Pullikkaran Staraa movie review: Dear Mammootty, why are you marring your legacy?
Pullikkaran Staraa is peppered with moments reminding us of the Mammootty that once was, still occasionally is and could still be — an expression of tenderness here, a comical interlude there, a flash of thoughtfulness and hurt, a shot emphasising that handsome face and towering frame on which the advancing years rest so well. The question then is inevitable: when age has been so kind to this megastar, why is he being so unkind to his own legacy?
Unlike the summer release The Great Father, which was repugnant from start to finish in its focus on Mammukka’s swagger and figure in the middle of a story of a child-rapist-cum-serial-killer, this film is not puke-worthy. What it is is worthy of a long, long bout of weeping by a critic who has grown up admiring and respecting this brilliant actor.
Mammootty stars as a much-misunderstood man called Rajakumaran in director Shyamdhar’s latest film. The opening sequence shows us a series of unhappy coincidences that give the child Rajakumaran the reputation of being a pervert. You can guess from one of his nicknames — Kuli Scene Rajakumaran — what he might have done (or been thought to have done) to earn this rep.
Anyway, the boy grows into a misunderstood man. Rajakumaran is now a Kochi-based professional trainer of schoolteachers. He is a do-gooder who has remained single mostly because his standing as a slime ball towards women has pursued him into his adulthood. His thoughts and life head off in unplanned directions when he meets two women from different generations: his supposed contemporary Manjari Teacher (played by the fabulous Asha Sarath who is, the Net tells me, in fact about two decades younger than Mammukka) and the very young Manjimma (Deepti Sati).
Also written into the storyline are Rajakumaran’s three friends, played by Innocent, Dileesh Pothan and Hareesh Perumanna.
This being a Mammootty film, it is obvious that there will be expressions of romantic interest from both the lovely ladies. This being a Mammootty film, it is obvious too who the script will choose for him.
For the moment, forget the fact that Pullikkaran Staraa rests on a wafer-thin plot, forget the lack of focus in the narrative, the over-stretching, the unnecessary scenes (such as that bus accident), the occasional double entendre, the questionable editing and the unremarkable music. The fact is, there are many possibilities staring us in the face in Rajakumaran’s training sessions with his teacher students. Those passages genuinely have something to say, but instead of keeping its eye trained on them, the film relegates this part of the hero’s life to the margins, remaining obsessed instead with ending his bachelorhood.
Gender segregation is a serious issue across India, and certainly in Kerala society, but Shyamdhar is obviously not trying to put the spotlight on a social problem, he is a manifestation of that problem when his characters think sexual attraction and kalyanam the moment they spot a man and woman — any man and any woman — together in the same frame for even a few seconds. We see this all the time in commercial Mollywood, and in the real world in Malayali society, but too many Lakshman rekhas of absurdity and obnoxiousness are crossed in Pullikkaran Staraa when Rajakumaran’s buddies routinely suggest marriage to him at the drop of a hat whenever he happens to encounter a woman, even if she is young enough to be his granddaughter, as Manjimma is, or merely happened to sit next to him on a bus one day, as Manjari did.
Apparently, no spinster, divorcee or single woman of any variety is capable of being in the same room as Rajakumaran without being drawn to him. Apparently, he is incapable of being in the same room as any such female homo sapien without being drawn to her, despite his protestations when his friends goad him to approach the aforesaid women.
Mammootty has made a habit of courting and/or marrying characters played by actresses half his age over the years, but watching him get coy with Deepti Sati — who is 22 according to the Net and looks it, while he turns 66 next week — is a last straw. It is like Bollywood audiences used to watching heroes cast opposite actresses who are aeons younger, but being particularly repulsed at the sight of Salman Khan with the baby-faced Sneha Ullal in Lucky: No Time For Love (2005). Sheesh!
Why am I devoting so much time to the age difference between Mammootty and Deepti Sati, when he is not the only male star nor Mollywood the only Indian film industry guilty of this transgression?
Because Rajakumaran’s possible liaison with Manjimma is the overriding aspect of the storyline.
Because even in the role of Rajakumaran’s ‘contemporary’, Shyamdhar could not bear to cast an actress in her 60s, but instead picked the 40-something Asha Sarath.
Because such casting indicates a disdain for older women, which in turn is a symptom of a deeply patriarchal society whose attitudes towards women are evidenced in this film.
Because Pullikkaran Staraa seems incapable of seeing women as anything but a mother, sister, daughter or wife to a man, never a friend.
Because too many Malayalam films are filled with men constantly articulating their resentment towards their wives and the shackles marriage supposedly places on them — such that a Martian might think men are the ones who change their names, shift out of their homes and quit the families of their birth after marriage, pay dowry, get pregnant even if/when they don’t want to, give birth to children who do not bear their names, are expected to consign their careers to the background, are expected to lie back and take it whenever their spouse is horny, and so on — yet these same men are absolutely, utterly desperate to be with a woman.
And because, the patches of sweetness in Pullikkaran Staraa’s classroom sessions are sidelined by the filmmaker and overshadowed by this nonsense.
Please stop this. If nothing else, lean on the team currently advising your son, urging him to experiment and nudging him in the direction of such gems as Kammatipaadam and Kali. The last film you did that was worthy of your talent, your charisma and your stature was Pathemari in 2015, a role for which you were unfairly robbed of a National Award for Best Actor when it was given instead to Amitabh Bachchan for Piku.
In Pallikkal Narayanan, we could see the grace and gravitas that has made you a heartthrob of generations of serious Malayalam film watchers. At a time when so many interesting writers and directors (including your co-star in this film, Dileesh Pothan) are authoring a whole New Wave in Mollywood that is yielding quality cinema and box-office results, why are you not seeking out such scripts? What, instead, are you doing in a film as vacuous as this one?
It is a measure of how bad things are that this is the best that can be said of Pullikkaran Staraa: it is not as boring as White, it is not as insulting to women as Kasaba and it is not as deeply disturbing or offensive as The Great Father.
Seriously Mammukka, ithu oru anyaayam aanu, an injustice to your craft and your filmography.