School Diary movie review: What’s M.G. Sreekumar doing lending his name to this non-film?

Anna MM Vetticad

May,21 2018 12:21:35 IST

0.25/5

(Our software does not permit us to show less than 0.25 stars in the rating graphic above. Please note that the actual rating given to this film by our critic is 0 stars.)

In future, when almost 19 minutes of a film have passed and all that has been covered are the acknowledgments (which are even longer in this case than in most Mollywood productions) followed by opening credits monotonously playing out against a pretty green landscape followed by a song introducing the female leads who dance awkwardly to some very rudimentary choreography in the picturesque countryside, treat that as a warning that worse is to come.

Writer-director M. Hajamoinu’s School Diary is the sort of bad film that critics dream of while praying for small mercies: so bad that it is entertaining. It would probably have gone unnoticed if an icon had not participated in it and promoted it. M.G. Sreekumar, two-time National Award winner, three-time Kerala State Award winner and long-time singing voice of Mohanlal, is the film’s music director and has a cameo as himself in an extended scene in which he is honoured by the primary characters. He also released the poster of School Diary.

Chetta, just one question: why?

A still from School Diary.

School Diary revolves around five Class 12 students in a school in Kerala. They are Aarcha, Indu, Rima, Diya and Yamuna. Aarcha has been covered in the news media because she wrote a poem called Aksharamaalayil Amma (Mother In The Alphabet), which is being considered for inclusion in the state’s school syllabus.

These youngsters are out to make a difference in the world. So they farm vegetables for poor folk. And Aarcha comes up with the idea of having a diary in which kids in their school can confide their problems that staff and student leaders then will try to solve – an idea that is treated by her peers and faculty as worthy of a Nobel for Novelty.

Along the way the girls encounter two villains. Never mind what they do. Point is, School Diary is not just a case study in amateurish filmmaking, it is also a poorly disguised effort to appear progressive while masking its conservative core.

In one of the opening scenes, when students and teachers are discussing Aarcha’s new concept diary, their principal makes an off-hand comment about how cellphones are spoiling young people. Uff! In one of the film’s silliest scenes, pandering no doubt to the prevailing chest-thumping nationalism dominating the Indian political discourse, a bunch of people in a cafeteria stand up on hearing the national anthem being sung in a nearby schoolyard, the camera then intercuts between the school and the café, continuing to do so until the anthem is over! This interlude plays no part whatsoever in taking the story forward. I repeat, no part.

It was around this point in School Diary that I started giggling to myself, in the theatre where I watched it as one of just two audience members. The silliness continued throughout the film. The halfway mark, for instance, was announced not with “interval” or “intermission” flashing on screen, as is the norm, but with the words “tension break”.

Despite positioning School Diary as a woman-centric affair in its opening scene, Hajamoinu reveals his true patriarchal colours when he ultimately places the baton of Protector of Women in the hands of a male teacher in Aarcha & Co’s school. I laughed out loud in that moment when this gentleman, who appears ordinary until then, suddenly rips off his shirt to reveal a bulked-up, muscular torso in a red-bordered black baniyan before proceeding to beat up the bad guy.

A quick Net search reveals that School Diary’s shirtless wonder is Anvar Sadath, also its producer. Sadath has generously featured footage of himself from that body-baring scene for 23 seconds in the film’s 1 minute 35 seconds long trailer, although he only plays a supporting character. He has also brought out a couple of posters in which he is the dominant visual, not the five heroines.

Anvar Sadath, producer of the film, in a poster courtesy Facebook.

Of the young leads, Bhama Arun playing Aarcha looks like she may be watchable under less tacky direction. It makes no sense though to critique the lot since I doubt even a Dadasaheb Phalke Award-worthy veteran’s skills would survive such a misadventure. The music of School Diary is better than the rest of the film, but is still not as sophisticated as you might expect, considering the high-voltage stalwart to whom it is credited.

To be fair to M.G. Sreekumar, he is not the only respected name associated with School Diary. The Kerala State Award winning actor Indrans, one of Malayalam cinema’s best, also stars in it. This, by the way, is not a phenomenon unique to Mollywood. Across Indian film industries, while successful leading men and women are careful about their choices, it is not uncommon at all to find top character artistes and singers aboard cringe-worthy projects usually because their images tend not to take a beating from such detours, which also usually pay solid financial dividends. Yeah, I know – it is sad.

On second thoughts, if Sreekumar had not been part of School Diary, it may have slipped under the radar, it may not have managed to travel outside Kerala, and I may not have found myself gigging helplessly over it in a darkened hall in the National Capital Region in the middle of an exhausting day. Thank you, universe. Thank you.

Updated Date: May 21, 2018 12:52 PM