Director: Arun Gopy
Available in: Theatres
Duration: 150 minutes
Unlike other Malayalam films that cast North Indians heroines for little reason except for star power, there seems to some rhyme and a lot of reason in the way Bandra uses Tammannah. Not only is the film actually about its heroine but it’s also a meta movie that talks about a particular Hindi movie heroine. It’s also a film that begins with a wannabe filmmaker (Mamta Mohandas) trying to make her first film. After working as an assistant for a long period, she’s being advised by a star to think different and come up with an original idea that is different from the regular mass formula that culminates in an “open ending”, with a “possible sequel”. The setup is fresh and surprising and Bandra is hardly the movie you went in expecting.
This filmmaker chances upon a memory that could lead to her first screenplay. As she’s seated in a cafe, she looks up at an apartment building that is infamous for an ex-starlet’s suicide and that’s what sets the ball rolling for her to dig deeper. Given that the movie is set in Bandra, this incident brings to mind old news articles and conspiracy theories that led to Divya Bharti’s death after she fell from her building at the age of 19. Bandra’s early 90’s setting further adds to this conspiracy theory, giving the film a shade of eery realism of what may have happened back then.
But the tone is hardly that of a film like Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback (1983), the KG George classic that traced the life of a starlet that makes it big and then loses it all. The backstory of Tara Janaki (a real and affecting Tamannaah) is just one part of the movie with the majority of it being told from the eyes of a very unreliable drunk narrator named “Mirchi” (Kalabhavan Shajon). What makes his story even more ambiguous is how he will only speak in favour of his old friend, full-time family man and part-time assassin Aala (Dileep).
Despite this mafia-meets-film world meeting point, the film’s best surprises appear when it’s in the zone of a movie like Notting Hill (1999). There’s a little bit of magic in the way Tara lands up in Aala’s Kerala home as he’s dancing to one of her songs playing on TV. Decades of Tamannaah’s stardom contributes to this “vision” as a seemingly ordinary guy welcomes a “real” star into his seemingly ordinary home. She is in search of refuge and solace, away from her controlling momager. All he can offer her is protection, comfort and the anonymity of regular living.
This stretch makes for lovely surprises like how a cup of tea is shared between the two as a king-size hoarding of Tara’s stares down at the couple, unbeknownst to the world around them. It is here that Dileep’s Aala remains a regular, vulnerable guy, with limitations and real-world problems. So when the film abandons it’s Kerala setting to move across to 90’s Bombay, the film is meant to feel like a little guy, trying to be seen in a big city.
The film I was more interested in is the one that was about Aala struggling to help Tara mount her magnum opus, a Padmavat clone that could cost Rs.10 crore in 90’s money. It appears as though this is the film the makers too envisioned, until it dawned upon them the idea to squeeze a gangster saga into it. With this decision, it goes into the same zone as Gautham Menon’s failed Enai Noki Paayum Thotta (2019). The regular everyman is made to do the extraordinary but the film does this in the silliest way possible — to give him a dangerous past, again, like Baashaa (1995).
Which is where things start going wrong for Bandra. Instead of Aala having to run from pillar to post to come up with huge amounts of money to keep this production afloat, he “goes back” to a life of crime, almost like a contract killer who comes out of retirement. There’s a convenience in the way everything feels so easy for Aala to go back to this life too. So when he’s short of Rs 2 crore, he seeks out the only person with bucketloads of money, a severe disability and a major revenge motive. This convenience becomes a joke when even this man’s revenge plan is somehow coincidentally linked to Tara’s life, almost as though all the problems in Bombay are linked to one bad guy.
This is where you miss the clarity with which much of the first half went by. Even when you’re forced to believe that a major heroine could land up in a regular dude’s party pad, the screenplay did more than enough to plug all holes and make sure we buy into it. None of that seems relevant when the film switches from a meta drama to full-fledged hero worship. This dilutes the soul of the innocent Aala-Tara love story, oddly skewing the film in favour of Aala’s antics.
Still, the movie remains fairly engaging because you still want to see what Mamta’s character will do with the film she has worked on. This too ends rather predictably, helped in large parts by Sam CS’s booming score. We’ve seen the same ending before and you’ve likely seen it coming, but given how the movie-within-the-movie was narrated by a drunkard named Mirchi, that too after a bottle or two, there’s a lot of fun to be had in analysing what really happened to Tara. With an open ending that leaves room for a sequel, you may sit there scratching your head thinking about how Tara really died. Given the fact this film was made by the same person who made Ramaleela (2017), the hero needn’t be the saint we thought he was.