A good actor is not only one who has screen presence but also has the confidence to stay in the background when the script demands it. Nivin Pauly is one such.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam review A page out of the familiar Malayalee Gulf story
Features Review Monday, April 11, 2016 - 13:00

Director: Vineeth Sreenivasan

Cast: Nivin Pauly, Renji Panicker, Lakshmy Ramkrishnan, Sreenath Bhasi, Aima Sebastian, Aju Varghese, Reba Monica John

Almost every Malayalee has a Gulf story in his or her family. The hard work in harsh conditions in a desert land that gives rise to a two-storeyed house back home in Kerala, and takes care of the education of children, the dowry for a sister’s wedding, the surgery for a parent and more. My grandaunts in my hometown in Kerala, who barely travel anywhere, have vague ideas about the location of America but are up to date with all the treasures that are available at the Dubai Mall.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam is based on the true life saga of a Malayalee Christian family in Dubai. Jacob Zachariah (Renji Panicker) is a successful businessman who has a large and loving family. So loving that for the first few minutes, the Zachariahs appear to be too saccharine to be real. There’s Sherly (Lakshmy Ramakrishnan), the dutiful wife and mother, Jerry (Nivin Pauly), the responsible but somewhat unambitious eldest son, Abin (Sreenath Bhasi), the mildly rebellious younger son, Ammu (Aima Sebastian), the obedient daughter, and Chris (Stacen), the pampered youngest son. Together, they form the picture perfect family and I began to worry if this was going to be a throwback to those old Visu movies about family values that were entertaining back then but terribly dated and judgmental for now. Thankfully, the film veers away from going down that much beaten path.

Jacob makes a bad business decision and his painstakingly built dreams come crashing down. It’s up to his family now to rise to the occasion and extricate themselves from the sticky mess. There are a few borderline jingoistic speeches on the spirit of Malayalees and how they can beat all odds to survive anywhere – some might feel these bits were included to invite applause from the audience but this is so close to the truth, especially in the Gulf context, that they elevate the film instead of dragging it down. Sherly’s characterization was a pleasant surprise. She doesn’t dissolve into a puddle of tears and sentimentalism as way too many mummies do when caught in a tough spot. She stands tall and delivers for the family, even as her children seem to be on the verge of giving up.

A good actor is not only one who has screen presence but also has the confidence to stay in the background when the script demands it. Nivin Pauly is one such. He allows his talented co-actor, Renji Panicker, to dominate the initial scenes, and is content to play the son who is in his father’s shadow. Pauly has enjoyed phenomenal success in recent times and it’s appreciable that there is no attempt in the film to play to the gallery – no punchlines and no displays of machismo. There are even a few jokes about his weight gain! Yesteryears’ hero, Sai Kumar, impresses in the role of the benevolent family friend. The rest of the cast, especially Sreenath Bhasi, provide adequate support.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam is a good watch. However, one can’t help but feel that more work could have gone into the script. So much is explained away with songs and background music. It would have added heft to the film if only we had a few more fleshed out scenes of the hard negotiations in the business world that Jerry has to navigate. We hear a few lines here and there and before we know it, Jerry has struck a successful deal.  His coming of age is a little too quick and smooth to be entirely convincing. Jacobinte Swargarajyam reminded me of another hapless businessman, Sethumadhavan (Mohanlal), from Mithunam. I’ve watched that film innumerable times and I still weep buckets when I witness Sethu’s desperation for money and his struggle to save his business. The narration allows sufficient time for the viewer to become invested in Sethu’s hopes, his family circus, and his frustrations. Mithunam was written by Sreenivasan, Vineeth’s father. Perhaps the real world Jerry could learn a few lessons from his Jacob? 

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