The Lal Jose directorial Velipadinte Pusthakam starts out like the usual 'good professor who turns around students who play truant' story. The stage set is quite familiar, with warring groups on campus and a helpless management that is unable to resolve the problems.
Our hero, Michael Idiculla (Mohanlal) steps in, performing a crowd- pleasing cycle stunt and we sit back, thinking we know how this one will go. He's the guy who plays fair to the 'chandha' boys, the students from the fishing community who study in the college and are ridiculed by others for it.
However, the film takes an unexpected shift and moves to another genre altogether - a murder mystery.
We go into the life of a rowdy named Vishwananthan (Anoop Menon) who was killed by a ruthless enemy. And Michael Idiculla becomes the key who unlocks the mystery.
Though the plot has its share of twists, there's something missing. The characters don't affect you and this is unusual in a Mohanlal film, especially one with a lengthy runtime of over two-and-a-half hours. We don't feel the pain or sorrow of anyone on screen, even if the events themselves are tragic.
The fan within me wonders if it's because we see so little of Mohanlal himself -- a good portion of the film belongs to Salim Kumar's mildly entertaining slapstick comedy and another sizeable portion goes to Anoop Menon whose character is built up as righteous hero. Though Mohanlal is present in almost every scene, Michael Idiculla remains a few broad strokes.
The film's premise -- we witness much of the story through a film shoot -- is like that of epic theatre. The characters play out scenes and before the narrative turns immersive, the onset 'director' calls out 'Cut!' and reminds us that it's all fictional.
While it makes for an interesting narrative technique, it destroys the audience's emotional investment in the characters. We're just not drawn into the lives of the people whose story we're watching unfold before us.
Perhaps the film would have worked better if it was the other way around, and it was Mohanlal who'd played Viswanathan? The role demands someone who can deliver a punch in the gut just by a facial expression (the script doesn't help much) and Anoop Menon falls short.
The screenplay is slowed down by one too many songs, choking the suspense that would have made the film come alive. We do see hints of what is to come from the beginning but somehow, when we piece it all together, the revelation falls flat.
The 'Jimmiki Kammal' song, however, is a stand-out and makes for earworm material.
Chemban Vinod Jose, Alencier, Anna Rajan, Priyanka Nair, Siddique, and others make up the rest of the cast and they turn out decent performances. If only their characters had been given more depth!
As it stands, Velipadinte Pusthakam is like an absorbing thriller which has lost its most gripping pages.