Tovino Thomas seems to be determined to prove his versatility with every film he signs. In debut director Fellini TP's Theevandi (written by Vini Vishwa Lal), he goes from high school boy with a funky haircut and baby skin to a bearded, irresponsible adult – and never for a moment is he unconvincing. The script, though, doesn't match up to the performer it has on board.
Theevandi is about a chain smoker. When Bineesh (Tovino) is born, the midwife believes it is a stillbirth. But his chain-smoking uncle (Sudheesh) blows a few puffs on the newborn's face and the baby cries at last. It's not a particularly creative beginning and we've seen one too many films with such an 'origin' story to explain a character's behaviour.
Nevertheless, the first half of the film is quite fun as we see teenager Tovino giggling with his buddies and trying out his first smoke. And whether it's the look on his face when he manages to blow out a few rings without coughing, unlike his friends, or the sheepish expression he sports when he's getting glared at by the school principal, young Tovino looks every bit a teenager.
As a grownup, too, Tovino is quite charming as he impishly romances Devi (Samyuktha Menon in an assured performance). But the director seems to have been unsure about where to take his story about an addict after setting up the premise so well. The film tries out political satire through a party called the BSCL, which wants to conduct a protest regarding something that's happening in Sierra Leone. But this subplot looks entirely forced and doesn't work. Surabhi Lakshmi plays the BSCL secretary and her performance ends up looking like a caricature. The actors try too hard with lines that are, at best, mildly amusing. Perhaps it was an attempt at black humour, but the Blue Whale game thrown into this mess is not just unnecessary, it also ends up looking pretty insensitive.
Suraaj Venjaramoodu, as Bineesh's prospective father-in-law and thorn in the flesh, is adequate, but one gets the feeling that he has been under-utilised. The second half of the film meanders too much, with distracting songs, and the resolution for the conflict is as unrealistic as it can get. For some inexplicable reason, Theevandi stops well short of exploring the battle that is de-addiction, and takes a clichéd, lazy route. Really, what's with this strong belief in the Malayalam industry that people who wear loose, colourful clothes and play the guitar all day have the answers to life's big questions?
Considering the intense roles that Tovino has played in recent times, Bineesh's struggle could have made for a powerful journey on screen. We see a glimpse of what could have been, in that crazy scene when Bineesh is determined to break a Guinness world record. But then, the film doesn't have the courage to take this path. It falls back, instead, on some ridiculous lines of philosophy that appear to be straight out of 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' (abridged). One's tempted to ask what the writer/director were smoking.
Since this is a film about a chain smoker, the screen almost always has the 'Smoking causes cancer' disclaimer. Apart from this, there's also a 'Riding without a helmet is an offence' disclaimer. And then there is a scene when all the cigarettes on screen are blurred out. It's to Tovino's credit that we ignore all of this and the plot's spiral towards absurdity, and stay in our seats. He can be pretty addictive and that's an understatement.
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.