Cast: Joju George, Chemban Jose Vinod, Nyla Usha
Nirakkoottu. Katha Ituvare. Vannu Kandu Keezhadakki. These are three of the seven films Joshiy directed way back in 1985. Flash forward to 34 years later and we get Porinju Mariam Jose by the same director (the "Directed by Joshiy" title, weirdly, gave me the goosebumps), expect that this film is set in 1985. It's not unusual for films to use dialogues from older films, posters and songs to establish a particular period and Porinju… is no different. So I inspected every frame of this film with the meticulousness of a detective to discover some sort of self referentiality, either in the form of a 'Poomane' playing in the radio or to spot the poster of, say, Mammotty's Onningu Vannengil adorning the walls of a tea shop…because Joshiy's films are as omnipresent to the 80's as disco.
But sadly, the film geek finds no such luck here. Of course, we get our fair share of disco references, including Mithunda's homeboy, a character named 'Disco Babu'. We get the local church band rocking tunes like 'Dum Maro Dum', 'Arey Deewano' and 'Disco Dancer' too. We also get a protagonist, Jose (Cheman Vinod), who is a major Kamal Haasan fan. I had a lot of fun in that scene in which a drunk Jose gets all emotional narrating the climax of Moondram Pirai to his very worried mother. We then get a scene set in a theatre in which a 1985 Kamal film is playing. Any guesses which one? Hint: he plays a double role in it.
It's these details and its many pop cultural references that make the initial portions of Porinju Mariam Jose a certain kind of fun. The film begins promisingly enough establishing the relationship of childhood friends Porinju (Joju George), Mariam (Nyla Usha) and Jose (Chemban Vinod), which is in equal parts romance as well as bromance. An inherent class divide too is evident given the status of the much wealthier Mariam and this makes it difficult for Porinju and Mariam to get married.
The film also gets Mariam to behave like the typical Joshiy Film Hero™. She is rich, independent and gutsy and also very, very Christian. She also likes her brandy neat and her beedi borrowed. But does that make her a progressive female character? Not at all, because her entire fate remains sealed in the hands of either her father or Porinju. Because Porinju is the real Joshiy hero of this film. Of course he's bulkier than the Mammotty of the 80's or the Suresh Gopi of the 90's but the basic beats of the character remains the same; the darling of the masses, saviour of the downtrodden, smoker of many cigarettes…you get the picture.
Which makes things worse because this film has a way of losing its specificity with each passing scene. We get another powerless priest, another corrupt cop and another reckless rowdy. But the biggest damage is done by Prince (Rahul Madhav) the film's main villain. 'What if we write a villain that looked and behaved like Rajesh Khanna'…this seems to have been the brief behind the character. But the effect on screen is comical. There are scenes where he hits on Mariam, while calling her 'chechi', which are supposed to make you cringe. Of course, we do end up cringing but not in the way the film intended. An ineffective villain isn't something we've not seen before but the damage here is far more because the central emotion that drives this film is fear. So we've really got a problem in our hands when all you feel like doing when you see the villain is pull his cheeks.
We also get a couple of bathroom breaks for songs and twists we can see from kilometres and kilometres away. The film tries to substitute flavour for substance. Which is a shame because the performances of the three leads are what keeps the film going. Despite the flaws of this film, these three really make for some interesting casting. But that alone cannot really save what is a painfully generic film. Maybe in the effort to set a film in the eighties the makers forgot that the audience is now living in 2019.