Sunday, January 22, 2017

REVIEW 456: MUNTHIRIVALLIKAL THALIRKKUMBOL


Release date:
January 20, 2017
Director:
Jibu Jacob
Cast:





Language:
Mohanlal, Meena, Aima Rosmy Sebastian, Sanoop Santhosh, Anoop Menon, Srinda Ashab, Alencier Ley Lopez, Kalabhavan Shajon, Suraj Venjaramood, Sudheer Karamana, Rahul Madhav, Cameo: Asha Sarath
Malayalam


Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a sweet, believable film about a middle-class family in Kerala. It chronicles the effect on them of the after-effects of Dad’s mid-life crisis and the inordinate amount of time he spends with his male drinking buddies, our human tendency to take our loved ones for granted, marital infidelity, the meaning of guilt, and the curveballs life throws at us that could seem run-of-the-mill to an observer yet be major crises for those experiencing them.

Mohanlal plays Ulahannan/Unnachan, a grouchy Panchayat secretary obsessed with his work and lost in a boredom of his own making that he then attributes to the daily grind and his wife. Meena plays his unhappy spouse Annieamma/Annie, craving for his affection. Their children Jini and Jerry complete their small home.

There are no melodramatic twists and turns in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol (translation: When The Grapevines Sprout). It is not that kind of cinematic venture. Yet the plot points in the story would count as high drama if we were to face them in our own lives. Except for a song needlessly stuffed into the narrative when the family takes a vacation, this is what is usually described as a slice of life. The pleasure of watching it comes from the storyteller’s restraint.

Director Jibu Jacob and scriptwriter M. Sindhuraj do not take any overtly revolutionary stance in this film, yet there are baby steps worth noting. Of course we must ask when they – or any major Indian filmmaker – would treat marital infidelity by women as a source of humour and why cheating men are the subject of so many comedies, but cheating women are serious business. They operate within the patriarchal framework that is the playing field of most Malayalam commercial cinema but, for instance, by not stereotyping or lambasting the women that the men in this film have or hope to have affairs with or once loved, they place the onus for the men’s actions on the men themselves rather than looking for women – current wives, current girlfriends, potential girlfriends or ex-girlfriends  – to blame instead.

There is a point at which a couple of parents in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol become concerned that their child might be sexually active in her teens. That passage is handled with extreme care so as not to take any particular position on pre-marital sex. It seems designed to avoid the anger of those who condemn pre-marital sex and those who do not. The filmmaker appears to have clarity that he is not making a statement on a larger social issue or moralising or being judgmental, but that he is simply recounting how these particular parents reacted in this particular situation. You can therefore take what you will from the episode, depending on your views. While the allusions to the social status of the girl’s boyfriend are needless (a case of reverse classism, perhaps?), the rest is cleverly written and unimpeachable.

On the technical front, Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a mixed bag. The cinematography and production design are effective but not extraordinary, except when Pramod K. Pillai’s camera soars to shoot the stunning sights overlaid on the song Punnamada kayal. Bijibal, whose opening track for Maheshinte Prathikaaram was one of the loveliest numbers from 2016, does nothing here to match up to that. Still, I enjoyed Oru puzhayarikil because of the way it is fitted into the storyline and for Swetha Mohan’s amazing voice. Punnamada kayal, on the other hand, was absolutely unnecessary and completely ordinary.

Mohanlal and Meena are fine actors, and deliver understated performances in tune with the film’s tone and tenor (notwithstanding Meena’s over-enthusiastic make-up artist). They are surrounded by strong actors including old hands Anoop Menon, Kalabhavan Shajon and Alencier Ley Lopez playing Unnachan’s friends, Suraj Venjaramood as the Panchayat president and Sudheer Karamana as his corrupt puppeteer.

Rahul Madhav makes an impression in a brief appearance as Annie’s brother as does Sanoop Santhosh playing Annie and Unnachan’s son. Even the littlest role seems to have been cast with care, which explains why the wonderful Asha Sarath’s dignity was sought out for a tiny cameo as Unnachan’s old friend. My pick of the supporting players in large roles are Aima Rosmy Sebastian as the lead couple’s daughter (a young talent to watch out for) and Srinda Ashab as Anoop Menon’s long-suffering wife.

Mohanlal scored a massive box-office hit last year with Pulimurugan in which he played a swashbuckling action hero conquering tigers in the jungle. There are those who contend that collections should silence all naysayers, but the truth is that he is far more believable here as a conflicted, ordinary middle-class husband. As a well-wisher and admirer of this megastar’s great talent, I wish he would seek out more roles better suited to his age and physique in films like Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol. I wish he would realise too that it would only enhance his dignity to act with women his age rather than far younger female stars like Meena. So many layers could have been added to this story with age-appropriate casting. 

That said, Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol is a pleasant film, both charming and likeable. It is relatable, insightful and entertaining – a blend that is no mean achievement.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating (India):
U
Running time:
154 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




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