Jomonte Suvisheshangal – Dulquer Salmaan in a sweet family drama

What spurs me to drive 40 minutes to the only theater in Chicago that shows Malayalam films? – a new Dulquer Salmaan movie!  A woman stopped me as I walked out of the theater, “Do you like Malayalam films?” I told her of course and that I’m a big Dulquer fan.  She was incredulous and asked me if I understand Malayalam.  Not a word, I replied.

The trailer for Jomonte Suvisheshangal [Jomon’s Gospels], as with many Malayalam films, doesn’t tell you much about the film.

Like me, they probably assume that viewers don’t need to know much more than Dulquer looks good in a film very different in tone from Kali and Kammatti Paadaam.  Jomonte Suvisheshangal, a film you can safely bring the entire family to see, was also probably a refreshing change of pace for Dulquer from the intense acting in 2016’s Kali and Kammatti Paadaam.

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With bad news coming at us in America like a fire hose, it was just what I needed to go see a sweet family film starring Dulquer.  He’s getting a bit old to play the spoiled young man, it felt like a bit in the first half.  Just in looks though.  He acted it perfectly.  Dulquer was very much a mazik in the first half.  That’s a Yiddish word for someone mischievous, especially a young person.  He constantly got into trouble, but would just kiss his father after being scolded, “You still love me!”

A perfect example is in the clip below.  He badgers his father, Mukesh, for a motorcycle, “Petrol is so expensive!” and his father relents saying that he won’t give him cash, just have the shop send him the bill.  Then he rolls up in the most expensive bike possible, costing 18 lakh.

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No one in the family feel they can count on the irresponsible spoiled Jomon.  He misses his sister’s wedding, can’t seem to pass his MBA exam, and spends his days running errands for the family.  His father tries to get Dulquer involved in one family business after another, the most hilarious his stint supervising their bus fleet, enjoying all the female attention he gets.

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Not much happens in the first half except a flirtatious romance with a rich girl, played by Anupama Parameswaran of the Premam films fame.   That gives us the one non-montage song sequence in the film.  The machinations of Dulquer’s family to get him attached to this rich girl I found quite amusing.  Innocent plays Dulquer’s uncle who relishes matchmaking to try to unite with this wealthy family.

(On a petty note, I don’t think that super skinny jeans style is flattering on Dulquer!)

And then, right before the interval, everything in the family comes crashing down.  Mukesh has taken a bet on a business expansion, putting even the family home and cars in a money lender’s name.  While the rest of the family just heaps scorn on the family patriarch, Mukesh, Dulquer is the one to take him in the middle of the night away from it all to safety.

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I have not yet seen what Margaret told me is Nivin’s very similar son-coming-of-age film, Jacobinte Swargarajyam.  This film is very much a story of the relationship of a son and his father.  I don’t think I’ve seen the actor Mukesh in another film yet, and I really thought he was fantastic.  He has some very emotional moments as he goes from powerful businessman, to a crushed man who tries to help his son by making him a tiffin lunch.  Both Dulquer and Mukesh are terrific actors, and were very believable as loving father and son, each hiding painful truths from the other.  In the second half, Dulquer has to really grow up and become the man of the family.  He is betrayed by a close friend and learns how to succeed through hard work and moxie.

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Unlike the superficial romance in the first half, he gradually comes to get to know a prickly young Tamil woman, Aishwarya Rajesh, from his job selling textiles.  She doesn’t have time for his slick ways, but he gradually wins her over, daring her to smile.  “God wants us to smile at least once a day.”  This is one of his many pronouncements.  Her boss puts her in a tight spot keeping a rich French client happy, and she turns to Dulquer in desperation.  Like Dulquer, she lives alone with her father.  I wish their romance had been fleshed out a bit more, but what was there was very nice to watch.  I wasn’t completely happy with the ending to their story, which involved a prank on Dulquer’s father, Mukesh.

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Does Dulquer learn the value of hard work and create a company out of nothing with his friends and win the big client?  Does he reunite his father with the rest of the family after proving just how responsible he can be?  What do you think?  While the story can be predictable, I found the journey a welcome time pass, especially with the warm father-son relationship portrayed by Dulquer and Mukesh.  I was also fascinated at an inside look at the textile industry in India!

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Margaret and I saw this film together, and her review has a very interesting take on Dulquer’s character’s expressions of love contrasting with the rest of the family’s obsession with commerce and money.

 

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My Top 10 Indian Films of 2016

It’s still January, if barely, right?  This is a list of my favorite films in Indian Cinema released in 2016.  I have not seen every film released, by a long shot, but I’ve seen quite a few of the top releases in Hindi and Malayalam cinema in theaters.  I still haven’t seen Pink, although that is definitely on my list, and it’s now on Netflix streaming.

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1.  Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)

Kapoor and Sons  was hands down my favorite Indian film of the year.  I just love the way the cast interacts.  It feels like you’re a voyeur in a real family and their drama.  I will admit that Sidharth is the weak link, but Alia and Fawad are so great in this.  Fawad Khan especially just blew me away.  And the soundtrack!  Kar Gayi Chull is my phone ringtone for a reason, because I never tire of hearing that hook.

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2.  Kammatti Paadam

Dulquer Salmaan had an amazing year, but Kammatti Paadam is just a masterpiece.  I’m so glad I saw this Malayalam gangster epic in a theater.  I was nearly shell shocked by the experience of seeing this Rajeev Ravi film.   Dulquer is our eyes into this world of gangsters, and dalit toughs.  He is very, very good, but the two actors, Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show.

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3. Udta Punjab

Alia Bhatt also had a great year.  I’m still thinking about how fantastic she was in Udta Punjab, a film filled with great performances.  This is the film that introduced me to Diljit Dosanjth.  And how great was Shahid Kapoor as the comic relief?  This was an entertaining film, but also one with an important message about how the drug trade affects everyone– a message the censor board tried to suppress, and thank goodness they did not prevail.  Udta Punjab is currently streaming on Netflix.

kali-malayalam-movie-wallpaper-0922-006394. Kali

Oh my goodness, Kali is such a tense thriller.  Kali means rage.  I admire the script and how the director kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not know what would happen next at any given moment. I felt that anything could happen. And I loved that about this Malayalam movie!  The first half is a personal story of a marriage with young man with anger issues.  Then the second half grips you by the throat.  Dulquer Salmaan gives another stellar performance in a great year, matched by Sai Pallavi.

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5. Dear Zindagi

I adored Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi.  We were afraid when the film was announced it was going to be a romantic relationship, but SRK is her mentor and therapist in this fantastic film.  This is my first Gauri Shinde film, and she is a wonderful director.  This was a nice crossover film that I took some Bollywood virgins to see, and they loved it.

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6. Fan

Although not a perfect film, I submit Fan may be the one of the best performances of Shahrukh Khan’s career in the double role of Guarav and Aryan.

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7. Neerja

This really felt like a year for women in Hindi cinema.  Sonam Kapoor was perfect casting for Neerja.  This film reminded me very much of United  93 – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat watching it unfold, filled with tension.  Neerja is currently streaming on Netflix.

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8. Dangal

I love that Aamir Khan made this movie about girl empowerment.  He let the young women at the center of this true story take the lead, and he was brave enough to play a father with a paunch, no less.  Dangal was one of the biggest family films of the year.

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9. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

I’m still not happy with the ending of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, but man it has some glorious moments.  It’s full on lush Karan Johar film making – actually my first Karan film on the big screen.  I’m reading his autobiography now, An Unsuitable Boy, and he says that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about his own unrequited love story.  It’s a very personal film.  I wish there hadn’t been all the controversy about Pakistani actors, and Fawad Khan had a bigger part.  That soundtrack!!  I listened to the title track on constant repeat.

 

sultan-trailer-647_05241607500610. Sultan

I really enjoyed Sultan, and Salman made a great pairing with Anushka Sharma.  It was another Hindi film with a message of female empowerment, even if the majority of the film was about Salman’s character.  Great soundtrack, too!

Special mention for Brahman Naman which I saw the premiere of at Sundance back in January.  I’m not sure if it’s a purely Indian produced film, but it’s a quirky and wonderful teen sex comedy. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

Kabali – There’s more depth to this Rajnikanth gangster flick than I first thought

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Kabali is my second Rajnikanth Tamil film.  I previously watched Enthiran (Robot) which I really enjoyed.  You can tell right away that Rajnikanth is a Star with a capital ‘S’.  My South Indian neighbor told me that Rajnikanth modeled himself on Clint Eastwood.  He wants that kind of “Make My Day” iconic style.  It has been two years since the last Rajnikanth film, and since 1994’s Baasha that he has played a Don role.  If you have any doubt what an event a Rajnikanth film is, they marketed Kabali by painting a plane!

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I saw Kabali twice this week.  The first time was a late night show that didn’t get out until 1:30 a.m.  I was tired going in and bleary which wasn’t good.  And I didn’t have the raucous whistling crowd that I hear is more typical for a Rajnikanth film experience.  I thought it was a decent gangster don comeback story, and appreciated Rajnikanth’s style and flair.  But I didn’t really get what the movie was trying to show me until I read Margaret Redlich’s analysis and review on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

I knew zero about the Tamil community in Malayasia, the setting for the film and their history of oppression.  What Margaret pointed out is that this film is telling you a story of an oppressed people between the lines, skirting the censors (in Malayasia they were required to add a crime doesn’t pay disclaimer.)

On the surface, this is a story like many we’ve seen before.  A gangster Don is released from prison after 25 years, and takes revenge on the rival gang that killed his pregnant wife and his mentor, and who framed him for fomenting a massacre.  The Tamil speaking policeman warns him to mend his ways when he gets out, and not to disgrace the Tamil people.

His loyal aide Ameer picks him up from prison, and shows him how Kuala Lumpur has changed and how the opposing gang 43 has taken over.  Kabali directs Ameer to take him to the secret hangout of the gang, in the back of a pet shop.  And this starts the Kabali Rajnikanth signature moves.  Kabali is always dressed well in a suit jacket.  And when he confronts one of the leaders of the rival gang he makes a point to sit in front of them in a relaxed manner with crossed legs.  It’s show of nonchalance, and that he demands respect.

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Kabali fights with swift moves and hidden pipes in his sleeves and objects he picks up around him.  He strategizes  and is a step ahead of his rivals.  The action fight scenes are fun and inventive.  Pretty bloody at times.

Ameer then shows Kabali the school that he and Kabali’s followers have created to save kids from gangs and other charitable foundations.  Kabali finds he feels connection to a young drug addict girl student named Meena.  “She’s about the age that my son or daughter would have been.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the dark side of youth drug use as presented like this in an Indian film before.  It’s also really interesting that Meena is shown as a redeemable character, and that our hero wants to adopt a drug addict.

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There are two really great strong women characters in this film.  As Kabali addresses the graduating class of the school, we flashback to his backstory with his wife, played by Radhika Apte, who I had only previously seen in Badlapur.  I absolutely loved their relationship of equals.  They meet as field workers, and she encourages him as he rises from labor organizer to the protege of the TamilNesan leader played by Nasser.  And then, there’s Kabali’s daughter:

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Dhansika was all kinds of kick-ass awesome as the assassin for hire Yogi.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work.

I enjoyed the personal journey of Kabali, as he tries to find his lost family more than the action gangster portions.

The reason I went to see the movie again was because I really didn’t get the underlying political message that the filmmaker was showing us, trying to slide it past the censors.  After I read Margaret’s great analysis of the film, I went back to see it again and all the song lyrics about oppression and slavery lept out at me.  I saw that the Tamil cop who had warned Kabali to be good in the jail collaborated with Kabali to bring down the Chinese gangster Tony Lee, but after that plotted Kabali’s downfall.  It seems if you rise too high, you will be chopped down again.

Kabali’s wife has a key speech where she tells him he needs to always dress well to garner respect.  She gives up her family to marry our lower caste hero.  He always dresses in a suit coat.  And his lounging cross-legged before each villain in his suit is a political message in itself.  I belong to sit here with you.  I am not your supplicant and my caste shouldn’t matter.

There’s also a message in how Kabali’s wife is a domestic servant who is shuttled from family to family and country to country with no say in where she can live.  And that Kabali returns to Chennai, the first in his family since his grandfather left for Malayalsia.   The villain is Tony Lee, and the fact that he is of Chinese heritage has a meaning. too.  I read that Prakash Raj was originally supposed to be the villain and that would have given a completely different meaning.

I think the recent Malayalam film Kammattipaadam did a better job conveying the injustice done to an oppressed people (the Dalit) through a gangster narrative.  Until I read Margaret’s piece, I didn’t fully understand what the director was trying to convey.  But then, Pa. Ranjith was working at trying to convey a message past the censors in Malaysia.    Kudos to Rajnikanth for making this film for his fans in Malaysia.  It’s enjoyable just for the surface action story alone, but look deeper.  There’s more there than first meets the eye.

Three and a half stars out of five.  (Kabali was released in Tamil and Telugu.  I saw the Tamil version.)

I wasn’t a huge fan of the rock/rap thrumming electric guitar songs that make up most of the soundtrack, but I did really like this love song:

Kammatti Paadam -Dulquer Salmaan is the star in this gripping gangster movie, but Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show

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Kammatti Paadam is a gangster epic. This film has a lot of depth and meat to it.  Dulquer Salmaan was amazing.  I’m admiring his choices of films and roles this past year.  He’s breaking into new ground and showing his acting chops outside the charming romantic lead type.  The poster shows him present day as a salt and pepper haired 42 year old security guard living in Mumbai.  (Yes, we see him doing security for a Bollywood film doing a street shoot!)  Just a touch of gray to his hair and mustache.  And I think he must have gained weight for the role.  He just looked more like his father Mammootty than ever with that substantial thick mustache.
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I looked up during the interval who the director is – Rajeev Ravi.  He’s only directed a few Malayalam films, but he’s worked extensively as a cinematographer in Bollywood, with Anurag Kashyap especially.  He was cinematographer on Bombay Velvet, Gangs of Wasseypur, Dev D, etc.  And key in Malayalam cinema, he was cinematographer for Classmates.  There were some really interesting shots — into plate glass windows, some shaky handheld work during action scenes, etc.  It just was visually interesting and not all straight forward shooting as we sometimes see in Indian film.

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The story is shown in a series of flashbacks after he gets a call in Mumbai from an old friend in Kerala who is in trouble.  Dulquer is Krishnan, a Hindu middle class kid and the name of the movie is the neighborhood he grew up in and the name of his gang.  We see his exposure to violence as a very young child, as he and his best friend Ganga see a local tough kill three men who challenge him.  Then another actor plays Dulquer as a young teen and we see that he has fallen in love with a Dalit girl.  The trouble is, so has Ganga.  Ganga and the whole gang are dalit, and the ringleader is Balan, Ganga’s older brother.  The actor who played Balan was incredible – newcomer Manikandan.

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Balan is played by newcomer Manikandan
We see Krish’s descent into violence as a teenager.  He gives a necklace to Anita, the dalit girl, and another reviewer pointed out that it was an echo of Michael Corleone in Godfather.  I recognized a Nayakan poster in one scene, but evidently there are more references and posters to other Indian gangster films in flashbacks.

Krish is jailed after he saves Ganga from being arrested by slashing a cop with a knife/machete in an impulsive act, ending up killing the cop.

When he gets out of jail, it’s young Dulquer acting the part.  We keep flashing back and forth in the narrative, and we can see present day Dulquer/Krish is injured with a bound torso, trying to keep conscious while riding a bus.

Balan, Ganga and the gang introduce Krish to their current operation — mostly transporting illegal hooch and bootlegging.  They also are hired to run off some poor families who are refusing to sell to a real estate developer.

Balan’s grandfather confronts Balan with his shame that his relative could do this to their relatives and people, and then the grandfather dies of the shock and shame.  This changes Balan and he wants to get out of the business as does Krish.  But they know too much, and a new rival in the organization won’t let things stand.  Balan is killed and Ganga blames Krish for it.

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Ganga, Krish and the gang go after Johnny, the rival and then lay low after the altercation.  Ganga tells Krish that he knows that Krish and Anita love each other but their families will never allow them to marry as it would be intercaste.  He says that he will marry Anita and try to make her happy.  Krish then goes to Mumbai.  The mystery through much of the film is how if Ganga was his romantic rival and “stole” his girl, why would he leave everything to help him and look for him all these years later?

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Vinayakan as the young and older Ganga

The guy who plays Ganga as an adult, Vinayakan was also fantastic.  I just looked him up and he was the villain John in Kali! The director found some great actors, and your sympathies are with the Dalit and how they keep getting screwed.  Their boss goes respectable and becomes a business tycoon in legal liquor and real estate, but the gang are left with nothing.

There is a final revenge scene, and Krish looks out over the city Ernakulam, Kerala.  He says to the person he’s killing that the city was built on the thick black blood of the Dalit people.  And then I realized that the idyllic country place from the childhood scenes, to the motley semi-rural shacks in the young men section to then the present day bustling city were all the same place.  And the point of the movie was that this vibrant young new city was built on the Dalit community being dispossessed and they did it for quick money to their own community.  That was probably obvious to the Kerala audience but I didn’t really get it until the end.

The women in the movie didn’t have much to do, much like many gangster pics.  One interesting note was that Balan’s wife seemed to have become a don herself after his death (and more successful.)  She assists Krish to find the answers at the end.  And there is an unrequited romance for Krish, and a whisper of a song motif for them, but no full fledged song numbers at all.  It was very much parallel cinema.  I’m guessing it’s much like Gangs of Wasseypur (which I haven’t seen yet), Kerala version.

Krish is our entre to their world, but he’s more a witness to what happens to the Dalit community.  He’s still middle-class and Hindu in the end and can move to Mumbai to start over, unlike the rest of the gang.

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The film felt long to me, and I wished it had been edited a little tighter.  (The filming ended in March evidently.)  It’s a sprawling gangster epic in the mode of Nayakan, Godfather, Casino, etc.  It’s not my favorite type of film.  So, so violent.  Shockingly violent in several parts.  The acting was great, but it’s a story of brothers of circumstance if not of blood or caste.   It’s the story of Ganga and Balan, and also Krish.

I admire this movie very much, but it’s not something I want to see over and over again.  It’s just very dark and violent and searing.  It was hard to see Dulquer be so violent in Kali, and this is even steps beyond that.  It’s not a silly action Masala movie.  He does the action scenes well, but he’s not a hero.

I thought we were seeing Dulquer play an adult in Kali, but this film shows him really, truly coming of age.  I’m excited to see him take on that mantle, and looking forward to see what roles he’ll take on next.

Four stars out of five.

New Poster for Dulquer Salmaan’s Kammattipaadam

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Dulquer Salmaan just posted this new poster for Kammattipaadam on his Facebook page.

You know what I love about these young Malayalam stars?  They put out a movie every couple of months!!  Just when I’m thinking — Gee, I wish there was a new Dulquer movie, there’s one about to come out!  May 20 is the release date in Kerala.  Hopefully we’ll get it in Chicago.

Here’s another poster with a different look:

 

Kammattipaadam, directed by national-award winner Rajeev Ravi.will evidently be a period drama.