It was not that long ago that I lamented the apparent demise of Sreenivasan's talent. To the discerning viewer, his steady descent into mediocrity has been not only been alarming, but also more than a little sad. But with Arabikatha, Sreenivasan proves that there are still avenues that he has not explored as an actor.
It has been a long time since Malayalam cinema has seen a good political movie. By 'good', I mean sensible movies that attempt to address real issues with a semblance of sense, not the ones where the so-called superstars spout pages of dialogue, often laced with expletives in multiple languages. To Venu Nagavalli's splendid 'Lal Salaam' and the Sathyan-Sreeni combo's delightful 'Sandesham', we can now add Lal Jose's 'Arabikatha' too.
'Cuba' Mukundan (Sreenivasan) is an earnest Communist party-worker , whose life is completely in tune with the ideologies preached by the party. His earnestness, however, ruffles the feathers of industrial bigwig Kunjunni (Jagathy, in yet another 'avatar') and upcoming part leader Karunan. Mukundan's naiveness makes him an easy target, and against his misgivings, he is forced to leave for Dubai. Arabikatha traces the journey of Mukundan from here on.
Dubai tests Mukundan in a way nothing in his hitherto life has prepared him for. Bourgeois CEOs call the shots here, and working / living conditions are pathetic. There is not much scope for protests either, as Mukundan finds out the hard way. Misled by friends, and cheated by the ones he comes to depend on, Mukundan learns the lessons of life the hard way. Three years later, the premature grey in Mukundan's moustache hints at the kind of hardships he has had to endure. A rather botched-up climax later, all's well that ends well, as they say.
Sreenivasan is the life and soul of this movie. There are the trademark digs at the Malayali's psyche, and a couple at the outdated ideologies of the Communist movement, yes. But what sets this performance apart from his latest ventures is that there is no attempt at buffoonery of any kind. Sreenivasan plays Mukundan straight, shorn of all his usual mannerisms, and comes out with what probably is a career-best performance. Toward the end, the amount of weariness and worldly wisdom he conveys is just right, and one can't help but root for the protagonist.
Lal Jose, along with Blessy, is one of the few filmmakers who's name carries with it the assurance of good cinema ('Rasikan' and 'Pattalam' were but minor aberrations, hopefully). He doesn't let one down here either. Great placement of scenes, a complete avoidance of slapstick comedy (though I wish he'd avoided Salim Kumar too, he's a misfit in the proceedings here), and most of all, the brilliance of casting Sreenivasan in the title role when a 'safe' choice like Jayaram / Dileep would have worked at the B.O too - all these aspects deserve praise of the highest order. Lal Jose is one of the few directors who's been successful in creating successfull and good commercial cinema without resorting to the 2 Ms, and he succeeds on all fronts here too. 'Arabikatha' is another feather in his cap.
Verdict: Eminently watchable.