Godha movie review: A Malayalam Dangal filled with warmth but lacking muscle
Basil Joseph's Godha takes you to a mud wrestling pit in small-town Kerala with Renji Panicker as a veteran gatta gusthi coach whose sport is losing to cricket in the popular psyche. Read Anna M.M. Vetticad's review below.
A village playground in Kerala was director Ranjan Pramod’s playing field in the sweetly evocative Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu released this April. The action shifts to a mud wrestling pit in small-town Kerala in Basil Joseph’s Godha starring Renji Panicker as a veteran gatta gusthi coach whose sport is losing to cricket in the popular psyche.
Captain, as Panicker’s character is called, is struggling not just with growing indifference within the community, but within his home too. His own son Das (Tovino Thomas) was a promising wrestler but gave it up. Dad sends the boy off to Punjab for higher studies, where he meets ace wrestler Aditi Singh (endearingly spelt “Adithi” in the English subtitles, as most Malayalis would). Aditi is played by Wamiqa Gabbi. Through a series of circumstances, the two end up back in Das’ village where each goes through a coming-of-age journey.
The most telling moment in Godha comes when the embattled heroine, who is being bullied by her family to give up her passion in favour of marriage, tells the hero: "Nobody wants a Sakshi Malik in their own house until and unless she wins an Olympic medal." It is a remark that ought to shake us up and shame us, considering that we come from a society where successful women are often toasted by people who do not acknowledge the discrimination against women in their own homes. Unfortunately, the screenplay never rises above its many promising parts. What should have been a powerful sports film remains pleasant and entertaining throughout, but fails to be the gripping, compelling saga it could have been.
The concept is brimming with potentially explosive elements: a young south Indian man moving to north India for an education and a young north Indian woman heading off to the south to escape oppression, in a nation where the north-south divide is far deeper than we would like to admit; gender bias; politics in sports...each is touched upon in an interesting fashion at first. As the movie moves on though, charming as it is in so many ways, it becomes evident that it lacks heft.
Comparisons with Aamir Khan's Dangal are inevitable, although that was a non-Malayalam film, because it too dealt with women in wrestling and it captured the imagination of audiences outside the Hindi belt too. Unfortunately for Godha, although Basil Joseph appears to be a confident director, the film's screenplay needed to be much more than what it is. For instance, Aditi's battles with her family's conservatism and in the wrestling arena are too easily won. Das' self-discovery is not explored with any depth once his father takes the girl under his wing. And Captain too remains more an idea than a fully fleshed out person.
It is largely a measure of the natural charisma of all three artistes and the supporting cast that they manage to keep the narrative engaging despite the shortcomings in the writing. Thomas - fresh from the recent success of Oru Mexican Aparatha - is likeable here. He must also be complimented on the well-chiselled physique he reveals (without the camera making a song and dance of it) when we see him wrestling. Gabbi is luminous, but what is far more striking is the way she gets the body and body language of a wrestler right. Panicker infuses warmth into the proceedings in a way only he can. And Aju Varghese as Das' friend is a hoot, as he always is (barring a couple of instances of creepy behaviour by the character, which are presented as comedy).
It is particularly good to see the way Hindi, Punjabi and English are used by the dialogue writer, and the way languages flow in conversations in Godha as they would in real life if an open-minded north Indian were to travel to Kerala. The Malayalis in the film are shown trying to communicate as best as they can with her in the languages she knows, and after she spends some time in Kerala, she reciprocates the effort with Malayalam.
This, along with the strength of the assembled cast, the convincing realistic tone and the humour in the interactions between the characters keep this film going. If the script had half as much muscle as the average wrestler's body, Godha could have been something special. As it is, Basil Joseph's film stops at being nice. He is obviously a director with promise, so hopefully in his next venture he will pay more attention to the writing department (which, in any case, is the cornerstone of any good film) before assembling other impressive parts. Here's looking at you, Mr Joseph!
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