A few days ago, when he was asked about the criticisms against his big-budget Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, the superstar ground his teeth and smirked. The Malayali audience does not respect movies and artists anymore, he lamented.
Aaraattu, however, tells you something else; that the viewer is alright. Those who need a wake-up call are the cluster in Malayalam cinema who believe that the now-extinct preposterous alpha male-centric movies that the likes of Mohanlal created in the 90s were ingenious works of art that should be treasured.
Aaraattu, directed by B Unnikrishnan and written by Udaykrishna, is less a movie than a museum that exhibits the relics of the 90s. At its centre is an overblown hero Neyyattinkara Gopan, played by Mohanlal, who can do pretty much every stunt Minnal Murali could do. And he is not bounded by the moral code or the good heart Tovino’s superhero possessed. Gopan is a familiar figure. A shameless and witless long-talker. He can’t greet a woman without dropping a sexual innuendo, and he knows the who’s who of the circles of power. Arrest him, he would incite a dozen phone calls from the higher-ups to the policeman’s phone. Ignore him, he would perform the severest tomfoolery to draw your attention.
The film does not have a neatly laid out plot but an outline of a story. The running time of 170-minutes is filled with short skit-like sequences and scenes that don’t figure much in the big picture. It begins like Mayaavi (2004), Rafi Mecartin’s superhit comedy, where a man arrives in a village as the villain’s accomplice and later, switches sides to help the guileless villagers. When Mathai (Vijayaraghavan), a multi-millionaire loan shark of a Palakkad village lands in a legal soup, unable to convert his acres of paddy field into a residential plot, he hires a stranger, Neyyattinkara Gopan, to get him out of the tangle. Once the man arrives, the film transforms into a collage of mediocre comic skits the stars perform in the yearly award gala. It makes references to Mohanlal’s popular films from the 80s and 90s, sometimes multiple times in a single scene.
The film has a horde of supporting actors who diligently revolve around the superstar, responding to his actions. The women, including Rachana Narayanankutty, who plays a government officer at the agriculture department and Shraddha Srinath, who plays a Revenue Divisional Officer, get a good wardrobe of beautiful sarees. They exist in the film to blush or fume at Gopan for something he said or to cheer him when he performs a heroic stunt. Indrans appears in a scene only to participate in an embarrassing parody of a Chandralekha scene, and Siddique delivers a phoney performance as a foolish cop. The greatest trick Unnikrishnan pulled in the film, and probably in his life, must have been to convince AR Rahman to make an appearance in Aaraattu, as himself.
Unnikrishnan, who earned a name as a critical thinker and writer in Malayalam cultural circles before he ventured into the film business, has, time and again, taken a potshot at the new progressive voices in the film industry such as WCC (Women in Cinema Collective). Such is his devotion to the cause that his last film, Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakkeel, starring Dileep, was about women who lie and men who fall victims to false cases of sexual harassment. In Aaraattu, he criticises the advocates of political correctness in Malayalam cinema. Perhaps instead of worrying about the changing narrative language of Malayalam cinema, Unnikrishnan should look into the film’s texture and staging of scenes. Aaraattu is shot without any grace, partly like a low-budget advertisement film. From songs and dialogue to production design, the film is an ordeal one must survive.
Aaraattu is not a movie made for critical dissection. The film, which has the tone of a TikTok video, functions like an inside joke shared among the superstar’s most loyal fans who would gladly take any bitter pill that he hands out. What must concern a sane spectator is the appalling career trajectory Mohanlal has chosen for himself. One of Kerala’s most treasured cultural figures, Mohanlal now argues against cinema’s stature as an art form. A brutal betrayal!
This Aaraattu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.