We all like to see tales of the underdog scoring a victory, don’t we? That’s practically why David vs Goliath is one of the tales that continues to see various interpretations even today. Of course not every such tale manages to hold your attention, or even impress you in any way. That’s where the power of a story teller, narrator and filmmaker comes into play. In particular I like tales focusing on an underdog where the setting is as close to reality as possible and where one identifies with the tale by itself or the characters or perhaps both. Fahadh Faasil is someone who has time and again proved his worth as an actor, pulling off diverse roles in various films with ease. He is easily one of the most versatile of the actors in India these days, especially among those playing the leading men. Cast him as a suave urbane character, or a simple down to earth man and he still sinks into the character easily.
After a terrific run in 2013 and 2014 it was a little surprising and strange to see Fahadh going wrong in his choice of films last year. Films like Mariyam Mukku, Haram and Ayal Njanalla might have looked promising on paper perhaps, but on screen they certainly did not do any justice to his presence in them. But it was quite clear to critics and the general audience that all it would take to bring him back into reckoning was one solid film, enough to once again shut the door on his detractors and remind people that he meant to stay in the business. Earlier this year Abi Varghese’s Monsoon Mangoes came and went by but did not really turn out to be the film that Fahadh had hoped for in terms of a turnaround of fortunes. So when the trailer of Dileesh Pothan’s debut film as director, Maheshinte Prathikaaram was received positively almost by everyone, it came as a welcome relief of sorts. And with the film releasing with a terrific word of mouth it looked like the wait was finally over for Fahadh.
For some strange reason the makers decided to release the film outside Kerala in a staggered manner, with cities in South India like Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc seeing the release 2 weeks after its release in Kerala, while Mumbai and other prominent places outside South India saw the film release after a further delay of a week. By the time I could eventually get to watch the movie I could realize that this was one of those films which has managed to appeal to both audience and critics at large, hence I was all the more curious to check out for myself what really has worked so well in favour of the film. Dileesh Pothan is someone who has spent some time as an assistant director, working mainly with Aashiq Abu. But he is more known to us as an actor thanks to films like Salt N’ Pepper, 22 Female Kottayam, Iyobinte Pusthakam, Rani Padmini etc. Hence I was also keen to know how well Dileesh has gone on to make his debut as director and if his work carries the influence of his seniors or not.
Maheshinte Prathikaaram (The revenge of Mahesh) is based on a true story and the film has of course been suitably adapted by writer Syam Pushkaran for the big screen. In the sleepy little town called Prakash (which is just more than a big village) in Idukki district, lives the protagonist Mahesh Bhavana (Fahadh Faasil) who runs a photo studio. His constant companion is Babychayan (Alancier Lay) who runs a photo framing and flex banner designing outfit, right adjacent to Mahesh’s studio. Mahesh is content leading a regular routine which includes taking passport photos and covering funerals and taking care of his father who used to be a photographer himself. Mahesh has been aspiring of settling down with his childhood sweetheart, Soumya (Anusree) who is now a nurse in some far off place but she gets married to someone else instead. And just when things are looking a little out of focus of sorts in his case, a very trivial incident sees Mahesh strangely getting into a brawl with a few strangers, ending up getting knocked up badly. Hurt a lot by the incident Mahesh vows to extract his revenge and takes on a pledge to remain barefoot till he fulfills his vow. What happens from there on and does Mahesh go on to fulfill his vow is what we get to see from the rest of the film.
In a way it’s good to see films like Maheshinte Prathikaaram which are quite rooted and set in a place that’s not just visually beautiful but also a reminder of how diverse Kerala is in terms of locations and the idiosyncrasies that come with it. So while the characters in the film live in Prakash town, they actually head to Kattappana, the nearest large town for all practical purposes. Take for example Mahesh going there for his Kung Fu classes or Jimsy (Aparna Balamurali) being a student of a fashion technology institute over there. We also get a glimpse of how the rural-urban convergence in Kerala is a reality of sorts, like the moment where Jimsy and her friends from the institute break into a flash mob in the town bus stand area or the use of Photoshop by Crispin (Soubin Shahir) at Babychayan’s work place. Weaving all these and more into the narrative makes the film all the more true to life.
The father-son relationship between Mahesh and his dad (K.J.Antony) is another highlight of the film. There aren’t too many dialogues between them, but whenever the father talks to Mahesh, it’s indeed something interesting. Like when Mahesh mentions that he is going to his shop and is corrected by his father that it’s a studio, not a shop. In fact it is his father who in a very simple way makes Mahesh actually understand and fall in love with photography, changing him from a strictly functional photographer to someone who is truly passionate about it. Perhaps the best part of the film is what appears to be a series of inconsequential yet funny moments just before the fight scene in the market place. Totally full of life and featuring many unknown faces, you can’t but help laughing over the trivialness of the whole thing. And Dileesh Pothan surprises us by randomly bringing the market place confrontation right afterwards, leaving not just Mahesh but also us, shaken.
Speaking of fights I’d say that both the action sequences have been handled wonderfully and carry the right amount of rawness expected in a typical street fight where at least one of the persons involved is certainly untrained. The reference to Kireedam and its sequel Chenkol is a little tongue in cheek, though it’s also something that perhaps hasn’t gone down well with a certain section of the audience. Also while I find the whole angle of the quest for revenge by Mahesh both fascinating as well as funny in an odd sort of way, it’s also clear that for someone who going by the title of the film is expecting something intense and very dramatic is going to be feeling let down in a way. Dileesh Pothan shows a lot of restraint in a way, avoiding the approach of a thriller which was quite possible and instead treating the film as a realistic slice of life tale.
Shyju Khalid’s cinematography is top notch, making good use of the locations. Bijibal continues to maintain his good form over here and his songs work very well for the film. The pick of the lot is easily “Idukki” which incidentally has also been sung by himself (lyrics by Rafeeq Ahammed). At a run time of just around 2 hours, the film is of the right duration, editor Saiju Sreedharan’s work ensuring that the film faces no pacing issues of any sort. There are a host of well-defined characters in the film, Dileesh Pothan ensures that even the minor characters emerge interesting in their own way. The owner of the footwear store who is curious to know if Mahesh has started wearing slippers again, the 2 men who fight over the caretaking rights of Eldho’s (Dileesh Pothan) land, the local politician who likes to get involved in all issues/disputes are all good examples of the same.
K.J.Antony as Vicent Bhavana, the father of Mahesh is a revelation, managing to convey a lot without too many dialogues. Sujith Shankar captures the essence of Jimson very well, emerging as some unknown entity out of nowhere yet tormenting Mahesh long after the untoward incident. Lijomol Jose as Soniya, the daughter of Babychayan is sparkling and definitely holds promise. Jaffar Idukki gets one of his best roles in his career as he plays Kunjumon, the father of Soumya with conviction. I liked the way Dileesh Pothan uses Kunjumon effectively in two similar moments at two different segments of the film, both having a funeral, Mahesh and his beloved in common.The two women in Mahesh’s life, Soumya and Jimsy are played quite well by Anusree and Aparna Balamurali respectively. Aparna has an easy going and natural charm which makes her portrayal of Jimsy special in a way. Alancier Lay as Babychayan and Soubin Shahir as Crispin are wonderful, the scenes between them in particular are quite well written. Soubin is fast emerging as a dependable actor, handling humour in his own inimitable style.
Maheshinte Prathikaaram works to a large extent also thanks to the charm and the elegance of its leading man, Fahadh Faasil. He plays the simpleton so effectively; you could almost mistake him for a small town photographer that he plays over here. This is the kind of performance and film that was anyways required to break his dry spell and it’s encouraging to see it coming to him at the right time. Be it as the silent lover who let goes of his beloved without a fight, the photographer whose ego is hurt by a girl, the photographer who finally realizes the actual thrill of the craft or as the youngster who is hurt and swears revenge, Fahadh brings out the various shades in Mahesh Bhavana’s character very wonderfully and in great style. Dileesh Pothan makes a smashing debut as filmmaker with Maheshinte Prathikaaram, special credit also to the way he ends the film, bringing in a tight finish. Oh! and the next time if you are in a footwear store and fancy yourself a pair of size 8 Lunar Hawai chappals, then don’t be surprised :).
Note: Maheshinte Prathikaaram is playing with English subtitles in select screens outside Kerala. The quality of the subtitling work is good and it’s heartening to see even the songs being subtitled.