Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel movie review: Dileep's unexpected restraint is overshadowed by crudeness, clichés and prejudice
With juvenile humour and prejudice dominating the screenplay, Team Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel has no one to blame but themselves.
castDileep, Mamta Mohandas, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Siddique, Renji Panicker, Lena, Priya Anand, Aju Varghese, Saiju Kurup
Rating: 1.5 (out of 5 stars)
"It is not how something is said but what is said that matters," Judge Vidhyadharan played by Saiju Kurup declares towards the end of Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel. This is the film's attempt at advocacy for persons with disabilities, which in other circumstances would have been laudable. Here though it is far from convincing since Vidhyadharan has spent the preceding couple of hours displaying a curious mix of sarcasm and kindness towards a lawyer with a stammer appearing in his courtroom.
Dileep is cast as the said lawyer, Balan Vakeel of the title a.k.a. S. Balakrishnan. And Vidhyadharan is not the only one mocking him. The screenplay does too.
A disability may well lead to misunderstandings and confusions that could be comical, but when every character in a film is contemptuous of a protagonist with a speech impairment, when even a person with empathy is shown pulling the fellow down, when the writing draws almost entirely on that element for its comedy, then an effort to appear sensitive in the finale is almost offensive.
This desire to be a little bit of everything - hateful yet considerate, loud yet genteel, crudely comedic yet backing a noble cause - is the hallmark of writer-director Unnikrishnan. B's Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel (KSBV). It tells the story of a lawyer who has fared poorly in his career so far due to his stammer and lack of confidence. It does not help that his mother (Bindu Panicker) nags him viciously, his father (Siddique) is usually intoxicated by a cocktail of alcohol and drugs, and his brother-in-law (Suraj Venjaramoodu) is a selfish, manipulative jerk. The latter is a cop who drags Balan into a controversy that becomes a turning point in his life.
The crux of the controversy is a false case of sexual harassment foisted on one of the most high-profile men in Kerala. It cannot be a coincidence that the prime sufferer in this "goodalochana" (conspiracy) is Balan. This is not the first time since he got bail in the ongoing woman actor rape case that Dileep (who is charged as a conspirator in the crime) has used his on-screen avatar to promote the propaganda spread globally by misogynists that gender-sensitive laws are widely misused by women. In last year's Kammara Sambhavam, his character, a corrupt politician, went so far as to make a throwaway remark about how his team would be free to go about their unscrupulous work if they diverted the public's attention by having a woman slap a fake charge of sexual violence against any well-known man.
That comment in Kammara Sambhavam was unrelated to the rest of the plot, whereas in KSBV, the false allegation is the fulcrum of the storyline. This latest attempt to build a case for Dileep in his real-life legal quagmire is self-defeating though because - and this can be said without giving anything away - KSBV ends up unwittingly making the point that men use women to misuse women-related laws. Ha. So the joke's on you, Messrs Dileep and Unnikrishnan.
Even if you view the film without any knowledge of the context to the casting, it is laden with cinematic clichés and social stereotypes. The Common Man who transforms into Superman at the click of a finger (literally, in this case), a damsel in distress who is rescued by the aforesaid hero, a non-stop stream of potshots directed at Balan's stammer, slapstick comedy, a song and dance centred around a semi-clothed woman that is completely unconnected to the narrative - you will find it all in KSBV.
Balan has trouble beginning sentences. When an associate called Anzar (Aju Varghese) helpfully grabs the phone from Balan to say the first word the latter is struggling to get out in one scene, it is funny since he does it without malice. So is the second time he does it. But for the most part Balan's stammer is the subject of unfunny barbs and derision.
When listeners mispredict a word Balan is about to say, their impatience with him is unkind enough, but when they do it incessantly throughout the film, it just gets worse each time. The cruelty of KSBV lies in the fact that it is not merely portraying ableist characters, Unnikrishnan is clearly himself tickled by their meanness towards Balan, as he is tickled by the extreme misogyny in the hero's Dad's interactions with his Mom and the old chap's casual violence towards her.
Aju Varghese plays the film's most irritating character. Renji Panicker is very well used. Saiju Kurup is good, as he always is - give this man larger roles, please Mollywood! Venjaramoodu manages to pull off some, though not all, of the intentionally over-the-top comedy plus his character's sliminess. As for Priya Anand, I don't know why she even bothered to accept this blink-and-you-will-miss-her role. Mamta Mohandas has it just marginally better.
Anuradha Sudarshan (Mohandas) is a hapless woman also swept up by the imbroglio that has taken over Balan's existence. At one point we are told that her father, a sketchily described random character, was confident that she would be able to crack a puzzle he has left for her because he believes she is smart. Really, Sir? All that we see is Anuradha hanging around Balan and hanging on to him while he solves the mystery and saves her life. This is particularly upsetting because it results in a waste of Mohandas' strong screen presence.
Of course the two also fall in love. It is, after all, an unwritten rule in commercial Indian cinema across languages that at least one good-looking young woman, the younger the better, must be attracted to the hero of a film especially if he is played by a big male star, irrespective of the man's age.
As in all such situations, the almost two decades separating Mohandas and Dileep are treated as an everyday phenomenon. What is far more amusing though is the important flashback to Balan's college days. Can you imagine a female actor in her 50s in Mollywood being asked to play a college student for even a few seconds?
Lost in all this triteness is a rather interesting mystery, the not-bad-at-all sub-plot explaining how and why Balan began to stammer, and Dileep's surprisingly restrained portrayal of Balan's disability. With juvenile humour and prejudice dominating the screenplay, Team KSBV has no one to blame but themselves.
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