Couple of days ago I was looking forward to doing a rare three back to back film session, rare not because I was to watch 3 movies on the trot, that’s something I do very often. But rare because all the 3 were to regional films, 1 Tamil (Vallvanakku Pullum Aayudham) and the 2 brand new Malayalam releases- Mr. Fraud and How Old Are You. Now for a film buff in Mumbai, this sort of a scenario doesn’t happen too often. My heart nearly skipped a beat when I was trying for tickets for the 2 Malayalam films and I was told that there is an uncertainty regarding the shows due to some technical issue and it would be confirmed only by evening. Needless to say I was just about hoping that things would get sorted out and that I would get to watch the films as already planned. After all why would I let go of a chance to watch a Mohanlal film on the very first day of release (and also Manju Warrier’s come back film-How Old Are You) and hence was relieved when I heard of the shows happening as scheduled.
Nearly 5 months after the release of the all-time blockbuster Drishyam, it was finally time for another Malayalam film of Mohanlal (he had done Jilla in Tamil in between) and naturally all eyes were on Mr.Fraud, the film which sees Mohanlal teaming up with writer-director B.Unnikrishnan for the third time. Their earlier two outings, Madampi (2008) and Grandmaster (2012) were reasonably successful and hence the expectation was all the more high from Mr.Fraud. For Mohanlal it was a challenge in terms of what he would come up with after the mega success of Drishyam, for B.Unnikrishnan it was time to deliver a hit again as his previous film- I Love Me (2012) was a dud. And jointly for Mohanlal and B.Unnikrishnan it was always going to be a challenge to deliver a hat-trick of sorts with Mr. Fraud. Now with a title like Mr.Fraud it isn’t too difficult to guess what kind of film it would be and the teaser and trailer too made the intentions pretty clear, it was going to be a heist film. Now whether the film would do justice to all the expectations and deliver to potential or would it turn out to be another one of the overhyped duds of the superstar was something I was for sure hoping to uncover by watching the film. All that and more is what I am going to share my views in the rest of this write-up.
In ancient Adityapuram Kottaram (palace) a lot of bloodshed and family dispute occurred in the past over the royal family’s treasure. In an attempt to placate the 4 different heirs and to ensure that there is no more bloodshed, the treasury which also houses the royal deity is locked up for 41 years. Now the time has come for the treasury to be finally opened and all the 4 heirs and their respective family members are all there to witness the same. Due to the expected high value of the belongings and the media hype surrounding the event, there is high security provided in the palace and even the police take an interest as they receive news of a possible robbery. Against this backdrop we see a hi-tech fraudster (Mohanlal) who is very successful at con operations of various kinds. He goes by various names and appearances; no one really knows his actual name or his background. People working with him like Abbas (Vijay Babu) and Priya (Manjari Phadnis) refer to him as Bhaiji. Just when he is considering doing one big operation and earning enough to retire forever, he is offered a dangerous mission which comes with a huge fee attached. The mission is of stealing the royal treasure from the palace in Kerala. Whether he manages to do it or not is what the rest of the film is all about.
Mr.Fraud is a straightforward heist movie and hence there’s no unwanted attempt to tread any other path and confuse the viewer. Also B.Unnikrishnan seems to have been clear in his mission of wanting to please die hard Mohanlal fans, however at the same time not alienating others as well considering that with Drishyam, the veteran actor’s acceptance seems to have only increased manifold. So on the one hand there is no attempt to wean in any unwanted romantic track (thank heavens), despite there being three heroines in the film. Similarly the film has no standout comedy track and even the emotional elements are strictly minimal and in sync with the nature of the film. The film does have its fair share of action and thriller moments, a must considering that it’s a heist film. Also considering the budget limitations I must say that B.Unnikrishnan has done a fairly good job in making the film appear slick and visually pleasant. The kind of gizmo’s used and the technical wizardry shown are good and not funny or over the top.
Satheesh Kurup’s cinematography is effective and the night shots in particular, both outdoors and indoors are well executed. Manoj’s editing is competent; the film has just about the right length, without making you despair for a hasty exit. In terms of the star cast, the film boasts of an ensemble cast, most of them being members of the royal family, but very few of them get good screen presence. People like Suresh Krishna, Rahul Madhav, P.Balachandran, Devan, Tamil actor Vijayakumar etc have really nothing much to do in the film. Similarly Vijay Babu and Manjari Phadnis seem to be just there to show that Mr.Fraud also has a team and nothing more. Dev Gill plays the standard bad guy and Ashvin Mathew seems to have carried forward his role from 1 By Two :). Pallavi Purohit as a seductress seems to be a strange choice and her dialogues are probably meant to shock or surprise but with varying results. The only actors (apart from Mohanlal of course) who get to really be noticed are Siddique, Saikumar and Mia George. Siddque as Rajasekhara Varma, the royal heir and a former communist MLA is perfectly cast and Mia George as Saraswathy,his foster daughter matches him effectively. The scenes between Mohanlal and Mia are also good, among the better portions in the film actually. Saikumar as Sajan the alcoholic and corrupt cop seems to have had fun playing his role, even though he plays to the gallery.
Now while the film is reasonably fast paced and also contemporary (the Adityapuram Kottaram treasure angle seems to be uncannily inspired by the treasures in the vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple), it is also imperative to note that there is nothing new or innovative about the film as such. Most of the elements seem to give you a major sense of déjà vu, in fact from many films of Mohanlal itself. Take for example the fact that while there is an element of secrecy about Mohanlal’s personal details and his past, he is shown to be a gifted classical singer, with his mother having taught him music during his childhood. Films like Chandrolsavam, Rock N’Roll, His Highness Abdullah etc have had this angle as well. In fact if you replace the aspect of Mohanlal being sent in as hired assassin to kill the thamburan (Nedumudi Venu in His Highness Abdullah) with the angle of being sent in to steal the treasure here in Mr.Fraud, there seems to be a film with quite a bit of similarity. But sadly Mr.Fraud is nowhere in the league of Sibi Malayil’s His Highness Abdullah, a film that is still fondly seen and remembered for various reasons.
For a film which starts off with the premise that Mohanlal is a hi-tech con artist who has many names and many faces, his various so called getups are not too impressive. In fact if it wasn’t for Mohanlal’s earnestness one would even wonder how he could easily get away without his identity being realized. Cinematic liberties at work I guess :) . B.Unnikrishnan has also smartly made Mohanlal mouth some crowd friendly dialogues without going over the top. For example during a fight sequence when he tells the bad guys that “I have done all this so many times in the past, so this time around let me skip this and get to the basics” or when Pallavi Purohit tries to turn him on and he retorts in a calm manner that “he doesn’t easily get excited these days”, the dialogues create the necessary impact on the fans but thankfully they are not the jingoistic punch dialogues seen in a lot of Mohanlal’s earlier mass films.
Gopi Sunder who seems to be the most active music composer in Malayalam these days has done some good work with the songs in the film, just that the songs really look a little out of place in the film. My pick of the lot is “Sadaa Paalaya” (written by G.N.Balasubramaniam , sung by Sudeep Kumar and Sithara) which has also been well picturized. Eventually Mr.Fraud is a film that completely rests on Mohanlal’s shoulders. B.Unnikrishnan has deliberately kept the spotlight completely on his lead actor, which isn’t really a bad move in a way. As a fraudster on the verge of his last major heist, Mohanlal is calm and composed and totally in control. This is something that he’s so good that he doesn’t look unconvincing anywhere, though some of the getups given to him certainly could have been taken care of for the better. Not many actors can hold together a predictable tale and make it watchable and Mohanlal is certainly one of them. Mr.Fraud is again a film which stands an example to this effect.
Ultimately Mr.Fraud is no Drishyam, far from it and not even something that’s going to stand the test of time. However the film is no blot in the filmography of Mohanlal and B.Unnikrishnan. Just as this isn’t something liberating or path breaking, it’s at least heartening to note that it doesn’t turn out a dud like a Casanovva, Ladies and Gentleman or Geethanjali. Now whether this is enough or not is a matter of individual choice. Mr. Fraud remains old wine in new bottle, but thankfully the wine is palatable.