Director: Pradeep M Nair
Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Durga Krishna
Vibhu Puri’s 2015 drama, Hawaizaada, posited that a Maharashtrian took to the skies before the Wright brothers did. Earlier this year, Srikant Murali’s Aby told the story of a boy from Kerala whose only dream was to fly. Now, Pradeep M Nair comes up with his version of the I-want-to-build-a-plane story, Vimaanam (Aeroplane). The arc is the same: dream, get mocked, fail, face criticism, fail, succeed. But here, there’s an intense romance at the centre, between Venkidi (Prithviraj Sukumaran) and Janaki (the charming Durga Krishna). Imagine the star-crossed lovers from Ennu Ninte Moideen, but with rudders and propellers and a syrupy score (Gopi Sundar) determined to out-soar Venkidi’s aircraft. The result: two-and-a-half hours of narrative turbulence.
The screenplay is drably conventional, dotting the present with long, expository flashbacks. But the bigger problem in this story of an inventor is the utter lack of…. invention. There’s little surprise either in the flying track or the love triangle. (Saiju Kurup, playing Janaki’s suitor from Singapore, is stuck with one of the most laughably one-dimensional roles in recent memory.) You can predict every beat – except the out-of-the-blue stretch where Venkidi is asked if he has connections with terrorists. Say what? And after this bombshell is dropped, it never comes up again. Come to think of it, the film could have used a touch of the subversive. How much more interesting to think of Venkidi’s invention ending up in the wrong hands than more scenes like the one where he showers rose petals on Janaki while zooming over her house. I was just grateful to be spared the scene where he skywrites a love letter!
This is the kind of imagination that gives melodrama a bad name. Younger audiences scoff at this tone because it is reduced to inanity in the hands of so many of our writers and filmmakers. Melodrama isn’t just larger than life. It’s a heightened reality, and we find a much better instance of it in the bit where Venkidi brings Janaki “gifts” from his airborne voyage: a bit of cloud, a star, and so forth. Vimaanam wants to be both a love story and the story of a man who loves to fly – it never finds a balance. It might have helped if there were more moments along the way. I loved the touch of a grown-up Venkidi listening to Carnatic music in his car, the music his mother used to teach. But the film prefers the macro to the micro. Like Venkidi, it’s content with the bird’s eye view.
Among today’s younger stars, Prithviraj may be unique in that he chooses good ideas, things that sound terrific on paper, but the films turn out underwhelming because they aren’t directed well. (The other younger actors seem to gravitate to better, or at least edgier, filmmakers.) The pluses? The Meghakanavinu number, which plays out like a Broadway-style celebration in Venkidi’s workshop. The first time Venkidi succeeds in flying takes too long (like the rest of the film) and isn’t shaped as well as you’d like (like the rest of the film), but it’s exhilarating to see the reaction of Venkidi’s uncle (Sudheer Karamana), his partner-in-crime along with Pappa (a warm Alencier Ley Lopez). And the end made me mist up. These aren’t honestly earned tears, more a Pavlovian response to the situation from MT Vasudevan Nair’s Vanaprastham, where lovers are reunited briefly. Still, it’s something. When a film offers so little, you take what you get.
Watch the teaser of Vimaanam here: