Not too long ago many of us had given up on Mohanlal, neither was he drawing crowds to the theatres like he used to do with remarkable ease film after film, nor was he managing to please the critics. However with Drishyam he made everyone shut up, even as the film appealed to audiences far and wide and critics too were moved by what Jeethu Joseph managed to come up with through this film. But somehow his choice of films post Drishyam have not been all that convincing, even his fans have not been completely satisfied to be honest. With no release for around 8 months (post Kanal) one was left wondering what exactly is his game plan but it looks like he knew that he was always there in the hunt. With Vismayam/Manamantha he showed that he is still good with the simple family oriented subjects and with Janatha Garage he managed to wow the Telugu audience as well. And by the time you read this I’m sure everyone knows that he has now had huge back to back hits in the form of Priyadarshan’s Oppam and of course Vysakh’s Pulimurugan.
There have been so many rumours about the plot of the film, some funny, some really cool and some not funny at all. But as the film begins you try to shut down all your thoughts and just focus on what is being unveiled on the screen in front of you. Around half an hour into Vysakh’s Pulimurugan and Mohanlal is yet to make his entry, but then the audience is waiting quite patiently. When in one of the earlier scenes the young Pulimurugan is shown slaying a tiger, the audience knows what to expect from the entry of the superstar. And not surprisingly Mohanlal as Pulimurugan does make his entry later and it happens in style as he combats a tiger to save his uncle and a couple of other men who are with him. This action sequence that marks his entry is like a clear indicator of what the film is all about. For starters Pulimurugan is a film featuring Mohanlal the superstar and it is not a vehicle for the actor in him. Of course if you had already seen the promos this was made quite clear even early on. But any doubts whatsoever are dispelled once the entry sequence of Pulimurugan in the film is done away with and then all you can do is to sit back and participate in the ride.
Vysakh has made his mark as a director with commercially successful Malayalam films like Pokkiri Raja (2010), Seniors (2011), Mallu Singh (2012) and Sound Thoma (2013), though his last 2 films-Vishudhan (2013) and Cousins (2014) did not really make an impact as such. Pulimurugan sees Vysakh joining hands with Mohanlal for the first time and it is also the first film written by Udayakrishna (of the popular Udayakrishna-Siby K.Thomas duo) alone. The promos have brought in a mixed response of sorts, with even some fans being a little disappointed by the slightly over the top nature of the film as it looked likely to emerge. But as the release date appeared closer, the hyype that the film carried was only getting bigger and bigger. This was clearly reflected in the huge release that the film managed to get, both in Kerala as well as the rest of the country. This was more than enough to ensure that the film would go on to smash several opening day records in Kerala, and that’s exactly what it did. But would that be all to it or would the film have a lot more to offer is what I set off to find when I went to watch Pulimurugan.
Murugan is a lorry driver living in a forest village called Puliyoor and is affectionately referred to as Pulimurugan by the people around him for whom he is a saviour. Whenever there is a tiger on the prowl leading to loss of human lives it is only Murugan who comes to their rescue. As a child he had lost his parents early on, his mother dying while giving birth to his brother and his dad falling prey to a tiger.Aided by his uncle Balaraman (Lal), Murugan hunts down the tiger responsible for his dad’s death and from then on he goes on to train himself to tackle man eating tigers and rescue people from the shackles of death. Murugan’s life now revolves around his wife Myna (Kamalinee Mukherjee), their daughter and his brother Manikuttan (Vinu Mohan). Circumstances make Murugan move away from Puliyoor along with his family. Soon the village is terrorized once again by a tiger. What made Murugan move away from Puliyoor? And doess he manage to get back to his forest settlement and come to the people’s rescue once again? The rest of the film reveals all this and more.
It is pretty clear early on itself that there is nothing extraordinary about the writing of Udayakrishna and the story per se is quite simple. But overcoming that easily is Mohanlal’s characterisation as Pulimurugan and despite his physical limitations he does manage to pull of the action sequences very well. Fans of Mohanlal get to see him in a larger than life role after quite some time and he does have a blast playing Pulimurugan. The film also dwells briefly upon the question of man vs animal and their equation in a natural habitat like the forest, though one wished if this angle was probably highlighted a little more. Technically the film boasts of high standards, the budget seems to have been carefully and cleverly utilised. Shaji Kumar’s cinematography does great justice to the wonderful locations utilized for the film. Despite having a run time of 161 minutes the film does not really test our patience, credit both to director Vysakh and editor Johnkutty for ensuring that the audience does not feel any problem with the pace of the film.
Gopi Sunder’s background score and Tapas Nayak’s sound mixing also work well for the film. Peter Hein’s action choreography and the VFX work are both fantastic and are certainly the highlights of the film. In fact without the action sequences, the VFX work and the visuals the film would be nowhere as widely accepted as it has indeed been so far. But then the film also has its share of issues and there’s no doubt about it. To start with we have a rather too simple tale as mentioned earlier, to add to it there are certain characters that for some strange reason appear too crass, with their sexually explicit dialogues or activities, all in the name of comedy. So Balaraman for example is shown as someone who impregnates his wife regularly, while Poongayi Sasi (Suraj Venjaramoodu) is a guy with a weakness to peep into bathrooms when a woman is inside and then we have voluptuous Julie (Namitha) who is shown openly lusting for Murugan. Why would we have such archaic stock characters is something that beats me.
Oh! And why would a villain be named as Daddy Girija (Jagapati Babu)? It definitely sounds ridiculously funny and hence you can’t really take the character seriously despite his arresting presence in the film. Pulimurugan has a huge ensemble star cast and it’s good to see a lot of them getting utilized well despite the impact of puli (tiger) and Murugan in the film. Kamalinee Mukherjee gets good screen time but sadly we almost always see her only scowling. Vinu Mohan plays the typical simpleton and the good brother, the only thing missing was him turning against his elder brother :). Lal is a natural as the boisterous Balaraman, Kishore as the forest officer who hates Murugan makes an impact while Bala, Gopakumar and Makarand Deshpande also get noticed. Sudheer Karamana in a short role does manage to impress,while Hareesh Peradi does something that comes along easily to him.
But the film basically works largely thanks to the presence of Mohanlal who plays to the gallery in style and literally defies his age with the kind of action sequences that he pulls of. Pulimurugan is a film where Mohanlal clearly shows that he still has it in him to pull off the odd mass entertainers provided it has a distinct USP. Don’t go in expecting to be fed with anything out of the box in terms of the concept as that would really make you disappointed later. With Pulimurugan what we see is that Vysakh and Mohanlal have combined together to give us a high voltage action film, a film that is certainly worth watching especially if you are a fan of Mohanlal and/or like action films.
Note: Pulimurugan is playing with English subtitles in limited screens outside Kerala. Since I haven’t seen it with subtitles I wouldn’t be in a position to comment on the quality of the subtitles. As I write this I also realize that the film is doing well enough to open up in many more new centres in Rest of India in its 2nd week, including some non regular Malayalam centres.
On the topic of Mohanlal mass movies, am I the only one that thinks Narasimham is underrated with regards to critical appreciation? Thandavam and the derivative action flicks that followed tainted the reputation of what is IMO the perfect mass movie. It’s got good writing, a great emotional conflict(Thilakan and Mohanlal’s father and son conflict), very few songs, and it never gets boring. To top it all off is a fantastic performance by Mohanlal. The way he makes those punchlines seem natural is amazing. That sequence of Mohanlal-Ranjith flicks(Aaram Thamburan, Usthaad, Narasimham) gave us three of the best mass movies of Malayalam.