Director: Alphonse Puthren
Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Nayanthara, Shammi Thilakan, Roshan Mathew
Call it the aftereffects of insurmountable hype, but the glee of watching an Alphonse Puthren movie begins even before the opening credits start rolling. It’s been six years since Premam released and the wait for a follow-up has been extremely long for anyone who refuses to vacate the world the classic was able to build. Right from the anti-smoking disclaimer in Lalu Alex’s voice to a somewhat special “special thanks”, we find ourselves transported right back to his world within a second. The shaky-by-design camerawork that appears to have been shot using gimbals, the burnt-out colours, reams of text we have to keep reading and a set of actors who appear to be right at home…it feels so good to be back in Alphonse’s Aluva, where you know everyone’s name.
This is a heartening feeling because it’s the signature of a director that’s making you feel this rather than the star power or cleverness of a marketing campaign (the film didn’t even have a proper trailer). If this sounds hyperbolic, just wait for the moment a butterfly makes an appearance for the first time. With cheers and whistles, you’d think Salman made an entry. We’re well and truly immersed in Gold by the time the insects, birds and squirrels fight for screen-space and by now, we’ve seen his films so many times that we speak his unique cinematic language.
This means that you’re paying very close attention when the focus shifts from butterflies to grasshoppers. In Premam, the butterflies remain an enchanting metaphor during George’s metamorphosis from a silly little boy to a logical, practical man. The butterflies appear in Gold too, but only during the stretches where the topic of love and marriage are explored. What the plot is actually interested in is the grasshopper, right from when it brings fortune to Joshi’s (Prithviraj) doorway in the form of an abandoned pickup-truck loaded with a boot full of Bluetooth speakers.
The luck the grasshopper brings home obviously has nothing to do with music. The gold is in what’s hidden beneath these speakers, instantly turning the film into a light heist thriller. The film’s narrative motor is powered by a conflict so basic and absurd that you’d think even a short film cannot be made with it. Yet Alphonse takes one simple MacGuffin and turns it into a nearly three-hour saga.
It really feels like a miracle when you realise how much they were able to do with this idea. When the strands click into place in the film’s best scenes, you feel like the director is a genius. At other times, when it becomes unbearably indulgent, you imagine how the director had to cash in on his Premam levels of credibility to get such a silly one-liner green-lit.
There are many techniques the film applies to pad up this non-idea. We get a whole bunch of characters, each appearing for a few minutes to manufacture the feeling that this event has unfurled a web of sub-plots that are complex and cohesive. Each of these characters come with strange names too like CI Pluto Augustine (remember Ukken Tintu from Neram) and a bad guy named Idea Shaji. At least for the first hour or so, we’re happy to give in to this indulgence. But after that, it doesn’t matter what you call these characters because they feel like one set of fools being replaced by another.
In principle, there’s a lot of fun to be had when all of the film’s inhabitants are idiots, but then even they should have something to be stupid about. In Gold, even the initial setup is based on something so shaky that you’re never really convinced that there’s even a conflict there. So when it begins with a truck blocking the entrance to Joshi’s house, you can think of a hundred things he should have tried before going to the cops. Why doesn’t he call people to push it to a more convenient place or even try towing it before doing exactly what the plot wants him to do?
What this does is leave us with questions right from the start, never allowing us to let the film’s intended absurdities take charge. Even when we move into these characters, it really is a hit and miss. So when you’re in the company of talented actors who really get the film’s tone (like an excellent Shammi Thilakan), you feel the film meeting its original vision. In other scenes, you feel the awkward energies of people who have no clue what they’re doing in this film. But even when the film’s pushed us far away from investing any kind of an emotion, we find traces of a real filmmaker taking charge.
A solid example of this is a complex sequence when Joshi has to move the very valuable cargo in his driveway right before the police get there. With a series of slo-mo shots, rewinds, colour changes and Rajesh Murugesan’s score going ballistic, there’s not another director who could have made the scene play out like the way he does. When seen as an individual piece of cinema, this scene is still extremely beautiful. But that’s a small 10 minute stretch in what’s otherwise hollow except for Alphonseisms. Besides the initial amusement, it all gets very tiring very soon. So you don’t care anymore when you notice how the film’s three main characters are named Joshiy, Shaji (like Kailas) and Unnikrishnan—all prominent mainstream directors. You also can't bother anymore when the grasshopper hops away to make space for a hundred ants that get together to enjoy the sweetness of a sugar cube. Gold’s making a point about human greed and how the selfless deserves all the gold in the world. But by then, you just want to get home to your own Bluetooth speaker to drown out the silliness.