Anwar Rasheed, Listin Joseph and Anjali Menon to start with is an eclectic mix and you don’t know what to expect from such a combination.Between them you have super star movies, refreshingly original content and plaigarized stuff all at once. Add to that the contrasting starcast of Dulquer’s youthful exuberance and Thilakan’s solid body of work, you just don’t know what the heck to expect from the mix. So I kept an open mind while visiting the ‘cinema ghar’, though I must admit I was biasedly expecting something special from Dulquer after absolutely loving him for a totally unconventional and smashing debut in ‘Second Show’.
‘Ustad Hotel’ is in some ways the coming of age tale of Fayzee or Faizal, a rich and brash but in many ways innocent youth played by Dulquer Salman,and the unique turn of events he faces at a certain point of his life. His rich dad(Siddique) dotes on him as he is that elusive loving son born after four daughters. Despite the lavish business plans his dad has for him, Fayzee’s heart is set on becoming a top chef. Add to all this conflict of interests, an arranged marriage proposal with Shahana(Nithya Menon) and all hell breaks loose between dad and son. Fayzee who feels choked by all this decides to spend some time with his grand dad Karim ka(Thilakan) till things cool down and this is where a totally new dimension opens up in his life. What does this phase in his life hold for Fayzee? How does it help him grow as a person? What does he become as a person and a professional? These are the questions answered from there on in this beautifully narrated family entertainer.
The first half of the movie for me will go down as amongst the most seamlessly crafted and ‘wrinkle free’ scripted pieces of cinema I have seen. Be it the rapid fire narration of setting the background on Fayzee’s family history(with an excellent narration by Mamukkoya), the extremely witty ‘pennu kaanal’ sequence or Fayzee’s early days of struggle at Calicut, there is not one second to rest, one second to cringe. Stuff just keeps flowing and flowing. Add to this a fantastic music score by Gopi Sundar which just doesn’t bloody make you realise what part of it is a song and what is a BGM track, when a track starts or ends. It just blends magically to the narrative. The second half probably is not as exceptional as the first half, but it still is no ways ordinary or run-of-the-mill cinema. At a few instances when you think the script is going to fall for a trap, it manages to wriggle out of all possible cliches and for most parts remains
pretty practical and intelligent.
The biggest asset of the movie is it manages to hit 3 birds in one stone, namely , create great passages, scenes and characters all at once. This is difficult even for the best of directors and writers to achieve. As quoted before, the first 20 odd minutes of setting the background is an absolute winner. Similarly Fayzee’s various stages in Kozhikode, step-by-step progression in relationship with Shahana are all skilfully done. As for great scenes, they are all over the place. To handpick a few, the Shahana-Fayzee pair matching session, their hilarious journey back home from the concert, Fayzee’s humiliation in the restaurant and most importantly a couple of Fayzee’s scenes with Karim Ka by the sea(especially the rocking one about Karim Ka’s romantic escapade) are all brilliant.
I cant talk about the characters without talking about the performances as they just blend so seamlessly. My personal favourite is obviously Thilakan as Karim Ka. The footage he gets maybe less than that of the Dulquer’s Fayzee but we have all seen enough of Malayalam cinema to know how he can steal the thunder from right under the protagonist’s nose in a few minutes. Just look out for the various hues in his character ranging from fear and sorrow at his restaurant’s plight to the twinkle in his eyes when he talks mischievously about his romantic adventures as a youth. He is a national treasure. Dulquer Salman has made his life difficult with two great choices for opening movies and roles. Provided he doesn’t spoil his own cause, he could easily become the Ranbir Kapoor of Malayalam cinema(i.e. the future) and he definitely has enough steam in the tank to topple all the others in sight. Nithya Menon and Siddique play their parts to perfection and special mention must be made of Mamukkoya for both his rocking comedy(replete with an ever innocent smile) and his beautiful narration at the start.
All technical departments do their role to a ‘T’, be it music(including the smash hit ‘Appangal Embadum’, ‘Vathilil’ and ‘Mel Mel’), BGM, camera work, by and large crisp editing and most importantly fantastic writing by Anjali Menon. The movie has not one second of vulgarity or inappropriate content from start to finish. For those who are gastronomically inclined, it has much more shots of food than ‘Salt and Pepper’. There are a few negatives to pick however. Even with limited space dedicated for songs, the movie somehow manages to give a slightly lengthy feeling in parts of the second half. Some of the sequences around the closure and reopening
of the restaurant are slightly filmy, for e.g: there is a sudden amnesia on a hefty bank loan to be immediately paid. The preachiness around the Madurai segment is slightly debatable, but all in all it made sense to me given that it is based on a real life person(Narayanan from Madurai) and the portion following it was practical with Karim Ka leaving Fayzee to his own choices.
All in all, ‘Usthad Hotel’ made me go wow all across the first half, reasonably happy in the second and with a smile on my face for most of its playing time. Add to that some solid moments of brillaince from the Thilakan-Dulquer combo and a technically watertight enterprise, it is definitely up there with Kahaani and Pan Singh Tomar in my top 3 films of the year so far. 4 stars overall, -.5 for a slightly shoddy second half and a blind +.5 for the legendary Thilakan and so 4 it will stay at.