‘Ambili’ review: Soubin shines in an overstretched travel film

Soubin is endearing as the child-like Ambili but the film offers little else.
‘Ambili’ review: Soubin shines in an overstretched travel film
‘Ambili’ review: Soubin shines in an overstretched travel film
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The trailer of Ambili, which showed Soubin dancing with abandon for the ‘Njan Jackson Allada’ song, set up the anticipation for Johnpaul George’s second directorial. Anyone who has followed Soubin’s career trajectory would have been excited by the promise of his character. A child-like man with endearing quirks.

And Soubin doesn’t disappoint. As the innocent Ambili who plays cricket with the kids and is easily cheated of his money, Soubin is entirely believable. Each time he smiles or cries, he does it with the guilelessness of a five-year-old, and it’s not a joke for a grown man to pull this off. He races around Kattapana in his cycle, does video calls with his childhood friend and now girlfriend Tina (Tanvi Ram) on his computer (she’s in Delhi), and writes bad yet strangely catchy poetry.

He’s so convincing that he looks exactly like the child actor who plays him as the opening credits roll. From the expressions to the body language – he walks with a little hop, skip and jump – Soubin really looks like the kid grew up magically in the span of a song and turned into an adult Ambili.

But though the lead actor delivers, Ambili fails to rise above the character sketch that it draws for us. Naveen Nazim makes his debut as Bobby, Tina’s brother who resents her relationship with Ambili, though the latter loves him to bits. Bobby is also a professional cyclist and Ambili decides to prove that he’s indeed worthy of his sister’s love.

Here’s the thing though – the film barely builds up the conflict. Bobby arrives, Bobby frowns, Bobby kicks up a fuss, and then before you know it, Bobby sees Ambili’s golden heart that was thrust under our noses from the first frame.

It’s unclear why Bobby had to be placed at the centre of this when we hardly know anything about the relationship that Ambili and Tina share. She tells her friends dreamily that she knows Ambili is all she needs, but Johnpaul doesn’t show us why or how. We also don’t know why Bobby is SO offended by Ambili because the film doesn’t explore the bond between the siblings either. The laidback script simply expects the background score to do a fill-in-the-blanks, with the indulgent camera focusing on how Ambili is making everyone happy, especially old ladies.

The second half of Ambili turns into a travel brochure for western India, with a few “feel good” incidents shoved into the narrative. I was almost expecting Amitabh Bachchan to pop up somewhere and sell “Incredible India”, “Gorgeous Goa” or “Remarkable Rajasthan” as we run past the different, beautifully captured landscapes. In the cinematic universe, travel is the best healer and Ambili laboriously goes to establish this all over again. While Soubin is all animation, Naveen is wooden all through. And considering a good part of the film is just the two of them together, the scenes simply don’t work.

There’s enough story in Ambili for a short film perhaps, but to stretch it into a feature-length film is a big ask. Soubin deserved a better film.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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