Cast: Dileep, Mamta Mohandas, Priya Anand, Siddique
Director: B Unnikrishnan
Is it just me or is it becoming increasingly difficult to separate off-screen Dileep with the characters he now plays on screen? It’s not every day that we’re asked to overlook/ignore an ongoing criminal case against a film’s hero, but what makes it tougher to make the distinction is Dileep’s curious film choices ever since he was accused. If Ramaleela showed him to be a politician “wrongly” accused of planning a murder, the more complex Kammara Sambhavam gave us the gruesome and shady past of a man who is now being hailed a hero. Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel isn’t very different. Dileep plays a lawyer with a stammering issue who gets embroiled in a massively complicated conspiracy which has the entire police force and much of the media against him. There are multiple scenes which appear to mirror what we’ve seen in news channels in the recent past: media persons hounding him, a high-profile arrest, being coerced in the confession room and loads of time in courtrooms. Even the dialogues are unsettling. For instance, a line to female character roughly translates to “isn’t it your job to claim money after filing harassment charges against important people?”
But there’s one difference between Balan Vakeel and the two films that released before. Both the earlier films conceded a very dark shade of grey to the characters he was playing. With Balan Vakeel, he’s back to playing the flawless hero figure who can do no wrong. And the film becomes a lifeless bore because of that.
A movie with Dileep playing a man with a stammer would have meant a very different film a few years ago. I expected this film, too, to be a variation of Sound Thoma, where he played a man with a cleft lip. An in-form Dileep would have jumped at the possibility, given how stammering opens him up to cracking a million innuendos. In Balan Vakeel, he tries but very little, because the comic heavy lifting isn’t really his duty in this film. It falls on Aju Varghese and Siddique (who plays the hero’s pot-smoking father). And instead of comedic, Dileep’s character (Balan) is serious and brooding because he needs to use his intelligence, photographic memory and problem-solving skills to dig himself (and Mamta, who plays Anuradha) out of the mess.
Balan explains concepts like NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) while solving clues and when there’s a murder, we expect a procedural-like unraveling of the mystery. But each time he faces an obstacle, it’s never his brain that gets him out. It invariably leads to massive fight sequences and not once does he use any of the aforementioned qualities. And when a tricky situation demands that he find a missing woman, how lucky must he be to find her picture on his friend’s laptop as he sits at home when a friendly policeman has come to visit?
The film keeps showing us visuals of jigsaw puzzles and codes to tell (never show) us about the complexity of the case. But it’s just the writer patting his own back because we spot the twists from miles away. It’s the same with Dileep’s character as well. There’s always a character around, praising him and his abilities, but I guess that’s a necessary evil given how a stammering hero has no punch dialogues of his own.
Another factor that makes the film intolerable is Gopi Sundar’s OTT background score. It’s loud and exhausting, without a second of silence. It’s perhaps the music composer trying his best to hide the film’s shortcomings. But of all the mysteries the film pointed to, there’s only one I’m genuinely interested in solving…how does director Unnikrishnan keep getting films?