What an interesting movie! Good straight through, but the ending is chilling. The price of crime, the sins of the father, brought forward in a very strange kind of a curse.
Once again, thank you Hotstar! This time, specifically for adding on the ability to search by actor. I searched by Prithviraj, then Revathy, and then Mammootty and found this film. Which is not only a popular classic (at least, it seems like it is), but is also only two hours long. Perfect!
This is one of those Malayalam movies from the 80s-90s that takes a plot from the Amitabh or Rajinikanth films of the era and looks at it from the other side. Like Spadikam, or Kireedam. The loose description of the plot sounds like any number of angry young man films, but it is the way the plot plays out, the details of the presentation, that make it memorable.
Part of that is how explicit it is. While other industries danced around sex, using euphemisms or even the familiar tactic of ellipses (“did you……?”), the Malayalam films just showed what happened. Still without forcing the actors to kiss onscreen or otherwise do things they may not be comfortable with, but with gasps and handclasps and rocking beds making clear what was occurring. And everything else about life is similarly matter of fact. A husband and wife share a bed, a man runs away from a pursuer and is shot in the back and dies, politicians only care about crime rates as they relate to re-elections, and police officers are perfectly satisfied to retire in order to avoid a tricky moral situation. This isn’t the clean fable with all the messy bits taken out, this is a story that includes all those grey areas, those moments when there is no right choice or wrong choice, just choices in front of you. And those many many times when the choices were already made before you noticed and now it is too late to change anything.
I have to take a moment for the cast. Mammootty, of course, well into his successful period, with the kind of presence onscreen that is needed for this sort of tormented hero in the Amitabh/Rajinikanth mode, someone that you are fascinated with and eager to see what he will do next, even if you know it will end badly. Madhu is someone that I didn’t notice particularly the first time he appeared, and then he grew on me. A kind of solid memorable presence, not as showy as Mammootty, but strong. And then there’s Srividya, the kind of face that makes her easy to accept as a young woman and a mature woman. And easy to see that uncertain young woman, plagued with guilt and doubt, hiding within the mature one. The excellent cast continues straight down the line, even bit parts with only a few lines are played perfectly. And shot perfectly, this is Jomon’s first film as director but he had already assisted on classics and I can see the experience, action scenes to love scenes it is all clear and straight-forward. Truly, the only flaw I can find in the film is that the Foley work was a little awkward, footsteps that sounded like gunshots some times. But otherwise, it is a perfect movie.
Oh, one thing I have to pull out as especially good is Mammootty’s look in the film. With a beard and a suit, he is hardly recognizable as himself but is immediately striking. Without feeling gimmicky, like he is trying too hard. In the same way, his weapon of the long stick is perfect, practical and effective and not overly showy. His character is one who does the job with the best tool at hand, no matter what that is.
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Madhu is the newly arrived from Bombay Police Commissioner in Kochi. His wife Srividya is sad, but he reassures her that she will forget the bad memories associated with Kochi and be able to move on. Madhu is given his charge by the chief minister, to get rid of the two rival gangs in the city just like he got rid of the ones in Bombay, “Alexander”‘s (Mammootty) gang of smugglers and “Krishnadas” (Captain Raju) gang of everything else in the city. And then Captain Raju has the bright idea of directing Madhu towards Mammootty so they can stay under the radar on their side of things.
We spend longer than you would expect watching the manouvers of the gangs and the police until they finally confront each other and we start to untangle the complex relationships involved. Mammootty plants a bomb near Madhu’s house and then sees Srividya and her college age daughter walking down the street, smiling and talking. He watches them, but they don’t see him. And then he gets in his car and drives away. There is no dialogue, all the emotions are conveyed through Mammootty’s face and the way the camera moves around, showing us the women approaching, then turning before they fully face him as he braces himself for the confrontation that doesn’t come. And then gets into the car and drives away.
(Sonia, the actress who plays the sister, was a child star and the little girl in this song. Very disturbing to know she grew up to do a sex scene)
Other films would have had the tragedy of the audience knowing the truth all along while the characters were in doubt. In this one, the characters know and the audience is left trying to understand, we see the emotions without following them and it makes the ultimate reveal of the truth even more poignant. Especially as some of the characters (Mammootty for instance) know everything while others are still as confused as the audience.
We get bits and pieces, Madhu finds a photo in Mammootty’s office when he executes the search warrant and is stunned, Mammootty flashes back to a little boy throwing a stick at a car and running away. And Madhu has a blunt conversation with Srividya suggesting they simply separate, he takes their daughter and she stays with her son Mammootty. But we don’t know how Srividya is Mammootty’s mother, how they were separated, how Madhu relates to all of this.
It’s not until much later, after Mammootty has seen his half-sister going into a hotel with the son of his rival gangster, that he reveals the full story of the family to his best friend and top lieutenant. It’s not complicated or poetic, it is tired and sad. Srividya had a child (Mammootty) without being married. It was kept as a family secret, and then when a good proposal arrived for her from Madhu, her father ordered her to pretend there was no child. Young Mammootty was resentful and angry and heartbroken at the idea of her turning her back and leaving him behind at marriage and throw a stick at their retreating car and then running away. He was found by a kindly businessman and taken to an orphanage where he changed his name, as he puts it poetically “They fed me and hung a cross around my neck and so I went from ‘Vinu’ to ‘Alexander'”. That’s all, no big reason, an illegitimate child kept secret and left behind when his mother married, forgotten by the family and shuffled out into the world. He never got love and never got softness and grew up to be a hard unsoft man.
(Compare that to Suhaag, for instance, where their mother is kidnapped into a brothel, escapes, but her infant son is held hostage and then grows up to be Amitabh who befriends his brother Shashi without realizing they are actually brothers)
And this is also when we learn, for the first time, that Mammootty himself has a family. It’s not a cheap reveal, it’s because that’s the face Mammootty wants the world to see, cold and strong and practical, in suits with a stone face. We have to know that Mammootty in order to understand why he is feared and respected, before we see the other Mammootty and learn why his face to the world is so strong, what he is trying to protect. At first it was himself, his own poor sad angry little soul. He prayed to God when he arrived at the orphanage for his anger to leave him, and it didn’t. And then he grew up and became the protector of the other powerless ones, the poor neighborhoods being squeezed dry by Captain Raju’s gang. He made a miss-step, he agreed to a murder for hire, then tried to fix it by not carrying out the killing, and in revenge Captain Raju’s gang killed his old friend from the neighborhood. So he had to make things right again, marrying his orphaned daughter. And he keeps acquiring more responsibilities, the children of the man who sponsored him at the orphanage, his gang members, we understand that the cold hard “Alexander” who faces the world is hiding a soft heart that just wants to take care of people.
And so, inevitably, he tries to protect his sister as well. But without knowing how, without the softness that is needed to make her really trust him. He only knows force, he kidnaps her into his car, and bluntly tells her the truth, that the man she thinks loves her is only using her in order to get back at her father. She responds with resentment and anger instead of understanding, and rushes home to confront her mother and ask what the connection is between cold old Mammootty and their family. And Srividya tells the truth, bluntly and plainly in a way you would never see in a Hindi film.
(Similar to this scene, but about a thousand times less dramatic. Also, I will never not be amused by the title ErosNow gave this video clip)
Not that it makes a difference. She is already pregnant, and of course the boy has no intention of marrying her. Srividya goes to Mammootty for help, meeting his wife and son for the first time, and Mammootty weakens and tries to threaten the boy into marriage, only to find him laughing in his face. And so the girl kills herself.
Again, this could be dramatic and complex and filled with misunderstandings, but it isn’t, it’s simple. Forget the cops and criminals set up, and all the gangs and so on, this is simply an estranged family trying in a clumsy way to solve a problem and not succeeding. It’s the familiar tragedy of suicide, thinking of the things left unsaid and left undone that might have changed it all.
And in his grief, and frustration at not being able to stop this tragedy, Mammootty goes too far. For the first time he crosses the line into murder, killing the man who seduced and abandoned his sister, and killing him as he runs away, shooting him in the back. Nothing heroic here, nothing perfect and pure, just anger and getting things done. It sets off a gang war, more deaths, with Madhu too broken to stop him. Srividya is broken as well, any perfect vengeance Mammootty wanted on her, any closure, even the name of his biological father, it is all impossible. She dies in grief. Mammootty goes home and tells his wife, who grieves in an unusual way, grieving for what might have been, for the happy family she fantasized about, a mother in law who would be a second mother to her. Not now, not soon, but maybe some day. She saw that possibility coming, just as the audience saw it.
(It’s the same as this moment here, but much much more subtle. Just a quick glance at the little boy and a smile at the wife, and then Mammootty sends her away and that is their only interaction)
In a way this is a film that finds the only unhappy ending in so many possible happy ones. If only Srividya had claimed Mammootty when he was a child, told Madhu the truth, we see in the present day that he knows and is forgiving and understanding. If only Mammootty had stayed at the orphanage, had a clean good upbringing, it wasn’t a terrible place. If only he hadn’t gotten caught up in that first aborted murder for hire setting him against Captain Raju and forcing him to rise in order to protect those who depend on him. If only Srividya had agreed to Madhu’s suggestion of a separation, herself to live with Mammootty and him to take their daughter away from there. If only Mammootty had stopped his sister when he saw her first go into the hotel instead of waiting to talk to her later, when it was already too late. If only he had been more understanding and honest when he spoke to her, if only her mother had been better able to handle the news when she learned she was pregnant, if only Mammootty had stayed a little longer to offer his support instead of simply bringing the boy along and trying to force a marriage. If only Mammootty had brought his wife and son to share in their grief and united the family after his sister’s death, if only he hadn’t committed that first murder in anger, if only if only if only.
The title is “Alexander”, meaning conqueror, but the problem is that a conqueror always loses someday. And then what happens to his empire? Mammootty has to lose. He is flying too high too fast without thinking about what happens next. And so he loses it all, all at once. His wife is killed as his son watches, he and his son go on the run and are stopped by the police, and in the end Madhu kills him. As was always destined to happen, all those years ago when Madhu took away his mother. The two men were always going to work against each other in an Oedipal dance. And just as inevitably Mammootty’s son, the young boy he wanted to keep clean and happy and raise far from the violence and shame of his own childhood, witnesses the whole thing, the death of his mother and then his father in rapid succession.
In any other movie, it would end with Madhu adopting Mammootty’s son. With a lesson of setting things right, that if only Madhu had done so much years earlier all of their lives would be better. But this film takes a darker path. We see the son at the cemetery, at his parents’ funeral, dressed in a little suit for the occasion. The rest of the crowd leaves, and you wait for someone to come to take care of him. But no, he is left all alone. He walks down the path, and the familiar three car entourage is waiting. Mammootty’s faithful lieutenant gets out and holds the door, the little son gets in the backseat alone and the cars drive off.
Mammootty was raised without a father, he thought that was the greatest curse, he wanted his son to always know who his father was. But he didn’t realize the bigger curse, that his son would be forced to become the father, to give up any chance of his own life and his own path. This is the price of crime, not failure, but success. Success, which you leave behind you as a burden on those you love.