The adjective 'nice', English teachers have been saying for long, should be thrown out of the window. 'Nice', they say, is a boring adjective that doesn't say much. And yet, it's this word that describes Poomaram best. This is a nice film with nice people and nice moments. The film doesn't aspire to rise above this and at times, the niceness may get boring. But with so many vibrant faces on screen, so many moments that trigger nostalgia, you get interested once again even if the film loses you in parts.
Abrid Shine's Poomaram is nearly a faithful documentary of the Mahatma Gandhi youth festival in Kerala. Like the director's previous outing Action Hero Biju, the film is not plot driven but is made of a series of episodes and moments that capture the spirit of the subject at hand.
While the wait for a conflict might test the patience of many, the film manages to be engaging in spurts. There are few campus movies that have authentically captured the energy of young people without falling back to stereotypes and slapstick humour.
It's an unusual choice for the debut of a star son. Kalidas Jayaram doesn't get a fight scene or a heroine. He doesn't even have too many lines in the film – in fact, nobody does. The story happens entirely in the backdrop of the festival itself. So we're treated to mime performances, dances, music, and mimicry, not just in flashes but as substantial parts of the narrative.
Abrid doesn't hurry up the storytelling; art isn't the peg on which he wishes to hang a romance or a comedy. The story is simply that of what goes on in such a festival, the passion behind it, the competitive spirit, and the victories and triumphs.
Neeta Pillai, who plays Irene, the young woman who leads her college St Teresa's, and Gautam (Kalidas Jayaram), who is the chairperson of his college committee at Maharaja's, don't exchange a word. While they are propped up as the captain of their respective ships, the others too get equal importance. There's quite a bit happening on screen which stays unsaid, which we need to understand purely through the lens of Gnaanam's camera. Take, for instance, the mousy young lady who has a crush on Gautham. He hardly notices her glances and she never says it out aloud but we know what she feels because we've experienced it too. Putting that smile of recognition on the audience's faces is what works best in Poomaram.
In such films which revolve around a competition, we're usually shown one team playing dirty to win over the others. Abrid artfully skips the cliche and avoids giving us a strawman villain. The audience isn't handed a team to root for – and though this dilutes the drama on screen, it complements the message with which the film comes to a close.
Joju George, who appeared as a cop in Action Hero Biju, gets an opportunity once again to entertain in khaki and he doesn't disappoint. One does wish, however, that Abrid would get out of his penchant for taking potshots at queer identities. The sequence at the station would have worked just as well without needing to include a case about a man with an effeminate voice and his "phone lover".
The film features a host of real life performers (Meera Jasmine and Kunchacko Boban make cameo appearances as well) and proceeds at a languid pace. While the songs are pleasant enough, they are one too many and the picturization looks artificial and old-fashioned in some portions.
The politics, fights (the one about the Mohiniattam contest is hilarious), flirting, disappointments, tension, and victories form a mosaic that's reasonably entertaining. I wasn't very convinced about the "message" heavy ending. It was...yes, there is such a thing as too nice. But I suppose Poomaram couldn't have ended any other way. Nice.
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.