Cast: Kalidas Jayaram, Aishwarya Lekshmi
Director: Midhun Manuel Thomas
Argentina Fans Kaattoorkadavu is definitely a star vehicle. But, who are the superstars? Lionel Messi, Andres Escobar, Neymar and Christiano Ronaldo.
Kaattoorkadavu in Thrissur district is where the film unfolds. It could be well have been called an Argentina fanboy’s tribute to his favourite football icons. Instead of Mangalassery Neelakandans and Sethurama Iyers—superhero roles immortalised by Mohanlal and Mammootty—footballers are the superstars in this unassuming village. So, you have a towering Messi cutout surveying the entire Kaattoorkadavu; a homage by the hero of the film built to irk his rivals, the Brazil and Germany fans.
AFK recreates the lively buzz during the FIFA World Cup in all its pomp and glory. The flavours that make up the first day of a successful Malayalam commercial film are stitched together with the footage of this frenzied atmosphere. Fans here bathe Maradona’s and Messi’s pictures with milk and watch the games together. The scenes give us an adrenaline rush that we get out of a juicy World Cup final.
It all begins with a flashback to a gloomy night of 1994. The hero’s father rushes to the church to beg the priest to conduct a ritual after the death of late Columbian player, Andres Escobar. He has been shot dead for a tragic self-goal. The scene establishes the craziness of the film’s characters and warns us of more eccentricity. The son grows up to be as obsessed about football as him, and so does the entire neighbourhood, including his love interest, Mehru played by a graceful Aishwarya Lekshmi, the daughter of a left-leaning, liberal man.
Escobar is almost a family member in their house, with his photo hanging on the wall. The son, Vipinan, played by a charming Kalidas, fantasises the late football player visiting him in his room, the school football ground and even in Dubai. There are some warm sequences shared by the hero and the footballer; the director could have conceived the friendship a little more imaginatively. Unfortunately, one finds it similar to Pranchiyettan And The Saint in which an ordinary rich man from Thrissur makes friends with a saint. Especially, the segment where the footballer acts as a confidante of the hero, counseling him on life and love, is strikingly reminiscent of Ranjith’s Mammootty starrer.
The film is full of predictable moments—the hero develops feelings for the feisty and smart Mehru; they face hurdles in their quiet love story as they belong to different religions. All these are carried out through a familiar arc of mushy songs, playful stunts and comedy.
The humour track trivialises an otherwise sensitive and interesting subject. Malayalam cinema must think of new ways of handling comedy. Burdening the sidekick with the task of entertaining the audience gets too tedious. Instead, if the director could let the situation talk for humour to develop organically, we will be spared of some jarring, unoriginal moments. “Maradonaye patti oraksharam mindaruthu” (Don’t you dare utter a word about Maradona) mouthed by the hero’s friend was one such. It’s a reference to “Polandine patti oraksharam mindaruthu” (Don’t you dare utter a word about Poland), an iconic line from Srinivasan-scripted political satire Sandesham. The latter made fun of rivalry between political parties of Kerala, while AFK does the same about football fan clubs.
The hero’s personal journey is juxtaposed with visuals of the iconic games of World Cups from 2002 to 2018. The problematic part is how these are tied to the life of the small town residents of Kaattoorkadavu. Here, you find lacunae in scripting. Minus the football moments, you get quite a clichéd storyline—a hero trying to make it big in Dubai to save his family from financial crisis and win his love.
It is refreshing to see a different kind of a heroine. Mehru is independent, well-read and has a strong political consciousness. She is at the forefront of the fan fights and does not buckle down in front of men. However, the film remains largely about the hero’s journey. The heroine is just a motif to realise it.
As a fall-out of the new generation wave, Malayalam cinema of late has been reflecting a certain hyper-locality. The modern-day reel stories do not revolve around the familiar cultural terrains of Thiruvananthapuram and Ottappalam or the modern spaces like Kochi, but lesser represented suburbs of Idukki, Kasargodu, Kattappana, and Angamaly. The stories of these films carry specific cultural markers of these areas like the dialect, the cuisine and the group rivalries. In AFK too, you can sense the Kaattoorkadavu locality through the diction, references to institutions like Koodalmanikyam Temple and the tension in the society about inter-caste marriages. Instead of tapping into these sensitive elements, the film chooses to treat them superficially to just entertain the audience with a series of “funny” one-liners, wedding songs and nostalgia-evoking scenes from the FIFA tournaments. It would have been a lovely venture if the filmmaker realised it takes more than the footage of football matches and fan frenzy to make a moving film themed on football and how it impacts ordinary lives.