Punyalan Agarbathis

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The time of the saints :: It is the time for the saints, and it was proved by one of the best satirical movies in Malayalam belonging to this century. There was indeed a saint in that movie, and it was Pranchiyettan and the Saint. Now, with the word “punyalan” translated as the saint, this movie also tries to take on the saint + trichur slang which shaped that wonderful satire. The saint is for sale this time, as our hero sells “Saint Incense Sticks” which is how “Punyalan Agarbathis” would get translated, and also if we consider it in another way, it is the sale of a useful saint imagery that happens here, now just as a Christian saint, but rather as the saintly figure in the centre which gets explored so many times, mostly remembered by this year’s movie Immanuel with its title character and Pranchiyettan was himself nothing less than a saint. There is still a lot of interest for the saintly figures among our usual audience, even as the hero who beats up people and says vulgar dialogues might come back any time now – I just hope they stay dead.

What is it about? :: Hailing from Trichur, Joy Thakkolkaran (Jayasurya) is a man who keeps trying his luck in many business ventures, but none of them really working. His latest attempt is on creating incense sticks from elephant dung, and it is named Punyalan Agarbathis hoping that Saint George will help him in his attempt to make it big. He wanders around looking for collecting what he calls “raw materials”. His wife, Anu (Nyla Usha) supports him with a regular job, but it is often insufficient for what he has to spend for his business. He is helped by his long time friend and assistant Greenu Sharma (Aju Varghese) and a driver Abhaya Kumar (Sreejith Ravi) as well as two workers who rarely works. But he has to fight a lot of narrow minded people, politicians and after all, fate which means that his troubles might never end. He is forced to spend most of his time in the court seeking justice, and his ideas keep getting struck down by destiny’s lightning, as he begins to feel that the whole world is against him. The story deals with how he finally survives in his battle.

The defence of Punyalan Agarbathis :: Well, the defence of Punyalan Agarbathis is easy up-to an extent. Other than its social relevance which is mostly about the tragic situation of the common man and the social evil which is harthal, the whole thing is about fun. The simplicity of the movie is worth appreciating. There are lots of funny dialogues stored in between. The beginning credits scene itself is well-crafted with scenes from Trichur. Most of the characters are interesting, and the movie has successfully built up a very good first half after its interesting beginnings. It has moments which makes one wonder how more awesome it can get, and keeps the audience asking for more. The movie’s biggest advantage might be its name, and its trailer which keeps the audience interested, and once the movie starts, there is also the ability to keep close to that standard till the end of first half. The songs are fine and the cinematography is admirable. The saint hasn’t avoided this movie, that is for sure.

Claws of flaw :: The movie seems to create the idea that there is a saint in most of the common man who suffers due to the rich, corrupt hands of the same society, but that kind of fades a few minutes after the first half. By that time, movie had deviated from its wonderful world to an abyss of incapacitated story with the undercurrents of that logic which decided that it is better to leave the flick and go to Mars and stay with Martians. There was always the chance to go astray right from the beginning, but it happened only in the second half, and the way they tried to finish it quickly almost as if a limited offer deus ex machina is used, is a real blemish on the movie. It was more like a cargo ship with great items on board going adrift and losing its good cargo by the time it reaches the destination. Why this sudden disorientation? Even if there was no happy ending to the story, may be if they had just let the leading character miss out and leave his business, it wouldn’t have been a lesser level second half or ending.

Performers of the soul :: If I have to tell who is the performer of the day, that would be a surprise, as Jayasurya is the man in form yet again. He transforms into another interesting character with ease, and Aju Varghese is a wonderful support to him. Sreejith Ravi also contributes to the fun in an avatar he is not usually seen in. Nyla Usha joins the party with charm, and Rachana Narayanankutty does a great job, both serious and funny sides handled with care. Innocent and Tesni Khan also contributes with their relatively small presence, even as we would have liked to see a lot more from the former. T.G. Ravi was there for the last Trichur based satirical comedy and he is there to impress us yet again. Idavela Babu is here as a villain for a change and doing a wonderful job, even as the evil face doesn’t just belong to him, but to so many forces of the society. You have to like Sunil Sukhada in his job. The acting department is so close to perfection, and the other areas of the movies are well supported, yes Mala Aravindan’s funny KAPA character included.

Social relevance :: We have had many movies of social relevance, with Sandesam, Varavelpu and Vellanakalude Naadu quite a long time ago, and Arabikkatha, Passenger and Pranchiyettan and the Saint not too far away from the present. Punyalan Agarbathis falls behind all these movies, but is the next movie which comes to the list. The movie takes on harthal as a social disturbance right from the beginning stages itself. The assertion on the harthal stands tall among others, and another focus is on the corrupt politics and the plight of the common man, and also about how difficult it is to begin an industry in Kerala. But the use of elephant dung there might be strange, but still okay enough as the movie is not to be taken that seriously, and the use of such an insignificant and free thing means that one can’t even try little things in a world of corruption and among influential people who are there to create trouble. If it was presented a little differently, with a better second half and a much better climax, the movie would have been remembered for a very long time.

How it finishes :: Ranjith Sankar has given us messages through his movies, and his best shall yet remain Passenger, a fine Molly Aunty Rocks and a below average Arjunan Saakshi. All of them had something other than the story to tell us, and this one is not different either. The elephant dung thing gets irritating after some time, and you know at which point the movie losses focus. Otherwise, this is the right Malayalam movie for the weekend, if we consider the reports. As the title Bicycle Thieves hurts my feelings about Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist drama and the name Escape from Uganda makes one feel worse, with the only thing further strange being the name Namboothiri Yuvavu @ 43 – this movie is a winner right from the title. The reports also seem to suggest that there is something in the title that is carried into the movie. Still, if you are not fixed on watching a Malayalam movie, I would suggest Frozen as the movie of the week. Meanwhile, our desire to watch another Pranchiyettan and the Saint remains unfulfilled.

PS: The leading character in Pranchiyettan and the Saint was Francis, and here we have the character as Joy. Something tells me that next satires based on Trichur might having the protagonists, as Jos and Paul, and you can make a guess why I predict so! 😀

Release date: 29h November 2013
Running time: 160 minutes (estimate)
Directed by: Ranjith Sankar
Starring: Jayasurya, Nyla Usha, Aju Varghese, Innocent, Rachana Narayanankutty, Sreejith Ravi, T.G. Ravi, Tesni Khan, Mala Aravindan, Idavela Babu, Sunil Sukhada, Shivaji Guruvayur

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.

Amen

amen0

There are few movies which the Vampire Bat would watch a few thousand times other than the horror flicks and the Malayalam movies of the 1980s. The end of this movie was that moment when the Vampire Bat actually felt the same – that moment when he was light enough to fly. It was the moment this bat felt that he was that feather which felt the wind lifting one’s self towards the starry sky. It is not exactly the feeling he had after watching Celluloid, as it is more comparable to that status where he was, after watching Pranchiyettan and the Saint. This rarely happens to the Vampire Bat, for this one has the status of being the second. With its visual beauty of nature, it is comparable to Ordinary, as this one highlights the backwaters while the Kunchako starrer had concentrated on the hills, mountains and the related greenery with fog. There is thunder, dark clouds, water bodies in its maximum body – how can one person do justice to this movie with a subjective review is a question which might remain answered; but what would an objective review do other than being too scientific and technical? This soul would keep closer to the former as possible, and in that way find himself in the process. Here, we have the story of an ancient church parish and the people, a love story and a band’s struggle for survival. The whole story can be read better from the beautiful characterization rather than as a plot.

Swati Reddy as Sosanna – such a character and so much of wonder in that performance! I can’t remember seeing such a female character on screen in any Malayalam movie. One has to wonder who she really is! The first guess would be that of a Keralite Juliet who comes out to the balcony (here, as the house is more of a traditional style, looking through the window) listening to the divine music by the artist that is Solomon (Fahadh Fazil). Well, they don’t die and so lets leave the tragic side of Romeo and Juliet behind. They can still have the title in the name of divine love, but on second thoughts, Sosanna is more of Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower by the evil ones; her use of frying pan even bring the memory of the newer Rapunzel of Tangled (please avoid the hair details). Her character is the centre, around which the whole movie is built, even if our heroes get more screentime. Each and every second of her presence indicates something which is to happen, and the whole divinity rests on herself and the music. She, the angel in white dress, the absence of black and greyness. She is complexity in simplicity – all in one; more than one simple village damsel – lovable and admirable with all her positives and negatives.

She is no different from the Rapunzel of Tangled on most of the occasions – she pushes the kapyar into water and asks her lover if he wants to be the Father in a church or her children’s father; she pours chicken curry over a gunda and hits him with a frying pan; she eats “naranga mittayi” with that happiness which William Wordsworth might have felt after seeing Daffodils; she uses paper rockets as love letters; she reads only from Solomon’s Song of Songs when asked to read the Bible; she talks about love in a cemetery (the Vampire Bat’s recommndation for this one) – the saga continues for Sosanna is not the weaker one to be subdued; for she is the frying pan fighter striking fear in the minds of the most powerful gundas. She is the passionate lover, the advisor, the fighter, the damsel in distress and still in lesser distress than her lover who is the man in distress. She is our blessed damozel; of this world and not the other, not the one Dante Gabriel Rossetti pictured in heaven, but the one person who continues to bless this movie with her presence. How can one not consider this one as a non-animated character at any stage? The words describe less and the scenes visualize more.

Fahadh Faasil as Solomon – he has done it again, and I might end up using this same sentence for the same actor for so many occasions that I would lose count of it. This is not brilliance unexpected, and I would always keep the expectations high on one actor. Fahadh in that Christ costume for the festival was something which made divinity come down from heaven. All the jokes related to his character and Sosanna are so genuine and wonderful – or even beautiful, if jokes could be termed “beautiful” with all its aspects. Here is a character of simplicity, lack of self-confidence and unparallel love. He is the new Romeo in many aspects, and he is the Jack of his ever-sinking Titanic that is a life of poverty which can only be made to be of any hope by getting himself into the music band sponsored by the local parish church. This character’s life surely is a divine comedy as it is subtitled, as the title character travels through his own inferno, purgatorio & finally the paradiso achieved by his merit. He is our own Dante Alighieri. Hell, purgatory, and heaven – they are all in this world for Solomon, the ultimate underdog. If Sosanna is more of an unpredictable character than her lover, Solomon steals the show by being predictable and still rising to the occasion. This might be Fahadh’s best performance ever, even as I am sure that I will be forced to say that again on another occasion.

Indrajith Sukumaran as Father Vincent Vattolli – always been in my list of favourite actors, and I am short of words for talking about this one – no do not bring me the dictionary, for I have word substitutes working for me. He is the exact opposite of the Vicar Father Abraham Ottaplakal (Joy Mathew). While the former tries to save the band, unite the two lovers and keep the church as the ancient structure, the latter tries to dismantle the band, separate the two lovers and rebuild the church. Both have brought the levels to new heights as one becomes so likable and the other detestable – the two characters are played with such perfection that one can’t resist believing them as what they are. There are times when one has to wonder how close to evil and away from the neutrality of the beginning, the Vicar happens to be as the second half progresses. The big paradox here is that the revolutionary new entrant is the stronger believer and the traditional, orthodox Vicar is the lesser believer who has his own agenda. Their church at Kumaramkari is not just a simple old structure, as they say that the legend is that Saint George had made Tipu Sultan’s attempt to raze the church a failure. This belief is what runs in the veins of the parishers and this is where Father Vattolli has reached – this is also where Father Ottaplakal makes his own decisions with no divine intervention; not a desired situation for sure. But there is more to Father Vattoli than it would seem to be, as the end twist would create that dream climax.

Saint George and the church are more like characters in the movie, but more shall not be talked about that divinity. Kalabhavan Mani’s Looyi pappan is a very powerful character throughout the movie; someone who fails to accept defeat – the man who wins the war even as he loses most of the battles. He seeks redemption after the death of his best friend who was the soul of the band – a music band which has been continuously on the losing side for a long time after the tragedy. Rachana Narayanankutty as Solomon’s sister and Natasha Sahgal was Father Vattoli’s admirer, joins the cast’s beautiful performance. Makarand Deshpande’s nemesis character is immensely powerful and Sunil Sukhada’s Kapyar works in more than one way. Lijo Jose Pellissery has given the viewers an early Easter gift, and it might be the best in the theatres right now. What else could be said about such a performance? But it is surely not free from the slightest of negatives – even among the best of jokes, lie the totally unnecessary, ridiculous jokes which tends to take away some of its beauty. But they could be avoided and the movie could be continued to be watched as the divine comedy as it is, for there is more to it than just the usual stuff. No, this is not the typical new generation either – for this is typical divinity, if one could call it so.

This exuberance is magic, and that is just to give the movie its due. But the truth is much better; for exuberance is just a word and so is magic. Amen is something which has dropped from the firmament, not like the fallen angel Lucifer, but as the medium of divinity which the world of the upper level has provided us with. Can you find faults within the story? If yes, isn’t there the flurry of intelligence and brilliance to cover them all? That would be a clear yes for an answer. No, the movie still doesn’t pretend, and it never needed to. It never needed to wear a mask like Annayum Rasoolum; a mask of goodness and reality which that one dragging movie has been wearing! But this one wears its own skin as a mask – no fake faces to cover its simplicity. Everyone has been incredibly good at what they were doing with this movie, both outside and inside – even the songs and the movie posters have contributed in such a way as to make this movie one of its kind – something which can lead and not follow; bring that thunder of wonderful change. I felt the magic realism and dream visions as well as its re-assertion of faith, belief and hope with divine intervention. Oh beauty of a movie, thy name is Amen – anything else would be so inappropriate right now. If I am to die after watching a movie, this might be one of them worth dying for!

Release date: 22nd March 2013
Running time: 160 minutes (estimate)
Directed by: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Starring: Fahadh Faasil, Indrajith Sukumaran, Swati Reddy, Rachana Narayanankutty, Natasha Sahgal, Joy Mathew, Kalabhavan Mani, Makarand Deshpande, Sunil Sukhada

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.