Bhramam movie review: Prithviraj Sukumaran does wicked well. Very, very well.

Bhramam might have elevated itself to a whole new level with more cultural shades and subtleties. In short, by being an adaptation rather than a remake of Andhadhun

Anna MM Vetticad October 07, 2021 08:50:12 IST


What Bhramam (Mirage) does for you depends a lot on whether you have seen the Hindi film on which it is based. Sriram Raghavan’s 2018 hit Andhadhun was superlative in all departments. It featured Tabu and Ayushmann Khurrana crossing swords in a tale of deceptions that spiral out of control and the utter randomness of life. Raghavan had taken a kernel of inspiration from a French short, The Piano Tuner, and spun it into one of the best Hindi films of the 2010s.

Cinematographer-director Ravi K Chandran’s Bhramam is a Malayalam remake of Andhadhun in which Prithviraj Sukumaran plays Ray Mathews, a man introduced to us as a pianist in Kerala who is blind. He meets Anna (Raashi Khanna) by accident and starts performing at the restaurant she runs with her Dad. Here Ray encounters the affable retired movie star Udayakumar K. (Shankar), who is now a businessperson.

When he is not negotiating multi-crore deals or fussing over his ambitious, glamorous young wife, Mimi (Mamta Mohandas), Udayakumar spends his days watching, rewatching and mooning over his old movies. Ray and Mimi’s worlds unexpectedly intersect one day, dragging them down a path where each must save themselves from the consequences of their own and the other person’s deeds.

In terms of storyline, Bhramam is more or less faithful to Andhadhun. Every scene of the first film is still embedded in my memory, so I was surprised to find myself drawn into the plot once again as lies pile up on lies, and individuals who think they have outsmarted fate find themselves outsmarted in ways they could not have imagined.

In the first half, this thriller-cum-black-comedy is funny and pacy. The second half too remains largely entertaining, even if it lags occasionally.

Prithviraj is deliciously wicked as Ray, and knows precisely how to do evil-comical without being offensive. He mines his innate charm just enough to make it hard to pass judgement against Ray even when he appears to be conscienceless.

Mamta does cold-heartedness blended with bouts of conscience not quite as brilliantly as Tabu, but she too is very good.

Bhramam movie review Prithviraj Sukumaran does wicked well Very very well

Prithviraj Sukumaran in a still from Bhramam

Shankar is an apt choice for Udayakumar. He was a star in the 1980s, but soon faded away. His co-actor in his debut Malayalam film Manjil Virinja Pookkal, Mohanlal, went on to become one of Indian cinema’s biggest stars. An awareness of Shankar's journey brings with it a tug at the heartstrings while watching Udayakumar dwelling on the past. The tug turns into a full-on wrench when Mizhiyoram from Manjil Virinja Pookkal plays at a poignant moment in Bhramam and Shankar’s long-time screen partner, Menaka Suresh, appears in a cameo as Udayakumar’s former co-star.

A lot of Bhramam is praiseworthy, but it still does not match up to Andhadhun (and that poorly generated wild beast in the film is far from being the only reason).

Though Bhramam is longer by about 15 minutes, somehow Andhadhun packed more detail into the characters’ emotions, motivations and actions, and the philosophies behind the premise. Even the pivotal con in the story is sustained by the hero in the original far longer and better than Ray manages it in Bhramam.

In Andhadhun, the camera gave us generous views of Ayushmann Khurrana at the piano, from multiple angles, with full-length and mid shots, to convince the audience that the actor was actually playing and not merely mimicking the movements of a piano player. This added to the immersive feel of that film and its unrelenting energy levels. Prithviraj certainly does not look like he is faking it, but the shots of him at the piano, for the most part, seem designed to camouflage more than they reveal.

Bhramam’s music by Jakes Bejoy is fairly attractive but does not equal the infectious verve of Amit Trivedi’s songs or Daniel B. George’s background score for the Hindi film. The awkward English lyrics for 'Lokam - Who Wants It' don’t help at all.

The manner in which the story has been transposed from Maharashtra to Kerala merits a discussion. The shift has brought with it a significant difference. The hero’s religious identity – he’s Christian sans stereotyping – is in keeping with a beautiful, long-running aspect of Malayalam cinema: the normalisation of religious minorities as protagonists. This phenomenon is a reflection of the progressiveness of Malayalam filmmakers combined with the religious heterogeneity in Kerala, which is greater than in any other state in the country, and the fact that Christians and Muslims are far more visible in mainstream society in Kerala than they are in the north. Apart from this though, there are not enough socio-cultural nuances to distinguish this script from one that might have been set in a cosmopolitan city elsewhere in India.

There is a post-interval scene in Bhramam that offers a clue to how much more this film could have been. Two Christian characters are chatting about a terrible crime they are about to commit. One says, “There is no sin that cannot be absolved if you go to church and pray,” then adds hastily, “That does not mean you should confess this in church.” Moments later, a Hindu character who is the gang leader is beginning work on their criminal operation when his phone starts ringing incessantly. His ringtone is a specifically Hindu chant. This is another beautiful aspect of Malayalam cinema: the courage that writers and directors have to be overtly cynical about religion per se and to take swipes at all faiths, whether of the majority or minority communities instead of critiquing minorities alone and/or stereotyping, caricaturing and demonising them.

This brief passage is distinctively Malayalam cinema, I do wish Bhramam had more where that came from.

The fact that I enjoyed this film overall despite these criticisms and despite my raging love for Andhadhun speaks volumes though. The high bar that Malayalam cinema – the Malayalam New New Wave in particular – has set for itself is what makes it impossible not to wonder how Bhramam might have elevated itself to a whole new level with more cultural shades and subtleties. In short, by being an adaptation rather than a remake. Be that as it may, this film belongs to its leading man. Prithviraj Sukumaran does wicked well. Very, very well.

Rating:3.5 (out of 5 stars)

 Bhramam is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

 (Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema and socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad)

 For Anna M.M. Vetticad’s review of Andhadhun, click here

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