After acting in over a 100 films and trying his hand in production, Prithviraj makes his directorial debut with Lucifer, a nearly three-hour-long saga which is a thinly disguised fanboy tribute to Mohanlal. It's no secret that Prithviraj is among the most ambitious stars in the Malayalam film industry - he aims big and you can see it all over Lucifer. It wasn't enough that he had Mohanlal on board, there's also Manju Warrier, Tovino Thomas, Vivek Oberoi, Indrajith Sukumaran, Shaun Romy, Saniya Iyappan, Sai Kumar, Kalabhavan Shajohn, and of course, himself. It wasn't enough that the film, which is primarily about Kerala politics, is shot in Kerala - it has to begin and end in another continent. And it wasn't enough to tell this rather straightforward story in a simple fashion, he had to swaddle it with Biblical allusions (story by Murali Gopy).
And like the Biblical Lucifer who was blessed but fell because he wanted too much, Lucifer too stumbles because it wants to do too much. The plot is driven by the death of the Kerala CM PKR (Sachin Khedekar). Who will succeed him? It's not hard to guess which political parties are being represented on screen. The IUF, we're told, is a 150-year-old party, while the RPIM members are wavers of the red flag. But the similarities go beyond that. PKR's daughter is Priyadarshini (Manju Warrier), who is married to a corrupt businessman Bobby (Bimal Nair, played by Vivek Oberoi, but may we remind you that 'Bobby' is often the nickname of people named Robert?). Jathin (Tovino Thomas in a quick but impressive cameo), who is a bachelor with a foreign girlfriend and who is in the running to become the next CM, albeit reluctantly. Covering all the drama is NPTV which is heavily in debt and another channel called Public TV which is funded by a political party.
And then there's Stephen Nedumpally (Mohanlal). Mohanlal is all mass in his mundu get-up with a few streaks of grey gracing his hair. Prithviraj uses every opportunity to underscore the actor's superstardom, rather reminding one of Karthik Subbaraj's Petta which attempted to do the same with Rajinikanth some months ago. There's an overdose of slow motion shots (and Lucifer, let me tell you again, is close to three hours long), pumping background music, references to Mohanlal's older films ("Narcotics is a dirty business," he says in Lucifer, as he once did in Irupathham Nootaandu as Sagar alias Jackie) and punch lines delivered to the camera. Some of these moments are indeed enjoyable - when a Tamil speaking cop (John Vijay) asks Stephen if he thinks he's MGR, Thalaivar or Thala, Stephen doesn't give him a retort immediately. It comes at another point in the film, "Naan thala illa, thalaya edukkaravan". The whistles fly as they should.
But here's the thing - the film is so indulgent of its star, it forgets that he's not playing himself. So, although Stephen refers to PKR as a "deivam" (frankly, his actions strike one as far from being deivam-like), we're never convinced of the relationship, and consequently, all the heroism unleashed on this basis seems overblown. And we don't get any back story or explanation for how Stephen became such a superhero, not just capable of beating up ten goons at the same time, but also murdering six people (unplanned) on an open ground and leaving behind absolutely no forensic evidence. A character in the film, as if reading our mind, does ask him where he'd spent his growing up years but Stephen merely says that just as we don't know about the journeys undertaken by the son of God, his journey too should remain unknown.
Deep. Or a lazy script? You decide.
It's unclear why the south film industries keep casting Vivek Oberoi as a south Indian villain. The summary of his characterisation in every film seems to be - wears suits and shades with a sneer. Manju Warrier is blessed with an extremely expressive face, and when she's upset, you can actually see her nostrils quiver. There's one scene when her face collapses as she hears Bobby's response to a question she poses, and you can see just what an actor can bring to the table when she knows her job. As Bobby, her husband, Vivek Oberoi's face barely moves. Perhaps this is what they mean by opposites attract.
Despite the host of characters, each scene barely lasts for a few seconds before the screenplay rushes to the next one. Indrajith as Govardhan, a nerdy whistleblower, appeared to be an interesting character at the outset, but the narrative fails to make good use of him. The script doesn't take the time to establish anything and Prithviraj depends heavily on stylized shots and loud, intruding background music (Deepak Dev) to make up for the lack of storytelling skills. Or he falls back on cliches - if you have to establish the luxurious surroundings of the chief villain, include a shot of a random woman in a bikini. Most disappointingly, he also includes an elaborate "item" number in his first directorial, contrary to his promise made a couple of years ago that he would avoid misogynistic representations of women in his films.
Mohanlal and Prithviraj fans are sure to be delighted by this unapologetic testosterone show on screen, especially by the final sequence where the powers that be join hands. But for the rest of us, we can be thankful that at least the film's title offered us a clue - the experience is a long way from heaven.
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.