One of the reasons that explain Joshiy’s longevity as director even four decades after he made his first movie is that he was never a writer-director. He chose to work with the most happening writers of the time to create a filmography that includes some of Malayalam cinema’s biggest hits. From Pappanamkodu Lakshmanan to Kaloor Dennis, from Dennis Joseph to SN Swamy, from Lohithadas to Padmarajan, Joshiy has made films with almost every major screenwriter in the industry.
This meant that his films would naturally change/evolve each time he chose to work with a new writer, and that was the case with Lelam too, the monstrous hit that resulted from his first collaboration with star writer Renji Panicker.
This was followed by Pathram, again with Suresh Gopi, a film with so much hype that it released in Ernakulam’s Saritha, Savitha and Sangeeta theatres on the same day. The magic was recreated again, and the film went on to become one of the biggest hits of 1999. The Joshiy-Renji Panicker duo had struck gold twice, and this could only mean moving on to a film with bigger stakes and, of course, a bigger star. Film magazines of the time wrote about this new Mammootty-Joshiy project as the biggest-ever Malayalam film, at least in terms of budget. The numbers floating around pitted the film’s budget at over Rs. 5 crore, with some even quoting double-digit figures. But, the production phase of this film wasn’t something one would call smooth. It was always the film that was being shot, the release of which no one was really sure of. All the momentum from the two previous hits and the hype generated by some of the earlier photos from the sets fizzled as the film kept taking longer to release.
When Dubai finally released in 2001, almost unexpectedly, it felt like a whisper instead of the roar it meant to be. The theatrical performance of the film, to put it mildly, was a disaster. But, it wasn’t a film everyone watched and hated; strangely, it was a film no one bothered to watch in the first place. But, that’s until the film found a second life on television. In the years that followed, Dubai became standard programming during every major festival. But, there was a catch. Watching Dubai on TV meant doing nothing else on that day. Without exaggerating, you could start watching the movie in the morning after a clean shave. By the time the film ends, with the blades of a helicopter chopping off the villain’s head, you would have grown a full beard. The film’s original length was a whopping three-hour 18 minutes, which turned even longer thanks to the insufferably-long advertisement breaks that were a bane during festive season.
If you still managed to power through, you’d think the film wasn’t half bad. I, for one, have always found certain aspects of the film fascinating. For instance, Victor Sebastian, Cochin Haneefa’s sinfully-underrated negative character that saw him reprising shades from his roles in Sibi Malayil’s Sagara Sangamam and Kamal Haasan-starrer Mahanadi. Which is sad, because this character was so much more powerful that film’s main villain, played by Nirmal Pandey, who just shouts his lines through the film. Biju Menon’s Kiran Cherian Pothan too was an interesting presence even though his eventual fall was too predictable. Apart from these characters, the film also had some great songs by Vidyasagar and one fun action sequence.
But, the point of watching this film isn’t to really look for anything deeply meaningful. Because, Dubai has some serious street cred if you think of it as a guilty pleasure movie. So, let’s choose to ignore how ridiculous the whole army backstory was in the larger scheme of things and how Mammootty’s character was named, erm, Major Ravi. Let’s also choose to ignore the sheer pomp that would masquerade as dialoguebaazi at that point; so much so that Mammootty’s character would explain the greatness of Malayalam to a white man while speaking to him IN Malayalam.
Let’s look at more pressing issues instead. If someone were to make a list of films based purely on how good Mammootty looked in them, Dubai surely has to make it to the top five. It was also a very ‘cool’ film. Back when Malayalam film heroes could only afford to make their entries in Mercs and Land Cruisers, Dubai gave us Mammootty getting off a chopper. And, when his character needs to go on a ‘business trip’ to Europe, we got a Malayalam film hero who could actually afford a private jet.
Beyond the cosmetics, this film did a damn good job of selling what Malayalis would call the ‘Dubai Dream’. It propagated the idea that one could reach a place without a penny in the pocket, but still work hard enough to become a ‘business magnate’ like Ravi Mammen did in Dubai. If Dubai was all about expectations, Mammootty’s own Pathemari was reality.
So, if you’ve got a lot of extra hours to spare, give this film another chance, because Dubai is, perhaps, the most watchable among the films that make the long list of Malayalam cinema’s biggest flops.
Is there a flop you’ve loved? Mention in comments