Cast: Jayaram, Meera Jasmine, Sreenivasan, Devika Sanjay, Naslen, Innocent, Sidhique
Director: Sathyan Anthikad
There's a crowd you see for Sathyan Anthikad's movies that you'll probably never see during any other film, especially on the first day. The screen I watched Makal in was filled with faces for whom this was as good as the first day of Avatar II or a big Vijay film. For instance, the row I sat in was filled with a family who were speaking to each other in Konkani. Two rows in front was an elderly couple who were at least 70 years old, and to my right were two older men who took the lift up to the multiplex because they were in crutches. Few directors command such a loyal, eclectic following for so long and it manages your expectations in a manner that you're aware that the film is for an audience that wants different things from a theatre-going experience.
This adds to the preparation you've made anyway to realign any sort of aesthetic expectations. Barring a handful, Sathyan Anthikad's films have traditionally been flat in both its making and staging and you're not expecting pure cinema. And when you're settling down to review it, you're also pinching yourself when you're tempted to use phrases like television serial or melodramatic to describe parts of it. Which means that there's a lot of preempting that goes into watching his movies, which start hours before the signature opening credits that's as bland as cooked wood.
Even with all this effort to prepare for a particular kind of film you know is meant for a particular kind of audience, Makal is spectacularly difficult to sit through. For one, the ideas in Dr.Iqbal Kuttipuram's don't pop like it once used to. It simply feels like a tired elaboration of a father-daughter relationship without any specifics. So when you're still able to break down his older films like Niram (can two people from the opposite sex remain best friends?) or Arabikatha (what if a hardcore communist moves to a capitalist monarchy like UAE?) into compelling one-liners, that's not the case anymore. With Makal, it remains extremely generic, even though we've already seen films like Peranbu, developing the same threat into a classic with a specific story about one very specific father and his daughter.
Even ordinary films like Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol handled one aspect of a father-daughter relationship with way more originality that Makal does. Another issue one faces with Kuttipuram's scripts like the recent Meow is the manner in which he uses an outsider to "teach" the lead characters an important life lesson. In Meow, this was the refugee who needed a place a stay and in Makal it's a Kannadiga who comes out of nowhere. I guess the point of introducing such a man into this family is to have the added angle of not one but two fathers trying to redeem themselves for their daughters. But the tonal shift is so sudden that it just cannot be pulled off without a few clues earlier on.
This is the same shortsightedness one feels with how Meera Jasmine's character gets a lifelong dream very suddenly. What was until then conveyed to us a woman comfortable and content in her domesticity is then quickly written out to be a woman with a plan and a point to prove. But when the scene actually plays out, it feels like an explosion of exposition to serve the plot.
Somewhere under all of this is the idea of an NRI father who has to now handle her teenage daughter. Because he's lived his life away, they are practically strangers and there's a certain amount tension that could have resulted in comedy or drama when the arrangement is such, but the overall flatness is even more evident in the film's writing.
A 15 minute sub-plot involves actor Sreenivasan playing himself. But the effect he has on the overall plot could have been conveyed with one scene. It is also a scene that reminds you of how Jayaram visits Lohithadas in Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal and you sense the feeling of déjà vu yet again when actor Naslen disguises himself as a Bengali to work in Jayaram's small factory. A scene where Jayaram's character and his father visit a Namboodiri man sticks out without any point or purpose, just like how a woman with mental health issues is being portrayed like it used to be twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years ago.
What makes the staging even flatter is how they've switched to sync sound. It's as though this added element makes the film appear even more cardboard-like, as though we're witnessing a rehearsal camp of a temple festival drama troupe. The emotional scenes seem wooden and even the comedy scenes that usually work feels forced and inorganic. Barring a nice scene at the start with her daughter, even Meera Jasmine doesn't get much to do in this bland drama. All of this contributes to one of the weakest Sathyan Anthikad films of recent years, quite in line with Puthiya Theerangal, Snehaveedu and Kadha Thudarunnu. Given the number of mobile phones that were out during the last twenty minutes at the hall and it appears to not have connected to even the hardcore fanbase of this director.