The Mammootty movie insists that you pay attention for 150 minutes, promising a massive payoff. That is not quite delivered.
Cast: Mammootty, Bindu Panicker, Grace Antony, Sharafudheen, Jagadish, Sanju Sivram
Director: Nissam Basheer
Comic books are for children.
They are at a stage where their attention is easily diverted, and they are not yet accustomed to reading too much. A short story with pictures is more likely to grab their interest. A British writer called Alan Moore disagreed. He was making a living writing for comics but decided there was no reason that his imagination should be shackled because of the medium. He was so ahead of the pack that many of his works are considered masterpieces, which kind of goes against the definition of a masterpiece. Moore’s most acclaimed work was a spectacular subversion of the superhero trope. Watchmen redefined what the limitation of a comic book was.
Comic books are not just for children.
The most famous of the flawed superheroes in Watchmen was Rorschach. A vigilante who deals in absolutes, Rorschach is defined by his mask which is reminiscent of the inkblots in the Rorschach test. Writer Sameer Abdul and director Nissam Basheer have taken a lot of inspiration from Watchmen. If they claim otherwise, it is possibly because they are scared of being sued by DC Comics.
It is a rainy night in a small village somewhere in the less habited areas of Kerala. A man walks into a police station and asks them to find his pregnant wife. They were in an accident and when he regained consciousness, she had disappeared. The search continues for a few days and slowly loses steam. The wife seems to have disappeared, probably dragged away by a tiger or a leopard. But there doesn’t seem to be any tracks.
While the Police lose hope, the man Luke Antony (Mammootty) continues his search. Only Balan (Mani Shornur) still supports his quest. But is Balan just a well-wisher? We get close to Balan’s family – his wife Seetha (Bindu Panickkar), widowed daughter-in-law Sujatha (Grace Antony), younger son Anil (Sanju Sivram) and son-in-law Shashankan (Kottayam Nazeer). Balans’s elder son Dileep had died in an accident a couple of years before. Adding to the merry group is Satheeshan (Sharafudheen), a young man who had been once enamoured with Sujatha, and Ashraf (Jagadish), a cop who does not exactly believe all is what it looks like. Over two-and-a-half hours we learn more about Luke and his wife and why he came to that place.
What went wrong
Director Basheer has only one other directorial credit and screenwriter Sameer has none. Well, no one told them that, it seems. They set out to craft a movie that blows your mind. To hell with inexperience. They had a cracker of a story and trusted their audience to keep up. The head is the most important organ in Rorschach, sometimes way too literally. But that was not enough. They were tired of seeing good Malayalam movies not travelling wide because of production values. Rorschach should change that. As I said, no one warned them against dreaming big.
They got Mammootty on board. Forty years in the industry and 70 on the planet; yet if you get Mammootty, many of your challenges will diminish. The Megastar puts in another committed performance. One that is so good that it almost makes you forget that the character is supposed to be much younger. The scenes with his wife Sofie (Ira Noor) leave a bitter taste in your mouth as she is obviously too young. Bheeshma Parvam, from earlier this year, had Mammootty doing some crazy physical stunts, but it had embraced him as an elder statesman. Much as one wants to see the thespian in this role, one also wishes they had added a few years to his character.
My 16-year-old who had to be dragged to see the movie said that Seetha was like the lead. She was right. If there is a single reason Rorschach should exist, I would say it is because they managed to give Bindu Panicker this role. For years she has been typecast as the comic relief. Here she gets a role that transforms her into an able foil for the lead actor. And the best part, you realise that only after the credits have rolled and you think about what you saw. If Malayalam cinema is not able to give her more roles to showcase her ability, then we are the losers.
Another standout is Grace Anthony. She plays the character you empathise with the most. Starting as a meek widow trying to make ends meet while preserving her husband’s reputation, she slowly transforms into a strong woman who wants to shuffle the hand she has been dealt with. Veteran comedian Jagadish goes against type in a role that should have been much more. There are many newcomers in different roles and every single one of them is up to the task.
Mammootty, who produced the film under his production company, has spared no expense. He wanted the movie to look and feel like an international film. The technical team does not have legends among them, but they are all up to the task. Production design plays a big role as most of the movie takes place within an unfinished house.
A special call-out to composer Midhun Mukundan who is making his Malayalam debut. It is rare that a Malayalam movie has English songs playing in the background. But, boy, do they work. Sung by Midhun himself, the songs give an ethereal quality to the film. The lyrics don’t always make sense, but they work.
The main problem with Rorschach is that of the most ambitious movies. It tries to do too much. The script varies from a whodunnit to a revenge drama to a supernatural thriller to many more. There are subplots, like the whole Ammu section, that could have been easily dispensed with. The twists are one too many and flirts with the boundary of jarring.
It is evident that the makers are massive Mammootty fans. They need their idol to do some stunts. Unfortunately, the story suffers when that happens. Mammootty has a long line of films that pandered to his fan following. But the same fans have also embraced enough of his movies where he was anything but heroic. But I guess some considerations should have been made for the enormous budget.
There is a line in Watchmen that the character Rorschach says. “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me.” Rorschach, the movie insists that you pay attention for 150 minutes, promising a massive payoff. That is not quite delivered. But at no point during those 150 minutes did I want to look anywhere but the screen. I was locked in there with Rorschach.