Director: Shankar Ramakrishnan
Cast: Mammootty, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Ahaana Krishna
A few minutes into the film a lady and two gentlemen are sitting opposite a spotlessly white Kurta-clad Prithviraj who stares through his thick black rimmed glasses, with a ghost of a smirk on his face. He is the founder of a special school called School of Joy that promises to overhaul the educational system. The lady doesn’t hide her glee as she says— “more than anything else I am fascinated to know more about that one man behind this, the one who doesn’t trumpet himself on social media, the silent crusader.” A little after the first half is when they introduce the film’s trump card of a cameo, again with another bombast of a line— “Meet the man who is somewhere between intelligence and madness, an incarnation called…” Dialogues, especially for the starry cameos are mostly a ridiculous mishmash of weighty philosophies, that would perhaps find resonance in an old Renji Panicker or Ranjith films. But then for someone who has trained under director Ranjith, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Pathinettam Padi, that also marks writer Sankar Ramakrishnan’s directorial debut, is about an age-old rivalry between a government school (Model Boys school) and a high-flying private school and the subsequent coming-of-age stories of its students.
There are far too many characters in the film, all chaotic, lacking depth and backstories. The private versus government school depictions are a bag of clichés. While the former is represented by rich, weed smoking boys, beautiful snooty girls and their bizarre pool parties, the government boys are impoverished, dressed in grubby uniforms and are prone to regular fights. From the beginning, there is very less clarity as to why these schools are rivals in the first place. All we are shown are muddy unprovoked slow-motion fights in football grounds. The actual reason comes much later.
The lead characters in each school are sketched without much originality or lucidity. The leader of the Model Boys’ School gang is Ayyappan, an angry young man who comes from a broken home, but his narrative is woefully inconsistent. There is a brief infatuation with a girl from the private school that is not explored, his turbulent relationship with his police officer dad (Nandu) is also left halfway, making it difficult for us to invest in his story. And we are still wondering where the anger and bitterness comes from for the model schoolboys. The leader of the private school boys, Aswin, is even more contrived, with a love interest, a weakly written bond between the lad and his young English professor, Joy, a half-hearted love story and an elder sister who is also a journalist. All their classmates are unmemorable and hackneyed.
The private school bunch are especially one-note, with their formidable hairstyles, ridiculous English accents besides being nasty. While the government boys while good-hearted are unnaturally aggressive and depraved. Their conversations often come across like they are going over their own heads. Ramakrishnan brings in Marxism, a problematic educational system and student drug abuse but none of it gets the desired results.
He is more self-indulgent with the cameos and some of the adult characters. There is Joy, Aswin’s school professor (a 2.0 version of Mohanlal’s alpha male hero), with his pretentious swag and unconvincing arc. He has a lady love, Annie (Ahaana Krishna) who is a like a breath of fresh air though one isn’t sure why they chose to add grey strands to the 23-year-old actor and make her look old and wise as she shares screen with a much older Prithviraj.
Considering the early part of the film is set in the 90s (that is not convincingly staged), the carelessness in the production design is unpardonable. The school pool party has kids wearing clothes very obviously from 2019. Women really don’t figure in the larger narrative, except for Annie who is there for a brief time. There is a silly dance number, as part of the pool party, with the camera struggling to find the most objectionable angles to capture Saniya Iyyappan who looks like a little girl trying hard to be sexy.
It’s a film dotted with cameos and all are fatalities of the writer’s bombast. Be it the badly etched cameos of Arya (adult Ayyappan) who has this brief stretch as an army man on a mission and it seemed like another film altogether, Unni Mukundan (whose role is blurred and confusing) and Prithviraj (he was a smiling statue) who looked like he wasn’t sure about the lines he was saying. While Mammootty who has an extended cameo strangely looks out-of-place in the milieu, with his amber tinted, pony-tailed hair, woollen stoles and kurtas. And enough scenes simply to stretch their star presence. But then one can probably take heart in the fact that cameos were the film’s smallest troubles.