Mammootty's Munnariyippu: Why it is at once terrific and terrible

I was moved watching Munnariyippu, cinematographer Venu’s second directorial venture.

It shocked me at many levels more so because after Dhaya, which sadly enough now finds repeat value for its lame comedy on Asianet’s ‘time-pass’ capsules, my expectations from Venu were zilch.

Also getting to watch it only on DVD the prejudices had already set in; just as there were passionate lovers of the movie there were equally vehemant critics.

Two, I have been very circumspect of literary writers turning to the screen. Case in point: Santhosh Echikkanam. Great lines and intelligent potshots do not make a movie and all that the new age writers have been offering is a bag full of pretence.

Sure enough the film starts on that same note. An editor’s party, a policeman’s contempt for media and ignorance of freelancing, the said editor’s sermon on good writing and good food (all it needed was a line on wine and it would have been the TVR Shenoy adda) all set the stage for the so-called intellectual middleclass of Kerala. Add to it an aged ‘old world’ editor played by, who else, Joy Mathew and the picture is set.

I now know for a fact that if indie filmmakers have a star in the cast he will be presented with the least fuss. So it is that Mammootty makes his appearance almost like a jolt as Raghavan, convicted for double homicide.

With this rather puffed up setting the film moves to its core – of Anjali, a freelance (and naturally struggling) journalist trying to wing a book on the zen-philosophical jottings of Raghavan.

While for the rest of the film we only see Anjali coercing, pleading, threatening to Raghavan to write, here the film also hits a potent high.

Although I could never quite believe why Anjali could not have cooked up the story or even asked him to narrate the story or further more do a more elaborate background check than meeting his advocate and mom-in-law and spin her own piece, the film gets its conviction from two actors – yes Mammootty and Aparna.

Mammootty sidesteps all his star baggage and proves he can be terrific when the right character comes along. But on another level, Munnariyippu also works because of his stardom and image. If it were any other actor without an image issue, the film would have fell flat. So, let us just say, this is perfect casting for a Malayalam audience who knows the actor. But would it work before a stranger remote audience, well that is the challenge.

And then there is Aparna. What a fantastic portayal – as the slightly scheming yet humane journalist. Her character with all the different subtexts is a bingo by writer Unni.

I was moved more so for the philosophical overtures – of Raghavan observing that whoever comes in the way of one’s freedom must be removed and of Prithviraj, playing Anjali’s fiance pointing out that if sonething or someone just doesn’t give you peace, move away.

Caught between these indeed is Anjali’s predicament. And Unni just marvels in his writing with this as the fundamental premise (as I saw it).

The film has a lovely moment- the sweet connect between Raghavan and a delivery boy. When asked who Che Guevara is, pointing to the picture on his t-shirt, he retorts – “he is a big leader of DYFI.” Classic!

Munnariyippu has its baggage of pretence but as a director and writer’s craft, this is truly creative excellence.

I, for one, am now a huge fan of Venu and Unni. Keep going!

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