One movie review: A Mammootty poster would be a good substitute for this film

As the writing becomes increasingly hollow, the director increasingly relies on loud music and grand frames of Mammootty to get by.

Anna MM Vetticad April 03, 2021 16:56:13 IST

2/5

Language: Malayalam 

The release of the Mammootty-starrer One has been preceded by some speculation about whether it is based on an actual netav, and if so, who. 

Now that the film is out, it can be safely concluded that the answer to the question is: no one we know. 

Cynicism towards politicians makes it hard to believe that a man could be as good as the fictitious Chief Minister Kadakkal Chandran (Mammootty), but let us set aside scepticism and have faith instead in human decency, in the spirit of Albert Einstein’s memorable words about Mahatma Gandhi: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” Kadakkal is not portrayed as a Mahatma (Great Soul) in One, just a genuinely nice guy who feels for the masses and wants to stay connected to them. There is even a fleeting mention of his not-so-glowing reputation as a student by a senior character (a sweet cameo by the legendary Madhu). Are we all so jaded that to our minds it is out of the question that “such a one as this … now walks upon this earth”?

For me at least, Kadakkal is a possibility, however improbable that possibility may seem in the present dismal real-life scenario. The film’s flaw is not the improbability that such a man might exist; the flaw is its decision to conveniently avoid offering any insight into his longevity in the murky world of politics and skip an explanation for how he lasts beyond the political suicide he knowingly attempts at one point. One seems to say: he survived in the midst of muck, we won’t tell you how, just believe us when we say he did. Sorry, doesn’t work. 

This is especially surprising because writers Bobby and Sanjay (How Old Are You?, Kayamkulam Kochunni, Uyare) are known for meeting tricky scenarios head-on instead of skirting them. 

One, directed by Santhosh Viswanath, actually starts out rather well. A prologue featuring Gayathri Arun, Salim Kumar and Mathew Thomas works as a solid set-up for the introduction of the Megastar as Kerala CM. Mammukka is given his signature grand entry late into the running time, with rousing anticipatory music, a slow motion walk, a focus on his shoes (thankfully, no sunglasses this time) and camerawork emphasising his height and impressive physique, but the first hour-plus of One works all the same because the priority seems to be to offer a convincing account of the challenges before an honest politician. 

Kadakkal Chandran is shown to be firm, stern but kind, and the way he overcomes a social media crisis reveals that his straightforwardness should not be mistaken for stupidity. He has family concerns and health issues, as normal men would. His modest background is the reason for much of the contempt he faces from casteist, classist individuals. Most of the public, however, are drawn to his simplicity (which leads to some amusing situations), though the media occasionally contends that it is a gimmicky facade. Meanwhile, the Opposition and rivals in his party plot against him. 

So far quite interesting. In the last hour of this 152 minutes-long film though, conversations give way to speechifying, an engaging storyline gives way to the director’s and cinematographer’s pre-occupation with their star, a complicated legal scenario in the Legislative Assembly and other complexities are glossed over because… Actually why? Because they were too challenging? 

As the writing becomes increasingly hollow, the director increasingly relies on loud music and grand frames of Mammootty to get by.

And gradually, One gets boring. If my sole goal was Mammootty-gazing, I could have bought a poster instead of a ticket to this film. 

At first I enjoyed star-spotting in the huge ensemble cast that features commercially megawatt names like Madhu and Nimisha Sajayan in small supporting roles along with an array of respected character artistes, some old, some emerging. But as I found myself stifling yawns towards the end, even this hook was not enough. 

Long before the narrative starts deteriorating, production issues rear their head: the sound quality in One is uneven and some shots supposedly set in the open are glaringly faked (note the autorickshaw ride that Kadakkal Chandran takes). 

Casting Murali Gopy as a Machiavellian politico might be an intentionally amusing touch for the benefit of those aware of the actor’s politics and put off by it. Unwittingly amusing though is the casting of 24-year-old Nimisha as the sister of a hero played by the nearly 70-year-old Mammootty. Eye roll. This aberration could be laughed off as an indulgence towards the Big M, but the writing is a different matter.  

The truth is that many of us have so much nostalgia for the Mammukka we grew up with and so much respect for his finer performances, that anything flawed but not nauseous like The Great Father or Pullikkaran Staraa is made passable by his mere presence. It is unfair though for him and his directors to test the intelligent cinephile’s affection with the vacuity that the second half of One descends into. 

Kadakkal Chandran is a character with potential but Bobby and Sanjay fail to build on that foundation of their own creation. One is okay, I guess. It could have been so much more though – the problem is that after a while, it does not even try. 

One is currently running in theatres.

Rating: **

Updated Date:

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