Queen movie review: This is not a review, this is a protest

Anna MM Vetticad

Feb,04 2018 12:40 00 IST

(Our critic has refused to rate this film)

This is not a review, this is a protest against whoever allowed this kindergarten-grade project to come to mainstream movie halls.

On most days, I would not have bothered to write about a nondescript film of such abysmal quality. Queen, however, must be discussed because its arrival is a symptom of what continues to ail India’s distribution and exhibition sectors where so many good films — including some that have earned awards and critical acclaim at festivals — struggle to get a theatrical release for various reasons including, either that they are not big-banner, star-dominated ventures, or their producers do not have the clout or conviction to persuade theatre owners to give them shows.

Poster for Queen

Poster for Queen

I had read about this Malayalam film before I watched it this weekend. The Times of India, in a report dated 31 January, 2017, thought it fit to devote a whole article to Queen although it has no particular credentials to recommend it for such space. This was even before the casting, a time when indies by unknowns never get written about in the serious film press because critics are, rightly, waiting for the film to speak for itself. Yet TOI helpfully informed readers an entire year before Queen was out that it “is inspired from a real-life photograph which was floating around the internet once, of a girl in a sari walking the street before an entire group of her boy classmates. The director, Dijo Jose Antony, says that he himself is an engineer and he visited the college in the photo to learn more about their lives.” (sic)

What inspired The Times to expend so many words on Queen? Had they read the script and been convinced of its potential? If yes, could they tell us who on their staff displayed such godawful lack of discernment in not dismissing the script as the worthless potpourri it was/is. The nation — to borrow a line from one of this media group’s most famous ex-employees — wants to know.

A day after the TOI report appeared, there came one in The New Indian Express (TNIE) dated 1 February, 2017, with more details of the project. TNIE went so far as to call Queen “a fun-filled college movie” although it was, as mentioned in the same sentence, yet to be made.

Now that I have seen Queen, I can assure you it is no fun at all. The story begins in a setting now familiar in Malayalam films: a college campus where male students fight with each other, harass women students and behave as if female homo sapiens are rarer than Yeti and the Loch Ness monster. This obnoxious scenario where over-wrought masculinity plays out was most visible in last year’s Chunkzz. That film was deeply offensive, but had a better cast and production values. Queen looks shabby and washed out in addition to being creepy.

The writing team’s focus is the college’s Mechanical Engineering course where the men break out into a testosterone-induced frenzy when they hear that a woman is joining their class. This leads to further disturbing scenes of stalking and harassment projected as comedy. I am not bothering to spare you from spoilers here, because this film does not deserve that effort.

So anyway, next the woman wins the men over with her sunshine smile. Once they stop misbehaving with her, they fight with others who do. Once they are done with that they discover she has cancer. Once the film is done with that episode, she heads straight out of the hospital and on to the college campus to dance in a bright red sari surrounded by hordes of her male college mates and — for some reason I did not bother to wrack my brains over — an elephant. Next she is raped and killed. Next her character is assassinated in court, in the press and on the streets. Next, her classmates fight for justice for her. Next, they win. Next, the film ends.

The tragedy is that in the courtroom scenes, a lawyer (played by veteran Salim Kumar) does make a couple of pertinent points about the victim shaming flying around. Those questions do not matter though because for this film, rape is not an issue of grave concern as much as it is yet another masala item to throw into the mix to spice up a screenplay.

Come to think of it, calling Queen a film is a compliment. An uncharismatic lead cast and some established character artistes have come together in this non-film to act out an amateurish screenplay on sets that might not pass muster with the drama team of a respected school.

What is infuriating is not just that Queen was made but that it somehow travelled to theatres in Kerala and from there has even travelled outside the state. This is no mean feat.

One of the films on my list of Best Mollywood Films of 2017 published on this website last month was Dr Biju’s Kaadu Pookunna Neram (When The Woods Bloom), a gripping tale of the troubled equation between oppressed tribal communities and the state as represented by the police. It starred Rima Kallingal and Indrajith Sukumaran (both marquee names), it boasted of world-class cinematography, it was intelligent, politically courageous and entertaining. Biju is a multiple National Award winner. Kallingal has won several prestigious awards. None of this was enough to recommend Kaadu Pookunna Neram to distributors and theatres outside Kerala. Even getting to a theatre within Kerala was tough.

There are so many great films that audiences are deprived of seeing because their producers do not push them enough, and when they do, India’s distribution companies and theatres do not want to risk backing them, if not because they lack star value then because of their unconventional themes. In a scenario where the likes of Kaadu Pookunna Neram struggle to get to us, it is almost criminal that Queen has come so far.

Published Date: Feb 04, 2018 12:40 PM | Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018 13:35 PM