel in distress and gives her very swoony longing looks through the rearview mirror.  Mostly, in this film, he just gets to kick ass in very cool fights, and he seems much more savvy and smart than anyone around him.  But then Prithviraj usually does seem like the smartest one in the room.

The tone of the film can change dramatically from scene to scene,as we’re going from one character’s point of view to the next.  There are several side characters who have comedic moments — quite a few sort of comedy uncle characters.  The main actors were all pretty good, but the guy playing Sony didn’t make much of an impression on me.  Prithviraj, Pavarthy and Indrajith were the standouts. Indrajith stole the whole movie, in my opinion.  I don’t really remember him from Classmates, but he’s in Amen, which I’m going to try to watch next.  Pavarthy looks so completely different from any other character I’ve seen her play, that I honestly did not recognize her until I saw her name in the end credits.  Once I went back and rewatched that HOT love scene song, I could tell it was her, maybe with darker makeup?  Quite the different look than in Bangalore Days or Charlie!

The cinematography was quite interesting.  Some cool different angles to many shots, and great editing.  The fights didn’t feel quite as intimate as the recent Angamaly Diaries.  There was a steadicam being shook up, I guess to  imitate the Bourne films, but it just made me dizzy.  It worked in Angamaly Diaries, and didn’t work for me here in the same way.

As I said earlier, I didn’t really enjoy the hyperlink in Traffic, as there were too many shallow stories that weren’t developed.  Here, there were four key stories that interconnected, and the characters were more fleshed out.  This film can be gritty and violent like Kammatti Paadam or Angamaly Diaries.  Maybe the audience 6 years ago wasn’t quite ready for an innovative film like this.  Angamaly Diaries is still the better film, but it was really fascinating to see this director developing his signature style.

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