An Ode to Two Masters
Most of us armchair critics who cry foul of the movies ‘meted’ out to us consider the 80s and the starting of the 90s as the Golden Age of Malayalam cinema. And I know for a fact that we internet critics may not have watched any of those movies on a release date because we may have been performing mundane activities such as going to school with a heavy load of those Standard VI text books under the watchful eyes of our parents or simply because we may not have been old enough to understand enough about movies! I know this is not far from truth because I have been one of them and all of us critics fall into the 20-35 years age category! So most of us comment on things after a quick research on Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. Well, I am getting sick of what I am talking here. Lets get back to business!
I do not remember which was the first Padmarajan movie I had ever watched nor do I remember when was the first time I started noticing that most of those melodious malayalam songs played on radio were composed by Johnson master. It might have been “Njaan Gandharvan” which first registered in my mind as a Padmarajan movie because of the news of his untimely departure after directing this one. In hindsight, another of those Padmarajan movies which captured my attention was “Innale” only because popular actors such as Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, and Shobhana featured in the movie without actually realizing it was a Pappettan movie!
When talking about Padmarajan movies, “diversity of themes” “bold themes” are oft repeated cliches, but as I grew older, I realized they were pretty simple narratives, handled themes such as rebellion, fantasy, male bonding (not bondage!!), and not the least of all, sexuality in all its expressions and people at crossroads whether to confirm or not to confirm in terms of sexuality/re lationships, etc (Thoovanathumbikal falls under the realm of this theme).
It is not clear whether the writer of “Beautiful” wants to say “sexual liberalization is nigh” to the Malayalee audience, but the movie certainly is a fitting ode to Padmarajanesque themes and movies. When one enters the paraplegic’s room, we see Stephen (Jayasuriya) watching movies such as Rajashilpi, Thoovanathumbikal with themes such as sensuality, romanticism all the time. We also see a shot of him asking his friend to switch off the TV after watching a few scenes from Guzaarish because of its depressing theme according to him! It is precisely this zest for life in this character that makes “Beautiful” really beautiful. Never do we see the writer attempting to take us on an emotional roller coaster ride and inundate the theater with tears which is the wont of any movies featuring disabled people, be it Hollywood or any cinema for that matter (every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives a handout of “Movies on Disability” secretly to its members to vote for the Oscars!). There is a lot of honesty in the writing and the way characters are portrayed in this movie, and unsurprisingly, due to this, it had its own share of controversies! The price one has to pay for honesty…never mind, just a cliche!
A word on the director. VK Prakash has been one of those directors whose movies always looked beautiful but lagged behind in terms of story, screenplay, themes, etc. He scores high here because he has done justice to the rich material available and the narration is slick. There is not a single dull moment in the movie. The art direction and camara are simply fantastic – no showy artefacts or “money shots!” Now I know for a fact that there are guys in Malludom who let the art work, photography go with the story rather than make it stick out like a sore thumb.
Anoop Menon must be one of those people in the 20-35 year category (I do not know his exact age) who actually explored Padmarajan movies in the reverse chronological order because like most of us, he might have been too young to watch them in theater or on a release date. We see his love for Padmarajan movies through Jayasuriya’s character. We also see John, the musician played by him, talk of a scene in Thoovanathumbikal where the magic of romance takes on a whole new meaning with rain and Johnson’s master’s famous BGM. Johnson master might have been that wonderful music director who never got his due, but it is never too late to mend. Anoop Menon has given a great homage to him through this movie, and I think this is for all those 30 plus romantics who still have that scratched and much abused CD of Thoovanathumbikal which they religiously take out and watch every once in a while just to get that little something they missed out on the last viewing and try to redefine romance, liberalization, etc, and of course, to cut right to chase, watch Sumalatha as Clara again and again!!!