Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Release date:
April 6, 2018
Sharrath Sandith

Mammootty, Miya George, Iniya, Siddique, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Prabhakar, Sudheer Karamana, Alencier Ley Lopez, Irshad, Muthumani

Alex Philipose, played by Mammootty, is a model prisoner. He is a natural leader of his prison mates, the guards trust him, yet mysteriously, his son hates him to the core. What could such a nice guy have possibly done to invite such animosity from his own progeny?

After clichéd opening sequences of bonhomie among those confined with him and maudlin allusions to their backgrounds, Parole – inspired by a true story, we are told – spends its time on a flashback to Alex’s youth, the circumstances that brought him to prison and earned the wrath of his only child. The latter half is devoted to his activities in the outside world, when he finally gets a break from those heavily guarded walls.

To its credit, Parole does have a little more in terms of story than most Mammootty films of recent years. Another positive is that though director Sharrath Sandith is decidedly aware of the superstar on his team, he is not as embarrassingly gleeful about his casting achievement as too many others who have worked with Mammukka for a while now. Sandith, therefore, does not get the actor to preen and pose around as they have.

So it has to be said that though Parole is no great shakes as cinema, it could have been worse. Far worse. It could have been White or The Great Father. At least Mammootty – so splendid when he decides to surrender his stardom to a script, so self-conscious when his scripts surrender to his stature – does not disgrace himself as much here as he has in those two. Not quite as much, though he does for the nth time play the lover of a woman played by a female actor nearly 40 years his junior (Iniya) while his sister is played by another young enough to be his granddaughter (Miya George).

Give me a minute to recover from those amusing, saddening images, which bring up the memory of Aishwarya Rai as the sister of Amitabh Bachchan’s character in 2002’s Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, and numerous other legendary male stars who have made fools of themselves in a similar fashion down the decades.

Still, when it is slim pickings out there, Parole stands out for being better (read: less cringe-worthy) than the rest and Mammootty for being less studied in his performance here than usual. The film’s failing is its generic nature. First, Alex’s childhood is recounted as if some grand story is being told, though the grandeur is confined to Mammootty’s baritone, not the actual content. A sliver of Communism is thrown in because it suits the popular mood, I guess. A song and dance is initially made of the ideology, but it is pretty irrelevant to the character’s motivations, convictions and future.

Alex’s father (Alencier Ley Lopez) is a Communist leader. A mother and siblings are given short shrift. The focus is on his half sister – a daughter the old man had outside marriage – and a wife Alex himself acquires at some point.

I could give you details, but the truth is Ajith Poojappura’s writing feels tired. There is a scene in Parole exemplifying its predictability: Alex is talking to a priest in a church corridor when he hears the sound of women singing. As he walks slowly towards their voices, you know, just know that he will turn a corner, see the ladies and spot among them a much younger woman dancing in slow motion, waiting there for him to fall in love with her. She is. He does.

As for what happens to Alex when he is out on parole, it is such a contrived, strained attempt to build suspense and sympathy for the protagonist, that it is a yawn.

The only interesting part of Parole is the series of events leading to the crime that results in Alex’s conviction. They involve his wife Annie, half sister Katharina and her husband Varghese (Suraj Venjaramoodu). The dynamic between these four briefly lifts the film above its ordinariness. The fact that Annie is not demonised for her objection to the manner in which Alex indulges Katharina and Varghese is also unusual for a Mollywood in which the wife-as-a-nagging-yakshi is a beloved stereotype.

Here though comes the most simultaneously disturbing and gratifying part. Men whacking wives is par for the course in Malayalam cinema (as it is, tragically, in Kerala society) and filmmakers are rarely censorious towards such men. A man hits his wife in Parole with tragic consequences, but for most of the film he is projected as a paavam who is faultless in the entire affair. This disgraceful attitude underlines the casualness with which domestic violence is viewed by Mollywood and its core audience. Unexpectedly though, late in the film, the fellow acknowledges that it was wrong to strike his spouse. Since such an admission is uncommon, for those few seconds when he uttered those words, my glass was half full as much as it was half empty.

The debutant director struggles to compact the superstar to fit the size his screenplay demands, and therefore scales up the narration to match Mammootty’s stardom. So, while he tries to keep his tone real through large parts of the film, he feels compelled to give Alex a conventional, all-drums-beating introductory moment, and S. Lokanathan’s cinematography is needlessly flashy, delivering repetitive and irrelevant aerial shots of the gorgeous landscapes Alex inhabits in his lifetime.

It is hard to believe that an industry churning out films of the calibre of Sudani from Nigeria and S. Durga (formerly Sexy Durga), both of which are in theatres right now, only has such qualitatively abysmal or average scripts to offer a stalwart. Parole is not Mammootty’s worst, but if you have seen him at his best, you have to wonder what on earth he is thinking when he picks scripts these days – or whether he is thinking at all.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
150 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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