Saturday, August 4, 2012


Release date:
July 27, 2012

Mohanlal, Kaniha, Shankar Ramakrishnan, Lena, Thilakan, Tini Tom

I remember the first time I watched a Mohanlal film as a little girl growing up in Delhi. The Kairali Film Society was holding a screening of Manjil Virinja Pookkal, and my parents thought it would be a good idea for us kids to get some exposure to cinema from our home state. I just HATED Mohanlal in that film! God how he made my skin crawl!

As I grew older though, and I began to understand what acting is about, I realised it’s not the actor that I had found despicable while watching MVP, but the man that he became for that role. That’s the thing about Mohanlal … When it comes to the craft, there are few film stars in India who are within touching distance of him. Not all his films have been artistic delights though. Through multiple National Awards in a career spanning over three decades, Lalettan (as he is known to adoring fans in Kerala) has also acted in some unabashedly loud masala fare. But when a man has delivered so many noteworthy performances over so many years in both good and bad films, it’s only fair to go to watch him with an open mind, because there’s no telling what he might come up with next.

Director Ranjith’s Spirit features Mohanlal as TV journalist Raghunandan whose straight-talking style has won him fans across the state. He’s an honest man with a severe drinking problem that he refuses to admit to himself. His closest friends include his work, his ex-wife Meera and her second husband Alexy. Raghu and Meera’s son stays with his mother. Although Meera has often tried to help Raghu understand that he suffers from an addiction, he refuses to accept the truth…until one day, tragedy strikes too close to home and everything changes.

The most likeable part of this film is, of course, that it has its heart in the right place. Alcoholism can destroy families … Alcoholism is a disease that needs to be treated … Physically abusing your wife in a drunken state is inexcusable … These and many more messages come through loud and clear in this well-intentioned film about the “spirit” that is rampant in India’s most literate state. I particularly liked the almost chilling portrayal of the plumber Mani’s rabid dependence on drink. I also enjoyed Mohanlal’s interpretation of a well-meaning but pompous journalist.

A great message is not enough to make a great movie though. Spirit’s heavy-handed dialogue writing rings its death knell from the very start. Okay, I can understand the bombastic lines being delivered by Raghunandan’s character. He is, after all, one of those obnoxious, over-bearing TV anchors who seems to interview people to hear his own voice and does not allow guests on his show to get a word in edgeways. So I can accept the writing of Raghu’s dialogues, but it’s jarring when the other characters in the film also speak in a similarly theatrical manner. When Raghu misbehaves at a party, Meera’s friend consoles her by saying somberly, as a character in a cliché-ridden book might: it’s not him, it’s the spirit within (give or take a word here or there). Oh c’mon, who talks like that? The end result is that despite being mildly entertaining, in the overall analysis Spirit is too wordy and lacks subtlety.

The other problem I had with this film is the Raghu-Meera-Alexy relationship. I’m not for a moment suggesting that divorced couples can’t remain friends even after a bitter break-up … It’s possible, it happens, I know that. The question here is, what does Raghu bring to the table that prompts Meera and Alexy to feel an iota of a desire to socialise with him? He is loutish yet they routinely invite him to parties at their house where he never fails to pick quarrels and be rude to their friends. He may be a journalist with lofty ideals, but this father of an adolescent deaf-mute son is so self-centred that in all these years he has not bothered to master the sign language to communicate with his child, unlike the boy’s stepfather Alexy. I could understand if Meera and Alexy were staying in touch with Raghu out of a sense of duty. But why on earth do they make such an effort to spend so much time with him when it’s not required? This rather dominant aspect of the story is completely unconvincing.

At the risk of inviting the wrath of Mohanlal fans, I must also state that I felt considerable discomfort watching the megastar with actress Kaniha who plays Meera and looks young enough to be his daughter. Firstly – and rather sadly – Lalettan has allowed himself to go all over the place physically for the longest time now. His expanded waistline coupled with the over two decades that separate him from this so-very-evidently-young actress, make the seeming attraction between them in one scene rather hard to digest. Yeah yeah, I know of course that there are older-man-younger-woman romances in the real world, but show me a redeeming feature in this particular older man that might draw any woman to him, and I will erase this paragraph.

Still, Spirit does touch a chord with its call to Keralites to recognise the poison that could destroy the state. It’s moderately interesting. It should and could have been so much more.

Rating (out of five): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
145 minutes

Photograph courtesy:       


  1. Nice review & happy to know that you are a keralite :) try 'usthad hotel' / 'diamond necklase' if it comes in theatre near you.Spirit indeed a dissappointing movie from director like renjith.Expecting more reviews on malayalam movies :)

    1. Dear "Unknown",

      I'd love to review more Malayalam films - time permitting, of course. Unfortunately, very few get released in Delhi NCR and those that do are often shown only in theatres in Ghaziabad, UP, and not within Delhi city, which is what happened with Ustad Hotel. So it becomes impractical for me to watch new releases in theatres, and I'm dependent on DVDs or satellite TV telecasts. Thanks for the interest though - I shall try my best to post more Malayalam reviews in future. I'll also badger the folks at PVR until they start releasing more Malayalam films across the NCR :)

      Rgds, Anna

  2. Spirit is definitely not everyone's cup of tea... I found the You got it spot on "Wordy" and "lacks subtlety".Raghu-Meera-Alexy relationship to be endearing.Meera knows that even though raghu is self obsessed alcoholic and a workaholic he still loves them( Meera and her family) and doesnt know to express it in a proper way.And regarding mohanlals figure he is definitely looks very broad at the hips but that is generally is how most of the middle aged people look in kerala.Also i didnt find mohanlal to too old for kaniha(Meera).I agree that the movie could have been so much more.

  3. Your review was a good take till the last para. The moment you took it personal, it lost it's value. I mean it's understandable if he was shown running around trees. The film has plenty of flaws.But nobody gonna believe one among them is 'cos Mohanlal looks older than the heroine.Hope you watch Malayalam movies, 'cos you want to, not for the sake of a pre-determined review!

    1. Dear Sangeeth,

      It cannot possibly be "personal" to criticise an actor's fitness levels, if it's acceptable to do the reverse, that is, praise an actor for looking fit / handsome / hot / sexy etc. Appearance is very much a part of any actor's image and it's perfectly legitimate for a critic to comment on matters of fitness, wardrobe and makeup, so long as s/he is not nasty in their choice of words. I would never attack a person for not being good looking (because that would constitute "getting personal" in my book), but being out of shape is certainly not okay.

      Rgds, Anna

  4. Dear Ms.Anna,

    Very happy for the Nice review !

    For me it's first time to see you here with Malllu updates.
    I am also agreeing with above comments especially about last para and also your reply :-)

    Moving through your writings ,clear that facing some difficulties to watch & update reviews on time.
    Expecting a few more efforts according to your time and availability from malayalam in coming days.


    Arun Ravindran

  5. Dear Anna,
    I did not mention that in a way as if you got something against Mohan Lal.That's how he's been past two decades.And you would be amazed to know that his most redeeming feature is he does not look like an actor ! I too went with great expectations and felt let down by the movie, especially the second half. But I liked the pairing of Lal and Kaniha, ' cos even though she's much younger, she looked the part of his wife!The first half had glimpses of the old Lal!I agree with you 100% some of the dialogues felt really out of place!

    1. Dear Sangeeth,

      "You would be amazed" suggests that you feel Delhi is much further away from Kerala than it actually is. I can assure you that I do know how Mohanlal has been for "the past two decades", and I do know his standing in Kerala, apart from the respect with which knowledgeable and serious film buffs view him here in my home city, Malayalis and non-Malayalis included.

      As for his pairing with Kaniha, we must agree to disagree on this one ... As Indians we are so inured to watching male stars routinely acting with women 20 and 30 years their junior, that most of us don't find it worthy of a comment. Frankly, I've mentioned this aspect of our gender-prejudiced, male-dominated film industries so often in my reviews, that I'm almost tired of making the same observation each time...but I do anyway, because an unquestioning acceptance of this age difference is one of the many reflections of our bias towards age in women (a woman with even a hint of wrinkles is expected to retire or take on mother roles, a man continues to be a hero with gray hair, wrinkles and even a pot belly).

      Rgds, Anna

  6. Anna hi!

    Just curious if you have watched Renjith's other films?


  7. Glad to see you review a malayalam movie. As the first person has said, i hope you write more malayalam movie reviews too.

    I don't quite agree with many of your critique points about this movie though, and to me, and all of my friends whom i watched this with, it was quite a fantastic movie, one surely worth more than mere two-n-half stars. I wouldn't call this a Ranjith classic, but any Ranjith movie off late stands up to those classics being made by most other directors. Again, didn't want to pick up an argument with my points of views, am just happy you wrote this review.