Lal Jose is one of the most prolific Malayalam filmmakers ever. With an output of 21 films over the last 17 years, many of them commercially successful and a quite a few of them critically acclaimed as well, it is not surprising that his films are always looked forward to even today. While he may not be in the league of his more illustrious seniors from the 1980’s and 90’s, there is no doubt that he is capable of making a good aesthetic commercial Malayalam, which he has proved time and again. It’s not that he doesn’t miss the bus at all, in recent times as much as he has found success with films like Diamond Necklace, Ayalum Njanum Thammil or Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, he’s also delivered turkeys like Spanish Masala or Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal. But with a track record which comprises more of hits than misses, and with an ability to bounce back always after a dud, I was curious to see what he would do with his latest film ‘Vikramadithyan’.
Vikramadithyan marks the first time that Lal Jose has worked with Dulquer Salmaan and Unni Mukundan, two of the popular young Malayalam actors these days. It also features Nivin Pauly who has already had a hat-trick earlier this year with back to back hits like Ohm Shanthi Oshaana, 1983 and Bangalore Days. With Namitha Pramod playing the female lead and a good supporting cast which includes Anoop Menon, Lena, Joy Mathew etc, this looked like a film with potential until of course I saw the trailer of the film. While the trailer did indicate some nice trademark Lal Jose moments, it also made me fear that this could be an “Ullasam” meets “Anjathey” sort of film. And the promotions that followed also added to the dismay proclaiming the so called rivalry between Vikram (Unni Mukundan) and Adithyan (Dulquer Salmaan), something that has been already seen in plenty of films so far. While I did hope that the film would prove me wrong and turn out better, to be honest I set off to watch the film feeling a little skeptical actually.
When it comes to the plot to be honest there isn’t nothing much to talk about, as it’s something that sounds fairly simple and uncomplicated on paper. Vikramdithyan is a tale that’s based in a colony in the Mattancherry area of Fort Kochi. Police constable Vasudeva Shenoy (Anoop Menon) who likes his colleague Lakshmi (Lena) finds it hard to convince his mother to approve of a Nair girl. By the time his mother agrees it’s too late as Lakshmi gets married to a thief Kunjunni (Santosh Keezhattoor) who also pretends to be a policeman. Vasudeva Shenoy gets married (Charmila) and moves ahead in his life. Both the couples welcome the entry of a baby boy in their lives at the same time. Kunjunni’s son is named Adithyan (Dulquer Salmaan) while Shenoy’s son is Vikraman (Unni Mukundan) and both of them study in the same school along with Deepika (Namitha Pramod). Unable to bear the humiliation faced at home after getting arrested for a theft by Shenoy one day, Kunjunni commits suicide. This incident goes on to haunt Adithyan throughout his life and slowly but surely there emerges a sense of intense competition between Adithyan and Vikraman, with Deepika being the one person in common to both of them. What happens from thereon in the lives of all three of them is what the film is basically all about.
The film tries to unfold by means of a non-linear fashion, with the past being lengthier than the present. Lal Jose has basically kept the tale simple and focuses it majorly on just the colony that the characters live in a part of Mattancherry. Except for a brief portion that’s New Delhi based (due to the demand of the story) the film largely remains concentrated on Mattancherry and its heartening to see the director not getting tempted at all to stray over to the more touristy part of Fort Kochi. Now to reflect back on my initial apprehensions about the film, let me start off by saying that Vikramadithyan is not at all about age old rivalry between Vikraman and Adithyan, with them both probably fighting over Deepika. Yes there is a sense of competition between them and they even trade off blows once, but it’s not an Agni Natchathiram of sorts unlike what was probably being projected earlier.
Also thankfully the film isn’t really Ullasam meets Vikramadithyan and that’s something that we realize in the first half itself. The film isn’t so much about what happens in the career paths of the two youngsters, but more about what leads them to take the decisions that they end up making, especially Adithyan. The film does have some really standout moments, in the very beginning when we see Vasudeva Shenoy landing up at Lakshmi’s place to ask for her hand in marriage, only to realize it’s too late, is quite well done. And the hospital portion when both Vikraman and Adithyan are born and named by their respective fathers is quite funny. Also Lal Jose deserves some credit for keeping the climax free of unwanted histrionics and melodrama, thus keeping it more interesting and believable. Also the houses used, be it that of Vikraman, Adithyan or Deepika all look very realistic and thankfully true to the background that these characters belong to, a word of appreciation for the art direction and production design, in getting this done very well.
Jomon T.John’s cinematography impresses especially in the night shots and the scenes covered in the narrow lanes of the colony. While Lal Jose’s films are usually known for some good music, Bijibal’s output is quite ordinary here and the pick of the lot among the songs is “Mazhanila” (sung by Najeem Arshad & Sowmya T R, written by Santosh Varma). The film has a good star cast and more or less everyone contributes their part pretty well. It’s nice to see Joy Mathew getting to play a restrained character for a change and not going overboard. Lena by now has already gained a good reputation for being an actor of substance and here again she shines as Lakshmi. Anoop Menon as Shenoy is a slightly curious choice but nevertheless he does play it well enough and manages to leave a mark despite the film revolving around the 3 youngsters. Nivin Pauly’s cameo comes in almost towards the end of the film and it’s a short and sweet cameo from his side.
Namitha Pramod is content playing second fiddle to Dulquer Salmaan and Unni Mukundan and she doesn’t really have a taxing role as such. Nevertheless as the common friend of both the guys and as someone torn between love and friendship, she’s quite up to the mark. Unni Mukundan finally gets a decent film, after coming up with a series of duds post the success of Mallu Singh. Hopefully Vikramadithyan will go on to put him back into reckoning as he looks spirited as the tough policeman in the making, Vikraman. Dulquer as Adithyan is the real hero of the film; he even gets a mass hero like opening scene with a stylish action scene nonetheless. This is a role which doesn’t demand much from him much as he gets to brood, turn furious and finally mellow down, all of which he does with flourish. The choice of the actors including the leads is an area again where Lal Jose has done creditably well here.
So eventually Vikramadithyan is Lal Jose’s way of showing that life can be a great leveller, in the way the tale unfolds finally. While it is way better than his recent duds like Spanish Masala and Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal, this is a way too simple outing from him and writer Dr.Iqbal Kuttipuram. Considering that the same director-writer combination had given us far superior films like Arabikkatha and Diamond Necklace in the past, it’s a little disappointing to see no new ground being broken with this rather simplistic tale over here. Vikramadithyan is not a film to watch with a lot of expectations, far from it in fact. It is eventually just a shade better than a run of the mill regular entertainer aimed at commercial success, being a big festival release. Here’s hoping to see Lal Jose getting back to good form soon as he faces the prospect of having achieved his goal with Vikramadithyan.
Note- Vikramadithyan is playing outside Kerala with English subtitles and its heartening to see Lal Jose and co going in for the same. It would be great to see this happening regularly with more and more Malayalam movies, a welcome move for sure.