'Action Hero Biju', 'Anuraga Karikkin Vellam', and 'Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu' are examples of films where plot movement is consciously minimal.

Films where nothing happens Why Malayalam cinemas new relaxed style is worth celebratingFacebook
Flix Mollywood Monday, June 05, 2017 - 16:45

A warm shine seems to have taken over Malayalis and Malayalam movies of late. It is the shine of acceptance. While we spent a good part of the 2000s complaining about our TV serials, non-functioning street-lights, Shakeela pictures, and the big Alcohol Malady (“The whole state has a drinking problem,” a friend once theorised), we now look at these frailties with deadpan smiles. The general unphrased sentiment: “They are as much a part of us, as the backwaters and Kalaripayattu.”   

With the second decade of the new millennium, came the big shift: Malayalis developed a capacity for viewing many of their ‘social problems’ as part of Kerala’s inherent music. The tendency to see these problems as bullet-points on the reformation chart was smoked out. 

“The gaudy, the seedy, and the trashy: why not accept them for what they are?” the displaced Malayali mind wondered. “Maybe we’re doomed, but then who isn’t, on some level?”

This acceptance, this resignation, is now manifesting intensely as an atypical artistic courage at the movies. There’s a relaxed glow about many Malayalam movies today, and this glow is also the most pleasurable thing about these movies.

In the recently released Rakshadhikari Baiju, for example, nothing happens: plot-threads are set up and left unresolved, characters don’t really change or learn any profound life lessons, and social realities are pondered but not acted upon.

The movie feels like the First Act of a Sathyan Anthikkad picture played out for three hours. But then, there’s a key difference: unlike Sathyan Anthikkad, there’s not one reformist bone in Ranjan Pramod’s body.

By the end of Baiju, the characters reconcile with a big change that’s thrust upon them (it’s the razing down of Nostalgia), and there’s a footnote-ish speculation if things could be slightly different. The un-resolvable nature of the situation becomes a tune in its own right.

There’s no laboratory science at work here, but in movies such as Rakshadhikari Baiju, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, and Action Hero Biju, plot-movement is kept consciously minimal, and the invitation is to ‘come, hang out.’ The three movies don’t announce the dawn of a new kind of film artistry (in the way that Maheshinte Prathikaram or Angamaly Diaries did), but they signal a new style, a new approach to tackling the themes made popular by Malayalam movies of the 80s and 90s. The settings are familiar and the threads are proverbial, but when these threads are untied, they reveal fresh and unfelt rhythms.

These movies may often tease you with recognisable tropes but their paybacks are beyond what we have naturally come to expect.

In Action Hero Biju, Nivin Pauly’s character is devastated when the lady he arrests turns out to be the mother of a feisty school-girl he has long admired. Pauly, who had just, in a prior scene, clinched the investigation with super-confidence, finally walks away a helpless man. 

In Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, Asif Ali’s character hems and haws at the sight of his ex-girlfriend, then has a moment of quick realisation and tries to torpedo her wedding-day plans, but she has by then moved on. Asif eats the loss, and we ‘get’ it, because in life, such battles-of-sexes hardly ever end in a draw; it’s often the soft girls who beat the conscienceless guys at their own game. 

In Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu, when a boy he has guided to IPL-heights thanks Baiju at a felicitation ceremony, the moment is intentionally half-done. This is the sort of scene which, in a Rajkumar Hirani movie, would have resulted in tears being passed on from one character to another as if by a process of cinematic osmosis. Here, Baiju sits with his family listening to the speech, smiling wholeheartedly at the courtesy expressed.

There is no reason for Baiju to cry, for he does not see himself as a man who has never got his due. He is like a relic of his village Kumbalam; like its playground, its pond, and its temple -- which the inhabitants of Kumbalam love, and in their love, they take for granted.

Within the relaxed constructs of this neo-fabulism, these movies appear sculpted in time. The basic theory may sound Tarkovskian, but our filmmakers are more influenced by certain past cadences of the Malayalam Parallel Cinema Movement. 

In Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu, a character looks up toward the sky, in the middle of a scene, and ponders if it’s going to rain. “My guess is it would be just a passing shower,” she says. This is the kind of mundaneness that Shaji N Karun would proudly insert into a scene. 

In Action Hero Biju, the entire routine of police investigation, presented uncut, has shades of an Aravindan movie: a complainant walks out of the Sub-Inspector’s room; a new case is registered; the defendant from the first case is ushered in.                          

Be apprised that these lazy, relaxed movies will also disarm many a viewer, especially the kind of viewer who goes to the movies hoping to find in them the ‘Big Answers’ that s/he has pre-deduced in his/her head. 

However, by not letting us walk out with our easy biases confirmed, what movies like Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu are actually forcing us to do is extend our bounds of sympathy; these movies are compelling us to think beyond the usual press headlines and PR-pieces. 

For my part, I think, in the days to come, the big battle in Malayalam cinema won’t be fought between well-made movies and the terribly-made ones. That pattern is about to be overturned. The real war would be waged between movies that try to sell you programmatic messages so that you come out feeling good about yourself AND movies that offer you a ‘good nothing’ and yet make you see and hear your environment in a wholly new way.  

This article was originally published on Fullpicture.in. The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.

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