Saturday, May 21, 2011
#123: Kerala Cafe
This is the first vernacular movie being reviewed on this blog though there's no specific reason why I chose Kerala Cafe for such a privilege if you will. But the movie does have significance for the Malayalam industry in that it is the first anthology movie from Mollywood. Malayali movies have a rich legacy and the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shaji N. Karun are revered as legends in their own right not just in India but abroad as well. In recent years, Malayali movies have become a regular feature at the National Awards. Since 2000, five Malayali movies have won Best Film honors- more than any other language- a clear indicator that Bengal can no longer claim the throne of best regional cinema state. In that light, Kerala Cafe comes across as an interesting experiment from God's own country.
Kerala Cafe is a compilation of movies from some of the state's most successful directors - including the likes of Shaji Kailas, Revathy, Shyamaprasad and Lal Jose amongst others. It doesn't matter if the names don't ring a bell but you will recall Revathy as Nana Patekar's doting wife from Ab Tak Chappan. What's important to note is that these are all seasoned names. What the movie has also done well is getting some of the state's best actors playing short roles. As a result, I suspect the curiosity amongst the audience to see what a star like Mammooty would've done in a cameo role might supersede the need for a decent storyline. Kerala Cafe for about two-thirds of the movie seems to bank on that theory as some of the stories are plainer than vanilla.
At 139 minutes, it packs ten stories with no specific theme or connection though there is an element that binds them all and that is Kerala Cafe, a restaurant. The protagonists of these stories are not connected to each other yet in a very simple manner are shown towards the end to be bound by this restaurant. This extremely effective cohesion apart, (remember there were ten different directors and they had to all agree on how to make this work) there are only a couple of other stories that are worthy of a recommendation. These being a hard-hitting Makal (meaning Daughter by Revathy) and the stark Puram Kazchakal (meaning 'Views from a Window 'by Lal Jose). Understandably actors like Dileep, Mammooty and Sreenivasan are more effective in their roles than the others.
On the whole, Kerala Cafe is a good place to start if you want to sample the current pulse of Malayalam movies. It does no justice to the legacy that I wrote about in the beginning but it's also more than your median masala Malayalam movie.