Ranjith (along with Blessy, to a lesser extent) seems to view himself as the torchbearer of quality Malayalam cinema for the future – not that this is a bad thing; amongst execrable fare like “Alexander-The Great”, “Pappi Appacha” and “Pokkiriraja”, Ranjith’s recent films stand tall.
“Kerala Café” is a rare conceit for Malayalam cinema – a collection of short films by an ensemble of directors. The last time we saw several directors at the helm was for “Manichitrathazhu”, which delighted the masses and critics alike. Unfortunately “Kerala Café” is no “Manichitrathazhu”, but is nevertheless an interesting and brave attempt.
M.Padmakumar’s “Nostalgia” focuses on the hypocrisy of a Gulf expatriate (Dileep) who waxes eloquent on his homeland while outside the country, but can only find cause of complaints once in Kerala. Dileep pitches in with a decent performance, but the subject lets him down badly. Not the best way to begin a collection of short stories!
“Island Express” was weird – I need to watch this one again. It probably did not help that I watched this one after a couple of beers on a hot Chennai night! My apologies to writer-director Shankar Ramakrishnan, who has clearly put a lot of thought into over-complicating this short story!
With “Lalitham Hiranmayam”, Shaji Kailas proves beyond doubt that both Suresh Gopi and he are best suited to the loud, overbearing, abusive cop dramas that they have become famous for ever since “Ekalavyan” and “Commissioner”. Suresh Gopi has a perpetual muddled expression here, perhaps reflective of the director’s state of mind. The actresses do what they can to salvage this short film on the emotional consequences of adultery, but to no avail.
“Mritynjayam” shows all signs of a forced entry into this collection, perhaps to include the “horror” genre in this ensemble. While the director Uday gets the mood right, he falters in the selection of the plot, which is not fresh at all. Fazil's son looks a lot less effeminate here though, after his previous outing in "Kaiyyetha Doorathu".
“Happy Journey” by Anjali Menon is – thankfully - refreshing fare. It is a commentary on how easily the average man on the street can be scared with the mere mention of a bomb. Jagathy plays his role with aplomb. Anjali Menon – take a bow!
B.Unnikrishnan helms “Aviraamam”, which is a take on the effects of the economic recession on a family. The actors – Siddhique and Shweta share a warm camaraderie – rescue the weak plot. Moral of the story - one should not expect much from the director of “Madambi“, “IG” etc.
“Off-Season” from Shyamaprasad is once again a take on the economic recession, but an unexpectedly humorous one. Right from the opening scene (a laugh-out-loud motif of a recent Oscar-winner) to the “remixed” version of an eternal classic, this short film entertains. Suraaj is his usual loud, wise-cracking self, but eminently likeable for a pleasant change.
Anwar Rasheed directs the best short film of the collection - “Bridge”. This is one of those few times where I had the experience of watching an Indian (short) film of international quality. The director is scores visually, aesthetically, and – most importantly – conceptually. It would be a pity if Anwar Rasheed goes back to directing mindless potboilers like “Rajamanickyam”, “Chotta Mumbai” etc when he clearly has the potential to do so much more.
Revathy crafts “Makal” - a story of poverty and exploitation that is a tad manipulative, but nevertheless effective. The story begins (spoilers ahead) with the close-up of a waiter @ Kerala Café (which is the common denominator across all the stories, of course), who is then revealed to be a girl set up for adoption. The director manipulates the viewer into a sense of security, before taking the breath out of you by delivering a blow to the solar plexus.
Lal Jose’s “Puram Kazhchakal” ends “Kerala Café” with a flourish – the director just lets the actors (especially Mammootty) be, and cranks up the expectation levels before delivering a wholly unexpected, heart-touching finale.
Verdict: A laudable attempt. Watch it for “Bridge”, “Makal” and “Puram Kazhchakal”.