Amal Neerad's Comrade in America is unlike any of the recent communist themed films which have hit the screens - though you see our hero conferring with Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara to make the most important decision in his life, the film isn't interested in being an ode to the communist ideology.
Instead, what we get is a love saga. Girl goes to America, boy follows her there. Yep, I thought this was going to be a Vaaranam Aaiyiram kind of romance tale, too, with all the accompanying tearjerker scenes. However, Amal Neerad's CIA merely uses Aji Matthew's (Dulquer Salmaan) love as a peg to talk about the real issue at hand: borders. The story takes us to South America and those who aspire to cross over to the prosperous North. Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians (you know that saying about finding a Malayali wherever you go? Aji finds one even in Nicaragua!), Sri Lankans, Latin Americans...they all want to go to America but cannot for various reasons.
Aji Matthew, son of a Congressman (Siddique), and a true blood communist, embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to find his love. Here's where the film falters though. Neither the love story nor the adventure have the heft that they deserve.
Aji falls in love with Sarah (Karthika Muralidharan) as soon as they see each other and before you know it, they are ready to get married. You know very little about the characters beyond the fact that Aji is exceptionally gifted in making men fly and Sarah is an NRI who knows zilch about politics. She's stuck with the bourgeoisie label and nothing else. So when they are separated, you really don't care. And consequently, you really don't care if they reunite.
Perhaps if the narrative had devoted more time to their relationship and less to establishing Aji's machismo, the film would have worked better. To be fair, the film turns the 'hero who crosses mountains' story on its head and this is certainly refreshing. It's also wonderful to see Malayalam cinema growing in ambition and breaking out of its parochialism. However, there's something vital missing in CIA and that's the drama.
The journey that Aji makes - the landscape impressively captured by Renadive's camera - braving drug cartels, violent gangs, and border security is barely exciting though it's not without its moments (Why are you going to America, the staunch communist asks the Chinese man and the latter responds with one word - freedom). Considering Aji's motive is a mere campus romance with no depth, it's difficult to stay invested in his story. On the journey, too, we're told about the risks but never feel the shadow of the threat.
Dulquer Salmaan does a good job of the role he's been given. As has become common in contemporary Malayalam films, there's a liberal influence of Tamil culture in CIA, too - Dulquer's introduction happens with a noisy song that's a mix of Tamil and Malayalam, and John Vijay appears a Sri Lankan Tamil. However, the latter's Tamil seems more Chennai than Lankan. On the road in South America, the two listen to Ilaiyaraaja's immortal 'Thenpaandi cheemayile' in the car. Soubin Shahir (who was welcomed by the audience with cheers almost as loud as the ones reserved for Dulquer) and Dileesh Pothen manage to get some laughs.
CIA is supposedly based on real life events and it would have been a heck of a story if only it had had a better script. The run-time of the film is suited to a thriller, a taut 136 minutes, but sadly, there aren't enough thrills packed into this one.