Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu movie review: Pranav Mohanlal lacks spark as does this meandering, insensitive hotch-potch
Irupathiyonnaam Noottandu meanders to such an extent that it feels like a hotch-potch of themes and situations rather than a single, smoothly flowing narrative.
castPranav Mohanlal, Zaya David, Abhirav Janan, Manoj K. Jayan, Siddique, Innocent, Kalabhavan Shajohn, Dharmajan Bolgatty
Having spent most of the second half of Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu (Twenty First Century) warning us of the possibility of violence by Malayali Christians because of an unusual Christian-Hindu romance (I cannot explain why it is unusual without giving spoilers), writer-director Arun Gopy appears to have gotten worried that he might be offending Kerala's Christians. So, he gives a character a throwaway line about how Hindus too are angry about the relationship for a vague reason. The transparent, half-hearted and awkwardly written effort to compensate for what he fears may be seen as a lack of balance might have been excusable, if it weren't for a later scene - also designed to pacify the Christian community, I guess - in which a bishop (played by Innocent) is shown admonishing a paedophile rapist Christian fellow with these words: it is after people like you started coming to confession that our priests went astray. Whaaaaaat? That is like blaming prison inmates if the prison superintendent takes to crime.
This aspect of Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is only one demonstration of Gopy's strained writing, poor understanding of the social realities he is trying to cover, the resultant insensitivity and cluelessness of his screenplay. Sadly, the basic concept of the film has potential, but it required greater imagination and talent to expand it into a full-length feature.
Gopy - who earlier made the entertaining but politically questionable Ramaleela starring Dileep - has been credited for the story, screenplay, dialogues and direction, so there is no possibility of apportioning blame to anyone else. The mish-mash in Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is entirely his.
The first half of the story is set wholly in Goa, the second half in Kerala. Appu (Pranav Mohanlal) and Zaya (Rachel David a.k.a. Zaya David) meet in Goa, bond and are separated by personal compulsions. Before that happens though, right at the start there is a confrontation between Appu's father Baba played by Manoj K. Jayan and the gangster Abusikka (Kalabhavan Shajohn), which reveals that Baba was once a dreaded chap of great disrepute who is now a financially constrained, toned-down version of his former self. This opening passage is stretched long enough and later referenced often enough to suggest that it has some relevance to the film's larger plot, but it does not.
The proceedings then shift to a beach that is Appu's habitat, where he surfs waves like a champ and is gazed at with admiration by white women. The latter happens more than once, so you know that Gopy belongs to the school of thought that there is no greater compliment to an Indian man than the interest of a white woman.
Cut to the build-up of Zaya as an oddly wild, bubbly creature, the kind of young woman that exists more in the imagination of film writers than in reality. There is little chemistry between Mohanlal Junior and Ms David, but since they have been assigned the posts of hero and heroine here, Appu and Zaya fall in love.
Cut to post-interval, where the action moves to Kerala and the genre shifts completely to action thriller. The switch in tone is so complete, that it feels like a different film.
Somewhere in between, Gokul Suresh turns up to deliver a brief sermon on Communist ideals.
If I haven't made myself clear, let me state it in black and white: Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu meanders to such an extent that it feels like a hotch-potch of themes and situations rather than a single, smoothly flowing narrative.
To be fair to Gopy, his film is not bereft of positives. For one, Appu's best friend Michael Rony (nicknamed Macroni and Maakri, the latter being the Malayalam word for frog) is often funny when he is not being creepy about and towards women. I particularly keeled over with laughter at his wisecrack about bishops who climb convent walls. While he is good, actor Abhirav Janan's comic timing is commendable.
Dharmajan Bolgatty in a brief appearance is also quite hilarious.
Besides, cinematographer Abinandhan Ramanujam gives us many generous shots of the scenery in Goa and Kerala (though I suspect most of his day-time shots of Goa have been inexorably colour-corrected, which is what robs them of their natural feel).
And the twist at the interval has promise. The impact of sexual abuse on the human psyche and the self-harm a person might do as a result of such trauma is certainly worth exploring. It just needs to be explored by a more introspective and socially aware writer. Without that, what you get is a film that is pretending to care but inadvertently reveals its apathy and ignorance intermittently.
Such as with that inexplicable line uttered by the bishop.
Such as when a character towards whom the screenplay is well disposed holds off on helping a woman who is being assaulted and calmly watches as she is slapped, explaining to his friend that "she deserved one slap". Why? Because on an earlier occasion, in a temper she had told him she can take care of herself.
Such as when Zaya, on being denied a drink by Appu because she is already drunk, says, "Chummathalla feministakal undagunna," (no wonder people become feminists), thus betraying the writer's interpretation of feminism - an interpretation widely held by mindless folk and misogynists - as some sort of worldwide movement to give women the right to drink and smoke.
Such as when a major character taunts a rape survivor for what he considers her lack of courage to take a stand and her inability to trust people.
Such as... Well, never mind. You get the picture.
It is no wonder, that apart from Janan and Bolgatty, the rest of the cast delivers uninspired performances. Kalabhavan Shajohn is almost unrecognisable behind those massive sunglasses, and far from being the intimidating, imposing gangsta he is meant to be. Manoj K. Jayan tries but fails to inject energy into the narrative. Innocent is almost amusing as the bishop.
Rachel David is pretty and does a tolerable job of Zaya, but she is also somewhat generic.
Pranav Mohanlal is lucky he made his debut with last year's Aadhi, which brought out his innate sweetness and gave him a ton of thrilling action scenes in which he shone. In Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu, he comes across as uncharismatic, which makes the writer's effort to build him up as a hunk almost ironic. Besides, the fight scenes in the climax are marred by abysmal special effects - the worst I have seen in a Mollywood film in a very long time.
If he wishes to be known as anything more than the son of megastar Mohanlal, Pranav needs to choose better scripts and to avoid the repeated allusions to his father in them. It was bad enough that the vastly superior Aadhi chose to rub his lineage in our faces, but when it happens again in his second film, a bad film at that, it is decidedly irritating. There is that Ray-Ban sunglasses and mundu scene, in a bow to a style popularly associated with Mohanlal. There is the title which has absolutely no connection with the storyline and seems to have been picked only for the recall value of Mohanlal's blockbuster Irupatham Noottandu (Twentieth Century). There is... Uff! Give it a break, please.
Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is more dangerous than overtly misogynistic films, because it fakes concern. It is also ordinary, mixed-up and completely lacks spark.
Footnote: Subtitlers of Malayalam films really must stop using the word "hag" as they do. During a highly sexist chat involving Macroni, in which a character refers to an elderly lady as "thalla", the subtitles translate that to "hag". This reminded me of a scene in Pretham in which "Ammachi", when used as a pejorative, was also translated as "hag". While both "thalla" and "Ammachi" used in this context are intended as sexist-ageist insults, "old woman" would be a more accurate translation than "hag" which is, to my mind, far more demeaning in terms of degree.
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