Marconi Mathai, directed by Sanil Kalathil, would have been a cute film if the protagonists had been giggly 15-year-olds in the 1940s who are discovering love for the first time. The shy hero who does not know how to profess his love to the wide-eyed, innocent heroine. The naughty friends who encourage him to express his feelings and rag him as he blushes and blunders through his emotions. The shy hero doing silly things to win the heroine's attention.
Ah, those remarkable black-and-white high school days!
But unfortunately, Marconi Mathai is not about pimply teenagers; it is a film about fully grown, middle-aged adults in the year 2019. To be clear, the genre is not science fiction. There is no explanation for why these overgrown beings behave like adolescents all the through the film's excruciating runtime (yes, I was counting every minute). There is no comet in the sky which has zapped their brains. No alien in a spaceship which has turned their thought process into jelly. I waited till the end to see if the director would spring a surprise on the audience: "Listen children, my protagonists were behaving like this because of a rare virus that spreads through tea glasses!"
Why tea glasses? Because tea glasses are very important in the film. Our hero Mathai (Jayaram), a retired army soldier who works as a security guard in a bank, believes in dividing one glass of tea into two and offering the second glass to another person. He shares his tea glass with so many people all through the laborious plot that I wondered at one point if this was a hideous government sponsored film on saving LPG. Why make two glasses of tea when you can make one and divide it into two? SAVE FUEL and all that jazz. But just as Marconi Mathai is not a sci-fi film, it's also not an awareness campaign. It's what passes for characterisation of our hero - he's a generous man (but not so generous that he will just buy you another glass of tea).
Mathai hangs out with a bunch of gross, creepy old men. The first friend we meet is played by Alencier. An elderly man who uses binoculars to stare at the breasts of a woman in his room because he is ill and cannot step outside. Charming, isn't it? The others are no better. They like to joke about bras hanging in clotheslines, compare women to sweet pumpkins which will be eaten by rats and so on. With such intellectual company, it is not surprising that Mathai's idea of romance is warped.
But the universe is not entirely unkind to Mathai. He finds his soulmate in Anna (Athmeeya Rajan), who shares his insipid views about life and love. Anna can't cross a road (though later in the film she goes all by herself to Goa), she giggles a lot, and skips around merrily with the air of a five-year-old at the fair. She is one of those "oru urumbiney polum ubatharavikkaatha" ladies who don't exist in real life and thank god for that.
Now these two people have to unite and the film has to last for more than 30 minutes, so Sanil throws in random, half-hearted "conflicts" which fizzle out in seconds. Take the scene right before the interval, for instance. We're given the impression that Mathai's ambition to win Anna's love has met with a serious obstacle. But the second half of the film doesn't even start from where we stopped and the obstacle conveniently disappears just as suddenly as it had appeared. Poor Vijay Sethupathi is dragged in for an extended cameo to make this short film into a feature length crashing bore. To his credit, the actor's natural warmth is a relief after watching a painfully cheerful Jayaram and Athmeeya for so long. But there's only so much that even Makkal Selvan can do to fix Marconi Mathai's many problems.
We would have swallowed our disbelief and bought into the love saga of Mathai and Anna if only Sanil had taken some effort into writing the romance. Instead, what we get are scenes like the one where Mathai makes rice balls, names each of them 'Father', 'Mother' and so on and asks Anna to eat. Are you weeping yet?
Like many other Malayalam films, the protagonists of Marconi Mathai find the answer to life's greatest questions in Goa. No, it isn't weed, but you sure wish you had a stash by the time they get to this point. A whole lot of characters walk in and out of the film for no good reason - Aju Varghese, Mammukoya, Ramesh Thilak, Sidhartha Siva and many more. The editing is slipshod and you give up trying to make sense of what's going on after a point. You fervently pray that Mathai and Anna unite just so the film would come to an end. And it does, with a song called "Ennaparayana?". Pretty much summed up my emotions about what I'd just seen.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.