Welp, I did it, I finally watched Narasimham. And it was pretty much as expected. Not exactly what I look for in my Malayalam films, but Mohanlal was there, and so was Mammootty for a bit, and now I have seen Most Successful Movie of All Time, or whatever the accurate superlative is.
What is it with this need to see Mohanlal in action movies? I just don’t get it! Spadikam, sure, that was way way deep (and had Silk Smitha!), and Kireedam, absolutely. Really, both of those films are more about the lack of action, what prevents violence, than the big moments of violence. But this film, and Pulimurugan, I just don’t get it!!! Wouldn’t you rather see him in some nice movie about gender issues and life in a village where everyone just kind of talks a whole lot and stares into space for long song sequences? And occasionally gives long speeches with complex philosophy that doesn’t translate well into the subtitles? That’s what I look for from him! Not these stupid one-liners and kicks.
Although this film has a fair amount of speeches and gender issues and stuff. More so than Pulimurugan certainly (although it would be hard to have less). If you strip out all the action and dramatic stopping of funeral processions and so on, the central conflict has that nice radical boundary breaking touch that I look for in my Malayalam films.
And it’s in a pretty village with lots of old buildings with big wooden pillars, and a pretty temple/bath type place. And there are the occasional cynical social commentary touches, like a corrupt politician not recognizing a statue of Gandhi. And the two heroines, what little we get of them, are complex strong people. Oh, and Thilakan is there as, guess what! A conservative demanding un-understanding father!
But mostly, kick kick kick! And then DRUM BEAT! And theme song! And kick kick kick! For, like, 3 hours. With intervals of looking at ladies’ waists.
What feels different from Pulimurugan (or Baasha) is that the central conflict really isn’t over kicking, but over family conflict, and public image versus personal life, and how to resolve it all. Only that message is wrapped up in a lot of crowd-pleasing action instead of in a lot of interesting character moments and things.
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I kept thinking I started this movie late or something, because the big conflict that in most films would be the whole plot, or at least the first half of the plot, is just ignored entirely. But, nope! We start in the middle and never get a flashback or anything to fill it in! Just dialogue explaining. Mohanlal has been sentenced to 6 years in jail, his parents (including his judge father) leave the village in shame. And that’s like the first 2 minutes. And then, poof! 6 years are over, and there is a funeral procession, and Mohanlal jumps out of the water to stop it along with his old friends from the village.
So, yeah, all of that complicated being framed for murder leading to 6 years in jail bit is just to set up that Mohanlal is tough, and has enmity with the other big family of the area. And, most importantly, to set up the father-son conflict (once again!) with Thilakan. Thilakan, the noble judge, didn’t even try to help his son, put the value of a perfect version of society above his son. Now Mohanlal is out, and his parents have returned to live with him in the ancestral house. But there is still tension, his father judges him for everything, judges everybody for any small flaw.
Whereas Mohanlal, as always, is wonderfully forgiving. He helps out Aishwarya (who I know from present day as a mother actress! Very odd to see her all sexualized here) in her blue jeans and t-shirt, no hang ups about what is feminine. He is kind to his often drunk uncle. And, in the biggest moment, he defends his friend who wants to marry a village girl that has returned from prostitution. He supports their right to be married, supports her right to change her life without needing to “atone” for any kind of past sin, is just generally awesome about everything.
And all of this is to set up the central conflict that, in a different kind of movie, would play out without fight scenes or anything. There is a woman recently arrived to the area with her elderly male relative who desperately needs money to keep their house. She asks the local leader for help, he agrees but wants something in return. He sends his goons to threaten her and finally the truth comes out. She is the illegitimate daughter of Mohanlal’s family.
There is a faint at first, she asks his uncle for help and money, Mohanlal sees her leaving and asks who she is, the uncle claims her as his own. But then after threats and offers of money from the bad guy, she comes forward and declares that she is not the uncle’s daughter, but Thilakan’s!
Clearly, this is false! She is an evil grasping woman who the bad people are using to put forth this false claim and embarrass the family. Mohanlal is furious, big fight scene when he sends away protesters! Fascinating statement right there by itself, that this personal failure is considered a public failure as well, that Thilakan is being called on to step down from his position as judge just for having an illegitimate child. It’s not just that Thilakan is suffering from his own high standards, it’s a sign of how he represents a greater society that shares those high standards. And they are all WRONG! Wrong wrong wrong!
As Mohanlal says. He starts by beating up the protestors, and then right at the interval, he learns that he was wrong. His uncle tells him that she actually IS his father’s daughter and, more importantly, his own sister.
Which also saved me a headache because I was sitting there trying to figure out if she was his illegitimate cousin by way of his mother’s brother (and therefore, a legitimate romantic prospect) or by way of his father’s brother (and therefore, incest!). But I KNOW that half-sister is incest no matter what (right?), so there’s that complication fixed.
Anyway, that does it for Mohanlal. He immediately goes over to her house, saves her from the goons her are destroying it, and is infuriated when she is injured trying to protect him. Brother-sister love achieved!
There’s also the regular love story, Aishwarya who has one sexy song, but generally stays a strong interesting character. For instance, in one of his lowest moments after steaming away from his family home in his red anger jeep, she stops him with her yellow happiness car, and immediately cheers him up. By talking to him about her life and, in the end, asking if he wants to marry her. Before lying and saying she was asking if his jeep runs on petrol or diesel. Later, during another down time (I would say his life is sad in this film except that I’ve already seen Spadikam. This life is a walk in the park compared to that one!), she comes up to him at the bathing place/temple and flirts with him again, until he dumps her in the water. This isn’t the usual damsel in distress kind of love story with the action hero, or the saucy rich girl being put in her place. She is strong and confident and he likes that about her. It’s a nice little break from all the other stuff he has to do.
Oh right, plot! So after Mohanlal learns that the woman really is his sister, there are a series of confrontations with his father. Super satisfying! After all those movies of Thilakan being all holier than thou, and the first half of this movie, I loved having him cut down to size a little here. Both by the other characters and the narrative. Yeah, a superior angry old man can have made a big mistake in his youth! And yeah, he could have failed to acknowledge that mistake, and in fact lied and lied and lied like the hypocrite he is! Almost makes up for his family forgiving him in the end of Spadikam. Almost.
Kind of wish the poor illegitimate daughter didn’t have to die to prove this point. The night Thilakan FINALLY acknowledges her, she is killed. And Thilakan is framed for her murder. So, lovely, for once Thilakan gets some punishment and has to go on trial and all that. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. And he gets to be publically humiliated and face all those wrongful accusations that he was completely unsympathetic about when his own son was suffering from them.
And then Mammootty shows up to save him! WHY???? Why Mammootty, WHY? Let Thilakan take his punishment! If not for what he did in this movie, then for what he did in all those other movies!
Anyway, Mammootty! This really was a “let’s throw in everything and make all the money” kind of movie, wasn’t it? Mammootty is, of course, an old friend of Mohanlal. Who is also coincidentally a brilliant and famous lawyer who can come at the last minute and save everything. Isn’t that handy?
But then Thilakan dies anyway! HA! Serves you right Thilakan! Mohanlal doesn’t see it my way, is more on the “the wrongful accusations by those evil people who also killed my innocent sister as part of the frame up deserve to be punished” side of things.
And Kick Kick Kick! Drum drum Drum! Lion lion lion! (see, he’s like a lion, so when he gets angry they insert video clips of a lion. It’s actually kind of cool looking and really well done).
And happy ending. Aishwarya stops his car again, just like the first time they met, and jumps in it with him. Sure, his sister is dead, that’s sad, but his father is also dead, so it’s not all bad, and now he has the girl!
Anyway, I think I might be ready to re-watch Devasuram now, is what I am saying. Let’s get some internal conflict in here instead of external!