Art

Review: Mohanlal’s film is loud, bombastic and boring

The script is chock full of references to old Mohanlal films. Such indulgence is forgivable if limited to a few scenes, but after a point it becomes irritating.

It’s no secret that Mohanlal has been trying to expand its market beyond Kerala in recent years. The star, still a crowd favorite in Kerala, seems particularly upset with the reception of his recent films Marackar: Arabicikadalinte Simham. In a viral interview with Manorama channel, Mohanlal can be seen praising Telugu audiences for allegedly “supporting” Telugu films and respecting their stars. But is that the case here? he asks and laughs dismissively. Perhaps this is what made director B Unnikrishnan abandon the Oxford-English dictionary used in his last Mohanlal film villain and turn to Telugu instead.

Written by Udaykrishna, tarot not only employs the bombastic style of filmmaking common in Telugu star vehicles, but also has Mohanlal speak slapstick dialogue in Telugu throughout the film – “Nenu chaala dangerousu,” he snarls, and none of the Malayalis around him seem surprised that a man named Neyyattinkara Gopan keeps slipping into Telugu while folding his mouth.

Edathala Mathai (Vijayaraghavan) wants to convert his 18.5 hectares of farmland in Mudalakkota into a township, but since it’s against the law he has to dupe the authorities. For this they need a gangster, a monster, a sinister Lucifer. Enter Gnanabooshanam Neyyanttinka Gopan in slow motion. He is repeatedly addressed in the film as Gnanabhooshanam Neyyattinkara Gopan, but for the sake of simplicity and the health of my fingers I’ll stick to just writing Gopan in this review.

Gopan is a sleazy man who makes lewd comments on every woman he meets (one of them is named Swapna, which appears to be a deliberate reference to the Kerala gold smuggling case). He also pokes fun at political correctness, including the practice of removing one’s caste name (no markers to guess where the punches are thrown). In other words, it’s a claim that Malayalam filmmakers and actors who have been criticized for their misogynist and insensitive portrayals in the past need not apologize or consider moving forward. There’s even a joke about actor Dileep being accused of being the mastermind in the case of the actor attack making fun of “politically correct” people. This charming person is the hero of tarotand you must endure his antics for nearly three hours.

Watch: Trailer of tarot

Shraddha Srinath, who plays the role of RDO Anjali, is the only actor who seems to have taken the film seriously. She maintains her dignity in the few scenes she appears in and looks just as upset as I felt. Unnikrishnan creates a range of strawman villains, from a group of locals called the Mudalakkota Battalion (the talented Lukman is wasted in the role) to a Mumbai adholoka attract. They all only exist to be sent into space by Gopan. Siddique, who seems to have become Mohanlal’s favorite sidekick, plays a comic cop. The actor tries hard to get the silly lines to work, occasionally eliciting a muffled laugh from the audience.

The cinematography got me thinking Gulliver’s Travels. There was so much low angle shots that I felt like I was in Lilliput watching the parade of giants on screen. And then there was so much close-up that I felt like I was in Brobdingnag where everything was extra large. It was a surreal experience and not in a good way.

AR Rahman’s cameo is just fun because it’s just fun to hear “Muqabla” on the theater’s audio system. It’s a relief from the constant, overly loud background music from Rahul Raj.

The script is chock full of references to old Mohanlal films. Such indulgence can be forgiven if limited to a few scenes, but Udaykrishna and Unnikrishnan turn it into a can-you-find-the-mohanlal-movie-reference quiz that gets harrowing after a point. Of Devasuram to Drishyam 2, the screenplay abandons any pretense of being a film in its own right and becomes an arduous effort to showcase Mohanlal’s filmography. In one scene you can hear Shobana’s famous Tamil lines Manichitrathazhuin one song you see Kalamandalam Gopi playing with Mohanlal Vanaprastham. The script goes haywire, trying to weave disparate elements together into a compelling plot. The twists that come to a head are unconvincing and ridiculously staged.

Yes, we know that Mohanlal has acted in several excellent films. The question is, why is he so rarely seen in films like this these days? Why do we need to watch these mediocre imitations celebrating its past glory when it has many years left in cinemas? Mohanlal bravely speaks Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, English and mercifully some Malayalam in the film. It would truly be a miracle to see a Kerala pan-Indian film, but before we get there, shouldn’t filmmakers make sure that the film at least works for audiences at home?

Aaraattu is one of those films that can be categorized as “fans only,” but can a true fan really be happy that this is the genre the star is increasingly turning to?

Also read: Mohanlal’s mediocre script choices: A trap of his own making

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