Anwar Rasheed’s filmmaking keeps you engaged in the first half during which a captivating story unfolds but the last half is not as impressive.

Flix Review Thursday, February 20, 2020 - 18:35
Worth a watch

The mirror is where it all happens for Viju Prasad. A few words, a few movements of his hands, and Viju walks away more confident, with a certain purpose. He follows it through all the changes that come in his life, including a whole new identity as Joshua Carlton.

Fahadh Faasil, the actor who can convey much through every small gesture, easily transforms into both these characters in Trance, directed by Anwar Rasheed. Even as the film addresses a few grave realities, it has a certain hypnotic charm to it – the way Fahadh’s character is written, the way the lighting is used, the music shifts, and the pills that keep pouring out of mini bottles. Even the title track has psychedelic visuals and music. The title, therefore, fits beautifully.

Anwar’s filmmaking keeps you engaged the entire first half during which a captivating story begins to unfold. The last half does not keep up to the first, scenes that you enjoyed earlier becoming stretched, almost like you took a pill yourself and everything seems to take too long. But it doesn’t let you down, with some excellent performances coming from a very promising cast – Fahadh, Chemban Vinod, Dileesh Pothan, Nazriya, Soubin Shahir, Vinayakan, Sreenath Bhasi and, in his first Malayalam performance, Tamil director Gautham Menon.

The story begins at a humble home in Tami Nadu, on top of a set of stairs. Motivational trainer Viju Prasad’s first motivation sign begins at the bottom of these stairs. “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” He is the average Joe lifting tricks from the books he reads to sell the idea of confidence. At home, his troubled younger brother Kunjan (Sreenath Bhasi) tells Viju he is too secretive. A thought viewers also share, seeing how he pulls through some really tough life situations without showing how he feels. At one point, when Viju sits down on the stairs and breaks down, you actually feel relieved.

Circumstances take Viju to Mumbai where he meets two powerful men – Solomon (Gautham Menon) and Issac (Chemban Vinod). The two men always look posh, wearing suits, standing in identical bath robes by their pool, with indifferent expressions on their face. They interview the broken Viju, who is trying to revive his life, and show him a new path. A drug, Solomon says, that can feed on people’s emotions – not ‘that drug’, but religion. That’s when the disclaimer at the beginning of the film makes sense – there is no intention to hurt any religion.

With the help of Avarachan (Dileesh Pothan), Viju is transformed into the stylish Joshua Carlton, words from the Bible flowing from his mouth like nursery rhymes, hallelujahs and Praise the Lords directed at hundreds of believers.

Scriptwriter Vincent Vadakkan seems to have studied in detail what happens in some of these religious conventions, and how some men – not unlike spiritual “godmen” – sell the idea of god.

Fahadh’s transformation is so good that his past appears like a different character altogether. Here’s where you notice the play of light – the new man’s face glows, his eyes glitter. Amal Neerad, a magician with the camera, gives you psychedelics and a man god, all in a matter of moments.

The suited-up Joshua has none of the timidity that poor Viju showed. As he becomes more successful, he becomes very aware of the power he has, the equations between him and those who made him changing. The music in the background (Sushin Syam and Jackson Vijayan) lets you know it’s changing.

It is to this changed man that Esther, Nazriya’s much awaited character, finally comes. Esther is everything that Solomon demanded when he needs a new recruit to the Joshua team. The characters played by Nazriya appear to have certain common elements through all her films – the energy, vibrancy, charm. But she keeps it different in Trance. She is not loud, doesn’t draw attention to herself or break into song and dance. Her problems are not made a big deal of. She is also easily charming but thankfully no one makes repeated mentions of it and lets her be. Nazriya has matured as an actor, even with all the gaps she’s been taking between films.

Vinayakan, Sreenath Bhasi and Soubin, like Nazriya, have short but impactful roles. Sreenath’s role is especially short, but he holds your attention in those few scenes. Soubin’s television journalist character has purpose. Vinayakan’s character brings the climax of the film. But by then the smooth flow of the film is disrupted, everything becomes too abrupt.

If you couldn’t take your eyes away for a moment in the first half, the second half stretches, turns a tad repetitive, and tries to cover too many issues together. Misuse of religion, depression, drugs, suicide, mental health issues, it all begins to cloud your mind at one point, just as it does for some of the characters. If they’d cut down on the theatrics (needed in bits, but not so much), reduced the runtime by half-an-hour, scripted a smoother ending and tied up the loose ends, Trance, the film, would have been as enchanting as its hero.

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.