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.
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_(2012_film)