Martin Prakkat’s Charlie is a fairytale. Like Lewis Carroll’s rabbit, the film takes us to a Wonderland, where fantasy and magic take over the real and logical.
The film begins in a huge, decorated mansion, where a betrothal ceremony is underway. Tessa, the scion of the family, enters. People whisper from corners, “Here comes the crazy girl!”. A fairytale princess, bored with her life and to escape from an arranged marriage, Tessa elopes from her palatial house at night. She hitches a ride with strangers on the road, and lands up in Cochin. There, she comes across her bohemian prince – a man-child who was living in the heritage apartment she just rented. An artist herself, Tessa is charmed by the zany artefacts with which he filled the room. Her curiosity is aroused by an incomplete story he had sketched out in a book, and she embarks on a journey to find him. Initially, her motive is to hear the story’s ending. Gradually, it becomes a pursuit of love.
Charlie, according to scriptwriter Unni R, is the story of a man who drifts from one person to another, spreading love and kindness. He’s like the wind – hard to locate and hard to contain. The search takes Tessa to people who knew this man at some point. Characters appear, and shed pieces of information about Charlie (Dulquer Salman). In the first half of the film, he appears only through their anecdotes.
Some of these characters are more interesting than even the lead pair. For instance, Soubin Shahir is a thief, and unabashedly candid about his profession. An actor who can effortlessly handle humour, Shahir is a delight to watch. Another outstanding character is Kalpana, a prostitute. Comparisons are made between her and Mary Magdalene. The veteran actress’ portrayal of the role is both convincing and poignant.
There are no real people in this film. Every character comes with a coat of paint that separates them from the real world. Tessa’s family and friends think she’s crazy, because she no respect for social norms. But there’s nothing particularly rebellious about Tessa. Unless we count her sense of fashion. She comes across as just another rich kid, who wants to have fun and avoid a serious job. She arrives in Fort Cochin to learn music. She roams around wearing pretty, outlandish clothes (designed by Sameera Saneesh), strikes up conversations with fishermen, thieves, and other random strangers, and rents out a partially-dilapidated flat in a shady area.
Neither her loving brother not her overbearing mother comes looking for her. There is no worry, no concern about anything that usually concerns ordinary folk. Tessa travels to a faraway hill station, in search of a man known only through vague anecdotes. Nothing threatens her, though she is a woman, though she is by herself. Though she befriends Charlie’s father and friends, she never even hears the man-child’s real name, until he reveals it in the climax.
Charlie, a free-spirited man, spends his time travelling to exotic places like Rajasthan, Nepal, and North East India. According to his friends and acquaintances, all he wants in life is to spread happiness in others’ lives. There is no conflict in his perfect, smooth life. He has a father who gladly accepts his wayward lifestyle. What does he do for a living? The film doesn’t care about such worldly things. Yet, he’s rich enough to help a retired old military man run an old age home. A man says Charlie is an expert country-liquor brewer. He’s seen playing accomplice to a nomadic magician (an excellent Nasser). He can sketch and paint like magic. And he (guess what), can sing too! Here, we have a handsome, half-baked character who thrives on the romantic.
There are no real places. From Tessa’s rich Christian mansion to the rundown building where she rents a room – everything is decked up. When Tessa arrives in Fort Cochin, she is welcomed by dancing clowns and festive folk. The window of her rented apartment opens to a terrace, where colourfully dressed Qawwali singers perform every night. Every street, every house, is prettily lit up with serial bulbs and lanterns. Every frame is photogenic.
Kochi, till recently, was new-generation Malayalam film makers’ favourite location for gangster movies. It was Unni R who wrote in 2007, for Amal Neerad’s Big B, “Kochi pazhaya Kochi alla” (Kochi isn’t the same old place you were once used to). Now, in 2015, Unni R has gone back on this. The Kochi in Charlie is a beautiful place of good Samaritans.
And there is no real love. Nothing that can even pass for real love. Tessa’s interest in Charlie never rises beyond the realm of curiosity and infatuation. Charlie’s submission to Tessa is unconvincing. Interestingly, there is more depth in the relationship between Charlie and Kani (Aparna Gopinath) . Especially in a sequence where she tells him about how she had, at one point, decided to end her life.
With a huge fanbase and a number of projects in the pipeline, Dulquer looks confident on and off the screen. He tries hard to get Charlie right. However, his antics often border on the loud. Especially in scenes where Charlie unapologetically trespasses into people’s lives, and tries to charm them with his ‘carefree’ laughter and overly ‘friendly’ conversations. Parvathy looks chic, and her portrayal of Tessa is restrained in all the right ways. Gopi Sunder and Jomon T John carry the movie on their shoulders, every time Martin Prakkat and Unni R grope in the dark. Gopi Sunder’s music sets the perfect premise for the film, and Jomon’s camera pampers every object in the frame, and makes them look beautifully unreal. The single Akale stands out for its tranquil mood and picturisation.
Charlie has its moments – lovable, poignant and magical. But something, either the greasy make-up it wears or the lack of soul in the characters, pulls it back from being a magnum opus.
The Charlie 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.