Nivin Pauly, Dhanya Balakrishna and Nayanthara in Love, Action Drama

The keyword the makers were going for while creating the look or ‘feel’ of Dhyan Sreenivasan’s debut film seems to have been ‘rich’ or ‘glossy’. Every shot looks like it has been painstakingly lit and produced to create the effect of a display window of a very upmarket brand in a very upmarket mall. And, this look isn’t limited to just the obvious rom-comy settings such as weddings, coffee shops, pubs and the protagonists’ apartment. Even mundane, everyday locations have been overproduced to maintain the film’s picture-postcard quality. Like that shot in LAD that’s set outside a police station. On closer look, you notice how Nivin Pauly is placed at the centre of two police cars one can spot in the background. Which isn’t unusual, but the siren lights of both cars are kept on, even though they’re just parked there, because the makers want the colour of two blinking blue lights to add to the frame. In a sense, these lights are doing exactly what those toys did in the same DOP’s (Jomon T John) ‘Muthuchippi’ from Thattathin Marayathu.

Naturally, this devotion to create beauty in every frame applies to how Nayanthara has been shot as well. I can’t think of another recent film in which she looked so beautiful…so perfect. If Nayanthara’s skin could glow any more, you’d need prescription sunglasses to be able to see her. In certain scenes, I found myself wondering what her skin routine must be instead of paying attention to what her character was saying. But, that distraction, apparently, is by design; because there’s not a lot going in terms of her characterisation.

So, when we’re first introduced to her character Shobha, she’s being described as a ‘feminist’. But this description isn’t to portray her as a champion of equality; it’s meant to sound like a warning. We’re shown that she runs an NGO and we’re told that she runs a business. Yet, why doesn’t this independence and strength apply to her love story? Of all the people in all the gin joints, why does she fall in love with Dinesh (Nivin Pauly), an alcoholic man-child who has the maturity of a five-year old? Maybe, she wants to ‘fix’ him, like it is suggested in one of the conversations with her father. Maybe, she sees something in him that we, the audience, obviously can’t. Or, maybe, she really is after his money, which seems to be the only desirable thing he has a lot of.

We’re all up for flawed characters, but should it be this hard to spot that one redeeming quality in someone, especially when the entire film requires us to be rooting for their love? Dinesh is not only disrespectful to his own family and Shobha’s, but he’s also unable to fit in any of Shobha’s dreams and plans into his own. Even the incident that shows Shobha’s changing feelings for him, when he decides to cook for her friends, is based on a lie (he didn’t actually cook). So, what we’re essentially buying into is Dinesh tricking her into falling in love, and not the real deal. In fact, the only instance when we understand what the writer is trying to do with Dinesh’s characterisation is when he himself spells it out — ‘Inferiority Complex’. Oh, that’s what it was. ‘Insecurity’. Oh, that’s what he was trying.

From Kerala, the movie also changes base to Chennai when Dinesh follows Shobha, using techniques that can only be described as stalking. Like other films made by Vineeth Srinivasan and friends that have always featured hat tips to the films of Gautham Vasudev Menon, Love Action Drama has a scene where Dinesh cites Vaaranam Aayiram as the reason behind a temporary fad to join the Army. So, even when Dinesh chooses to go on a road trip to clear his mind, or find himself, or whatever, we feel the film’s aspirations to become a GVM film. Love Action Drama even looks like one of them, but sadly has the soul of an M Rajesh film.

In no recent Malayalam movie have I seen so many scenes, all fuelled by alcohol, devoted solely around the idea of female-bashing. It gets worse when even dollops of homophobia are thrown in this mix. The performances don’t help either. Nivin Pauly repeats a lot of his signature self-deprecating humour and his sidekick Aju Varghese shouts and howls through a role that would be considered loud, even for commercial Telugu cinema.

The only thing that keeps this film watchable is Shaan Rahman’s peppy music and the aforementioned visuals. But, that’s like going to a restaurant and saying you liked it because the cushions were comfortable. What’s scarier is how you catch yourself thinking about what’s going to happen to Shobha and her imminent doom, even when the film wants you to think that it’s going to be a happily ever after.

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