Monday, September 10, 2018


Release date:
Kerala: September 6, 2018. 
Delhi: September 7, 2018.
Nirmal Sahadev

Prithviraj Sukumaran, Rahman, Isha Talwar, Nandhu, Ashwin Kumar, Matthew Arun, Celine Joseph, Giju John
Malayalam and English with some Tamil dialogues  

In a sense, Prithviraj Sukumaran shot himself in the foot by doing Anjali Menon’s Koode earlier this year. He raised the bar so high with his soul-crushing performance in that film, playing an embittered young man drowning in his loneliness and the lingering traumas of his childhood, that everything he does from now on will be measured against it. To be compared to yourself is both a compliment and a challenge that has caused some prominent thespians to cut down on the effort they make for their films, their reasoning perhaps being that now that audiences and critics are smitten, we will rave anyway, so why bother?

Prithviraj Sukumaran bothers.

Koode itself came after a 16-year career in which he has already received considerable critical acclaim. Still, thankfully, he bothers.

And so, although Ranam (Detroit Crossing) is neither as profound nor as richly detailed as Koode, he immerses himself so completely in his character Aadhi’s heartbreak that he plays a major role in the rivetting atmosphere of sadness enveloping the film. His compelling central performance combined with an impressive array of supporting actors, top-notch cinematography and production design results in a narrative that holds attention, its frailties notwithstanding.

In terms of plotline, Ranam – written and directed by Nirmal Sahadev – is somewhat generic, the sort of gang war flick that Hollywood has made a million times before and often with greater substance. It recommends itself on other fronts though.

Indian cinema rarely travels abroad without embarrassing itself by featuring terrible bit-part players (very occasionally blacks, mostly whites) in the cast, or seeming to have opted for a foreign location for the heck of it, for nothing more than a change of look. Ranam cannot be faulted on either of these fronts. First, there are hardly any non-Asians in the script and the ones included are either marginal to the proceedings or, even if significant to the plot, they get little screen time. While the lack of racial representation makes no sense considering the setting, it is worth mentioning that the artistes playing those characters are fair enough, since we know Indian film industries’ penchant for casting blocks of wood as extras in foreign lands instead of humans who act, and we know the effect of even a few seconds of screen time given to a cringe-worthy extra. Second (and this is something Team Ranam can be proud of), Aadhi’s story is closely linked to Detroit’s socio-economic landscape.

Aadhi is a Malayali automobile mechanic in Detroit and an unwilling participant in the city’s drug trade. He was compelled to opt in when his foster father (Nandhu) became indebted to a south Asian Tamil gang, and has long wanted to opt out. However, as those who get involved in crime throughout history have learnt, this is a club that is averse to letting its members quit. Besides, Aadhi was good at his job and the drug boss Damodar (Rahman) wants to hold on to every available talent in a bid to regain his hold on Detroit.

Aadhi gets sucked further into the muck when a young relative gets caught up with the same gangsters. There are women in the picture. Like the non-Asians, they too get limited screen time, although two of them (played by Isha Talwar – who is terribly miscast, agewise – and Celine Joseph) offer important motivations for Aadhi’s actions.

This is not an earth-shatteringly original gangster saga, but it is not without its charms. Damodar’s bid to restore his lost glory mirrors decaying Detroit and its continuing efforts at revival. This was once one of America’s most prosperous and populous cities, that has declined in recent decades due to racial tensions, financial mismanagement and corruption, among other reported reasons. The result: “A city built for 1.8 million residents now has fewer than 700,000.” (Source: New York Times / April 30, 2018)

If Damodar is a metaphor for the quagmire of the  past that needs to be obliterated if fresh beginnings are to become possible, Aadhi symbolises hope, as the one who has learnt from history and does not want to repeat the mistakes once made.

His journey to new horizons is difficult and often depressing, and Jigme Tenzing’s camerawork is designed to capture the claustrophobia he experiences in his present life. The feeling is  exacerbated by the decision to confine large parts of the action in the film to shadowy closed spaces. Tenzing and the production design team also limit their colour palette to grays and other dull shades, among them brown verging on sepia. The sound design and background score remain understated, and even the fight scenes are relatively low-key for this genre. In these matters, Ranam is a far cry from the bloody, noisy gangster flicks commercial cinema worldwide usually inflicts on us.

The technical polish, however, is wisely never used to overshadow the selling point of the film, which is the leading man’s performance. Few people in contemporary Malayalam cinema’s constellation of male stars can do sorrow quite like Prithviraj Sukumaran. Without him, Ranam would have been a run-of-the-mill crime story packaged with technical finesse. With him and Nirmal Sahadev’s mature direction, it becomes something more than just the ordinary tale at its core.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
2 hours 16 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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