Rohit VS has these reflective theories about life, death and people. It was evident in his debut directorial Adventures of Omanakuttan, in which he unleashed the lead character to play complicated mind games with us. While Omanakuttan attempted to undo his psychological knots and figure himself out, Rohit played around with bright myriad hues in the backdrop—oranges, reds, stunning costumes, fancy orange lanterns, and equally quirky characters.
Similarly, in Iblis, he plants an imaginary village with brightly-coloured puppets, and quirky characters—a cheery grand old man (Lal in multi-coloured jackets) who travels in a skyblue vintage car, his grandson who puts up loudspeakers at funerals, a phony sage who claims to see jinns, a curly brown-haired girl dressed in dreamy frocks as she sells sweetmeats, a kohl-lined perfume seller from Arabia (Sreenath Basi), a photographer (Shyju Kurup) who is seen at every funeral and prides himself on his ugly, blurred photographs. These and a lot of others, both dead and alive, who co-exist in the same space.
Iblis takes its own time to build its narrative and the film really picks up momentum post-interval and then the tediousness gives away to some engaging conversations. It’s about Vysakan (Asif Ali), who is unusually attached to his traveller grandpa Sreedharan (Lal) and has a crush on his childhood friend Fida (Madonna). Oddly enough, it is Vysakan’s death that triggers a romance between him and Fida.
Rohit places this village plagued by deaths through a metaphysical lens. Dribbling humour in such a narrative isn’t something new and it’s a bit similar to what we saw in Ayushkaalam—dead people dressed in whites laughing over the ironies of life. Awakening of romance after death gets an eerie spin-off in the film. And each death happens with minimum fuss and is dealt with a lot of humour.
Rohit picks that secret human longing to fantasise over what happens at one’s funeral. Isn’t one’s death the greatest moment of truth when we are really staring into the reality of what we were to a lot of people we loved? When Vysakan crashes to the ground and stands amidst mourners at his own burial, he is happy to see Fida shedding tears for him. For Vysakan, his death has given way to a happy premise—he is able to see and talk with all his loved ones who were dead.
Out comes his grandfather in whites, his childhood mate, and his dog. One of the most brilliant instances of a spoof occurrs in that scene where they introduce an aged pot-bellied, scantily-clothed sadhu who breaks into an impromptu jig amidst a madcap BGM. He has the power to speak to the dead. The irony of the living and the dead occupying the same space does infuse some light moments and those instances are used to convey some of the vagaries of the human mind and the characters' inability to find serenity in anything.
Grandpa is a sort of suthradhar in the film. He is given the task of laughing out loud at people. There are interesting, witty observations about death. There is a scene where Sreedharan meets his grandparents and suggest to Vysakan to wait for Fida like his grandfather waited for his grandmother (which was again a shout-out to Ayushkaalam). He is appalled—“I can’t wait till she looks like this.” Sreedharan admits dying young has its benefits but the younger man doesn’t quite agree.
Having said that and despite such a radical concept, Iblis fails to truly engage us. The honest intentions most often don’t translate on screen and the narrative struggles to lend depth and profundity where it is required. The humour at times sounds laboured and we aren’t as invested in the characters despite their fascinating outer layering. Except maybe the charming elderly Beevi, who declares her love for the granddad in no uncertain terms and is ready to slay dragons for him. Food is more a prop than really help in stirring the narrative. But it was still enticing to watch unniyappams, achappams, kozhalappams, madakappams, ladoo and jalebis piled up on bronze plates.
This was a film which lacked standout performances. Siddique as usual sparkles in a role only he can do and the few scenes he was in were a riot. Otherwise, it was more about actors looking the part and performing exactly what was required of them. Lal was convincing and thankfully didn’t go over the top as this intimidating yet loveable grandpa with his long white mane and beard and quirky jackets. Asif Ali again was about that boyish trim and clean-shaved look (is it just me who thinks he pouts a little too much and the same way in every film?), while Madonna was like a dreamy Arabian princess with a bit too made up face.
Iblis didn’t really knock my socks off, but it isn’t a film to be totally written off either. It’s only a matter of time before Rohit finds that missing poser between experimentation and entertainment.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.