September 22, 2017
Sunny Wayne, Sarath Kumar, Jacob Gregory, Prayaga Martin, Srinda Arhaan, Saiju Kurup, Dileesh Pothan
If you are looking for a ruminative film on the nature of stardom and fandom, skip this one.
Pokkiri Simon: Oru Kadutha Aaradhakan revolves around a bunch of crazed Malayali devotees of the Tamil megastar Vijay. They are the sort of guys who run fan clubs with the enthusiasm regular folk would invest in a professional enterprise, bathe the actor’s giant cutouts in milk before his theatrical releases, dance madly in the hall, watch each film repeatedly until they know the dialogues by heart, and then make so much noise repeating those lines in subsequent viewings that other members of the audience cannot hear a word of what is going on. In short, just the kind who solemnly address Vijay as Ilayathalapathy (Young Commander).
At first, this is fair enough, as a rather nice cast’s energy spills over from the screen and humour flies about in the film. Sunny Wayne plays Simon, nicknamed Pokkiri Simon after one of his idol’s hits that the north knows in the form of its Hindi remake Wanted with Salman Khan and Ayesha Takia.
Simon and his friends – Hanuman Biju (Jacob Gregory) and Love Today Ganesh (Sarath Kumar) – seem to want nothing more in life than to be photographed with Vijay. Towards this end they work hard to outshine rival clubs both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, including one commandeered by Naushad (Saiju Kurup). Their families are anxious about their unhealthy obsession with their god, but lest we viewers too view their pursuit as frivolous, they put their network to good use to nab criminals that the establishment is too afraid to touch.
A light-hearted take on filmaniacs would have been fine, but Pokkiri Simon becomes a victim of its desire to prove that it is more than that, just as the story’s Vijay worshippers are determined not to be seen as aimless empty heads. And so after a fun – even if cliched – first half hour, in which director Jijo Antony and writer K. Ampady imply that they are up for a spot of spoofing, it turns out they want their film to be taken seriously. They then start packing too much into the plot, ranging from a discussion on the profound significance of the protagonists’ film fanaticism to household challenges, unemployment, classism and a romance before switching dramatically somewhere in the second half from the comedy genre to thriller mode.
It is not that Ampady completely lacks imagination. There is a point being made in the fans’ irreverence towards holy cows such as religion and the national anthem, in sharp contrast to their unquestioning zeal for Vijay. That said, these instances of nuance in the script are fleeting.
The post-interval portion does not work at all for the simple reason that by then the film is already overly long and over-stuffed. Though Pokkiri Simon focuses on an important issue – child trafficking – after the break, and to be fair, Antony does not treat the subject lightly, the theme does not sit well with the narrative because it comes so late in the day that it feels like an afterthought: not a concern to which the team is committed, but a device to introduce unexpected twists and sustain audience interest.
It is worth mentioning that a character in the film claims that Vijay fans respect women. Baah! Witness the abuse they spew at women who critique the star on the social media in real life. Their misogyny is reflected in Pokkiri Simon, which becomes increasingly sexist and venomous as it moves along. A man in the film discusses a cow’s udders swollen with milk, then looks meaningfully at a buxom woman. While it may well be argued that this crudeness comes from the principal villain, and therefore cannot be seen as a trivialisation of degrading objectification, someone please explain what we are to make of one of the ‘nice guys’, played by no less a personage than Nedumudi Venu, telling a stranger on a beach that her “body shape” is good? The creepy old chap is a retired rocket scientist and one of Simon’s friends.
That is not all. The camera leers at the heroine as she jogs. Later, the hero stalks her. Elsewhere, a snide remark about learning to cut fish aimed at Simon by his mother reveals the writer’s amusement at the thought of a husband managing his house while his wife goes out to work.
Most unnerving though is the casualness with which the supposedly good men in this film threaten to beat their female partners. Ganesh’s wife Jaya (Srinda Arhaan) storms off in the middle of a fight when he raises his hand to hit her, but she does not specifically object to his action. Worse, Simon’s otherwise feisty mother falls silent and quakes in fear when his father – an honest police constable – hollers at her with threats.
This, by the way, is a regular feature in a certain kind of Malayalam commercial cinema. Indulgent viewers may argue that such films do nothing more than hold up a mirror to a state where domestic violence is known to be prevalent. Stop making excuses. The objection here is not to the portrayal of a reality, but to the normalisation of that condemnable reality.
As far as performances go, the cast does as well as they possibly can with such average written material. Saiju Kurup is funny while he is around, which is not enough. Prayaga Martin serves no other purpose than to be the hero’s eye candy. He seems to need a greater incentive than her good looks to fall for her, which is the only the reason I could imagine for why the makeup artist slaps so much blush-on on to her chubby cheeks.
This brings me to Pokkiri Simon’s unnaturally cheery colour palette, starting with a grand opening aerial shot of the town in which it is set, where the rooftops look so bright, spotless and picture-book-like that even a novice might spot the extent of mindless colour correction that has gone into that frame. To what end?
If that effort had been invested in the writing instead, it might have made sense. It would have also made sense for a Malayalam film featuring so many Tamil dialogues to carry subtitles for its Tamil lines. In that department as in the rest of the film, it seems like no one wanted to tax their grey cells too much while making Pokkiri Simon. Such an insipid tribute to Vijay is as good as an insult.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: IMDB