Sunday, January 22, 2017

REVIEW 456: MUNTHIRIVALLIKAL THALIRKKUMBOL


Release date:
January 20, 2017
Director:
Jibu Jacob
Cast:





Language:
Mohanlal, Meena, Aima Rosmy Sebastian, Sanoop Santhosh, Anoop Menon, Srinda Ashab, Alencier Ley Lopez, Kalabhavan Shajon, Suraj Venjaramood, Sudheer Karamana, Rahul Madhav, Cameo: Asha Sarath
Malayalam


Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a sweet, believable film about a middle-class family in Kerala. It chronicles the effect on them of the after-effects of Dad’s mid-life crisis and the inordinate amount of time he spends with his male drinking buddies, our human tendency to take our loved ones for granted, marital infidelity, the meaning of guilt, and the curveballs life throws at us that could seem run-of-the-mill to an observer yet be major crises for those experiencing them.

Mohanlal plays Ulahannan/Unnachan, a grouchy Panchayat secretary obsessed with his work and lost in a boredom of his own making that he then attributes to the daily grind and his wife. Meena plays his unhappy spouse Annieamma/Annie, craving for his affection. Their children Jini and Jerry complete their small home.

There are no melodramatic twists and turns in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol (translation: When The Grapevines Sprout). It is not that kind of cinematic venture. Yet the plot points in the story would count as high drama if we were to face them in our own lives. Except for a song needlessly stuffed into the narrative when the family takes a vacation, this is what is usually described as a slice of life. The pleasure of watching it comes from the storyteller’s restraint.

Director Jibu Jacob and scriptwriter M. Sindhuraj do not take any overtly revolutionary stance in this film, yet there are baby steps worth noting. Of course we must ask when they – or any major Indian filmmaker – would treat marital infidelity by women as a source of humour and why cheating men are the subject of so many comedies, but cheating women are serious business. They operate within the patriarchal framework that is the playing field of most Malayalam commercial cinema but, for instance, by not stereotyping or lambasting the women that the men in this film have or hope to have affairs with or once loved, they place the onus for the men’s actions on the men themselves rather than looking for women – current wives, current girlfriends, potential girlfriends or ex-girlfriends  – to blame instead.

There is a point at which a couple of parents in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol become concerned that their child might be sexually active in her teens. That passage is handled with extreme care so as not to take any particular position on pre-marital sex. It seems designed to avoid the anger of those who condemn pre-marital sex and those who do not. The filmmaker appears to have clarity that he is not making a statement on a larger social issue or moralising or being judgmental, but that he is simply recounting how these particular parents reacted in this particular situation. You can therefore take what you will from the episode, depending on your views. While the allusions to the social status of the girl’s boyfriend are needless (a case of reverse classism, perhaps?), the rest is cleverly written and unimpeachable.

On the technical front, Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a mixed bag. The cinematography and production design are effective but not extraordinary, except when Pramod K. Pillai’s camera soars to shoot the stunning sights overlaid on the song Punnamada kayal. Bijibal, whose opening track for Maheshinte Prathikaaram was one of the loveliest numbers from 2016, does nothing here to match up to that. Still, I enjoyed Oru puzhayarikil because of the way it is fitted into the storyline and for Swetha Mohan’s amazing voice. Punnamada kayal, on the other hand, was absolutely unnecessary and completely ordinary.

Mohanlal and Meena are fine actors, and deliver understated performances in tune with the film’s tone and tenor (notwithstanding Meena’s over-enthusiastic make-up artist). They are surrounded by strong actors including old hands Anoop Menon, Kalabhavan Shajon and Alencier Ley Lopez playing Unnachan’s friends, Suraj Venjaramood as the Panchayat president and Sudheer Karamana as his corrupt puppeteer.

Rahul Madhav makes an impression in a brief appearance as Annie’s brother as does Sanoop Santhosh playing Annie and Unnachan’s son. Even the littlest role seems to have been cast with care, which explains why the wonderful Asha Sarath’s dignity was sought out for a tiny cameo as Unnachan’s old friend. My pick of the supporting players in large roles are Aima Rosmy Sebastian as the lead couple’s daughter (a young talent to watch out for) and Srinda Ashab as Anoop Menon’s long-suffering wife.

Mohanlal scored a massive box-office hit last year with Pulimurugan in which he played a swashbuckling action hero conquering tigers in the jungle. There are those who contend that collections should silence all naysayers, but the truth is that he is far more believable here as a conflicted, ordinary middle-class husband. As a well-wisher and admirer of this megastar’s great talent, I wish he would seek out more roles better suited to his age and physique in films like Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol. I wish he would realise too that it would only enhance his dignity to act with women his age rather than far younger female stars like Meena. So many layers could have been added to this story with age-appropriate casting. 

That said, Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a pleasant film, both charming and likeable. It is relatable, insightful and entertaining – a blend that is no mean achievement.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating (India):
U
Running time:
154 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




REVIEW 455: COFFEE WITH D


Release date:
January 20, 2017
Director:
Vishal Mishra
Cast:

Language:
Sunil Grover, Zakir Hussain, Rajesh Sharma, Pankaj Tripathi, Dipannita Sharma Atwal, Anjana Sukhani
Hindi


If you make a lousy film and call it Coffee With D, you do not deserve better than a lazy review playing on “D” and other letters of the alphabet. Director Vishal Mishra’s tale of an Arnab Goswami clone trying to land a television interview with India’s most wanted underworld don is not B-, C- or D-grade. Z is too high a rating for it.

Radio and television star Sunil Grover – best known for playing Gutthi on Comedy Nights With Kapil and now multiple characters on The Kapil Sharma Show – takes on the role of a chap called Arnab Ghosh, whose obnoxiously aggressive journalistic style prompts his boss to shift him from a nightly prime-time slot to an early evening space reserved for a cookery show. The only way he can save his job is to do something sensational that will turn the channel around.

Never mind what the rest of the story is. The acting in Coffee With D is awkward, the sets are tacky, the production quality is amateurish, the editing is haphazard and the writer’s understanding of the functioning of the media is non-existent. This film is an insult to the word cinema, and to spend too much time reviewing it would be an insult to my profession, so let me give Coffee With D the cliched critique it deserves by scanning the thesaurus for adjectives starting with D that can be applied to it. Here goes:

D for Disastrous.

D for Dismal.

D for Doomed.

D for Dreadful.

And oh yes:

D for Dammit, why did I waste 2 hours and 3 minutes of my precious time watching this nonsense?

Coffee With D clearly thinks it is funny, gutsy and insightful. What it is instead is unfunny and of poorer quality than what a smart kindergarten kid might write. Why am I stopping at D alone? There are other letters that throw up words suited to the emotions this film incites:

A for Abhorrent.

A for Appalling.

A for Atrocious.

A for Awful.

G for Ghastly.

H for Harrowing.

H for Heartbreak because three of my favourite character actors from Bollywood agreed to star in it: Zakir Hussain as the gangster the film refers to simply as D, Pankaj Tripathi as his sidekick-in-chief Girdhari and Rajesh Sharma as Arnab’s boss Roy. Why, doston, why?

There’s more:

H for Hideous.

H for Horrendous.

H for Horrid.

H for How weird that “Bombay” is one of the words muted in the film!

R for Revolting when it makes unthinking remarks about rape and bomb blasts.

R for Ridiculously bad.

D for Dawood, the name the film does not have the guts to use.

E for Etcetera etcetera.

Seriously, I am not being clever here to elicit some laughs. The fact is there are thousands of extremely talented people out there who do not get good breaks in films and theatre because they do not have the right contacts, or fortune has not favoured them, or they could not find the money to fund a potentially solid project. Knowing this reality, it is infuriating to learn that a producer actually backed this bag of garbage in its entirety. Coffee With D made me angry because it has managed to come to theatres and get good time slots in prime halls despite being a zero, while some excellent small films never manage a theatrical release.

D for Damn you cosmos, for allowing this injustice.

This is not a film. It is a waste of time.

Rating (out of five stars): -25 stars

CBFC Rating (India):
A
Running time:
123 minutes

A version of this review has been published on Firstpost: