Children's Park movie review: Occasional humour and Sharafudheen save a largely non-descript orphanage saga
Even the occasional humour and Sharafudheen cannot save Children's Park from its overall impact as an unremarkable, unmemorable film.
castSharafudheen, Vishnu Unnikrishnan, Dhruvan, Joy Mathew, Hareesh Kanaran, Gayathri Suresh, Manasa Radhakrishnan, Sowmya Menon, Shivaji Guruvayoor
languageMalayalam and Tamil with some Hindi
Maybe there is something to be said for a film that is intermittently funny but tells an ordinary story in an otherwise ordinary fashion, making it hard to remember what it was about five minutes after stepping out of the hall. Whatever that something is, I will try to find it as I write this review of Children's Park.
Director Shafi and writer Raffi's Children's Park is centred around three crooks, a get-rich-quick scheme involving an orphanage and the old man who once ran it. The dubious trio's team-up occurs when Rishi's late father ignores his son in his will and leaves a bulk of his wealth to this home for the parentless called Children's Park. Through a series of circumstances, some of their making and some not, Rishi (played by actor Dhruvan), his best friend Jerry (Vishnu Unnikrishnan) and the small-time politician's aide Lenin Adimala (Sharafudheen) end up running the place.
You know from the word go that the threesome will ultimately be reformed by their new-found love for the children. That in itself is no reason to write off the film, because sometimes what comes between a beginning and a predictable finale can be rewarding enough. Children's Park has its moments, all of them pivoted on humour and the comic timing of Unnikrishnan and Sharafudheen, but these comedic patches and dialogues are not sufficient compensation for the largely hackneyed nature of the narrative.
For a start, the film's writer treats the children like background scenery throughout until they become crucial in the closing fight scenes. Before that happens, there is absolutely nothing to remember them by - no conversations, no effort at characterisation, nothing. This is contrary to the expectations set up by the really loooong opening song played entirely over visuals of children.
Mention of that number brings to mind Children's Park's odd attitude to language. The song is in Hindi, there are several extended, important scenes featuring a gangster named Muthupaandi who converses with his gang only in Tamil, and when the children speak in the end they too speak in Tamil - neither the song, nor these verbal exchanges are subtitled, which means a viewer of this film will fully understand it only if they are proficient in three languages. If the producers are not interested in attracting a non-Malayalam-speaking audience with English subtitles, that is their choice, but at the very least there should have been Malayalam subtitles for the Hindi and Tamil portions out of consideration for the primary target audience (meaning: Malayalam speakers) who spent money on tickets for what we were told is a Malayalam film.
The women of Children's Park are only slightly less showpiece-like than the children. Their sole purpose in the plot is to give the male leads one good-looking female human each to fall in love with.
All the fun in the film is to be had from the comicality of Jerry, Lenin and the artistes playing them. Vishnu Unnikrishnan took centre stage as an actor with Kattapanayile Rithwik Roshan in 2016 and is an excellent comic. Sharafudheen has a very likeable personality.
Rishi is played by Dhruvan, the least charismatic, least interesting of the three actors, and frankly I think it is a measure of Kerala's white skin obsession that he gets described as a "glamour boy" by another character. Dhruvan first drew attention in a terribly amateurish film called Queen (2018) that felt and looked like something kindergarten children might create. In terms of production quality and writing, Children's Park is a big step up from Queen but Dhruvan fails to add any spark whatsoever either to Rishi or the film.
That said, even Unnikrishnan and Sharafudheen can carry Children's Park only so far and no further. The often entertaining Hareesh Kanaran plays the cook at the orphanage, but the humour developed around him is too juvenile and the actor himself, perhaps because of that, is off colour.
There is a running joke throughout Children's Park revolving around two gluttons who run a dhaba. It works only once in the film, and that is in the way their food obsession is woven into the climax, but for the rest it is just boringly repetitive. The fact that it does click in that solitary instance is a reminder of Shafi's comic potential. But as with his last film Oru Pazhaya Bomb Kadha (2018), that potential remains unfulfilled here in Children's Park because he is just not trying enough and seems satisfied with rolling out cliché after cliché such as that ho-hum Me Too wisecrack and the mindless placement of pretty women as props. In earlier works such as his 2002 blockbuster Kalyanaraman, at least he served up enough laugh-out-loud moments of nonsense to tide over the episodic plotline and clichés. That film may have been loud and garish, but at least we got to giggle over nutty lines like "Thalararuthe Ramankutty, thalararuthe".
To be fair to Children's Park, it is better than Oru Pazhaya Bomb Kadha. The occasional humour, Sharafudheen and Unnikrishnan are its saving graces (though I must say I am already tired of the way the latter's characters keep dissing his own looks), but even they cannot change Children's Park's overall impact as an unremarkable, unmemorable film.
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