KAPPELA movie review: Couple Trouble!

Malayalam , 2020

Cast:     Anna Ben, Roshan Mathews, Sreentha Bhasi, Sudhi Koppa,

Music    Sushin Shyam

Written and directed by Muhammed Musthafa

 streaming on NETFLIX

 

Continuing the golden run in recent years, Malayalam movie industry dived into 2020 with a bang!  Right up in January the thriller Anjaam Pathira took the box-office by storm, and the next month saw the arrival of the widely appreciated Ayyapanum Koshiyum. And in the month of March, a small little film titled Kappela quietly came to the big screens and instantly impressed audiences. It was unfortunate though that the movie did not get its due cause of the immediate lockdown measures put in place.

Kappela (meaning Chapel) is a neatly packaged movie from actor Muhammed Musthafa who is making his directorial debut with this venture. Musthafa, who over a decade has become a familiar face in Malayalam movies shows that he has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to writing as well. Because his sharp and creative screenplay is what works for this, otherwise simple looking film.

Much of the credit goes to the smart casting and leading from the front is Anna Ben. This actress after the highly impressive roles in Kumbalangi Nights and Helen, once again charms literally carrying the entire movie on her petite shoulders.  In Kappela, she plays Jessy, a a simple naive girl from an orthodox Christian, residing in a high range village in Wayanad, Kerala. Having flunked her exams, she really haven’t any high ambitions set for herself in life, and goes about her routine life, with rather modest desires. Like something as simple as a visit to a beach.

Jessy’s life gets interesting when she ends up dialing a wrong number one day. The voice at the other end belongs to a Vishnu (Roshan Mathews), an autorickshaw driver.  Soon it leads to more calls between the two, and before you know it, a romantic relationship brews between the duo over these regular phone calls.

The two decide eventually to meet each other in the city of Kozhikode. But what should have been a simple rendezvous gets complicated when in walks a third character, Roy (Sreenath Bhasi) into the equation and the lives of this couple will never remain the same.

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Telling anything more would be spoilers because the strength is in the screenplay taking you places which you do not expect it to and Musthafa the writer makes the job easy for the director in him. He shows how an ordinary tale can be spun to effective results, without going all flashy or in-your-face. It also holds back from being preachy or taking any moralistic high stand when it comes to dealing with its characters and situations. For a minute, you would even think this is going the way of last year’s Shane Nigam starrer Ishq and we are going to get yet another round of the clash of male egos.

 

Sreenath Bhasi and Roshan Mathews does a good job in their respective roles, going at each other’s throats. Having to walk on this fine thin line of characterization, the two pulls it off with aplomb. But as mentioned the real heart and soul is Anna Ben and she emerges extremely confident in her craft, adding this one too as yet another feather to her short but impressive filmography. She gives the needed relatability to the character of Jessy, grounding her in earnestness. Able support also comes from the rest of the cast that includes Sudhi Koppa, James Elia, Nisha Sarang and Tanvi Ram.

Sushin Shyam’s delightfully wonderful score and Jimshi Khalid’s captivating frames enhances the movie, enriching the experience, supporting Mustafa’s vision.

With a refreshing take that toys with one’s perspectives, Kapella is another small yet impressive work that once again shows that the Malayalam industry is indeed in promising hands. And this gives us a prime example, how boundaries of storytelling are constantly being pushed despite all the seeming limitations.

 

– Joxily John

 

Mohanlal: From Narendran to Kunjali Marakkar IV, a Journey to be Admired

With all of us being confined to our homes for nearly 2 months or so, all thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen our lives getting altered in ways that we had never anticipated and looked forward to. I have been someone who generally preferred the experience of watching movies in cinemas, not getting lured by the abundant content (films, web-series and much more) available on the numerous OTT/digital platforms that we have access to. Every few months I would ponder over trying to embrace the OTT platforms, but kept delaying the inevitable, only for this lockdown to finally bring in the transition in my case. So thus, I have been getting my daily fix of entertainment at home in the last couple of months, watching film after film, series after series. And in this process, I also watched Ranjith’s Drama (2018), a rare Mohanlal film in recent times that I had missed watching in a theatre.Continue reading “Mohanlal: From Narendran to Kunjali Marakkar IV, a Journey to be Admired”

Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) Malayalam Movie Review: The Hunter and the Hunted

The latest Malayalam thriller to stream on our home screens is Anjaam Pathiraa (the fifth midnight).  Kochi the metro city of Kerala is shocked by a cold blooded murder of a cop. An investigation team is formed, with Anwar (Kunchacko Boban) who is a psychologist helping the team.  Soon the cops realise that they are looking at a serial killer who is out to murder the cops.Continue reading “Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) Malayalam Movie Review: The Hunter and the Hunted”

Top 50 Malayalam Film Songs of 2019: A Compilation

If 2018 was a grim year for Kerala (with Sabarimala and floods dominating the mental and emotional space of people), 2019 has been quite a distressing year for the nation as a whole with the fervid protests rocking the public space across. At a time like this when the nation is going through a rather tumultuous churning phase, it is kind of awkward to pause the political scene and take a peep into the musical world of entertainment that has enthralled our spirits this year. But life must go on – governments will come and governments will go but the strains of music shall continue to touch our souls as all great art does….Continue reading “Top 50 Malayalam Film Songs of 2019: A Compilation”

Moothon Trailer puts Melissa Raju Thomas on the map

The much awaited trailer of the bi-lingual film (Malayalam & Hindi) Moothon is out and with that Melissa Raju Thomas marks her debut in the feature film category.
Directed by Geethu Mohandas, Co-Written and Co- Produced by Anurag Kashkyap, Melissa will be seen alongside celebrated actor Nivin Pauly.
 
The film has seen its international premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2019 as one of the four films from India that has been selected as a standout outlier and is slated for its national premiere at the upcoming 20th edition of Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI).
Talking about the trailer release of Moothon, an excited Melissa said, “Now that the trailer is out, I’m feeling the jitters of release. Moothon has a stellar star cast and it is a dream debut for me. I can’t thank Geethu enough for considering me for such a unique role. I don’t think we have seen such a character on Indian screens and by that count it is really unique. It might sound a bit of a cliché as every actor feels attached to his or her character but once you watch the film you will know what I mean. The film has shaped up really well and I have my fingers crossed”.

Continue reading “Moothon Trailer puts Melissa Raju Thomas on the map”

Kumbalangi Nights Movie Review: Man in the Mirror!

An unfinished house. That is the image we get as the movie begins and that image is enough to put across to the viewers the stories of the pain and struggle of the people within.

In this case it is the house of the late Napolean’s four sons, situated in a small village in Ernakulam.  We are first introduced to the youngest of the lot, Frankie (Mathew Thomas) who makes it clear about how ashamed he feels about his house that he has to lie in order to keep his classmates from visiting his place. In his words, ‘the worst house of the entire Panchayat!’

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The oldest of this rather dysfunctional household is Saji (Soubin Shahir) who is content freewheeling on the hard earned money of a Tamilian he once had helped. Then you have the mute one,  Bonny (Srinath Bhasi),  who stays away from the squabbles of the house and would rather spend the time with his close bunch of friends. And the last of the lot is Bobby, played by Shane Nigam, who is a total loafer who cannot put the effort into anything. He runs away from anything that is described as a ‘job’. Even when asked if he is into drugs, his reply is ‘those things make you think. We cannot do all hat. We are free-birds’.

Simultaneously, we also get a peek into yet another household- that of Baby (Anna Ben) who works as a tourist guide at one of the nearby resorts. Her sister (Grace) has just married and we are introduced to her husband- Shammi (a brilliant Fahadh Fasil) who in his introductory shot itself looks to the mirror, setting his bold black moustache and announcing to himself, ‘Raymond- the complete man!’.

Though we do not get to know much of his past, we can sense the misogynistic and conservative upbringing of his. Even before he is introduced, there is his brother who gets visibly offended on being offered a lift on a bike, rode by a woman. With his father in law having passed away, Shammi believes he has a firm role to play as the ‘man of the house’. Truth be told, he believes he is the rightful hero of his tale. ‘Shammi, hero aada, hero’ utters Fahadh in one of the best lines from the film.

And in most cases, he would have been. But this time, Shammi is not the hero.

For the heroes of the stories are the women that walk into the lives of these men. They find a good human being even in the most laggard of these men. They see the beauty even in the most incomplete and unkempt of places. They bring hope to even those who seemingly have lost all of it. They also bring forth courage at situations where it really is called for. They turn out to be the true knights of this Kumbalangi village.

Hats off once again to Shyam Pushkaran. The writer has been giving us gems after another and here is yet another spectacular example of what magic even simplistic of writings can create on celluloid. Placing realistic characters in equally relatable settings, dipped with the local milieu turns to a feast for the viewers. And they are not the perfectly white and black characters that we used to. The characters are as flawed as you and me.

Even the villain of this enterprise, Shammi is not entirely wrong. He has a point when he questions the qualifications that the wayward Bobby possess to marry his sister in law. He is on point when he states that the chap cannot even afford to pay for his own shave at the barbershop. In another movie, he very well might have been the hero. Here we are asked to laugh at the moustache twirling man, rooted in misogyny and patriarchal conservatism.

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Director Madhu C Narayanan could not have asked for a better debut. Every scene and every character come alive, even the short scene that the sons share with the mother. Joining hand in hand with the writer and the cinematographer Shyju Khalid, they bring such warmth and feel good factor to the proceedings. Commendable is how none of this ever seem forced into the narrative but flows in with a natural ease.

Speaking of flowing in, the same can be said about the songs in the movie. Sushin Shyam’s music blends in well with the setting and never feels out of place. Even when an English track forms part of the it. The theme music is something that will stick to you head much after the movie.

And the performances. How captivating are they?  Shane Nigam is turning into a remarkable lead man who certainly have the charms and the acting chops. Sreenath Bhasi plays with limitations but makes his presence felt. Debutant Anna Ben was dazzling from the word go and looked exceptionally confident and impressive for a newcomer. Other performers like  Mathew, Jasmine Metevier and Grace Antony also makes their presence felt. Even the actors who play Bobby and Baby’s friends make a lasting impression. Dileesh Pothan , also one of the producers of the movie, chips in a cameo appearance.

Fahadh Fasil has repeatedly been challenging himself and he seem to not surprise himself and the audience with his choice of roles and how he aces them. This time, as a villain, he absolutely steals the frames whenever he appears with his eccentric mannerisms, and at times, even with merely his looks. One runs out of adjectives with each passing performance of his.

And last but not the least, Soubin Shahir. From a comedian, he made leaps as a lead man in last year’s runaway success story Sudani From Nigeria.  But with this one, he has shown us what a amazing actor he is. He owned the role of Saji completely. Be it when he laughs in joy on Bobby calling him ‘chetta (Brother), or when in his drunk scene with Ramesh Thilak and eventual reaction to the bitter truth, or the scene where he breaks down in front of the doctor. Such a damn fine performance capturing all the complexities of the character.

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This year is merely a month and a few days old, and we already have a gem of a film that would feature in the year end top lists (…that is if not the best). Rarely do we have movies approached with such simplicity, sincerity and comes out with such beautiful results. But films from Kerala are managing to hit that sweet spot with ease and finesse. The Napolean brothers will find a place a heart in all moviegoers. And so will Fahadh’s Shammi , one that will be etched in our memories for years to come.

So think no further, do check out this house in the wastelands of Kumbalangi. One where exists no boundaries of caste, color, religion or nation. It shows that even the most incomplete of homes can feel complete when it is drenched in love, acceptance and brotherhood. An absolute must-watch!

Rating:  4

 

KUMBALANGA NIGHTS (Malayalam, 2019)

cast:  Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi, Anna Ben, Mathew Thomas, Grace Antony and Fahadh Faasil

Directed by Madhu C Narayanan

Written by Shyam Pushkaran

Produced by Fahadh Fasil and Friends/ Working Class Hero

‘9’ Movie Review: The Father, the Son and the Unholy Guest!

 

 

Prithviraj’s latest movie,  ‘9’, does start off with an exciting premise. The earth is about to witness a rare cosmic event, one that involves a comet passing through the earth at such a close distance that it would leave the world without electricity, internet or any communication for the next nine days.

So, when his mentor Dr Inayat Ali (played by Prakash Raj) offers an opportunity to do some research on the comet from the Himalayas, astrophysicist Albert Lewis (Prithvi) grabs it immediately and lands up at the high peaks with a handpicked team of four members.

Also, with him is his seven-year-old son, Adam. Albert, being a single parent, has been having trouble in keeping the young lad on the right track. So, he decides to take the boy along during this research expedition.

On the first day of the comet’s presence, Albert ends up running into a mysterious woman in the woods. He brings the unconscious woman back to his resort. The following day, the woman (Wamiqa Gabbi) introduces herself as Eva and informs that she got lost in the forests while on a similar trip with her friends to check out the comet. She does hit it off well with both Albert as well as his son, Adam.

But something about the new visitor seems strange and the following nine days is about how the equations between the father, son and their new ‘guest’ change throughout these days.

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It cannot be argued that Prithviraj is trying to give the Malayalam film industry, usually known for superb content but with limited budget constraints, a leap to the big league. With much more technical and production quality, it is a sincere attempt to tap into a bigger market beyond the boundaries of the state. And this co-venture with a big player like Sony Pictures is an excellent example of the same.

However, the problem comes when the storytelling attempt looks more inspired as opposed to saying something original and homegrown. And it has become a common streak in the actor’s recent choices. As he tackles ghosts, serial-killers, cults, supernatural beings etc., the flashes of originality or even attempt to finely adapt to the local milieu goes missing. One wishes the focus is kept more on telling our stories well to the world rather than compromising into telling their stories to stand out.

Director Jenuse Mohammed, despite the different yet promising sci-fi touches, steers the whole thing down the alleys of familiarity. After all the talks about humans headed back to bonding with nature, the movie never really stops to address those aspects. Instead, the genre slowly shifts, and elements of science get traded in favour of supernatural elements.  And the grip over the audience begins to loosen.

It is fair enough to tackle different genres. But if it is horror, there needs to have a proper atmospheric building. And that is never going to happen with the incessant background score (Sekhar Menon) like this one has.  The beauty of silence in such sequences is matchless to amplify the fear and creep factor. But that is not opted for here, and it fails to engage the audience.

Another point is it science-fiction, horror, fantasy -whatever the genre, there is a certain logic within the movie that must be followed and respected. For example, if a character can fly through windows, you do not expect them to struggle with a closed door in the next scene. Or for here, you have a character swooping in on another on a cycle but has issues in chasing down a young lad on foot.

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The results are mixed. Because technically the movie has everything going for it. Be it the stunning visuals from Abhinandan Ramanujam or the exemplary sound design. Even the VFX work is quite good (barring the wolf, of course). But Jenuse’s writing proves to be a downer. For a film that is said to revolve around the father-son bonding, there is hardly any importance or time given to develop this aspect. They do try to reason it out with an exposition towards the climax, but it never really convinces you. From a narration point, it should have been told from either the father’s point of view or the son’s. But the film tries to do both and eventually as a viewer, we are not invested in either predicament.

But the choices the makers make only add to the problems. The director then tries to make it even more profound by throwing more genre-busting moves towards the climax. It helps in covering up some of the flaws but also reveals new ones. Especially a scene where the character goes shopping raises a question on the validity of the whole theory.

Performance wise Prithvi seems to be resorting to his trademark mannerisms and reactions, merely playing to the script but never to his strengths. The actor we saw in Koode is nowhere in sight. Mamta Mohandas and Prakash Raj have nothing much to do in their cameos. Master Alok does well with his role, while Wamiqa Gabbi manages to shine but both suffer from sluggish writing and equally flat dialogues.

The solace is that 9 (nine) keeps to its promise of being a one of a kind theatrical experience for Malayalam films with its technical prowess. Yet it frustratingly falters on two of the biggest strengths of the industry – content and acting.  And as far as the talks about it being a unique sci-fi offering, the closest it gets is with the black hole, it manages to create in its script!

 

NINE (Malayalam)

Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Master Alok, Wamiqa Gabbi, Prakash Raj and Mamta Mohandas

Written and Directed by Jenuse Mohamed

Music by Shaan Rehman

Produced by Prithviraj Productions in association with Sony Pictures India

 

Rating:  2.5

 

Top 40 Malayalam Film Songs of 2018: A Compilation

2018 was a year that a lot of folks in Kerala would want to forget. First you had one of the greatest floods of the century causing immense damage, quickly followed by the all-encompassing Sabarimala issue which kept all its denizens busy for most of the season. Maybe it is a reflection of the mood of the state for most of the year that this period did not provide too many cinematic works in the mainstream space that made an impact. Yes, there were exceptions like Ee Ma You, Sudani from Nigeria, Eeda and Poomaram but otherwise there was very little to write home about, despite a fantastic 2017. With mega biggies like Odiyan and Kayamkulam Kochunni creating more hype about the business done rather than artistic merit and falling short of pleasing either the audience or critics, we probably need Dileesh Pothan to make a film every year!Continue reading “Top 40 Malayalam Film Songs of 2018: A Compilation”

Kayamkulam Kochunni Movie Review: Prince of Thieves!

In the simplest of terms, one can label the legendary figure of Kerala folklore, Kayamkulam Kochunni as a local Robin hood of sorts. However, given the context of social structure of that times, he is much more than that. Here is a young Muslim man who is considered a deity in one of the Hindu temple in Kerala to this day. A Muslim who learned the martial art form of Kalari at a time when it was not exactly thought to ‘outsiders’. And a man who from whatever we know of him, stood for the lower caste and oppressed while taking on the rich and the upper strata of the society. A man who was eventually betrayed by his own men for a few pieces of gold. In short, a man who has a story that has all the makings of an epic.

And yet, direct Rosshan Andrews attempt at giving this legendary figure a fitting movie adaptation proves to an underwhelming one.

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Kayamkulam Kochunni narrates the tale of Kochunni (Nivin Pauly), a young chap with a heart of gold and a do-gooder. He flees from home when his father is caught for stealing and seeks to live an honest life. He takes up the job with a Tamil Brahmin as a storekeeper for his livelihood.

There is also the whole episode of him wanting to learn the art form of  Kalari which makes him seek out a local teacher Thangal (Babu Anthony) who initially refuses to teach him.  However, the determined man ends up learning the art by hiding on a treetop and watching the classes closely after dusk. When he is eventually sniffed out, the master is impressed at the man and his skills he has picked up.

The turn of events comes in when Kochunni stumbles upon some treasure which he duly informs the high priests of the village. However instead of being rewarded, they frame him once they get their hand on the loot and brands Kochunni as a thief and leave him out to die.

And he would have died, had it not been for the timely entry of a famed thief by the name of Ithikkara Pakki (the hyped cameo from Mohanlal). He comes in to save the central character and the film just in time. Pakki inspires a crushed Kochunni to stand again on his feet and fight back at the privileged few who cheated and framed him a criminal.

Thus, Kochunni becomes gradually Kayamkulam Kochunni, the feared thief whose name is enough to send shudders down the spine of the elite, while ensuring he does his bit for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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Sure, all of it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as much of the screenplay is about creative cinematic liberties. Kochunni has already made it to the big screens once in the sixties, with Sathyan playing the role of the infamous thief. And even in recent past, the stories made its way into our living rooms in the form of a televised series.  And now with a budget of supposedly 45 crore, director Rosshan Andrews takes a shot at it.

Bobby-Sanjay, the writing duo, who has been the backbone of some of Andrews’ finest works fails to really bring out the distinctive epic materials that the script required. Instead taking inspiration from a basic Amar Chitra version of the character, the screenplay also goes about ticking off some basic events of Kochunni’s life without really bothering with the whys and hows. We never really get into the emotional psyche of the man, and as a result, we are not really engaged with the central character. The screenplay basically misses all the emotional beats making us disconnected with Kochunni’s victories or setbacks.

This is only made worse with the portrayal of the character by lead man Nivin Pauly. For starters, his approach to what could have been the role of a lifetime is extremely disappointing. He never looks comfortable in the part and does not really come off well in the transformation from the boy next door to the much-dreaded thief in town. His failure to become the character, mentally or physically turns to be the biggest bane of the project.

In fact, Mohanlal, even in his fifteen minutes, puts in much more effort with mannerisms and body language to give his character of Ithikkara Pakki, the much-needed distinction. So much for a tale of a thief, when the veteran in his 20 minute appearance ends up stealing the thunder. Yes, Pakki does look like a character from belonged in another film, with the costume and the western BGM. But no one would complain about authenticity there, because his scenes were the better portions of the movie. Wish Andrews and Nivin put in as much effort to the titular character.

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Priya Anand also turns out to be another case of wrong casting. She does not look the part and is seen struggling with her lines. Of the supporting cast, the ones that does shine are Sunny Wayne and Babu Anthony. Director Jude Anthony also do well in a brief sequence. The rest of the lot, including the extras and the foreign actors, all seem over the top and appear too amateurish. It has always been a recurring problem in the historical / period dramas and the same issues continue here too. There is that sense of artificialness that makes you detached from the period setting and giving you the feeling that instead you are witnessing a school play.

The movie makes room every now and then to voice the social issues of the times with a commentary on the prevalent caste structure of the times. Add to that the presence of the British. However the dialogues are poor, including one hilarious line mouthed by one of the English characters who goes “ He is your race, he is your case!” .  In fact, the whole British portions have no impact on the proceedings and seem just fillers with no real implications. The item number from Nora Fatehi also comes across as an unnecessary addition.

On the positive side, one needs to applaud the makers in spending the time and effort in recreating the settings. Sunil Babu’s production design and the cinematography by Binod Pradhan and Nirav Shah are definitely the major plus factors of this expensive venture. Gopi Sundar’s music is decent but it needed more folkish touch. Which is why he ends up creating a better impact with the background score and folk songs towards the end.

All in all, the movie is an amalgamation of several wrong choices that takes away the authenticity and works against the mood and feel of the movie. Something that no technical prowess is going to change or conceal. In its safe commercial avatar, Kayamkulam Kochunni turns out as an average venture that robs the audience from having something memorable or path breaking.

 

Cast : Navin Pauly, Priya Anand, Sunny Wayne, Babu Anthony and Mohanlal

Directed by Rosshan Andrews

Music Gopi Sundar