Writer and Director: George Kora
Cast: Sharafudheen, Meenakshi Raveendran, Johny Antony, Asha Madathil Sreekanth, George Kora and Althaf Salim.
Duration: 120 minutes
Available in: Theatres
1. Fans of Ted Lasso were excited when the first look of Sharafudheen’s Tholvi FC was out, for it looked like a desi take on the American sitcom. However, this underdog drama is much more than a story of a misfit school football team. It follows a family crumbling under pressure, presented with mushiness that dysfunctional family dramas, a relatively new sub-genre of feel-good entertainers, demand. Tholvi FC follows the Kuruvila family of four, as they try to regain their state of normalcy, by dealing with their personal demons and crises, all while following their hearts. There is a truckload of faux optimism here, but of a very different kind, off the football field.
2. The film follows two brothers — one struggling to run an incompetently managed children’s football team and another, an unsuccessful businessman owning a cafe. Their father loses his money on a bad crypto investment and is kicked out for his lazy, jobless lifestyle while their mother is an aspiring writer; her dream novel’s fifth draft gets rejected rather embarrassingly by the same publishers again. These individual strands come together to varying degrees of effectiveness. But with not much at stake, the film leaves a sour aftertaste.
3. This is George Kora’s sophomore outing as a filmmaker, after the critically acclaimed Thirike (2021), which he co-directed with Sam Xavier and played the lead role in. The film that dealt with the efforts of a brother trying to reunite with his estranged younger sibling with Down syndrome too had a similarly soothing narrative strategy. And the thematic thread of the two siblings at the centre seems to have spilled over to this film, albeit in a less effective manner. In Tholvi FC, the football sequences featuring the children never really matter and are just convenient placeholders, shown to be incidental to the main plot. Even a tepid character moment comes too late.
4. There seem to be recurring visual and tonal devices used to present a rose-tinted version of humanity's darkest moments, where the most dense emotions are undercut by throwaway goofiness and simplified life lessons. There are also jarring efforts to address women’s issues and empowerment that come off as being laughably silly in its execution. Even one of the side characters, a tomboyish girl, is somehow added to the already suffocating idea tank and the novelty fizzles out midway as she is abandoned as just another person with a problematic family history.
5. The filmmaking is oddly reminiscent of the aesthetics mostly adopted in soapy TV shows, but the film never loses its narrative momentum, thanks to its snappy pacing. The jokes are largely hit-and-miss but the honesty of certain moments stays afloat even when there are uneven tonal shifts.
6. Tholvi FC tries to be too many things at once: an estranged family drama, a campy underdog sports flick and a candy floss entertainer that examines and deconstructs some familiar notions of the family unit. However, the innate corniness in the writing holds back the film and its well-meaning intentions. There are moments when the performances elevate even the most mediocrely staged scenes but the actors are left with little to no depth beyond casual one-liners to get a few laughs.
7. Sharafudheen is cast against type and is asked to underplay an already wafer-thin part. Even though the actor is in fine form here, the film fails to ground him as a living, breathing person, and his character rather comes across as a mishmash of stereotypes. George Kora too gets a fairly one-note part that is childlike and beyond reproach, but the actor’s earlier on-screen parts too have been guilty of not giving him any interiority other than being a vessel for harmless naivete.
8. Johny Anthony seems to be the only one who rises above the written word, with his brilliantly judged performance that integrates pathos and irreverence in equal measures, without for once going overboard. He delivers some finely tuned moments that lend much credibility to his character, a humiliated father who embarks on a journey of self-discovery. He embraces the silly, goofy energy of the Kuruvila household and steers the peak moments in the screenplay.
9. The mother (played by Asha Madathil Sreeknath) gets the short end of the deal, as her role takes a backseat and the abrupt inclusion of a resolution to her arc, about her dream novel feels like an afterthought. But Asha comes up with ways to make the fissures in the screenplay less evident. A climatic chunk featuring a disturbing sequence involving a child too gets shortchanged and is intercut with less serious, massy character reversals that get reduced to a quick solution.
10. Having said all that, Tholvi FC is never tiresome, nor does its ideas overstay its welcome. The film feels like a mellowed-down, simplified iteration of a better-judged dysfunctional family drama with lesser stakes and more heart. The film is the sort of heartfelt portrait of a family falling apart as it seems held together by sheer means of a hopeful, widely optimistic worldview. There is an inherent pleasure in following these odd people around in their world of constant stasis, where you can rest assured that everyone will walk away learning a thing or two as they are bound to be happy for eternity in each other’s company.