Kho Kho

What is the movie about? :: Maria Francis (Rajisha Vijayan) is appointed as a PT teacher in a girls’ school, in the remote area of a village which is surrounded by backwaters. She is forced to take up the job because her husband Ben (Venkitesh VP) was facing failure in business, and was in requirement of the money. Maria used to be a sprinter, and was very close to representing India at an international level when something terrible happened in her life. At the new school, the two people who is in support of her activities are the peon Shivaprasad (Renjit Shekar Nair) and the accountant Vinod (Rahul Riji Nair), the latter being doubtful about the requirement for a PT teacher in the school, yet being interested in Maria. After some days of doing almost nothing in the school which has historically given no importance to arts and sports, she decides to create a kho-kho team for the first time in school history, a move much appreciated by the headmaster.

So, what happens with the events to follow? :: With a confused but hardworking team led by the stubborn Anju (Mamitha Baiju) who has her own mood swings and not missing her chance to pick up a fight, Maria hopes to make history through her students, and achieve greatness which she couldn’t earlier due to circumstances. The parents of the students are against the students choosing sports instead of using that time for studies, and do not appreciate the fact that the girls are going somewhere far away to compete. But as they qualify for the district level competitions, they do manage to gain a certain amount of support. The girls’ problem related to balancing studies and sports, their problem with wearing shorts within a conservative world and Anju’s attraction towards Shivaprasad might be the least of the problems with Maria will have to face here. Can she and Anju lead the team towards seemingly impossible victories and an even more elusive final triumph?

The defence of Kho-Kho :: Depending more on the emotions than anything else, Kho-Kho also has the usual moments of thrill with the games. It is the common motivational story of the underdogs who had no chance, but with hardwork and inspired performance, comes out victorious against all odds. The characters and the setting become interesting in this case, as this goes through life of common people for most of the time. We also have some nice visuals to go with the same. There are many exciting scenes here to remember too. The struggles of the characters involved here are shown well, especially the two main characters played by Rajisha and Mamitha. The feeling which was provided by Finals is somewhat repeated in this movie, and if you had like that movie, this will be on your favourite sports drama list too. The songs are pretty good, and they go on well with the visuals as well as the mood, and so does the background music. Unlike Chak De! India and Dangal, this is the real woman-centric film with empowerment, and without those unnecessary superstar exaggerations, and that feels true to life in many ways.

The claws of flaw :: Kho-Kho is certainly not that big as Finals, the other film with the same actress in the lead. The background story which keeps on moving silently is not that strong when we look at it. The premise feels similar to other movies, and we can predict a lot of things which are going to happen here. A number of training scenes and events are more repetitive rather than trying to do something different or unpredictable. To add to it, some dialogues actually look more artificial, right out of paper, rather than coming with the emotional weight. Venkitesh is also very much underused in another movie after The Priest limited him, and Thattumpurath Achuthan‘s song presence had made us feel that he would be a regular full presence. More of the girls in the cast should have got more attention though, at least half of them. The release of the movie on Asianet was delayed by a week, and it was Drishyam 2 which had its television release then, a disappointing decision from the channel which might have kept some people away.

The performers of the soul :: We have seen Rajisha Vijayan only in a few movies, and among them, we have seen such great skill. We have seen her in the grand performances from Anuraga Karikkin Vellam which brought her the Kerala State Award for Best Actress, through the nostalgia-inducing coming-of-age story of June, to the earlier sports drama of high acclaim, Finals. It is to be noted that in both sports drama, Rajisha plays a character with a tragedy to go with both life and career. With her role beginning as the trainer, the tragic background was established much earlier here. Rajisha once again has the whole thing in control here, and from the beginning to the end, it is a determined as well as emotional performance. Well, Finals was the best movie of the season when it released, but many people missed the work on the big screen, and the same is the case here too due to COVID-19, and it seems that the early television premieres are changing some of the situation here, with everyone getting the needed access not too late.

Further performers of the soul :: Mamitha Baiju who was also seen in Operation Java plays the captain of the team, and plays her role in a very much believable manner, with all the emotions and determination required for the role. She will surely be a talent to look out for, with more of similar roles. There is the rage and a flurry of emotions that she comes up with, which suits very well for her character with a troubled past. Unlike the character she played in the Balu Varghese starrer, the energy here is intense. Venkitesh VP as the protagonist’s husband has only a limited role, and we are still hoping to see him in bigger roles, like we have wanted all those actors and actresses in the Naayika Naayakan reality show to come out with their performances on the big screen. Renjit Shekar Nair and the director himself – Rahul Riji Nair comes up with good supporting performances. Vettukili Prakash’s role might have felt unnecessary. The cast of girls in the team is also nicely done, and at least quarter of them stay with us by the end, even though not more than one or two gets extra attention.

How it finishes :: Kho-Kho is another sports drama which you don’t need to miss, and it is also a film which goes through the base level of the game, without overdoing the same. Just like Finals, it is nice to see another sport with lesser fans getting all the attention, and not the highly fan favourite Indian sport of cricket or football which comes second. Cricket never really required movies as support, but some sports can have films made on them to bring out interest back to them, and this is the same case happening here. The movie is a reminder of a sport which is often left unnoticed among the bigger names. Kho-Kho is a film that can have even a sequel with this content, and there are times when it also reminds us of Godha, which brought back memories of wrestling as a sport. These are indeed the films which needs our support, and not those overrated stuff which has wandered around with a lot of hype and no substance. Kho-Kho needs to come back to television or release on Amazon Prime at some point to expand its horizons.

Release date: 14th April 2021 (Theatre), 28th May 2021 (Asianet)
Running time: 119 minutes
Directed by: Rahul Riji Nair
Starring: Rajisha Vijayan, Mamitha Baiju, Renjit Shekar Nair, Venkitesh VP, Vettukili Prakash, Arjun Ranjan, Sreejith Babu, Jeo Baby, Geethi Sangeetha, Rahul Riji Nair

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<— Click here to go to the previous Hollywood review.

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

The Priest

What is the movie about? :: Fr Carmen Benedict (Mammootty) is a priest who is known to have helped the police in multiple cases. Diya Alex Alatt (Saniya Iyappan) approaches him with a certain amount of concern regarding a series of deaths which had occured earlier in the rich and influential family, and were dismissed as suicides. Diya feels that the present controller of the assets of the family, Elizabeth Alatt (Meera Nair) might know something about it. He calls DYSP Shekhar (Sivadas Kannur), who begins to share some of his doubts. When a little girl named Ameya Gabriel (Baby Monica) is also found in the house, and the connected incidents related to her lead to the discovery of more clues related to the murder, Fr Carmen also understands that there is more to her than what meets the eye. Ameya is an orphan, and nobody has any idea what she is upto, because she often goes missing from her orphanage, and comes back by herself. Her actions are also nothing less than what others consider to be strange.

So, what happens with the events to follow? :: Jessy Cherian (Nikhila Vimal), a new teacher takes charge in the school where Ameya is studying. Even though Ameya has been hostile to each and every person in the school including teachers and students, she immediately becomes friendly to Jessy who is also happy about the same. As the school is closed for summer vacation, Ameya begs for her to be taken with Jessy. With the permission of the orphanage authorities, she manages to take the child to her home in the highlands, which had been abandoned for a long time. But it turns out that this child is not really the kid which she had expected. When anyone else comes in between Jessy and Ameya, the latter reacts violently, especially when Jessy’s fiance Siddharth (Venkitesh VP) comes to meet her, and proposes her. Soon, things take a further violent turn, and Fr Carmen makes his way to the place, as he understands the seriousness of the situation. But this might not be the kind of spirit which Carmen thought it is. He takes the help of Dr Mathews (TG Ravi), but he understands the need to learn about the spirit.

The defence of The Priest :: The movie scores heavily with its visuals, as we do have a perfect setting for horror, and along with the environment, there are the usual scares effectively used with the help of sound effects. The music is also very interesting. The scares are added here and there, and at times they work depending on the audience. There are some twists to be added here, but we do expect a few among with ease, seemingly because of trying to stick to the Hollywood style. The performance are also of a higher level, even though we do feel that the first investigation was even more interesting than what came later. It does have the most interesting part in the beginning, like Mammootty’s Abrahaminte Santhathikal had that crime at the start, and even with the presence of clowns, doesn’t make them nonsensical like it was done in the strange Mammootty movie The Great Father. Instead, most of the time, The Priest plays to its strength, and makes sure that there is no risk taken, even though it was there to be taken.

The claws of flaw :: The Priest has many elements which we would feel borrowed, and the reminder of Hollywood movies is sure to come back here. The climax doesn’t deliver the needed punch either, as it goes through the safe way, and adds one scene after the finish, seemingly as a justification. Looking at films like The Conjuring, The Nun, Insidious, Sinister and Annabelle, we have had an overdose of horror movies with spirits, and as there was enough for reference, this could have certainly done better – we all remember what Ezra did with the Jewish demon. Well, when the demon really doesn’t want to be terrifying, and with the first motive being close to a Mathematics teachers, the scary side weakens – when the motive and actions of the supernatural doesn’t scare us enough, the genre itself struggles. After all, a spirit should do what it always does the best, and it should go further when listing itself as a horror film at all places. There can be more to an act of exorcism and the process of haunting. We also see something missing with the sequence of events, but can’t talk about that without revealing the suspense and twists.

The performers of the soul :: The movie was marketed as the first movie in which Mammootty and Manju Warrier acted together – the last word does have some complications though, because the latter’s character was dead some time ago, and so the characters won’t be living together in the film, and we would have to wait to see them in the leading roles. Manju Warrier’s role is also quite short here, and it can be considered only as long as the work of Saniya Iyappan who also has some work to do related to the first adventure of the protagonist. Mammootty’s avatar here is a lot better than what we have seen in most of his action and thriller films, and this is a character that he does with ease. We can now remember him like Father Brown, the Roman Catholic priest and detective who was the main character in the fifty three short stories written by British novelist GK Chesterton in the years after Victorian era. There we were not into horror though.

Further performers of the soul :: Even though often known as the first Mammootty-Manju Warrier movie, the latter gets only limited presence, and in the first half we don’t even have a clue that she exists. But when she is there, she works through this very well. Nikhila Vimal is once again seen as a talented actress, extending her good work from Njan Prakashan and Aravindante Athithikal. Saniya Iyappan has the early shorter presence, and as we had seen her effectiveness in horror with Krishnankutty Pani Thudangi where she was the only saving grace, we were expected more of her presence there. Ramesh Pisharody and Jagadish are also given some early moments in here. Venkitesh VP whom we have known from the television show Nayika Nayakan also has done some good work. Baby Monica also contributes nicely once the horror side begins. She excels in displaying that scary side which is brought to light in the second half of the movie.

How it finishes :: The Priest was among the much awaited movies with Mammootty in the lead, and it has come late due to COVID-19 pandemic – according to the reports, it has still managed to be a profit-making venture, even with the theatre occupancy being controlled. The Priest is the one Malayalam movie which brought the viewers to the theatres and made sure that the business was running smoothly. As it has released on the OTT platform of Amazon Prime, one can now watch the film without those fears which we had earlier. The Priest is not only on a path towards being a stylish horror movie, as it is also an innovation in having a release on an OTT platform a month after its theatre release – it is a path which many more movies can follow, as there are other films which need to be released, and we are still facing the worst case of that one grand pandemic. With the clouds bringing darkness early in the afternoon, The Priest makes an interesting thriller for the time, even though it could have been bigger and smarter.

I also wish everyone a Very Happy Vishu! Stay safe and enjoy the day 🙂

Release date: 11th March 2021 (Theatre), 14th April 2021 (Amazon Prime)
Running time: 147 minutes
Directed by: Jofin T Chacko
Starring: Mammootty, Manju Warrier, Nikhila Vimal, Baby Monica, Venkitesh VP, Saniya Iyappan, Sivadas Kannur, Jagadish, Lishoy, Shivaji Guruvayoor, Ramesh Pisharody, Kochu Preman, Ameya Mathew, TG Ravi, Dinesh Panicker, Kalabhavan Haneef, Naseer Sankranthi, Sminu Sijo, Jeeva Joseph, Shiny T Rajan, VK Prakash, Meera Nair, Thomas Kuriakose, Jayadevan, Manoj Chennai, Sohan Seenulal, Madhupal

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<— Click here to go to the Holy Week’s movie review.

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

Thattumpurath Achuthan

What is the movie about? :: Achuthan (Kunchacko Boban) is a favourite of the villagers, and as a Krishna devotee, is close to the village temple and its committee. He has only good opinions about him in the village, and is considered to be someone who is more than just helpful to others. But one day, while trying to help his friend, he lands in trouble, and is branded a thief. The Sub Inspector of Police Justin John (Kalabhavan Shajohn) does let him go, but as he is branded in one way, things don’t go that much positive with him – his wedding ceremony is cancelled, and he also losses his job. With his best friend, he tries to have his revenge, but that also becomes another problem for him. His honesty remains under the shadow of doubt, but while reading a letter intended for Lord Krishna, everything changes for him, and becomes the first big twist in favour of him.

So, what happens with the events to follow? :: The letter is about a girl known by the name Jayalakshmi (Sravana), written by her mother Girija (Bindu Panicker). It is a request to Lord Krishna about saving her daughter from her former lover who keeps threatening her about a few photos and videos which they took together when they were in love. A few twists lead Achuthan to their house, and while hiding on the top of the house, decides to help them. But it is not that easy, as the person who is tormenting them is not the usual lover seeking her to be back with him – there is more to that person than what is known. With Jayalakshmi seeking to end her life, Achuthan has not more than a few days to work something out, or things will go beyond his control. Can the simple village man be good enough to outsmart this engineering graduate from a reputed college outside Kerala and bring hope to this family which has been hoping for a miracle for a long time?

The defence of Thattumpurath Achuthan :: There is strong feel-good factor in this movie, and there is also some magic realism to give it a little bit more as a special ingredient even though not at the best possible dose. Kunchacko Boban seems to be nicely suited to this role in more than one way, on many occasions. He has things working out in his favour all the time, and has the grand support that he need. It has a certain amount of magic realism in store too, as we see the presence of magic in the otherwise usual world. The movie has divinity in parts, and the dreams coming true forms the major part of it – the same also adds to the visuals in a beautiful way. There is also the reflection of certain foolish love which can be seen with the immaturity of the female lead’s character, coming right out of the college days. The movie also has a very nice ending to come, after a little struggle by the latter part.

The claws of flaw :: The music in the movie is a big let down, and it is irritating to see that it keeps coming again and again, even when we don’t need it at all – it is as if there is an attempt to prove something, or as if it is nice to have more songs in a flick like this. But having songs for the sake of having them, and not having them as good enough, won’t do a movie any good as you can see here too. Magic realism could have also been better used in this movie, and we know what the same can do, like we saw in the magical movie, Amen a long time ago. Even the Nandanam fun mode couldn’t be repeated in this movie, and neither could it have the Pranchiyettan and the Saint mode. There is the presence of exaggeration too, and a few things are rather too convenient. A lot more is often expected when there is a Lal Jose movie, and the Kunchacko Boban combination leaves more desired.

The performers of the soul :: Kunchacko Boban leads the way here, as he has a role similar to that of his previous flick, Johny Johny Yes Appa. He has a family to save in this movie too, and goes under the name of a thief once again. He did the same role in Shikkari Shambhu, his best flick of the year. So, this role comes as no challenge to him, and the romantic side is here to serve him once again. A good-hearted man from village was perfectly shown by him in the movies like Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho and Jamna Pyari, and when we have him in such a role, there is the assurance that things will keep a minimum level. After Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, Lal Jose – Kunchacko Boban combination is being brought back, and everyone was sure that it couldn’t be that bad. It is the trust in that combination that has been tested here, and has managed to work pretty well.

Further performers of the soul :: Sravana, a new face plays the role of heroine, but has very less to do here – she has less number of dialogues, but seems to be a talent for the future, as Lal Jose does find a new heroine each and every time. There is a long list of actors and actresses who are from the reality show Naayika Naayakan, among which I could identify Venkitesh, Meenakshi and Malavika. It is surprising that none of the so called websites specializing in Malayalam cinema or professional reviewers have given clear details about the cast, and it is something which we common movie viewers cannot find out without outside help. Johny Antony brings some fun while Nedumudi Venu is underused. Kalabhavan Shajohn also has his moments in this one, especially related to the comic side. Adish Praveen does a nice and cute job as the child with his dreams becoming reality.

How it finishes :: For the Christmas season, it seems that a certain amount of divinity is becoming part of the movies of the times, with no barriers among religions. As the Onam season never really had any celebration or release of new flicks, this is the season that could bring the best for Malayalam movie industry – note that the Pooja season also had to have an early harthal. So, even though the last movie of Lal Jose, Velipadinte Pusthakam couldn’t blend into the mood of 2017 Onam, this one, even though not during Onam has a part of Christmas in it. As a nicely suited movie for the family audience, Thattumpurath Achuthan has enough fuel to stay in the race until the end of the holidays this year and right into the next year. It only needs the family audience to have the power and keep it running. No matter how it turns out to be, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Release date: 22nd December 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Directed by: Lal Jose
Starring: Kunchacko Boban, Sravana, Kalabhavan Shajohn, Hareesh Perumanna, Vijayaraghavan, Johny Antony, Nedumudi Venu, Seema G Nair, Meenakshi, Malavika Krishnadas, Veena Nair, Sethu Lakshmi, Irshad, Adish Praveen, Bindu Panicker, Biju Sopanam, Santhosh Keezhathoor, Thara Kalyan, Amina, R Vishva, Thejus Jyothi, Venkitesh VP, Roshan Ullas, Siddhi Vinayak, Kochupreman, Anil Murali

<— Click here to go to the previous review.

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.