GV Prakash, Mamitha Baiju in Rebel
GV Prakash, Mamitha Baiju in Rebel

Rebel review: GV Prakash-Mamitha film is a mangled, predictable hot mess

GV Prakash walks around with an intense expression on his face, raising his arm every few minutes to say something inspirational. Still, a better deal than what Mamitha Baiju is stuck with.
Rebel (Tamil)(1.5 / 5)

On paper, Rebel sounds like a soul-stirring movie. Set in the ‘80s, a group of Tamil students from the plantations of Munnar struggle to survive amidst the majority Malayali population at the government university in Palakkad. Caught between two political parties (SFY and KSQ – thinly disguised names for the SFI and KSU), the Tamils face brutal discrimination till they decide to…well, rebel. 

Unfortunately, director Nikesh RS has no idea how to tell this story. He tries to marry the politics of social justice films with massy action blocks you’d expect from a Lokesh Kanagaraj film – and the result is a red hot mess. 

A sober chapter from history prefaces Rebel. The people of Munar wanted to join Tamil Nadu in the 1950s when states were formed according to language, but they were given to Kerala. The children of the plantation workers dream of a better future through education, but they are ostracised by the Malayali students and staff. GV Prakash plays Kathir, a young man who joins the BA History course along with his friend Selva (Adithya Bhaskar). 

The film claims to be based on real events though it doesn’t give us any clues as to whose real story this is. Even if one were to take it at face value, the writing is so mangled and predictable that you don’t feel anything. All the Malayalis are horrible people, save Sarah (Mamitha Baiju), the pretty Kerala girl doing all the things that pretty Kerala girls do in Tamil films. I lost count of the number of times Sarah is speaking but we don’t hear what she’s saying because her lines are muted and the background score emphasises how cute she is. Every feature magnified in close-ups, as if she’s a fly under a microscope. 

Among these horrible Malayali people are two Extremely Horrible Malayali people – Charlie (Shalu Rahim) and Antony (Venkitesh VP). The first heads the SFY and the second heads the KSQ. Antony specialises in ragging students and occasionally murdering them. Charlie specialises in sexually harassing Tamil women. Nobody seems to care that these men are Extremely Horrible Malayali people because their party leaders are Extremely Extremely Horrible Malayali people who laugh villainously, condone, and cover up their misdeeds. GV Prakash walks around with an intense expression on his face, raising his arm every few minutes to say something inspirational. Still, a better deal than what Mamitha Baiju is stuck with. 

 We get extensive graphic scenes of violence. Clothes ripped off people, blows and punches on bare bodies, hair plucked off someone’s chest – all of this is also rendered in slow motion with plaintive background music to emphasise the brutality. We’re repeatedly told how people are divided according to inam, mozhi, madham. There’s a lot of sloganeering, but none of this amounts to much. That’s because the film doesn’t bother with characterisation. Take the phone conversation between Kathir and his father, a diehard communist. The latter doesn’t want his son to oppose the communists on campus. But, it takes only one dialogue to change his mind. This ‘instant noodles’ treatment of the characters and their arcs deprives the film of its cinematic highs. 

The action sequence before the interval marks the turning point in the Tamil students’ lives, but it’s written so badly that it’s laughable. Kathir and the boys burst into the rooms of the Malayali students, one by one, and every Malayali man just roars, “ENNNDDDHAAAADAAA!” before getting pulped. The Tamil students have Ilaiyaraaja on the wall; the Malayalis have Mohanlal on the wall. The communists have Che Guevara on the wall; the Congress supporters have Nehru on the wall. But this doesn’t translate to any real sense of time or place. We get a few scenes in a plantation before the action shifts to the university, and from then on, it’s one scene after another that drives home the same point tediously, with no nuance or intelligence. The film could have certainly done with tighter editing. By the time we reach the climax, the Extremely Extremely Horrible Malayali people are already beyond any redemption, but we still have a sequence with the plantation workers directly weeping, wailing, and chest-beating at the camera. The only thing missing is a signboard with TRAUMA flashing on the screen, in case we didn’t get the point. 

Rebel is the kind of movie you want to say has its heart in the right place etc etc., with a debut director who is actually from Munnar. You can give such a film a long rope, but what to do if it is determined to take that rope and tie itself up into hopeless knots? There is no rebellion in imitation, and hopefully, Nikesh will do better in his next.  

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.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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