Ittymaani: Made in China Review: Intermittently Funny, Until It Turns Into A Full-Blown PSA, Film Companion

Language: Malayalam

Cast: Mohanlal, KPAC Lalitha, Radhika Sarathkumar, Honey Rose

Director: Jibi Joju

When we’re introduced to Ittymaani (Mohanlal), he’s negotiating a deal with a doctor and the owner of a hospital. Ittymaani’s mother needs an operation to remove gallbladder stones and they’re demanding a largish sum to go ahead with it. But, Ittymaani isn’t asking for a handout or a discount on treatment; he doesn’t need it, because he runs a successful catering service and a fake goods business. What he’s actually interested in is getting his cut from the share of profits the hospital stands to make through his mother. But, it’s not just his mother; he’s just as good at making money off himself.

So, when it’s time for Ittymaani to finally get married, after 36 failed attempts, he wrangles with the broker to give him a portion of the dowry that’s coming to him anyway. Say what you will about Mohanlal’s legendary abilities to play morally ambiguous characters, of late, we only see him flexing those acting muscles in comedies.

Which is what makes the earlier portions of Ittymaani: Made In China a lot of fun. His performance here is unapologetically OTT, especially in scenes where he switches between Malayalam and Chinese. His multi-coloured shirts and his baby blue scooter are just as loud, further adding to the character that’s in equal parts shady and mischievous. To add to his “colourful” personality, the film also hints at an even shadier past when he was either a drug addict or an alcoholic, or both. The Made In China in the film’s title refers to where Ittymaani was born, even though his family shifted base to Kunnamkulam, which is after all, the fake goods capital of Kerala. Appropriately, that’s his line of business as well – he sells everything from adulterated cashew nuts to fake soap bars.

Yet, what makes him likeable is the way he looks after his mother Theeyamma (played by KPAC Lalitha). Ittymaani’s mother knows that her son is no saint, especially when it comes to matters of money, but she also knows that he’s always going to be there for her, come rain or shine. This is the opposite of what’s going on in the house of their neighbour Annamma (Radhika Sarathkumar). Despite having a lot more money and three children, Annamma’s house remains as empty on her husband’s death anniversary as it is during Christmas.

Which is when the film shifts from being a balls-out comedy to a more restrained family drama. Even the big interval twist is something you never see coming, and one feels the comedic possibilities are just endless given the situation. But it’s a shame to see where the film goes from there. The jokes become criminally one-note and all that wackiness from the film’s earlier portion start feeling like they were from some other movie. Characters and sub-plots start disappearing and the film takes a U-Turn to suddenly become moralistic, which is ironic given how tone-deaf this film actually is. Like how the character played by Dharmajan keeps referring to Annamma as a ‘1965 model Ambassador’. You’d ignore this had the film maintained the tone of the first half. But, in a film about loving and respecting older people, this feels particularly hypocritical. It’s much the same when he casually refers to the #MeToo movement in a sorry attempt at wordplay.

Yet, what’s worse is when the film literally starts to preach. This might have resonated, had the message itself been something we don’t already know, but here it plays out like a PSA which even Doordarshan would think twice before airing. Which is a shame, because you don’t know when you’ll get to see Mohanlal do something so hilariously excessive again. He gets an extremely funny scene with Siddique when he’s both crying and controlling his laughter at the same time, and this is sure to become part of a million memes in the future. It’s a scene that immediately takes us back to the real, authentic Mohanlal of the early 90’s. Sadly, this is just consolation in a film that has all the quality of a product made in Kunnamkulam.

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