Tovino Thomas' Thallumaala is a non-stop feast of farcical fury

Thallumaala is more provocative than evocative. It is the kind of neo-noir cinema that is designed to stimulate and steer the audiences’ sensory perception into the untrodden territory.

Subhash K Jha September 14, 2022 11:26:28 IST
Tovino Thomas' Thallumaala is a non-stop feast of farcical fury

Tovino Thomas is one of the Malayalam actors whose works I follow closely. He is a long-legged achiever. Hopping and skipping from one unexpected project to another. Thallumaala is Tovino’s fourth release this year, and decidedly more engaging than the bland Vaashi but nowhere near the evocative Dear Friend.

Thallumaala is more provocative than evocative. It is the kind of neo-noir cinema that is designed to stimulate and steer the audiences’ sensory perception into the untrodden territory. For sure we have never seen anything as crazily compelling though not the least constructive. What do we take away from Thallumaala? Nothing? Exactly! This is the film that doesn’t help the audience to glean any gyan or derive the kind of satisfaction that Good Cinema brings to us.

This is not to say that Thallumaala is bad cinema. It is just a pointless film where gang wars acquire the sanction of dramatic inflexion. Take away the superhero element from Tovino Thomas’ 2021 smash-hit Minnal Murali on Netflix and we are left with only a vague comedy about a loser. Take away the flying fists and crashing chairs from Thallumaala and we have a garbled chaotic comedy about two social influencers and their aborted marriage to one another.

 

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Wazim (Tovino) falls in love with social influencer Beevi (the charming Kalyani Priyadarshan). They meet when she hits him in the face, and the video goes viral. As in Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva, most, if not all, associations in Thallumaala begin on a violent note. At the start of the startling satire Wazim clashes with Jamshi (Lukman Avaran). They are soon eating together as Jashmi’s mother bully-feeds Wazim, like Meena Kumari in Mere Apne.

Indeed there is an element of Gulzar’s Mere Apne in the way Tovino clashes with cop Reji Mathew (Shine Tom Chacko). Chacko and director Khalid Rahman have worked together earlier in Unda and Love. Chacko is cast in the greyest shade of black, as his character Reji struggles to not slip off a moral high ground and fails.

The film is absolutely crazy in its vision of the opposition between fantasy and reality. The editing has no punctuation marks. One minute we are staring at Wazim and Reji thrashing each other, the next minute we are standing in the middle of Wazim’s wedding where it all began…only, this wedding recap doesn’t pop up at the beginning but somewhere in the middle or maybe towards the end.

Who knows? Thallumaala is constructed like a psychedelic nightmare. Usually, dreams are colourless. This one goes the other way. The splashy seductive use of bright blues and blood reds reminds us of a painter on a day when he just wants to let his creative juices flow. They flow with ferocious velocity in Thallumaala.

Punctuated by some very innovative songs and dance steps which Tovino’s fans are advised not to try at home uninstructed, the film sweeps you into its violent vibrant visceral universe. Not with the persuasive push that director Khalid Rahman and his co-writers Muhsin Parari and Ashraf Hamza would have liked. But there is enough energy here to carry us along although we are never quite sure where this is going.

The only certainty in this chaotic universe is Thomas Tovino’s by-now proven ability to get into the skin of things without losing his equilibrium even, as in this case, the screenplay stumbles in mid-flight trying to find its way down from heights of absurdity where it doesn’t know how it got to be in the first place.

There is the deviously delightful sequence on a public podium where Tovino’s Wazim insults a poet-writer by drawing attention to the number of fans and followers that Wazim commands. It is a moment of naked vanity where the hero is not afraid to look ridiculous.

Thallumaala adopts a language of expression as absurd as its characters’ obsession with fighting it out for every humiliation, mostly imagined.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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