Sunday, November 4, 2018

REVIEW 652: DRAMA


Release date:
November 3, 2018
Director:
Ranjith
Cast:


Language:
Mohanlal, Arundhati Nag, Asha Sarath, Kaniha, Suresh Krishna, Shyamaprasad, Dileesh Pothan, Baiju Santhosh
Malayalam


Dead men tell no tales, they say. Dead women could be a different kettle of fish. Drama, directed by Ranjith, is about the funeral politics that ensues when a lady from Kattappana in Kerala breathes her last unexpectedly in the home of her daughter in London.

Before she passed away, old Rosamma had expressed a desire to be buried beside her husband in their hometown upon her death. Of her five children, three don’t care what the mother wanted, one does, and one is too weak to push her point of view forward. It is then left to Raju (Mohanlal of course), a partner in the funeral services agency that the family hires, to ensure that Rosamma’s last wish is fulfilled.

Raju’s reason for getting personally involved arrives with a twist in the tale right before the interval. That it took so long to get there is one reason why Drama is not as impactful as it could have been. Another is that Mohanlal plays a stock Mollywood character seen a million times before, complete with flirtatious nature, lecherous behaviour, and a conviction that infidelity in marriage is cute if the erring partner is the husband.

Like those million films that have gone before, this one too bears the stamp of the director’s belief that a sensible wife will not and should not take any of this seriously. This is a world of commercial Mollywood’s imagination, in which all women, especially young women, get excited or at worst are bemused on being leered at, especially by paunchy, elderly heroes. The trivialisation of male infidelity, of course, is rampant across all Indian cinema, not just Mollywood. In this and other ways, not only is Drama sexist and deeply patriarchal, it is also clichéd. A woman in the film says marriage is built on a foundation of forgiveness, but she too offers an example of a wife forgiving a husband who ‘slipped up’ sexually, but no example calling on a male spouse to close his eyes to a wife in similar circumstances. A man plays on the words “pig” and “pork” while addressing his wife in conversation. A passing reference to domestic violence is troublingly casual, more so because the woman in that scene is in a situation that could potentially be very dangerous in real life. And the truth is, all this feels minor in comparison with the horrendous misogyny of so many other mainstream Malayalam films.

This aspect of the film and the scenes squandered on establishing Raju’s pointless back story divert too much attention from its main purpose, which is to address family politics at the death of a relative. That part of Drama is far more engaging and fulfilling and at least initially, nuanced. Note the fleeting look of hurt on Rosamma’s daughter Mercy’s face when she first hears Raju’s employees referring to “the body” and “the box”. Even if she were not the quiet, mild-mannered person that she is, how can she possibly object to their choice of words? Mom is, after all, now “the body” and “the box” to them and it is clear they mean no offence. That said, the men’s tendency to switch to terms such as “item” and “stuff” when the family is not around shows how they have been hardened to the point of extreme insensitivity by their daily encounters with death.

The intricate games being played among the siblings too are interesting and comical to begin with until they get repetitive and it also becomes clear that while an effort has been made to build up Raju in the screenplay, an equal effort has not been invested in the characterisation or casting of Rosamma’s children. This should not come as a surprise although the film has been made by the National Award-winning director of Thirakkatha and Indian Rupee since, as Mollywood-gazers well know, Ranjith is as capable of insipidity (sample: Puthan Panam) and mixed bags (sample: Spirit) as of quality cinema.

The absence of detail in the writing of the children is Drama’s big gaping lacuna. Even the performances are largely ineffectual, with only Kaniha as the reticent, sorrowful Mercy leaving any kind of lasting impression.

Arundhati Nag is alright as the dead lady. And the always-striking Asha Sarath is wasted playing the role of Raju’s wife whose deletion from the screenplay would have made absolutely no difference to the plot.

Mohanlal too is just alright except when his comic timing is put to good use in some scenes. In the end he gets to sing a foot-tapping number accompanying the closing credits. That is not a bad thing when viewed in isolation, but when you consider that this is an ensemble film, the song is a symptom of the director’s undue focus on the character played by his superstar leading man.

2018 has provided an excellent measure of the chasm that separates conventional commercial Malayalam cinema from its more experimental cousins, with the release of Ranjith’s Drama coming just months after Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Ee.Ma.Yau. Both are funeral-centric satires, but Ee.Ma.Yau. is a profound commentary on death, relationships and the community in which the story is set. Drama, on the other hand, has little depth. This Mohanlal-starrer is mildly entertaining but, like its unimaginative title, also unremarkable.

Rating (out of five stars): *3/4

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

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




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