The Malayalam con artist films we love

The protagonists of the con genre are not clearly in the black or white as in most movies.
The Malayalam con artist films we love
The Malayalam con artist films we love
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By Aradhya Kurup

There’s nothing like a great con movie for pure entertainment value and Malayalam cinema has seen quite a few memorable, wily con artistes. Here’s a look at some of them through the years:

Chithram (1988): “Sayippey, help…my brother drinking water. I no swimming,” appeals an animated Vishnu (Mohanlal) to a foreigner passing by. The unwary chap stops his scooter and jumps into the pond only to realize that Vishnu has run away with his clothes. 

A few seconds later Vishnu realizes that the foreigner doesn’t have any money in his wallet, and we hear him musing wryly, “Sayippumarilumundo daridravaasigal (are there beggars among white men too?)”. This chain of events leads him to the biggest con of his life—playing stand-in husband to Kalyani (Ranjini).  

Initially Vishnu and Kalyani are at loggerheads with each other, devising various new means to outdo the other – so it is pavakka (bitter gourd) juice one day, spanking the next, and so on. Garnished perfectly with Mohanlal’s comic timing, it goes without saying that Vishnu is one of the most memorable conmen we’ve seen on screen.

Kalikkalam (1990): Mammootty is the quintessential Robin Hood in this 1990 Sathyan Anthikad flick. He appears before us in various disguises, and of course, robs from the rich to feed the poor.

First, we see him as a grey-haired, pot-bellied income tax officer who coolly walks in and out of a jeweller’s shop with all the gold. From then on, it is a never-ending masquerade - a drug dealer, naval officer, a besotted lover, an old millionaire and what have you!

And in the end, he waltzes right into our hearts – with the heroic act of confessing to his crimes to save an innocent man from prison.

Punjabi House (1998): Behind every con pulled is a story of desperation and struggle. Suffocated by a horde of creditors, Unni (Dileep) decides to commit suicide so that his parents can use the insurance money to repay his debts.

He obviously survives, but fate in a fishing net propels him to don the role of a deaf and dumb man. In order to survive, he plays out the deception to the point of agreeing to marry the deaf and dumb heroine. 

Despite the inauthentic portrayal of the Punjabi community, the film makes a mark primarily for its superb humour.

Gulumaal: The Escape (2009): Jerry (Jayasurya) is a suave, street-smart, smooth talker, who will do anything for money. His ingenious tricks will have you gasping in disbelief. 

And though he is on the wrong side of the law, you grudgingly develop a fondness for him, laugh at his dry wit and root for him as he struggles to stay afloat in the stickiest of situations. He is a villain with a caustic sense of humour and it’s easily one of the most adroitly written anti­hero roles that have come in Malayalam cinema in recent times.

Full marks to Jayasurya for carrying Jerry forward with just the right degree of malice and villainy, peppering the scenes with his impeccable sense of comic timing.

Cult classic Malayalam con films like “Ramji Rao Speaking” have gone on to be remade in other Indian languages. The con genre, as such, is difficult to pull off. It requires strong scripting, actors who share great chemistry, and a director who can play on the audience’s emotions like a maestro. The fact that we still remember and applaud these characters from Malayalam cinema says a lot about the craft of the film-makers.

The protagonists of the con genre are not clearly in the black or white as in most movies. They occupy a grey limbo land from where they have to appeal to the audience.  And even as we laugh along with them, they expose our own failings to us in the best possible way. Tongue in cheek. 

This article first appeared in TNM has syndicated the content. 

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