Friday, July 12, 2013

Left Right Left (Malayalam) - Movie Review

I don't usually take a lot of time to get a movie out of my head. A good night's sleep is usually enough to wipe the movie from my mind.

But somehow, with Left Right Left, it's not happening. It's been two days, but I'm still caught in the magic of the movie. I can't figure out why. Is it the movie itself - is it the great script, the gritty characters, the brilliant acting and the addictive music? Or is it that the movie awakened the deeply-buried kernel of communism that exists inside every mallu, never mind the three years she has spent in the corporate world?

Coming out of the theater on Monday night, I found it tough to get back to reality. Suddenly, my own life seemed very ordinary, my own concerns very petty. Where was the headiness, the romance, the sheer willingness to fight for something, that the movie had just shown me?

Yes, the movie is THAT good.

LRL is a very harsh depiction of politics in Kerala today. It focuses on communism, and somehow manages to both romanticize and criticize it at the same time. It shows us the sacrifices people have made for the fictional Revolutionist Party of India (Marxist) or RPI (M) since the beginning, and how it has lost its way today. Nobody is spared - not the two main leaders (easily identifiable in the movie), not the party's youth wing, not even the people who're trying to criticize it from the outside. The movie has seen a slightly controversial release, because one of the two identifiable characters is cast as a corrupt man, a man who will stop at nothing to maintain his hold on power.

But wait - let's begin at the beginning. LRL follows the lives of three characters - a Marxist leader named Kaitheri Sahadevan, a corrupt policeman named Jayan, and an erstwhile Communist youth leader named 'Che Guevara' Roy. Apart from these three, there are some other minor story-lines as well. There are two journalists - ex-members of the RPI (M) - who publish an explosive story about Sahadevan's corruption, and are forced to go on the run. There is a nurse who is trying to escape her violently abusive and unstable husband. There is 'Che Guevara' Roy's wife, a former Communist herself, who is trying to make her husband take care of his weak heart.

The script is based on the tenet that a man is part genetic material, part something unknown and part what he sees and goes through as a child. And so the movie begins with three scenes - one each from each man's childhood. Kaitheri Sahadevan's uncle is murdered by the landlords; his father goes out to avenge him, and never returns. Roy's father is murdered during the Emergency - right in front of Roy's eyes. Jayan's sister is dying of TB, and a policeman tries to help out with money he has accepted as a bribe. So Jayan decides two things - he will become a policeman, and he will earn a lot of money. 

My favourite thread in the movie was that of Roy and his wife Anna. Roy has visible scars, a limp, a dysfunctional left hand. But we're not told how he came by these. We only get hints that it's linked to his commmunist past. The story gradually builds up, till it's explosively revealed. (Though it IS a bit jarring to hear two Communist sakhaavs breaking into English while talking to each other. There's also a scene where Anna breaks into a Spanish song about Che Guevara, and I went, "Huh?")

The film's main strengths are a set of extremely real and gritty characters, and some great acting - mostly by people I'd never seen before. The actor playing Kaitheri Sahaedevan seemed to fill the screen with a magnetic presence (something that the person the character is based on isn't exactly known for). Indrajith as Jayan played the role of a lifetime. I haven't generally been a fan of Murali Gopy's acting, but he puts in a brilliant performance here as 'Che Guevara' Roy. Even Lena, whom I hadn't thought of as a great actor before, puts in an amazing performance as Roy's wife. 

Murali Gopy as 'Che Guevara' Roy
The other factor that makes the movie so absorbing is the music. I've had the LRL Anthem on repeat for the past three days. The background score is brilliant as well - it helps create that Communist chora-thilapp

Since I loved LRL so much, I'm now determined to watch Ee Adutha Kalathu, this director-writer duo's previous movie. 
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Monday, July 01, 2013

5 Sundarikal - Movie Review

The other day, I was feeling really glad about being a mallu. The specific context was accidentally coming across the below song. I'm so glad that I can enjoy the incredible beauty of that first line. Somebody on YouTube has tried to translate Sooryakireedam veenudanju ravin thiru arangil as, "The crown of the sun falls and shatters in the sacred stage of the night." Meh - it's so funny that even the translations that convey the literal meaning of the line can never capture the essence and the beauty. 

But tonight, I'm feeling glad about being a mallu for another reason altogether. I'm so glad that I know there are better movies being made in India than the ones Bollywood churns out. I'm so glad that I don't think Aamir Khan is the last word when it comes to "good" cinema (quite a few people do believe that, by the way). Call me parochial, and see if I care. Considering that it's always Bollywood movies that become India's official nominees for the Oscars, I really don't care if I'm parochial.

Tonight, I watched 5 Sundarikal (literally, Five Beautiful Women), a compilation of five short movies in Malayalam, directed by five different directors. And it was so worth it. I sat there feeling absolutely complacent and content. The quality of music in Malayalam cinema might have gone down since the days of Sooryakireedam, but Malayalam cinema as a whole is staging a comeback alright - and how!

Or is my over-reaction caused by the fact that the last movie I watched was Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which (I now realize) was the most atrocious piece of junk ever? Quite possibly. Many may dismiss at least a couple of the movies in 5 Sundarikal as needless tugging of the heart-strings, but I don't think anybody would be able to dismiss them as ordinary or stereotypical in any way.

And it's nothing to do with the acting, by the way. Though the films boast some of the biggest 'new names' in Malayalam cinema (Kavya Madhavan, Biju Menon, Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salman, Nivin Pauly, etc), the directors and the script-writers are clearly the stars here. And that, to me, is a sign of good cinema. If the movie doesn't depend on the stardom of the lead actor, if any good actor could have done that role without compromising the movie - that's good cinema.

It may seem contradictory, but the short format seems to have given the directors the luxury of taking their time. Most of the movies build up very slowly - layer upon layer till the inexorable ending. The first movie especially was beautiful. I was thinking, "No no no.... Don't let that be happening..." all the way to the ending. Two of the other movies have twisty endings that you don't see coming. The only movie I didn't particularly like was the second one, which was slightly random and pointless. 

So if you're a mallu - go watch this movie. If you're not - well, too bad for you.
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