Aju, Anarkali, Gokul Suresh in Gaganachari
Aju, Anarkali, Gokul Suresh in Gaganachari

Gaganachari review: This dystopian comedy is a goldmine of Malayalam pop-culture gems

Be it the meta-humour of Gokul Suresh mouthing his father Suresh Gopi’s famous dialogues or calling director Vinayan’s much trolled War and Love (2003) a cult classic, there is a whole goldmine of comic gems in ‘Gaganachari’, especially for the 80s and 90s kids.
Gaganachari (Malayalam)(3.5 / 5)

From the many iterations of the aliens – the most widely explored entities in science fiction films on-screen – one would imagine them to speak in robotic monotones or menacing growls. But what if they reprimand you in veteran actor Mallika Sukumaran’s voice, her signature wit intact, while sitting on your dining table and gulping down cat food? Set in the semi-submerged, post-apocalyptic Kerala of the 2040s, where alien megastructures loom above paddy fields and monsoons dredge up the trauma of a lost world, Gaganachari’s biggest strength is its ability to find humour even amidst the loneliness of surviving the end of the world.

Director Arun Chandu’s dystopian mockumentary, co-written by Arun and Siva Sai, is a Kerala-style comedic genre-bender that makes the future seem funny, frightening, and full of surprises. 

In 2043, Kerala has already seen a ‘beef war’, leading to the government manufacturing ‘geef’, a lab-made combination of lamb and dog. Petrol is banned, and electric vehicles fitted with government-owned GPS devices to track down residents are in use. All elements of a surveillance state – police excess, moral policing, preferential treatment of dominant castes, food rationing, and curfew on public spaces– exist and are exacerbated by the presence of alien invaders. 

The film follows three male protagonists – Allen (Gokul Suresh), Vaibhav (Aju Varghese), and Victor (KB Ganesh Kumar) – all crammed up in Victor’s bunker on an isolated island in Kerala. They are accompanied by Raghavan, a Malayali meme template version of Alexa, who puts them in their place when he has to. Known as ‘alien hunter’, Victor was a former military personnel who survived alien attacks, and when the film begins, he recalls his unusual encounter with an extraterrestrial fugitive who once landed up in his living room. 

The most striking aspect of Gaganachari is its world-building. While post-apocalyptic terrains in cinema are largely dominated by a Western imagination, Arun Chandu conjures up a native landscape where the overgrown trees, serene backwaters, drowned stadiums, and abandoned paddy fields invoke an unsettling sense of danger that feels relatable and not too far-fetched for Malayalis. Surjith S Pai’s cinematography, along with Sankar Sharma’s music and Ceejay Achu’s edits (co-edited by Aravind Manmadhan) hold Gaganachari’s world together, sparking intrigue till the end. The special effects are neatly done, a remarkable achievement at a time when even mammoth star-vehicle films are weighed down by painfully amateur computer-generated images (CGI).

But what takes the cake is the film’s off-beat, absurdist jokes. Be it the meta-humour of Gokul Suresh mouthing his father Suresh Gopi’s famous dialogues (from ‘Shall I remind you something’ in Commissioner to how Dennis the orphan is given blood by Ravishankar in Summer in Bethlehem), or calling director Vinayan’s much trolled War and Love (2003) a cult classic, there is a whole goldmine of comic gems in the film, especially for the 80s and 90s kids. A ‘renewed’ poster of the Malayalam horror classic Veendum Lisa (1987) hangs on the wall in one scene, and what makes it funny as memers say, is “for legends to decode”. 

AI (artificial intelligence) Raghavan, the all-perceiving witness to this madness, adds to the humour, sometimes reminding us how terrifying technology can be when it constantly records everything, denying the simple solace of forgetting and lying to avoid confrontations. 

The real fear factor in the film though, comes more from the dangers of the rising sea levels than an alien invasion. The aliens, in fact, are presented very differently from most films of the genre where they are villainous colonisers. But this is also what becomes the undoing of the plot, especially as it progresses towards the climax. The seemingly right-wing outfit Ajayya Sena, which operates as a parallel surveillance system, is too generic and underexplored.

Ganesh Kumar is a hoot as alien hunter Victor and Gokul Suresh’s on-screen vulnerability is absolutely endearing. Aju Varghese too holds his ground with some laugh-out-loud comebacks. Anarkali Marikar (I badly want this film to be called ‘Anarkali disco chali!’) is wonderfully mysterious and handles action sequences with commendable control. Mallika Sukumaran’s voice, especially when she trolls the male ego in her worldly-wise tone, is the icing on the cake.

The only downer is that Gaganachari’s restrictive use of extraterrestrial contact as a plot device for political commentary limits the imaginative possibilities of the genre. Lovers of sci-fi films may find this a tad predictable, though the pay-off really is not the plot here, but how well the idea has been executed. 

And cat lovers, watch out for a delightful surprise in the end!

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.

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