Monday, May 8, 2017


Release date:
May 5, 2017
Amal Neerad

Dulquer Salmaan, Karthika Muralidharan, Chandini Sreedharan, Siddique, Soubin Shahir, Dileesh Pothan, Jinu Joseph

Comrade In America (C.I.A.) is 5 parts Comrade, 5 parts the trip to America, all parts Dulquer Salmaan. Comical comrades and Salmaan are the USPs of this recipe, which is neither an all-out tribute to Communism (as the recent Oru Mexican Aparatha and Sakhavu were), nor an indictment of the ideology and its practice. Communism is for the most part a backdrop here, the setting against which the hero does his growing up.

Salmaan plays C.I.A.’s Aji Mathews a.k.a. Ajipan, a Left party member in Kerala at political loggerheads with his father Mathews (Siddique) who is with the Kerala Congress (KC). Aji is popular and for now, an unemployed layabout reluctant to let go of his college days when he walked tall among admiring fellow students. He now spends his time visiting the campus when he is not at the party office or playing football with friends, participating in protests against KC corruption and distributing Deshabhimani.

What we do not know about him at first is that he is as committed to his girlfriend Sarah Mary Kurian (Karthika Muralidharan) as he is to his ism.

(Possible spoilers ahead) And so one day he takes off on one of the world’s most arduous road trips, to the global headquarters of Capitalism where she lives. America is the antithesis of everything he believes in, which makes his decision to visit the place the ultimate proof of his love, arguably even more than that challenging journey where violence and death lurk at every turn. The people he meets on the way, the lessons he learns through them and at the end of that expedition have a life-changing impact on him. (Spoiler alert ends)

It is an intriguing concept, made all the more promising by the cast, each with a highly likeable screen presence. The distance from intriguing concept to wholesome film is a hard trek though. And despite physically crossing oceans and continents, Comrade In America (C.I.A.) does not make it.

Director Amal Neerad’s latest film is certainly not a write-off though. It is hard to write off any film featuring the incredibly charismatic Dulquer Salmaan, understated humour and such amusing, inventive, well-executed guest appearances. Still, there is only so much that boyish handsomeness, low-key laughter and the kernel of a good idea can do.

Travel is always educational. Imagine then the potential of a voyage through poverty-stricken lands where nature and human beings hold out equal threats. C.I.A. strides purposefully towards that excursion, brimming with possibilities and then fizzles out, a victim of reed-thin writing and flimsy characterisation.

When the going is good (mostly in the first half of the film), it is pretty good. And so you wait in the second half, initially buoyed by the atmospherics, and you wait and you wait and you wait to figure out where this is headed, until at last you resign yourself to the sad reality that this film is going nowhere.

So yes, Salmaan’s comic timing is on point as always – barring one fleeting yet distastefully comedified mention of male rape that panders to general audience ignorance on the subject. I do wish filmmakers would not take such issues lightly.

Salmaan’s heart-stopping good looks do not hurt. Aji’s equation with his father is supremely entertaining. The vapidity of his interactions with his young fellow Communists (played by the excellent Soubin Shahir and Dileesh Pothan) is hilarious, without any of the crassness that pervades films headlined by too many senior Malayalam stars these days. C.I.A.’s occasional swipes at the present establishment worldwide are well woven in – let us just say Modi and Trump bhakts will not be pleased. And the cinematography delivers striking, picturesque images without dwarfing the treachery of those landscapes.

The film scores high too with those three cameos that I am tempted to reveal to you but will not. One big salaam, Lal Salaam if you wish, to the person who found those three gentlemen actors who are such a perfect fit!

(Possible spoilers ahead) After a point though, it has to be asked: what is the point of it all? The writing completely fails to give life to Sarah and to the motley group who join Aji on his walk across America, with the exception of his Sri Lankan Tamil ally. The Indian woman in the bunch (Chandini Sreedharan) risks rape and death to make that journey for the stupidest reason you could imagine, with no pressing urgency unlike the others. Clearly she is there merely because a need was felt to insert a second attractive young woman into the story, yet little thought was given to her. The only thing less mindless than that is the discovery of what drives Sarah. With all its pretensions to gravitas and novelty, C.I.A. is just a reiteration of Mollywood’s view that all men are paavam potential victims of female betrayal. (Spoiler alert ends)

With almost the entire group reduced to sketchy clichés (example: the traitorous Pakistani, the Chinese man who, in C.I.A.’s tackiest moment, breaks into Gangnam Style because…well…because in Neerad’s stereotypical view, that is what Chinese people do?) it becomes impossible to invest in them. The result is that the film’s closing reference to the cause of refugees, comes across as almost flippant because the lead-up to there lacks depth.

Comrade In America is an interesting idea that needed a better writer to expand it into a full-fledged screenplay. Dulquer Salmaan’s charm, the Shahir-Pothan chemistry, their wit and all those picture-postcard settings cannot camouflage C.I.A.’s emptiness. These elements are sufficient compensation for the price of a ticket, I guess, but in the ultimate analysis they do not add up, making this an unmemorable film.
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
135 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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