Happy Monday! I’m all-Bahubali, all the time, only I know I’ve got my nice faithful Malayalam readers too, and I don’t want you to feel left out. So I managed to take a break to watch a not-very-good, but very popular, Malayalam film.
Remember how I am in the middle of moving? I have about 15 good Malayalam films that you guys recommended to me, all fresh and unwatched, and they are all taped up in some box somewhere, where they will stay for the next 2 weeks. So I am stuck with the streaming options, and I saw Pulimurugan and I thought “I recognize that title! And I think it did really well at the box office. I will check it out!” But now I am thinking I recognized the title because a lot of you mentioned it as a movie that I should NOT bother watching. Oh well.
The Internet tells me that this set box office records. WHY???? It’s a fun movie, a crowd-pleaser, sure. But it’s also kind of a mess. The plot goes here and there and everywhere, the action scenes are fun but don’t make much sense. And not in a fun way of not making sense, but in a taking-me-out-of-the-movie way.
Maybe the plot being a bit of a mess is the reason for the records. I could see this kind of a film crossing over to the Tamil and Telugu audience more easily than, say, Kali. Or Kammatipadam. They had amazing plots, perfectly rendered. But you had to really focus and understand the setting and all kinds of things in order to appreciate them. This movie, each scene is almost unrelated to the last, and all you need to know is “tiger=bad” “lady=sexy” “children=cute” “drugs=bad” to appreciate each of them. Oh, and of course, “Mohanlal=Awesome”.
I was thinking while I was watching it about one of the very first Malayalam/Mohanlal movies I saw, Adiverukal. Which I did not understand at all, because it was one of my first Malayalam films. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t used to the pacing or the actors, it was the setting that really threw me. Like this film, Adiverukal takes place in a forest region. There is the forest ranger, the village people, and the evil capitalists who want to make money off the natural wonders. All of these people are new to me! Not standard characters in any other Indian films I have seen.
(It’s a nice movie, I enjoyed it more than this one. Although it also has the random very very buxom sexy lady)
I kind of got the vague impression when watching Adiverukal that maybe this is a genre? Like, maybe the audience was supposed to understand immediately who the forest villager was, who the ranger was, and so on. But I wasn’t sure. Now watching this movie, I am leaning more in the “genre” direction. But I am curious, how common of a genre is this? Would it be unusual enough that the audience would get an extra enjoyment out of seeing a bit of a different kind of a movie?
The tiger is very well done. CGI, I assume, but moves in a natural kind of a way, and has some really exciting action sequences that they wouldn’t have been able to do with a real tiger. Mohanlal moves well too. I liked the “natural” parts of his fight scenes better than the CGI bits, the parts when he flings a knife twenty feet and it lands exactly where he wanted, that was just kind of silly looking to me. Also silly, THE MAN IS 56!!!! LET HIM BE 56!!!!! He is good in the role, but it is not a role that should have been offered to him. At the very least, they should have made him into more of an “old and wise and seen it all” kind of figure instead of “young and active and sexual diserable” kind of figure.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
I understood little to none of this plot while I was actually watching it. Only once the movie was over did it even start to make sense. And it’s not my fault! Okay, after about half an hour I decided that this was the rare Malayalam movie where I didn’t have to pay THAT much attention. But I think even if I had been doing my usual thing and fast-forwarding and rewinding and pausing and taking notes, I still wouldn’t have really followed it.
Partly this is because all the chronology has been chopped up and put in a blender and then randomly re-assembled. We start with our hero as a child, that makes sense. He is being taught the forest ways by his father. His mother dies giving birth to his little brother, he cares for the little brother. His father is killed by a tiger, and baby Mohanlal kills the tiger.
And then we are in the present and a mysterious figure is asking where Mohanlal is, and an old wise man is saying that he has been gone for many days and they need him back to kill a tiger. And then we go back several days, and then forward sometimes, and in the middle of the going back Mohanlal remembers his romance with his wife and goes back another 5 years to that, and it all gets tangled up!
They might have done it this way because, if you tell the plot straight-forward, there just isn’t that much to it. Mohanlal lives in a village in the forest. He is a truck driver, and also the designated tiger-hunter. Tiger hunting is illegal, but the ranger won’t do anything about the rogue tigers who kill villagers, so Mohanlal has to. He has a wife, Kamalinee Mukherjee, and a very young daughter. His wife is also from the jungle village, after watching her and kind of indicating his interest that way, they finally fell in love when she jumped in a river to escape the unwanted attentions of the local police officer, and Mohanlal saved her and proposed. His wife often fights with him.
Mohanlal’s little brother is all grown up now, and educated. He sends a couple of his friends from college to Mohanlal’s village because they need to get “ganga” from the jungle for one of their father’s pharmaceutical companies. At the same time, that same cop who has been after Mohanlal’s wife this whole time, suspects that he killed the tiger who was found dead recently. He comes by their house and bothers Kamalinee, Mohanlal beats him up and all of his men. And then the family has to go on the run.
They bump into the brother’s friends, and ride along with them. The friend’s are kidnapped, along with Mohanlal’s truck, Mohanlal beats up all the kidnappers and saves them, because he wants his truck back. Now, Jagapati Babu, the father of one of the friends and head of the pharmaceutical company, loves Mohanlal. He gives him and his family a place to stay and promises to solve his police problems. But in the meantime, he asks Mohanlal to do occasional favors for him. All Mohanlal asks in return is that he give a job to Mohanlal’s educated brother.
But, it turns out, Jagapati is a drug dealer! He is working with Makarand Deshpande (from Amen!) to bring marijuana leaves out of the forest, distill them, and sell them overseas. And Mohanlal and his little brother have become a part of his evil plans. His brother is captured, big fight scene, Jagapati’s son is accidentally killed.
Mohanlal and family return to the forest, beaten up but not broken. They learn that the tiger is worse than ever, the villagers need Mohanlal to kill it and save them. At the same time, Jagapati is in the forest too and captures Mohanlal’s friend and uncle. Mohanlal has to fight off 6 attackers with varying fighting styles, and save his friend and uncle, and avoid the tiger. It all ends when the uncle is thrown by evil Jagapati into the tiger’s den, Mohanlal dives in as well and drags Jagapati with him, Jagapati is killed by the tiger, and then Mohanlal kills the tiger and goes home. The whole thing with the corrupt cop that was keeping him from returning home is never really resolved, unless I missed something. Oh, and there’s a thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, about a sexy right lady who keeps randomly popping up in the forest and then at Jagapatti’s house and making eyes at Mohanlal and wearing small sari blouses.
There are some big themes here, I guess. I like the class message. Mohanlal, and his wife, are both part of either a small lower class village community, or an actual Adivasi community. I’m not sure, because there is another group that visits the village sometimes who seems even more forest-y, and I think they may be supposed to be the “real” Adivasis. Either way, the message is that Mohanlal is awesome not despite his humble background, but because of his humble background.
The whole idea of the jungle as an innately dangerous place, and this whole parallel economy and society within it was interesting. Just because it’s not a location you see much, it was neat to be forced to think about what it is like to live on the edge of a forest, and who might be interacting with the people who do (corrupt lumber salesman, ayurvedic medicine makers, etc.).
The gender stuff was…..odd. Again, going back to class, I like that Mohanlal loved and chose a strong working woman from his own community. Their romance flashbacks show her wearing a men’s shirt over her sari, marking her as both less sexual and a laborer (since female laborers tend to wear men’s shirts, while household help or artisans would not). And that’s what he likes, that she works hard and isn’t ashamed. Only, in their actual marriage, there is a constant theme of her getting mad “for no reason”, and him being patient, and then her coming around. There is a scene late in the film when he comes home drunk and makes fun of her for being dressed in a fancy sari, she runs off, and next we see, he is dragging her back into the living room, she is all giggly and happy. Her whole anger was so clearly just a set up to show how awesome Mohanlal was since he was able to pacify her, that we didn’t even get to see the moment when he did pacify her! It just went anger-sexy happy.
And that sexy rich lady I do NOT get! We first see her visiting Mohanlal’s house and giving his daughter something, and then his wife gets really mad and jealous, so Mohanlal promises to explain. Only his flashback explanation doesn’t really explain it, back when they were courting she was working at a big house and he was delivering something in his truck, and the sexy rich lady gave him a drink of water? That’s it? And now I guess Mohanlal’s innate hunkiness has driven her so mad that for the past 4 years she periodically shows up at his house and tries to flirt with him? That’s crazy!
I get the meta-reason she is there, it’s because this is an action movie, which means male audience, which means sex. And Mohanlal’s wife is the strong respectable wife character, so we need someone else to leer at. The wife is fine for our imagining that we are a super cool macho guy who can make any woman forget why she was mad just by grabbing her and kissing her, and then have hot make-up sex. But we need someone to be very very full figured and wear open backed saris too. It’s just, there was almost no effort put into finding a logical narrative reason for her to be there! It’s just “oh yeah, and there’s a sexy lady! Let’s all stare at her for a bit, and then go back to our conversation. Oh wait! Here she is again! And again! And again!”
But I guess all of this stuff worked, because it’s the most successful Malayalam movie of all time. But, like I said, I STRONGLY suspect that it is successful not because of innate quality, but because of release strategy. Although that does go back to content. A producer/distributor would look at this film and say “Great! Action scenes, unusual setting, sexy ladies, big name hero, this will work across all languages! Done! We are re-dubbing and subtitling and making a wide-release!” Whereas they look at something like Angamaly Diaries and say “what am I even watching? I don’t know any of these actors! And where are the big action scenes with CGI? And why are all these actresses so fully clothed all the time? This film will never work, let’s release it in a dozen theaters and just hope to make back our investment.”
(Angamaly Diaries is still just the perfect movie)