Cast: Mohanlal, Shraddha Srinath, Siddique
Director: B Unnikrishnan
It no longer requires any skill or instinct to predict the exact markings of Udaykrishna’s mass-movie formula. Right from the start, your brain has a way of breaking down the script, the same way he perhaps breaks it down before writing. So you know how the first fifteen minutes will be used only for the big intro scene, just like how it suddenly picks up speed because it’s time for the big interval twist. Even the way the lead character is created comes with pre-set rules to repeat the massive success he’s tasted in the past.
It’s quite clever really to come up with this cookie cutter and if the first half of Aarattu is an any indication, it still kind of works. Its protagonist Neyyatinkara Gopan (Mohanlal) is a concoction of Udaykrishna’s heroes from hits past. Gopan goes by Ganabhushanam Neyyatinkara Gopan, which means that his love for classical music, either Carnatic or Hindustani, is a lot like how Mammmootty’s character in Thuruppugulan loves Bharatanatyam or how Raja in Pokkiri Raaja loves to speak in English. Of course, the idea for this character too comes from the part of his brain that co-wrote Twenty 20, an amalgamation of all the roles that fit Mohanlal’s mass persona. Add to this a Trivandrum accent and it’s as good as the many Mammootty superhits from the last decade or earlier.
The only novelty really is in the way Mohanlal (and the film) is reasonably self-aware about it’s spoof-like intentions. So the first half plays out like a game of spot-the-reference with a barrage of clues testing your devotion for Mohanlal. Some of these are not-so-subtle like the 2255 license plate, the repeated use of themes from Sagar Alias Jacky, Manichitrathazhu and Chitram. Others are even more obvious like a long 5-minute gag involving Gopan singing lines from ‘Thamara Poovil’ from Chandralekha to make a bedridden Indrans start walking again. Throw in the easy jokes that write themselves when you make Gopan’s house the Varikkassery Mana and the spoof comes alive early on.
But the most economical thing is the way Aaraattu recycles the basic plot-line of Vietnam Colony—that of a clever outsider entering a strange new place for a real-estate related scam. Instead of shifting people from a tight settlement, here it’s got more to do with filling up agricultural land so it can be sold for twice the price. Like the plot of most films within the mass film genre, it’s only as important as the next big fight scene it can accommodates or the next big villain it throws at us.
But in Aaraattu there really was nothing else to begin with expect for the self-referential comedy and Mohanlal’s unhinged performance. The late Nedumudi Venu gets to play the most Nedumudi Venu role ever, just like how the female lead (Shraddha Srinath) vanishes in a sea of “bold cotton-saree-wearing female character” cliches. Which means that apart from Mohanlal’s character, everyone else is simply playing a stereotype.
Add to this a small ocean of lewd double-meaning jokes and another lot to tackle Malayalam cinema’s major political correctness “endemic” and even the half-decent first half becomes challenging to sit thorough. And then you get the second half. With long-time watchers of the writer’s cinema, you sense the long tragic flashback from miles away, but what’s shocking here is how it’s made with zero conviction. It’s like the makers have outsourced these portions to juniormost assistants with a tight deadline and a strict restriction on fresh ideas.
All the momentum from that fun Mohanlal performance is lost and it only gets worse when the action shifts to a concert venue and a ridiculous last act. Without the consistently of a film like Shylock, which got the tone just right for a self-ware mass film that laughs at itself, Aaraattu just ends up as a silly film that’s neither silly enough nor serious enough.