Here’s a quick question for the pan-India film buffs among you: What do Mammootty comedies, Akshay Kumar comedies and Prabhudeva-directed comedies in all languages have in common?
Answer: Each one merges with the other until an indefinable cinematic haze floats around in the ether of the mind; each features some cheap jokes plus some genuinely good humour cashing in on the hero’s natural comic abilities, with the proportion varying from film to film. Heroines are usually marginal to the proceedings in these films, their function is to be pursued and loved — if not outrightly molested — by the hero, and they are played by much younger actresses indistinguishable from each other due to the general indistinguishability of their roles. The hero invariably inhabits an unapologetically patriarchal world. He or his cohorts make prejudiced pronouncements ranging from borderline sexist to criminally misogynistic, sometimes also targeting other marginalised groups. And ultimately he marries a woman.
Director Johny Antony’s Thoppil Joppan is on the relatively inoffensive side of this spectrum — emphasis on the word relatively, considering that the context is Mollywood where rape jokes are staple fare, the most prominent of the lot this year having come in Mammootty’s own Kasaba. The setting and situations in Thoppil Joppan are deeply patriarchal, of course, but it does not venture far into ugly territory. For the most part then, it is silly fun and oh so forgettable.
In short, yet another generic Mammootty comedy.
The Malayalam superstar is the film’s titular hero, a kabaddi-playing, middle-aged/elderly, unmarried alcoholic. As a young man, Joppan was in love with a woman called Annie (Andrea Jeremiah) who he lost when he left home to make his fortune. Ever since, his mother (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) and siblings have tried to get him married but failed because no woman they set him up with compares to his Annie in his eyes.
Many years and bottles of booze follow, before his heart does a little somersault for Dr Maria (Mamta Mohandas).
Never mind the romantic elements in the story. This film has two primary purposes. One, to provide a showcase for Mammootty’s comic timing, which it does effectively. Two, to draw attention to his imposing personality and remind us of how attractive he is, which it does distastefully by getting the women in Joppan’s life to gravitate towards what the writer considers ‘inadequate’ men (for instance, a woman he falls for hooks up with a physically challenged man, a circumstance that invites harsh swipes from Joppan and gang).
Let’s not mince words about this: Mammukka looks odd as always playing a boyfriend to actresses 30-plus years his junior, the angle about him being a senior singleton in successive films is getting tired, and those wisecracks about his character’s age do not neutralise the women-specific ageism in the casting. To be fair to him though, his comic timing remains faultless and he retains the ability to tickle the funny bone, a job for which writer Nishad Koya’s screenplay here gives him sufficient material.
There is much stupidity and hypocrisy all around mashed into this mix with some actually laugh-worthy episodes. In the theatre where I watched Thoppil Joppan, some people went into paroxysms of mirth because a young woman whose family proposes marriage to Joppan turns out to be fond of the bottle herself. Apparently it is okay for a man to be a drunk, but a woman swilling alcohol is hilarious and unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, Joppan is shocked and rejects her.
At 65, Mammootty remains a megastar of Malayalam cinema in particular and Indian cinema as a whole. It is a pity that instead of providing incentive to Mollywood’s comedy writers by biding his time till an intelligent script comes his way, he is willing to settle for passable fare. Thoppil Joppan is kinda amusing in large parts while it lasts, but so unmemorable that just hours after having watched it, I am already struggling to recall the plot and the gags.
C’mon Mammukka, would you not at least now consider quality over quantity? Or is it wrong to expect nothing short of rousing fare from you?