January 26, 2018
Mammootty, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Hareesh Perumanna, Stunt Silva, Adish Praveen, Lijomol Jose, Soubin Shahir
Three men – two petty thieves from Kerala, and a Tamil gangster – are on the run with a stolen diamond necklace. Their precious loot belongs to a man called Simon Mundakkal. As luck would have it, Mundakkal is the ammaavan (uncle) of a senior policeman – James played by Mammootty – and calls on his nephew for unofficial, off-the-books help since the necklace is part of his untaxed, unaccounted-for wealth. James agrees.
Elsewhere in the city, a poor little boy’s posh classmates mock him for his shabby uniform and schoolbag. When he manages to earn some money, he gets himself a new bag and clothes.
Not far from where the child lives, a young woman is being pestered for attention by a man to whom her father offered her hand in marriage many moons ago. Ramya works at an Idea showroom, her stalker is a beauty parlour owner.
These apparently disconnected strands come together in Street Lights, a film that is uncharacteristic of Mammootty’s current filmography dominated by aggressively masculine, star-struck tosh.
Though Street Lights is marketed and positioned as a Mammootty flick, his character does not relegate the rest to the sidelines. When James is around, we are treated to some stylised camerawork dwelling on him, but it is not obsessive like films of the Kasaba and The Great Father variety. On the whole then, cinematographer-turned-debutant-director Shamdat Sainudeen does what very few of this iconic Malayalam actor’s directors have bothered to do for too many years now: Sainudeen tells a story that is not dwarfed by a star fixation, and he gives all the major characters in the film ample space and time on screen.
Dharmajan Bolgatty and Hareesh Perumanna play small-time robbers Sachi and Raju. It is an unusual casting choice, considering their naturally comical screen presence, which serves as a foil to the hard-core criminality of their companion and accomplice Murugan played by Stunt Silva. You know as soon as you first see their faces together that Street Lights is not your regular crime thriller.
The sub-story of the impoverished boy Mani (played by National Award winning firebrand Adish Praveen) provides the film’s strongest emotional pull.
The thread involving Ramya (Lijomol Jose) is the only one that is typical of the hardcore commercial cinema that Mammootty usually inhabits. Her ‘beau’, played by Soubin Shahir, refuses to take her no for an answer, has her parents’ support in his peskiness, and at one point, as she lies back with her eyes closed in a chair in his parlour for a facial, he comes over to take a selfie with her without her permission, as his female staff look on and giggle. In short, he indulges in the sort of obnoxious behaviour that has become familiar in films which happily equate sexual harassment with courtship. The narrative tone used throughout this segment is one of fond indulgence, despite her evident disinterest and disgust.
The social attitude towards his conduct is underlined by the irony of scenes in which he is pursuing Ramya on his mobike while this standard Censor-mandated notice flashes on screen: “Riding two wheelers without wearing helmets is a punishable offence.” And stalking women? This question becomes particularly pressing because the Central Board of Film Certification a.k.a. Censor Board thought it fit to give Street Lights a U (universal) rating. Read: suited for children.
In terms of performances, Shahir is suitably icky playing an icky character who is comedified by the writing. The film may be an unusual choice for Mammootty in many ways, but his acting is somewhat generic. My favourite characters in Street Lights are Raju, Sachi and Murugan. Their group dynamic, the suspense surrounding the cat and mouse game between them and James, little Adish Praveen’s sweetness and the manner in which the three stories finally intersect are what make this film engaging. It is not remarkably memorable, but it is fun while it lasts.
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review was also published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/StreetLightsTheMovie/