Friday Film House which is helmed by actors Vijay Babu and Sandra Thomas entered into the field of film production with Linin Jose’s Friday (2012). This was followed by the recent Zachariyayude Garbhinikal, written and directed by Aneesh Anwar. So when I heard that their next film is a children’s film i.e Philips and the Monkey Pen, I was a little intrigued. The directors Shanil Muhammed and Rojin Thomas make their debut with this film though they’ve done a few short films earlier. The 1st teaser of the film was more than enough to get me hooked and to make me find out more about the film. Showing a 5th standard class room situation that I am sure almost everyone will relate to, the teaser kept it simple and conveyed promise. The star cast which included a host of kids and some reasonably well-known actors was another promising aspect about the film.
Though there are recent examples of children’s films like Pasanga (Tamil), Stanley Ka Dabba or a Gattu which have turned out good, I have always considered that making a good children’s film which can appeal to a vast majority of the audience is not an easy ball game at all. Hence I decided to wait and watch for the release and see if the film turns out interesting enough and if it manages to live up to the promise generated by the promos. Released on 7th November in Kerala, the film started receiving good reports, thus convincing me of the appeal and I looked forward to the film. Hence with the film releasing 3 weeks later in Mumbai it was a sure shot weekend choice for me. So how did the film turn out? Was it satisfying enough and does it carry enough merit to cater to a larger audience? Well I’ll come to all these aspects and more in the rest of this write-up.
Ryan Philip (Master Sanoop) is a fifth grader who has a great time at school along with his friends. But he is a typical prankster who just cannot enjoy Mathematics and his nemesis always turns out to be his Maths teacher Pappan (Vijay Babu) who is a very strict teacher. Ryan’s parents Roy Philip (Jayasurya) and Sameera (Remya Nambeesan) are pretty chilled out by themselves and hence do not subject Ryan to any usual academic pressure at home. Roy and Sameera fell in love during their higher secondary days and being from different religions, got married without family support very early on. As Roy explains to Ryan one day, they got married when they themselves were barely adults and within no time became parents as well and hence their own childhood sort of continues as they bring up Ryan. One fine day Ryan comes across the mysterious ‘Monkey Pen’ and that brings about a complete change in his life. So what is this monkey pen and how does it impact Ryan’s life is what the rest of the film is all about.
Shanil and Rojin take good care to ensure that the film takes us through a wonderful nostalgic ride all through the film. We get to see the sharp contrast between Ryan and his friends on one hand and the rest of the class in terms of their priorities. While the film doesn’t dwell much upon the teachers (only Pappan the Maths teacher and the School Principal get some scope) it is understandable as the focus here is on the children mainly. The aversion towards mathematics as a subject is something that a lot of us must have individually faced or at least we can remember people who have been in such a situation like this. While I did not hate the subject myself I remember that it was my least favorite subject for a long time and hence it is easy to relate to Ryan’s situation which though a little exaggerated is still possible to fathom.
The film also tells us that in today’s competitive World there is already a lot of pressure on children and hence both teachers and parents must try and ensure that children do not struggle under this burden, thus neglecting the small pleasures of childhood which can be only enjoyed up to a certain age. While one may wonder if showing romance among kids in 5th grade/standard is needed one should keep in mind that the whole aspect is shown in a very light perspective. Also the romantic angle by itself lends to a serious but important chapter in the life of Ryan and his friends and that makes the whole thing look pretty valid. Care has also been taken to ensure that there is a positive message delivered at the end sans any unnecessary melodrama in the garb of moral preaching.
Technically too the film is a delight as demonstrated by Neil D’Cunha’s cinematography for example. Be it the extensive outdoor shots or the vibrant classroom/house interiors the colours come alive effectively in every frame without looking to unsettle the viewer. The art direction is wonderful and full marks for getting the right look of the residence of the Philips’ and also that of Richard Philips’ old house with all the antiques around. Rahul Subrahmaniam, brother of actress Remya Nambeesan has done well with the music for the film. The songs are either soulful or extremely catchy and “En Kanimalare” (two versions, one sung by Sachin Warrier and the other by Neha Venugopal) and “Vinnile Tharakam” (sung by Arun Elat) are the pick of the lot. But for a film of this kind there was a chance to trim down the proceedings a little and enhance the pace slightly more; at 140 minutes the film does feel a tad lengthier than ideally needed.
The film has some lovely characters and the choice of actors has been almost spot on. Joy Mathew who of late was getting the same kind of monotonous roles is refreshing as the father of Jayasurya who is still upset with his son for an act of the past. The scenes which he shares with Ryan i.e Master Sanoop are simply a treat to watch. It’s wonderful to see Innocent in a cameo (let me not spoil it by telling anything about his role) which looks tailor made for him. Mukesh is again a good choice for the school principal’s role and the way he mentors Pappan i.e Vijay Babu is shown earnestly. Vijay Babu who is usually seen in negative roles pulls off the role of the Maths teacher Pappan very effectively. As the strict teacher who then turns an understanding companion to his students, his role is very important in the film. Remya Nambeesan actually doesn’t have much to do in the film, but she does make for a pretty mother who got married and became a mom quite young. It’s good to see a popular actor like Jayasurya accept the role of Roy Philip as the film is basically centred on Ryan and hence the scope for Roy is very limited. But the few scenes that he shares with the boy look extremely natural; you almost feel that Jayasurya and Master Sanoop are related in real life.
All the kids are pretty good for the characters they portray and the kid playing Jugru/Jahangir in particular deserves special mention. Eventually it is Master Sanoop who completely steals the show over here and he is a complete delight to watch. The brother of child actor turned heroine Sanusha, Sanoop seems to be a natural in front of the camera and carries a variety of expressions. Be it while in the playful mood or while feeling emotional, he is able to look convincing completely. The film which more or less is shouldered by him wouldn’t have worked this well if not for his charm. One can always nit-pick and dig out flaws in the film but considering that not only are the director duo making their debuts with this film and with the central role being played by a kid who is again new, Philips and the Monkey Pen more than turns out to be an engaging film. It is a children’s film meant for the whole family. As the film ends it would be really a surprise if you do not feel satisfied and that is more than enough to show that the film has met its objective.
In case you have not seen the trailer yet then do check it out.