Sorry! Padmavati took all my time yesterday, so we missed Monday Malayalam. And now I am doubling up on Tuesday, a no spoilers and a spoilers review, both, for Solo. Because it came out in Malayalam and Tamil, so I have decided it works for both.
It’s tricky to do a No Spoilers review for this film, because it’s really 4 separate films, each with their own themes, characters, story styles, etc. The only thing they have in common is Shiva intertitles, and Dulquer Salmaan as the lead. Well, and really interesting/imaginative visuals.
The Shiva intertitles and Dulquer Salmaan are of course related. It’s showing us 4 different Avatars of Shiva, connected by Dulquer. Not quite Avatars exactly, aspects? That might be more accurate. Dulquer plays a contented lover, a cold revenge seeker, an untethered force of violence, and a crazed unpredictable lover. Each film has a few running themes which (I think) are also present in the Siva Purana. For one, the balance of male and female. It is needed by every avatar in order to remain sane and steady, whether that woman is a wife, a daughter, a mother, or a lover.
There is also a theme of sexuality, procreational sexuality in particular. Every story revolves in one way or another around a pregnancy as a result of uncontrollable sexual desire. And every child is born cursed, in some way. Fatherless, motherless, damaged somehow. Again, very Siva. Based on what little I know. His children were not born easily, his did not come into this world under simple circumstances.
And finally there is the theme of the elements. The first story represents water, the second wind, the third fire, and the fourth earth. Setting aside these individual thematic meanings, the idea of all 4 elements being represented is another sign of Shiva’s power, that he controls all 4. And the elements also help to represent each of the respective Dulquer characters. The first is soft and flowing, the second is invisible but powerful, the third is destructive, the fourth is firm and immoveable.
And there is the theme of this film serving as an audition reel for Dulquer. He does a great job in every story, but I couldn’t help noticing that the characters aren’t just different in subtle ways, but in “actorly” ways. A stutter, a brusk military bearing, soft doctor posture, and tough guy gun handling. I’m not saying he did that poorly, or I really had a problem with any of that. I guess it even makes sense for this kind of film, we had to be able to separate each version of Dulquer from the last and physical tricks help with that. But it also really really feels like “hey! See everything I can do! Cast me in something!”
It wouldn’t feel quite so much like that if this weren’t also being treated in some ways as Dulquer’s audition. Karan Johar launched the trailer, it’s getting coverage in the national press, and that’s on top of being a Malayalam/Tamil double release. It may not turn out to be a huge hit at the box office, but it is aimed at “influencers”.
Small detour here, over the weekend as I was driving around running errands I passed a McDonald’s in a hip neighborhood that had a line around the block with a bunch of young people holding smart phones. And then I passed another one in a slightly less hip neighborhood which had no line or anything unusual. I looked it up, and they were giving a limited time only release of their Szechuan dipping sauce, thanks to a reference in the adult cartoon show Rick & Morty. All of which sounds very cutting edge and hip. And not terribly practical, to release something just for fans of a fairly obscure niche TV show. But, on the other hand, everyone I saw in that line had their phones out. They are going to be tweeting and texting and whatever else it is kids do. McDonald’s is no doubt taking a huge loss in the pure logistics of this alone, somehow creating a speciality item and distributing it to only a few locations. And for only a few people to enjoy it. But they will reap a long term benefit in word of mouth and brand identity and so on thanks to the “influencer” types who care about this one small thing.
And thus this film! It’s a very very interesting film. The stories are unique (although the first one post interval, the “fire” story, is not as good as the others I think), the characters are not quite like what we have seen before, and the visuals are clean and beautiful. There is some work with intercutting, with light filters, with long tracking shots, which are technically remarkable. This is the kind of film that people who pay attention to film will watch. Not just producers like Karan Johar, but the audience who matters. The ones who are picky about films, who will talk up ones they care about, who pay attention to directors and actors and so on.
The producers already know about Dulquer. He’s Mammootty’s son, he was in OK Kanmani, he’s got a bit of a leg up on the other young actors in Malayalam film. And he seems to be a little more interested in using that leg up, more willing and able to handle public appearances, publicity, a twitter presence, and so on. Karan bought the rights to OK Kanmani, he must have seen the original and seen something worthwhile in it. And he probably wasn’t the only one in the Hindi industry. Dulquer has some possibilities here. And this film is a way of checking what those possibilities are. If the right kind of audience embraces him, that is another step closer to making a full-fledged national release viable for him.
At least, that does seem to be part of it. Otherwise, why would Karan Johar bother launching the trailer for a movie he has no stake in, which isn’t even being released in Hindi? And why would the film make such an attempt to be Hindi friendly?
Because it is Hindi friendly! Officially it is just Malayalam/Tamil, but there is a fair smattering of Hindi dialogue, not to mention Neha Sharma and Dino Morea. And the stories, short though they are, are also very non-specific. A college romance, a thriller, a gangster story, and an army story. Nothing specific to Malayalam or Tamil culture, a brief flash of a communist flag and a reference to MGR is as far as it goes. The locations are non-specific too. A college, a hill station, an army camp, a city. No villages, no historic monuments. Not even anything with food! No familiar snacks mentioned or anything more identifiable than rice.
If these were not short films, it would feel shallow. No texture to the location, to the characters. But as it is, that is all we need. A simple location, a simple story, a few good actors and interesting visuals. It’s worth watching, and it leaves you satisfied.