Shamdat's directorial debut Street Lights begins with a quote from Charlie Chaplin: "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." The title of the film, too, is reminiscent of the renowned comedian's City Lights, a romantic comedy involving a street tramp's love for a blind woman.
Mammootty films, in the recent past, have gone on to become hits at the box office but have failed miserably when it comes to critical acclaim. The actor has featured in a series of insipid films that merely piggyback on his "macho" image, with scant regard for plot or storyline. It's a relief, therefore, to find him in a film like Street Lights.
The film opens with two masked men being chased by security guards. They're nearly overpowered when another man beats up the guards and they all escape. It makes for a dark opening scene but that illusion disappears as soon as it's revealed who was wearing the masks – Hareesh Perumanna (who has such a talent for looking daft) and Dharmajan Bolgatty.
Playing dumb and dumber, this pair of small-time thieves team up with a ruthless gangster, Murugan (Stunt Silva). The robbery they manage to pull off unleashes a series of events, involving various characters who are all connected with each other.
Although promoted as a Mammootty film, the narrative treats all the characters with integrity. While the main plot is about cop James (Mammootty) going in search of the diamond necklace that's been stolen, there are different storylines which feed into this – that of a little boy with an alcoholic father who wants to buy a schoolbag for himself, a man (Soubin Shahir) trying desperately to harass his childhood friend into marrying him, a gangster vowing revenge for the death of a loved one, and a policeman trying to make amends for his past mistakes.
Even the minor characters who appear in the film are memorable – like the hapless car showroom man who tries to impress with "fantabulous" English, the clueless bag shop owner, or even the Muslim woman shopkeeper opposite the home of the thieves.
It's Hareesh and Dharmajan, though, who steal the show with their hilarious antics and lines, delivered with a straight face. Shamdat doesn't paint them in broad strokes as 'thieves' and leave it at that. He gets into the difficulty of the job – like the urge to take a shit when you're trying to escape from the cops or suppressing laughter when you're about to break into a house.
The only mildly annoying point is that Shamdat is too conscious of having a superstar on board and gives us too many slow-mo shots of Mammootty walking, Mammootty putting on his sunglasses, Mammootty beating up goons. The extended climax in the end with a prolonged fight sequence seems like an unnecessary compromise from the director's part.
The superstar is in his elements when he's given a chance to perform – like the scene with Motta Rajendran when he gets mad about bad sambhar. There are some enjoyable references to Thalapathy, possibly to win favour with the Tamil audience. The plot, too, has a mix of Malayali and Tamil characters, with the non-linear narrative shifting between the two states.
As an aside, the Malayalam industry must be the only one where films consistently play songs from another language in the background, as a matter of course.
One can quibble that the plot seems to have way too many coincidences but the film is entertaining enough to put us in a forgiving mood. Every now and then, when the action becomes intense, Shamdat zooms out and gives us a long shot of the city to remind us of Charlie Chaplin's words. It's a comedy we're watching, even if it is stitched together of tragic events.
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.