Cast: Harshita Gaur, Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam, Prashanti Charuolingah
Director: Vishwaksen Naidu
More than anything else, Falaknuma Das is a tribute to the Old City’s walled beauty and its colourful people. Our films, even though many of them use Charminar as their backdrop, rarely ever try to look at it and its people intimately. Our heroes pick their fights—the narrow lanes make for great tracking—and villains—it suits the ‘otherness’ narrative—from there and move on. This film wants to change that. It looks at the milieu from the inside out and that makes all the difference. The humongous Ganeshas waiting for their celebration week, the houses with huge verandas but small rooms, and the pesky pigeons perpetually prepared for flight lend the film a tone that’s authentic and organic. Even though the original story—by Chemban Vinod Jose—is about another city and another people, it still works, proving once again that good stories are almost always versatile and adaptable.
Falknuma Das, as the name suggests, revolves around a hotheaded man named Das and the group he is a part of. The film tracks his growth as a human being by taking his loves and losses into account, while also giving us a glimpse into the lives of the people around him. When Das decides to get into the meat business, along with his team, things start to unravel and spiral out of control. After that, it’s all about the team and its head, Paandu, trying to rein in the loose ends and whether they succeed to do so or not becomes the story.
Vishwaksen, the film’s director, knows how to work an audience. He is not interested in people who’ve already seen the original and are loyal to it. Rather he wants to talk to a people that are starving to see themselves represented—people who have been tired of watching themselves occupy secondary spaces, young men with rugged edges and questionable impulses. So, if he makes a few changes—the father needs to die because the mother needs to be the one asking for forgiveness on behalf of her son, the “hero” needs more space/elevation than he was allowed in the original, and he needs to be more vengeful and stubborn than Pepe—it is only to serve that purpose. That is probably why he chooses swear words over food analogies, and showing something over subtly alluding to it. And after watching the film in a packed theatre with teenagers who are greatly amused by bad words, I can say he seems to know what he is doing. [My only grouse is this: how can he take sole credit for the screenplay, when the film is a faithful adaptation of someone else’s work?]
Coming to the characters, Lijo’s Pepe is a man who is impulsive, but soft in an understated manner—his body language suggests violence, but there is nothing but kindness and doubt in his eyes. Vishwak’s Das, on the other hand, is an angry man throughout. The actor does justice when the character needs to be deadpan and seething with rage, but fails when he needs to be vulnerable and emotional. Tharun plays Saidhal, a police officer well suited for his people, with great ease and recklessness. But the film belongs to Uttej, who plays Paandu. I am watching him play a full- fledged role after a while and I can’t understand why he isn’t given more opportunities. His character is that of an older man who can’t seem to grow up fully, so he moves with young men, but knows how to turn himself into a shield when his men are in trouble. Uttej gets the protective yet immature group leader’s vibe perfectly.
The women in the film are fine for the roles they are given, except for Zoya (Saloni Mishra)—no local narrative of ours is complete without a North Indian heroine. Lichi, in the original, adds meaning to the dark parts of the film by being a woman who knows life enough to understand Pepe and his mistakes. Zoya, on the other hand, is not a well-written character and the actor who plays her ruins it further with her inability to emote. The lack of chemistry between her and Das makes for an ending that’s far from satisfying.
Cinematography by Vidya Sagar stands out as an absolute winner—the way he lights a frame and the people in it needs special mention as well. While the aerial shots of the meat markets and the forests are stunning to look at, the way his camera maneuvers itself into a fly on the wall while traversing the lanes of Falaknuma is marvellous to watch. The fight sequence that takes place between Das and someone surrounded by veiled Ganeshas is beautiful to watch. Adding to this visual is Vivek Sagar’s eclectic music, which, when used properly, makes a scene pulsate with raw energy. The art department plays a crucial role in bringing together this world of aged-buildings and ageless people. Ravi Teja manages to create a seamless experience with his editing, despite the film’s fluidity and rapid movement. That said, the screenplay does falter at places, rushing and missing a few important beats while moving from one scene to another.
Angamaly Dairies, directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, chooses to be a sensory and immersive experience. It uses a place’s food and sounds to pull the audience towards it and create a feeling of oneness. Falaknuma Das decides to namedrop to create a communal atmosphere. It constantly chooses the low-hanging fruit, while sacrificing nuance and quirk that made the original what it is. The bones don’t crack just as well, the salon guy doesn’t get to tell a story, the train shot and the long shot in the end do not have the same momentum, and no “Karthave ori puff oney” moment.
For a film that doesn’t even change the food ordered by the leads in a theater—coffee and popcorn—I did not understand its reluctance to be just as good. Then again, I don’t think Vishwaksen wants to compete with the original, neither does he wants to win over the original’s fanbase. He looked for a story that can help him with telling his own and he found it here. And, for what it is worth, it is an enjoyable experience once you bring yourself to forget the source material.