February 2, 2018
Nivin Pauly, Trisha Krishnan, Siddique, Neena Kurup, Vijay Menon, Aju Varghese
Jude is different. At 28, he is more socially awkward than a pubescent teen and easily bullied. He is hardworking and, in his specific areas of interest, brilliant. He obsesses about his routine. He refuses to tell lies even if his congenital honesty causes embarrassment to a family member. His idea of frankness extends to telling people hurtful truths that need not be told. He has no friends.
His loving mother Maria – a stay-at-home parent – worries about him. His father Dominique (pronounced Dominic), who runs an antique store in Kochi, is forever exasperated with him. His college-going younger sister Andrea tolerates him with condescending amusement.
On a trip to Goa with his Mum and Dad, Jude meets the noisy, music-loving Crystal Ann Chakraparambu and her father Sebastian. Crys runs a café and is the lead vocalist in a local band that performs at her restaurant and at weddings. Sebastian is a psychologist who, when not swimming in alcohol or betting on cricket matches, uses music as therapy for persons with mental/psychological issues, leads Tai Chi sessions in his front yard and hangs out with Crys.
Unlikely friendships are formed, and over time Jude begins to understand his own diffidence better. As he does, his family too starts seeing him with new eyes, not as an eccentric or difficult youngster, but as a unique individual with special problems and gifts.
Art-house director Shyamaprasad opts for a light touch in Hey Jude. In terms of its naturalistic, unmelodramatic narrative style, the film sits well with the likes of last year’s Nivin Pauly-starrer Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela and other slice-of-life cinema that has been a hallmark of the Malayalam New Wave – if you wish to call it that – of the past decade or so. Pauly himself has been one of the stars at the forefront of this movement that has earned massive box-office returns while defying many of the conventions of commercial cinema. In Hey Jude, he plays the title character whose Asperger’s Syndrome is staring back at viewers with any degree of awareness about the condition, long before he is diagnosed in the film.
Asperger’s is part of an umbrella category of disorders called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) marked by challenges with social skills, behaviour and communication. In Jude’s case, what to a viewer comes across as endearing innocence is irritating to Dominique and Andrea. This leads to many comical situations. What sustains Hey Jude through its entire first half is the sensitivity with which Shyamaprasad portrays their interactions (even if Jude’s actions are foreseeable to us while, oddly enough, the father who has known him all his life cannot seem to predict them).
The delicacy with which Hey Jude treads around its central character in its pre-interval portion is one of its many attractions. We are introduced to his multiple quirks with humour and affection, yet the storyteller is never patronising towards him.
Not everyone on the autism spectrum is a savant, but this expectation has been a widely held misconception about ASD ever since the global success of the Hollywood film Rain Man (1988) in which Dustin Hoffman played a mathematical genius with autism. Possibly because of this false impression arising from a film that otherwise had a huge role in awareness building around autism, and perhaps because I am currently also watching the US TV serial The Good Doctor, in which the protagonist is a genius medico with autism, frankly I have been longing to see a screen offering on someone with any disorder on the spectrum who is not a genius. Be that as it may, Hey Jude does still score – when assessed in this context – because it is not fixated on Jude’s incredible knowledge of oceanography or his calculator brain, its focus throughout remains his confusion about his distinctive limitations.
That said, it defies believability that Maria and Dominique, who seem educated and certainly belong to a community and a state known for their high education levels (they are Malayali Anglo-Indians), would not have doggedly sought medical opinions about their unusual son in all these years. It appears that Maria’s sounding board until the events of the film is their priest. Considering the compulsory educational qualifications required to be a Christian priest, it further defies believability that that gentleman would not have advised them to consult a doc about Jude.
Even if you buy this set of improbabilities, what is impossible to swallow is the extremely unintelligent behaviour of the doctor who does at last use the A word to the parents.
The series of missteps in Hey Jude’s second half begins with what can only be described as mind-boggling stupidity on the part of Dr Sebastian who not only leaves copious notes about Jude’s Asperger’s lying around where the young man could easily chance upon them, but even goes so far as to describe him as “abnormal” to his face.
It is also troubling that the film does not deem it fit to examine a point raised by Jude when he sees that the doctor had, without his permission, viewed his intensely personal video diaries. Jude is unequivocal in his furious assertion that this is an invasion of privacy. By leaving that point hanging, the film suggests that it is not important enough. Before that, Maria and Dominique are shown not even batting an eyelid when they find the videos with Sebastian. It is as if intruding on the private space of an adult who is not considered “normal” is kosher.
By this time, a certain predictability has settled into the proceedings. That scene in which Jude finally overcomes his fear of water to save his Dad from drowning can be seen coming from a mile. I mean, c’mon, at a party filled with able-bodied adults, no one else jumps into the swimming pool when Dominique falls in, as if they all knew the passage had been written into the screenplay of their lives to give Jude a chance to cross this milestone.
(Spoiler alert ends)
Hey Jude then is a mixed bag. Nivin Pauly’s remarkably restrained performance imbues the film with an all-pervasive charm that overrides its follies. The downplaying of his natural good looks, the precise way he says “crispy”, the ungainly manner in which he storms up a flight of steps to his room – there is not an iota of exaggeration in any of this, it is all just so.
One of the aforesaid follies lies in the greater depth and verve lent to the writing of Dominique rather than Jude. Although Jude is the lead, Dominique dominates the narrative and, played as he is with such gentle nuance by veteran actor Siddique, ends up being more memorable.
Hey Jude is the Malayalam debut of Telugu-Tamil superstar Trisha Krishnan who has made the same mistake now as with her 2010 Hindi debut Khatta Meetha: she has chosen to play second fiddle to a major male star already established in the industry she is just entering (earlier, Akshay Kumar) instead of opting for a film in which hero and heroine get equal space. Krishnan looks beautiful here as always, but beyond bringing her innate charisma to the role, there is not much she can do with her sketchily outlined character or the rushed reference to Crys’ bipolar disorder.
Aju Varghese in Hey Jude, on the other hand, gets a hilarious cameo to beat all cameos.
DoP Girish Gangadharan – whose work in Angamaly Diaries is still fresh in the mind – fills the film with glossy visuals. He is on a roll when showing us the changing geographical landscape on the road trip from Kerala to Goa, though I wish that spectacular aerial shot of a pristine beach as the family enters Goa was not repeated as they leave. If the intent was to bookend Jude’s stay, it does not make sense since his personal journey does not finish there. The dialogue writing though switches smoothly between Malayalam and English, as it would in this milieu in real life.
Hey Jude’s music is an ode, witting or not, to the Beatles with whose song it shares its title. One of the most-loved bands of all time, the Beatles’ works were distinguished by irresistible tunes and very basic lyrics. Each song here is hummable, but the words of at least two – Hey don’t worry Jude and Rock rock (well sung by Sayanora Philip) – are so rudimentary as to be amusing.
Still, the pleasantness of the melodies matches Hey Jude’s overall tone: sweet and affecting. This is the sort of film that made me want to put my hand on my heart and go, “Awwww.”
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review was also published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/HeyJudeCinema/