Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Roshan Matthew
Director: Mahesh Natayanan
An Indian film that unfolds entirely through computer and phone screens was always around the corner. The pandemic-induced lockdown just accelerated its arrival. Characters are always restricted to the space around their computer, within the purview of their phone network, or under the radar of a surveillance device in C U Soon, a Malayalam language film written, directed and virtually shot by editor-filmmaker Mahesh Narayanan.
The audience’s perception of the three lead characters, Jimmy (Roshan Mathew), Anu (Darshana Rajendran) and Kevin (Fahadh Faasil), is always mediated by screens of laptops and phones. At one point, we watch the characters from the PoV of a CCTV camera.
Narayanan executes this formal experiment with great control. The film uses the electronic devices in familiar ways, without making the mediation of the screen come across as gimmicky. Kevin works in a multinational cyber security company. The night shifts and long working hours have rendered him sleep-deprived, devoid of a life away from the computer screen.
His cousin, Jimmy, who works with a bank in Dubai as a client executive, spends his day interacting with his clients over the phone and chatting/face-timing with his family and friends. He is one of those people whose life is almost entirely dependent on the internet, whose real and virtual personalities aren’t very different from each other. He meets Anu, a young Malayali woman, on Tinder, develops an emotional bond with her in a short span of time, and decides to marry her. However, when the green light on her end is switched off, he feels like a stranger, completely in the dark about her.
In the first act, the film gets the audience hooked to the habits of Jimmy, the geometry of Kevin’s room and the mysterious confines of Anu’s life. Narayanan uses simple details, like the many chat boxes on Kevin’s screen and the unannounced group video conferences Jimmy drags Anu into, to tell us about the characters’ personality. It is with so much smoothness he punctuates the narrative with the dramatic turn of events. In the final moments, when the dots are connected and the big picture revealed, you would want to refresh your memory and see the clues he had subtly dropped everywhere.
But even if we keep this central trope aside, C U Soon is a fantastic thriller, one of the best genre films in Malayalam that identifies and uses the frailties and strengths of human nature to build and enhance tension in the narrative. Digital tools have changed the way we interact with each other. But the factors that dictate the nature of our relationships and digital personalities remain the same.
Jimmy’s romantic feelings for Anu and his limited understanding of society predominates his interpretation of her situation. Like all human beings, he sees what he chooses to see. For him, a good boy from a god-fearing, upper-middle-class household, whose mother has an overwhelming presence in his life (even on his email ID), the world is in black and white. One of the cleverest things Narayanan does in the film is that he gives Jimmy, a seemingly run-of-the-mill character, a capacity to think independently.
Similarly, rather than using Kevin as a Sherlock Holmes digging into the digital vaults and using his exceptional analytical skills to untangle the crisis his cousin is in, Narayanan etches a brilliant character arc for him. When we first meet Kevin, he isn’t in his elements. He is under the impression that his boss, Sanjana, with whom he has a casual sexual relationship, is sidelining him at the job. He is irritable and physically exhausted. His initial interactions with Jimmy and his mother are brief and aloof. Gradually, he starts to assume the larger role in the narrative, transforming into an empathetic figure through whose eyes we see Anu and Dubai’s immigrants in a new light.
C U Soon also makes an interesting commentary of the strange times we are living in, physically distanced from each other yet brought together by social networking platforms where we unload our emotional baggage and biases. In a television news footage about sex rackets, you see the faces of men blurred while the women get no such protection. An instance of the virtual world mirroring the hierarchies and injustices of the real world, both built/overseen by men for men.
The narrative isn’t without loopholes. Why doesn’t Anu, who sends every painful detail of her life in Dubai to her sister through Facebook messenger and plans an escape through Tinder, contact the police? It isn’t clear how Jimmy manages to track down Jacob. But thanks to the film’s ability to keep the audience invested in the characters’ emotions, these ambiguities don’t stand out.
The casting choices are on point. Fahadh Faasil waltzes through the film as Kevin, a nerd who knows what he wants, who has shades of the characters the actor played in films such as Take Off. Darshana Rajendran, an actress who had been limited to inconsequential supporting roles in Malayalam, delivers an exceptional performance as the mysterious figure at the centre of the film. A true delight in close-up shots! She plays with the audience’s sense of judgement by spilling Anu’s inner turmoils in a measured fashion, never revealing who she really is. Gopi Sunder’s background score is incessant but mellow. It gives a context and a character to the chatbox conversations.
But, by far, the real star is Mahesh Narayanan, the director-editor behind the clever screenplay and the taut narrative that keeps the viewer on edge. He ensures that C U Soon has an identity independent of the fact that it is a product of the limitations placed by the circumstances.
The C U Soon review is a Silverscreen India original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.