Shyam Dhar's Pullikkaran Staraa is an old-fashioned film with old-fashioned values. Much like Mohanlal's Munthirivallikal Thalirkumbol, it is about a bunch of middle-aged men and their interest in women. At the centre of this 'boys' club' is Rajkumaran (Mammootty), the virgin 'prince' who ironically has a bad name in his hometown as something of a playboy.
However, while Munthirivallikal was inclusive of the female perspective on marriage and sexuality, Pullikkaran is stuck in the '80s.
How Rajkumar got his unfortunate reputation is established right at the beginning of the film through some cringe-worthy sequences. As a newborn, Rajkumaran put his hand on the nurse's breast. As a young boy, he ended up witnessing a woman bathing in a river. And when he was even older, he was caught holding a bra in his hand. The sexualisation of young boys as 'comedy' is an accepted routine in cinema and Pulikkaran Staraa embraces this convention eagerly.
The 'boys' club', consisting of his schoolmate (Dileesh Pothan), neighbour (Innocent), and the building security guy try to fix him up with a woman -- and apparently, any woman would do. Whether that's a sex worker or someone who smiles at him on a bus.
It's credit to Mammootty who plays an embarrassed Rajkumaran that these scenes turn out somewhat entertaining, as problematic as they are.
Rajkumaran is a teacher who tries to push other teachers to think out of the box and encourage children to ask questions. Much like the rest of the film, there's nothing particularly original or insightful here. We listen to some "Aha!" stories from Rajkumaran and while Mammootty tries to make these engaging, they get repetitive and predictable after a point.
The children, too, behave exactly like they've been portrayed forever - shaking their heads and singing songs innocently, with no characterisation beyond the label "kuttigalu". Since much of the film's humour can be considered 'A' rated (Rajkumaran's father fires his 'gun' before he sleeps with his wife, for instance), perhaps the director thought including children's songs would turn this into a 'family entertainer'.
The film has two heroines - Manjari (Asha Sharath) and Manjima (Deepti Sati). Rajkumaran mansplains their issues to them, delivering golden lines like "Both a mother and a wife promise to be with a man till his end. Mothers don't break that word but some wives do." Seriously.
Manjari or Manjima presented to us like Sophie's Choice but the long drawn-out screenplay makes us care very little about the conflict. The woman characters are written from such a male perspective that they have no room to blossom in the script.
Does Rajkumaran get a Rajkumari? Well, what you'd expect in an age-old fairytale is what you get here, too. Pullikkaran Staraa offers a few feeble laughs and a lovely tour of Idukki through Vinod Ilampally's camera. But there's nothing fresh here beyond the scenery.