Sunday, July 24, 2022

Malayan Kunju [dir. Sajimon]

There is little to give by way of plot synopsis for the Mahesh Narayanan produced Malayan Kunju (Child of the Malayan tribe). In the story set in the verdant idyll of Idukki, protagonist Anil Kumar aka Anikuttan (Fahadh Faasil) is the local go-to for any electronics / gizmo repair (in an early scene he uses window hinges to repair a broken laptop hinge). Anikuttan is also a casteist curmudgeon with a (what else?) painful past event that defines his current outlook. It takes another crisis to break down his reserve and unearth his suppressed humanity.

When reduced to bare outline, Malayan Kunju (MK) is a simple story of redemption through trial. Of course, a simple story is by no means a bad thing. Some of the most entertaining films have two-line (or less) plots. Take Neil Marshall's survival thriller The Descent - A gaggle of spunky spelunkers brave a hitherto unmapped cave and must survive both perilous natural obstacles and an unexpected predator. The trick lies in being sincere to that premise and yet add sufficient layers to render it interesting for the running time.This reference to Marshall's film is not an idle one, since the thrills in MK bring to mind the claustrophobic sternum-squeezing atmosphere of the former. 

The entire pre-interval portion of MK is used to define Anikuttan and his surroundings, and in a series of non-linear sequences, sketch out the tragedy that haunts his world-view. It is a large amount of build-up,  even incorporating a couple of song numbers (AR Rahman), but the characterization is not rich enough to justify the time spent, and the significance of scenes like the boar hunt escaped me. A fair portion of the first half therefore comes across as the disjointed padding out of a leaner, more taut adventure, and the emotional angle is, like Rahman’s overbearing background score, on the nose without being memorable.

The best parts of the film occur once Faasil's character literally lands in the calamity that he must overcome to survive. Without spoiling too much, it is a gripping and visceral journey, masterfully captured by the production crew and performed by the actor with complete involvement. In comparison to the diffuse prologue, this part of the film held my attention so completely, it seemed to end too soon. How I wish more of MK could have been this one-man survival drama.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Raudra [dir. Ravindra Shivaji]

Raudra (roughly translating as scary or horrible), which I stumbled upon on Amazon Prime, seems to have been birthed by the success of the Marathi culture inspired Tumbbad. While that film was a near masterpiece of modern Indian mystery-horror, presenting a fantastic fable of human greed with incredible visual and textural detail, Raudra sadly does not match up.

It is not made explicit, but the story seems to be set sometime in post-independence India (possible the 60's or 70's) in a remote Maharashtrian village. Trambak (Rahul Patil) enters the village as a census taker and arrangements are made for his accommodation at the crumbling vada (mansion) owned by the acerbic Nanasaheb (Deepak Damle). Nanasaheb is a dominating figure both at home to his wife and daughter, and for the villagers. Daughter Mrunmayee (Urmila Jagtap) is young and pretty, and sick of her father's oppression. She seems to find in Trambak a sympathetic ear for her complaints, perhaps even an escape route from her current existence.

Apart from going about his census task in the most halfhearted manner accompanied by buffoonish local aide Bando (Anil Padvankar), Trambak seems quite interested in the regional legends, and it becomes apparent early on that this is not mere idle curiosity. He is in quest of an old temple he claims to be of a family deity. Mrunmayee posits that the information he seeks may be available in an ancient book of records carefully guarded by her father, and volunteers to steal the book for him. Even after stealing the book, they have to contend with solving the riddles contained in it to decode the location of the temple, which is said to house an ancient treasure.

While promising in outline, Raudra disappoints hugely in execution. Writer-Director Ravindra Shivaji's screenplay is lackluster and contains glaring exposition lapses. The MacGuffin of Nanasaheb's book is a clumsy one - given his innate craftiness, it seems unlikely that for so many years before Trambak's arrival he would not have made similar deductions. Worse, the film is unable to set and sustain a pace. Instead of a carefully constructed ebb and flow as Trambak follows up various clues, we get a jerky stop-start narrative.  Characters are drawn with far too few shades to render them interesting. Mrunmayee could have been an layered personality, but as portrayed here (both by the writing and Jagtap's unskilled performance) is rather shallow.

Technically also, Raudra is a mixed bag. The decaying vada is an apt setting  and there are some atmospheric shots (Swapnil Kedare). But several other parts of the film appear prosaic and the music - both songs and BGM - overbearing. Apart from a nicely intimidating Deepak Damle, the cast is not particularly impressive. The film is just not able to sustain a specific mood, essential for this kind of story. The worst is saved for the climax. I really don't know what they were thinking here. Perhaps they wanted to make an impact with its abruptness, but it feels as though they stopped there on account of a total deficiency of ideas on how to finish off the story.

Looking up the entry for this film on IMDB, I find a very favorable rating and almost uniformly gushy user reviews (LINK), but my own experience left me quite cold.