Sunday, January 17, 2016

Monsoon Mangoes (2016)

Director: Abi Varghese
Writers:  Naveen Bhaskar, Matt Grubb, Abi Varghese
Cast:       Fahadh Faasil, Vijay Raaz, Vinay Forrt
Language: Malayalam

D. P. Pallickal (Fahadh) is an amateur filmmaker and the family  black sheep. He has great passion for film making but lacks talent. When he gets fired from his job, he decides to give it a good go at making a feature length film and casts a forgotten-yesteryear-hero from Bollywood as the lead. The film within the film is about an old man and his struggles with fate.

Abi Varghese is known to Malayalees as the maker of TV comedy series- 'Akkara Kazchakal', which is sort of a cult classic. Most of its cast have got their breaks in Malayalam cinema since then and it seems Abi Varghese is late to the party. They also did a movie version of the series but I think it got released only in US and not in Kerala. Anyway, I have not seen it. The trailer of Monsoon Mangoes was very well received here and it wore its Wes Anderson influence proudly on its sleeve. Considering that, I was kind of taken aback by the fairly low-key way in which it was released. In my hometown, it is playing in a B-Grade theater with just 3-shows a day. Since the screen of that is fairly poor, I traveled to the neighboring town in order to catch it in a good quality screen that will do justice to the exquisite way it is filmed, as suggested by the trailer.

It is a beautiful watch with some nice comedy and a philosophical ending. I thought it was just a good enough film as it meandered towards its conclusion but the last ten minutes of it just took my breath away as everything just clicked when Vijay Raaz's character delivers the following lines in Hindi:

"There are three types of people in this world. The first variety thinks life is all about holding a steady job with a steady family and adhering to the rules of the society. Second variety thinks there is more to life and takes risks and leaves out a body of work behind for which they are fondly remembered for after their death. The last, the third kind, thinks like the second bunch and sets out to do it but don't have the talent to succeed. We are the third kind"

It is true for many of us and those lines are followed up with another one which says that 'Cinema is not more important than life'. It really hit it home for me and what preceded looks utterly brilliant when you interpret it along those lines. This film is so fucking meta with regards to the film within the film and the film itself. I was kind of gob-smacked when it was delivered in Hindi without subtitles because many of the Malayalee audience wouldn't be able to understand it and it seemed so pivotal to the whole film. Those lines are again delivered in Malayalam as the film concludes. It is another matter that most of the audience wouldn't be able to connect the dots anyay. The screening that I attended had significant number of walkouts in the first half of the film itself. 

Coming back to the way it is filmed, it is set in New-Orleans and the style is heavily Wes Andersonish- in framing as well as character settings. The film doesn't declare the time period it is set in and is deliberately anachronistic. DP got his script in a floppy disk, uses what looks like very old computers in his office and the TVs in it looks like they are from the 80s. When he is shown repairing a computer, the OS is shown as Windows 95 while at the same time he declares that the computer is very old. He uses a very old car, as shown in the poster, but some of the other cars in the film looks very modern. You also got the cameraman of his film stating that he wants a digital camera instead of the 60 mm film one that they are using. The film that DP is making is very pseudo intellectual and also features a scene where its protagonist is playing chess with the God/Devil ('The Seventh Seal' reference there). One could also say the same for Abhi Varghese as well since the film is also going in a light-hearted but predictable and flimsy manner under all its veneer. That is why it ends up as very meta and truly brilliant when the last sequence is delivered. 

The comedy in it works very well and is not delivered in the 'Look, how clever I am' fashion. It also doesn't linger to make sure that the audience really got it. There are plenty of things in the background as well- an adult film poster with the title 'Auntie's Assets', a poster which shows the tagline of the toilet company that DP is working for as 'We're #1 in the #2 business', etc. The second half of the film kind of meanders through and you really long for a brilliant ending for it to work and the film certainly delivers that on a philosophical front. Performances from the ensemble cast is great and the production quality is very high. Great to see Fahadh back to his usual best and Vijay Raaz is also brilliant. There is a very subtle reference to Vinay Forrt's simple dialog from 'Premam' as well.

PS: I usually whinge about the fact that unconventional but good films like 'Double Barrel' , 'Aadu' and 'Munnariyippu' are not doing spectacularly well at Kerala Box Office. I won't do it for Monsoon Mangoes because if it succeeds at the box office, that will ruin its philosophical ending in a sick twisted manner. It is as if the director was foretelling the commercial fate of his film though his character.

Rating: 4.5/5