Parava movie review: Dulquer Salmaan and a sweet story are overwhelmed by transparent ambition
Director: Soubin Shahir
Unless every single Hindi film released in the coming three months turns out to be a work of genius, I am sticking my neck out and saying this has been annus miserabilis for Bollywood buffs. Relief for serious Hindi viewers has come from indies. Relief for me as a critic reviewing both Bollywood and Mollywood works has come from blessed, beloved Mollywood. Malayalam cinema’s affair with experimentation has continued in 2017, with avant-garde projects featuring both unknowns and established stars striking gold at the box office.
It is in this context that actor Soubin Shahir makes his directorial debut. Parava (Bird) – which he has also co-written with Muneer Ali – is the story of two teenaged boys in Mattancherry juxtaposed against a tragedy in the neighbourhood that tore apart a gang of men friends, including the brother of one of those teens. Irshad (played by Amal Shah) and Haseeb (Govind V Pai) are best buds barely surviving academic challenges and blossoming hormones while they devote themselves to the sport of pigeon racing. This is no innocent pastime. When we first meet them, they are coping with the disappearance of one of their feathered charges and with an aggressive rival played by Shine Tom Chacko.
(Possible spoilers ahead.)
As we spend time with these youngsters, another story emerges, of Irshad’s brother Shane (Shane Nigam) and his pals. Imran (Dulquer Salmaan) is the mature one of the lot, and popular among their elders. They are a group of five, the rest played by Jacob Gregory, Arjun Ashokan and Zinil Zainudeen. Cricket and frivolous squabbles are their favourite games.
As separates, both segments are interesting. The pigeons in flight are a visual novelty, we are given a bird’s-eye view – pardon the easy pun – of the local culture, and a vein of pleasant humour runs through the narrative along with a throbbing soundtrack.
Shah and Pai are darlings – Pai, in particular, is a live wire to watch out for. As it happens, they have excellent on-camera chemistry, and their classroom interactions and schoolyard pre-occupations are a hoot. If you want to portray gender segregation in educational institutions, this is how you do it, not with the ugly misogyny that we saw just recently in Chunkzz. Make no mistake about it: Shahir views the community through a narrow male gaze (as, unfortunately, do most Malayalam filmmakers), all his primary and secondary characters are male, and women here are mere adjuncts to men, but at least it can be said that he does not treat the female half of the population with contempt or suspicion.
The rest of the cast is immensely likeable. And Salmaan is a joy to watch, as always, in an extended cameo designed to dominate the others while it lasts.
There are also two truly OMG moments in Parava: one involves the fate of a good-looking girl at school, which tells us so much about the social setting of the film; the other is the poignant reason why the older lot split up.
With so much going for it, it is impossible not to be attracted to Parava. Yet, the film does not quite come together. The engagement with its characters remains superficial because they are overwhelmed by the director’s extreme awareness of his artistic inclinations and his transparent ambition to be another Dileesh Pothan. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Maheshinte Prathikaaram worked because their style clearly came naturally to Pothan. In Parava though, Shahir appears to be trying too hard to be whatever it is he wants us to believe he is. The result is self-conscious writing and direction beyond a point, leading to inconsistencies in tone and pretentious over-stretching.
Initially, the connection between Irshad-Haseeb and Team Shane is revealed bit by bit in an intriguing fashion. Once Shane & Co gain primacy in the narrative though, the film starts sinking, as Shahir struggles to balance the two threads and sustain his tone.
Irshad and Haseeb get the benefit of well-rounded characterisation. The older chaps – with the somewhat exception of Imran – are products of sketchy writing, and the evident effort to give pride of place to the big commercial star in the cast, Dulquer Salmaan, strains at the cohesiveness of the narrative.
The last straw is the highly melodramatised choreography of a needlessly elongated fight towards the end, which is a complete departure from the general tenor of the film.
In the overall analysis then, Parava comes across as a pretty patchwork blanket rather than a smooth jacquard weave. The concept and narrative structure have potential, but Shahir drowns in his own failure to keep it simple. I liked many elements in this film, and the film itself in parts, but at no point did I find myself completely lost in its flow.
Still, it is nice to see a producer with Anwar Rasheed’s box-office track record risk his neck on this experimental venture, and the spark Shahir shows here makes him a directorial talent definitely not to be brushed aside. Here’s hoping Mollywood gives him a second chance at the reins.