Monday, April 01, 2013

A is for Amen: A Movie Review

This post is part of the A2Z Challenge.

These days, it seems like every other new Malayalam movie features Fahadh Faasil in some role or the other. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I've been a fan of the guy ever since I watched Chaappan Kurishu (I still don't know how that's pronounced). And the fan-dom is just growing with each new movie of his that I watch.

Amen is the latest of these. The story is set in a small village in Kerala, called Kumaramkari. Kumaramkari is your typical Kuttanaadan town, beautiful almost beyond belief. Water meets sky meets land everywhere. People travel around by boat. Petty rivalries abound, as usually does happen in cutoff places.

The movie follows several threads, all inter-connected. There is the love story of Solomon and Sosanna, which seems doomed - she is the daughter of a rich contractor, and he is the wastrel son of the late clarinet player of the church band. The church and its band form the other focal point. The church authorities seem corrupted by their power, whereas the band hasn't won the local band competition in many years, and seems unlikely to. Kumaramkari really needs a saviour, to rescue it from the mire it has fallen into.

Could it be that the new 'small priest' of the church is this saviour? Father Vincent Vattolly is dashing, looks faintly like a plump Jesus Christ, rides a Bullet, plays the guitar. His arrival in Kumaramkari throws everything into a turmoil.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the movie starts to go slightly off-track from here.

The main problem with the movie is that there are just too many things happening. The director seems to love his characters and setting so much that he delves much deeper into their lives than he needs to - never mind if the viewers are interested or not. The movie could easily have been half an hour shorter without anyone missing anything.

The other annoying thing is the crassness. Amen starts off with a wonderful animated sequence featuring three cute angels and a foot-tapping song. Unfortunately, it then jumps into a sequence which ends with a packet of shit being splattered all over a crowded lunch table. Fart jokes abound throughout, as do people who like to throw chicken curry all over each other. The young men in the audience seemed to enjoy all these antics though.

Despite this, Amen is held together by three things - its wonderful setting, its church, and its music. The place is a cameraman's fantasy - lush greenery, grey backwaters, blue skies. Kuttanaad itself seems to be one of the characters in the movie. The church (which is introduced to us as the place where St George appeared in person to scare off Tipu Sultan's army) is also a larger than life presence throughout. And the music - it's fresh, foot-tapping, very different from the usual horrible stuff we hear these days. 

Every single one of the actors does a fantastic job. Fahadh is beyond brilliant - those who've only seen him in Chaappa Kurishu will have a tough time believing this is the same guy. (Those who've seen Natholi Oru Cheriya Meenalla won't have much trouble though.) Indrajith seems to have been born just to play Father Vattolly - he's that perfect here. Kalabhavan Mani seems to be trying to step into the void left behind by Thilakan - there's even a shot of him praying to a photo of Thilakan just before the final performance.

I also enjoyed all the pop culture references. Aside from the nod to Thilakan, the movie also features Vikraman and Muthu as two gundas hired to 'take care of' Solomon - complete with the original costumes! 

For a change, the female lead's character is strong - she can take care of herself. She's the strong one in the Solomon-Sosanna relationship. She even smashes Vikraman's face in with a frying pan! 

Amen is a love story to Kuttanaad and to a certain way of living. It's not fast or tightly edited, but it does relish the politics of small communities. It celebrates music - be it the energy of the band playing to a crowd, or the sad wailing of the clarinet on a full moon night. It puts a small village on a big canvas, and succeeds to a surprising extent.

So go watch Amen if you have some patience. Make sure that you're willing to sink into another world entirely without being tempted to look at your watch every half an hour - you'll enjoy it. 


Aside: I love the fact that Malayalam cinema seems to be climbing up out of the sinkhole it had fallen into a few years ago, when the superstars were picking the most horrible movies, and it seemed like the Golden Age was past. Misogyny seemed to rule in movies that called themselves 'family dramas'. Recent movies, part of the 'New Generation' or 'New Wave' or whatever it's called, feature fresh young actors and experimental directors. They are choosing to work on innovative scripts, and superstars are being rejected in favour of fresh faces. I really hope this trend continues. 
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