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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