Wednesday Malayalam: 9, Forbidden Planet With a Twist

Well, this is an interesting idea! That possibly was not explored as fully as it could have been explored. But hey, Prithviraj wears glasses and is unshaven, it’s still worth watching.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting kind of sick of Prithvi’s horror/sci-fi movies. It isn’t all he does, he had Koode thrown in there and Ranam and some other variety options. But he has seemed to lean on horror/thriller/sci-fi kind of stuff for the past few years. And the problem is, when it is a horror/thriller/sci-fi movie, Prithvi as main actor ends up acting opposite special effects more than any fellow actor. This movie takes that to extremes.

Image result for 9 malayalam poster

There is Prithvi, and there is a child actor, and there is Prakash Raj for a second at the start and end. There are three separate female roles, but each individually is so small that I don’t really find the characters compelling. Really this is a film about Prithviraj, and the mystery. Not about the characters interacting. It’s especially noticeable when Prakash shows up again at the very end and suddenly Prithvi locks into place, actually interacting with his scene partner for the first time in hours.

Maybe this is why I don’t like horror movies? I don’t look down on them, I am aware that they are intelligent critical statements on various aspects of society. But (as I have said before) my favorite parts of films are the emotions and the relationships. In a horror film, or a thriller, it is about the larger social statement more than the individual relationships. If it is about consumerism, or racism, or gender violence, or growing up, or fear of death, or any of those big things, the movie ends up being more about that big issue than the individual characters.

The other problem with making a Big Statement about Big Things is that there is a decent chance that Big Statement has already been definitively made in another movie. With relationships and characters, there is an infinite variety on how they can interact. But when you are talking Big Questions, there is an ultimate answer. When I watched Ezra (another Prithvi horror film) it was fine, but I was very aware that the underlying social conflict it was addressing had already been addressed to perfection in Rosemary’s Baby. In this film, the Big Question has already been addressed in the cult classic Forbidden Planet. All the details are different, but the central question is the same. Once we reached the question, I found myself going “Oh? That’s it? But, we already had this question! 60 years ago!”

The other part of this is that the journey to the question did not fully justify itself on its own. That’s part of any film structured in this way. There’s a kind of story that revolves around wanting to know how it ends. Whether it is wanting to know who the murderer is, or which part of the love triangle ends up together, or if the heist will be successful, you are only watching to get to the answer. Sometimes the answer is so surprising and satisfying that it alone redeems the film (Ittefaq). Ideally the journey to the answer is so enjoyable that you can appreciate the film on its own and even rewatch it (Badla). This film is fine, but without the central concept and mystery, I would not have particularly enjoyed it. The performances, dialogue, even the sets, just didn’t grab the eye that way. It was a good enough way of telling a story with an interesting twist at the end except that it was a twist already told in the best possible way somewhere else, so even that didn’t work.

Still worth watching! Good special effects, Prithvi at the center, decent story. Just not one I would feel comfortable recommending to any and all, as I would Koode.

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The central idea is that a meteor is crossing close to the earth and will cut off electrical power for 9 days (thus the title). Prithviraj is an astrophysicist, his mentor Prakash Raj comes to see him and asks him to go to a remote area where he can best see the meteor, and where there are ancient legends of evil released by the meteor. Prakash (a widower) takes his small son with him to stay in an old mansion offered by Prakash along with a superstitious local servant. The night the meteor first arrives, Prithviraj finds a woman in the roods next to a meteor fragment. She is injured, he brings her back to the house. She charms the small son and Prithviraj too. She leaves, but then Prithvi invites her to come back and stay in the house again. But once she is in the house, she starts to terrify and threaten the son in the middle of the night, revealing her true form of evil black smoke. Prithvi can’t see the threat, is falling in love a little bit. His son tries to talk to him, but he doesn’t listen. Not until the evil woman takes on the form of his dead wife and tries to convince him to kill his son so “they” can be together again. Prithvi freaks out and grabs his son and flees the house. He goes away to investigate more, and the son asks to be taken to the forest religious community where the servant is from. The servant tries to save him from the monster and is injured. Prithvi can’t find his son, and then Prakash returns and talks to him. And explains that Prithvi himself is the “monster”. The stress of this 9 days without power and the isolated location have brought out a psychosis in him. He has always hated his son for the death of his wife in childbirth. That hatred came to the fore and he split in two parts, imagining the woman. He was warm and kind to the son at first, than started threatening him. He was the monster. And only by acknowledging that, by knowing the darkness inside himself, can he be free of the “monster” and his son be safe to return. Prithvi acknowledges the truth of all of this and is finally reunited with his son. Only to ask him, “Was there really a monster?” The film ends on this unanswered question, what is the truth? The monster or Prithvi’s insanity?

Now, let’s talk Forbidden Planet! In Forbidden Planet, space explorers land on a planet and discover a father and daughter living together with a robot. The planet is filled with strange monsters, the robot protects them. The monsters grow and grow and are more and more threatening through out the film. And finally there is the reveal that the monsters are coming from their minds. The planet is creating physical manifestations of their emotions. And the ugly truth is that the scientist is jealous of his daughter’s sexual maturity, of her falling in love with a young man. And the daughter is angry with her father for not letting her grow up. The Big Idea of the film is the question of “are all monsters merely things we create from our own ugly minds?” It’s applicable in thousands of ways. And the metaphor of the narrative is perfectly expressed, the growing fear and rage only to come to the painful discovery that you are doing it to yourself.

This film has the same Big Idea at the heart of it, but less perfectly expressed. The central idea is that Prithviraj is angry with his son and resents him for being born. Because of Prithvi’s poor parenting, he has already created a “monster”, his son is suspended from school for fighting, and is generally a strange solitary little boy. Prithvi fears his own son, in an odd way that is familiar to parents, without realizing that what he fears is his own self being reflected back at him through his son’s behavior. Once the monster appears, it is further examination of that idea from a new angle. Prithvi has stopped seeing his son as the “monster” and created a third separate identity where all his hate and fear is poured in. The stress of the situation, and the isolation, brings it on. And the film adds on the little open question at the end, the half-open question. It successfully convinces the audience (me at least) that the monster is an expression of Prithvi’s emotions. But was it a simple matter of a psychotic break and a split personality? Or did the evil meteor rock he brought home have the power to create a monster based on the ugliness inside his head?

But it’s all just not quite as good. The visuals for one thing. They are fine, but they don’t have the shocking arresting power you need to create the atmosphere for this kind of story. Same with dialogue, performances, costumes, and so on and so forth. A well-made horror film pays a lot of attention to all those little things.

This flashback love song is just thrown in there, it should have had more of a feeling of doom, a feeling of fantasy showing that Prithvi has idealized his past, or SOMETHING instead of just being a standard love song.

And the narrative structure is kind of labored. We spend a lot of time talking about the details of the meteor, and then it ends up noting being nearly as impactful as I expected. For instance, at one point Prithvi has to take his assistant to a hospital, and there is no sense of the hospital struggling without electrical equipment, people slowly dying for lack of treatment availability, and so on. It’s just a hospital like it would be in any other movie. So, why did we have all that build up with the horror of the 9 days without power just for the whole plot to be dropped? There’s also far too much backstory on the son. Not only did his birth kill his mother, and he got into so many fights in school he was suspended, we also learn that he pushed his child cousin off a balcony in the middle of a fight and crippled him. Too many things at once! On the other hand, there is a significant plot point around Prithvi’s female lab assistant who knows and likes the son, but we never really see them together or get more details on how long she has been working with Prithvi and observing their relationship and so on. We spend so long and have so much added on to certain story points, while others are left hanging and forgotten. Its messy.

I can envision the tighter film within the film. Dump the meteor, or minimize it, and keep the focus more strictly on Prithvi and his son. So that the end reveal has some teeth. Build up the tension through the visuals, give us an increasing sense of claustrophobia as Prithvi and his son are trapped together in a big house. Increase the sections with Prakash and with Prithvi’s lab assistant so we have a sense of who Prithvi is with other people, and how they see him. Even better, bring to the fore more the idea of the lab assistant as a threat to Prithvi’s hatred of his son, and his memories of his wife. I think that is what she is supposed to be. The monster/Prithvi’s split personality tries to kill her after she challenges him to spend more time with his son for both their sakes. Prithvi and his son are getting closer to her, even if he isn’t consciously acknowledging it, and it is making him feel guilty and angry at himself and distrustful and all of that. But we barely get that idea because we spend more time on special effects and wandering around the big house.

And on the woman who ends up being either a figment of imagination or a monster. She isn’t “real”, that’s for sure, in order for us to feel her unrealness, we need a “real” woman next to her.

The central idea is still good and interesting. A widower who hates his son is unusual and interesting, a true human reality but one that does not fit with Indian socially accepted rules. And the idea of clinging to this fantasy woman because he is running from the real woman is interesting too. On top of that the concept of the sins of the father showing in the son, this “demon” child really just being a reflection of the lack of love he has at home and the confusion that results, the subconscious expectation that he should be “bad” on the part of the person who should love him the most. And of course the Big Idea that once technology is removed and we confront who we are in the darkness, our darkness comes out. That we must find peace between each other because hatred gives birth to demons.

All valid, all intelligent, all worthwhile. Just, not done quite as well as it could be. Really, watch Forbidden Planet.

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17 thoughts on “Wednesday Malayalam: 9, Forbidden Planet With a Twist

    • Not to me. It showed cave paintings that implied she might have been real, but to me that was balanced by Prakash Raj’s explanation and the flashbacks showing how she was fake. I still feel 50/50 about it.

      On Wed, Oct 9, 2019 at 11:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. This movie is probably not intended for the readers of this blog but for the audience in Kerala because there hasn’t been such a sci-fi movie in Malayalam before.Also why it is frustrating to watch it all crumple after the initial build up.Agree that there were too many ideas plot points and nothing properly explored. I didn’t really care whether the monster really existed or if it was just his imagination cos I had lost interest by then. I did like Wamiqa -the alien woman. She made the part memorable with whatever little was written. Dead/ill wife,super natural phenomenon, bleak locations, tormented hero, darkness- a Prithviraj movie template.

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    • I was really excited about the sci-fi idea in the Indian context! Especially the meteor and loss of power idea. It opened up the possibility of some neat social statements, suddenly the poor people and villagers would be the ones living the best life while the city dwellers who rely on power would be struggling. And the meteor could bring in some ideas of astrology and stuff. A movie about, say, Prithviraj’s son being injured and Prithviraj being a brilliant engineer having to travel cross country with no power trying to get him help, along the way getting help from villages who didn’t even realize things had changed because they never had power, and dealing with desperate rich people who couldn’t function, and maybe something about how 10% of the population was driven mad by the appearance of the meteor, plus some scenes of Prithviraj cobbling together cool machines to do things without power. It would be like a post-apocalypse film crossed with a zombie movie with some neat engineering feats along the way.

      And then, no. This turned into less of a sci-fi movie and more of yet another evil-possessed-woman movie. There was no purpose for the whole intro section talking about science, she could have just been the demon that lives in the woods who the locals fear. Boring!

      HA! Love your Prithvi movie template. Why can’t his women ever survive?

      On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 4:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Cheap too! No special effects, just some news reports of looting, then a shot of all the lights going out all over the world, and then you’re just traveling through villages and stuff like usual but with ominous music. And we can keep the tension of Prithvi not really liking his son, but once his son is deathly ill he comes to realize he loves him more than he hates him. And right at the end he meets up with an efficient put together female doctor and there is an implication that maybe they will have a thingy-thing later.

          Also, a fight scene! I love Prithvi fight scenes, and this film was tragically low on them.

          On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 7:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I shocked myself by really liking him with Isha Talwar in Ranam. A lot of it was her character. And her height. But it still worked. Oh, also Rima Kallingal (sp?) in City of God. Otherwise though, you are right, has to be Parvathy. Maybe I need to watch the happy bits of Koode again. Well, “happier” bits of Koode.

          On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 7:34 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Haven’t watched Ranam but other than that I was going with heroines in his recent movies. Not one of them had enough presence or even enough of a role to make an impact. Better that they die off. How were things with Madonna in Brother’s Day?Would love to see him opposite someone like Sobhita or Anushka. If only he let go off the fixation with super natural& dark themes.

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          • Madonna got short changed in Brother’s Day. Her character was kind of interesting, but there was almost no romance or moments between them. I haven’t seen a lot of his recent movies partly because I am so sick of the horror/thriller thing. Oh! Bhavana! She was really good with him in Ivide, I would watch more of that.

            On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 8:23 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. First, thanks for reviewing this. It gave me an excuse to get Hotstar for a month because I can’t find it anywhere else. 🙂

    I agree that this movie felt like the ideas were too big for the scriptwriter and director to pull off. One disagreement is that I felt like Ava’s part was pretty fun and meaty. The actress got to act a range of stuff, with some layers and complex motivations. And Prithvi was actually acting against her, a real person–the only CGI stuff were her eyes and when she got all smoky. I agree that the filmmakers were sloppy with the consequences of the comet. I did enjoy the stuff like the crank shaft cars and the phonograph.

    I liked the ambiguous ending–the shit is scary whether it’s real or we make it happen to ourselves. I didn’t like the fact that old professor dude 1. thinks he’s qualified to diagnose and treat whatever’s going on with Albert, and 2. believes that Albert has assaulted a bunch of people and killed or hidden his own son, but prof dude gives Albert another day to finish up his biz before prof dude calls the cops. Like, WTH? And the stuff the poor kid goes through, for seven years, and then during the comet is hard to watch. I won’t re-watch for that reason.

    The movie I thought of most while watching this was The Babadook. It goes into the ambivalence that parents feel toward kids, especially difficult kids or kids with special needs, in a very disturbing way. It also has a monster that may or may not be the parent’s (in this case a Mom’s) anger, disgust, hatred for their kid (also a son). Essie Davis, our beloved Ms. Fisher, does a much better job than Prithvi at being affectionate and loving toward her son while also harboring dark feelings and thoughts toward him. And the monster is much scarier in The Babadook.

    I really enjoyed Ezra–even though it consists almost entirely of recycled 60s/70s horror movie tropes. I think it was made more carefully though, by someone who is a real fan of the genre. In a similar way to how Jordan Peele taps into familiar classic horror tropes in Get Out and Us–though Peele is a brilliant writer and director, so I’m not comparing the overall impact of Ezra to either of those.

    I eat up these Prithvi template movies with a spoon. I’ll definitely be watching Adam Joan again even though it shares similar weaknesses with 9. But it does have Bhavana in it, and she and Prithvi have good chemistry as antagonists. I hope he keeps doing different things too though, mixed in. I hope he and Murali Gopy go full Dan Brown/Da Vinci Code with the Lucifer sequel. 🙂

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    • I would also have liked more consideration for the poor kid’s perspective. We saw him with the monster, but we didn’t get as much as I would have liked about his struggles his whole life with this emotionally distant parent. It’s hard with child actors, but at the very least the lab assistant could have spoken for him more and more. Or Prakash Raj could have taken longer to explain to Prithvi how his son has been terrorized not just during these 9 days but his whole life.

      Tying in to your complaints about Prakash Raj (professor dude), it would have been nice to have more sense of their isolation in terms of resolving the situation. It wasn’t that anyone at any point said “we should call the police…oh wait, because of the massive global lack of electricity the police are overwhelmed and unreachable”. That would have added an interesting tension, and brought on the feeling of urgency in Prithvi figuring out what was going on inside his mind because there wasn’t going to be anyone from the outside coming to stop him.

      Looking back on it, I think I enjoyed Ezra more than this movie too. It was just filmed in a tighter fashion, the story built logically, and the moments of spooky atmosphere were actually spooky.

      On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 12:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I did like Divya’s character and agree it would have been good to have more of her and the kid and/or more of her and Prithvi.

        No disrespect meant for Prakash Raj btw. He did great with what he was given. I’m sure he’s been in millions of things. 🙂

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        • You ready to really fall in love with Prakash? He spoke out against the BJP and has been blacklisted for the past couple of years because of it. This kind of role is really far beneath him, but it’s where he can find work right now.

          Here he is being young and romantic with Tabu:

          On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 2:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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