Jude Dominic is like a fish in an aquarium. The world terrifies him, like the deep blue ocean. He doesn’t have a social filter; he takes words, things and people for exactly what they are. He doesn’t understand the fluidity of human emotions. Are people really happy when they are smiling? When they are shedding tears, does it mean that they are sad? So he takes refuge in numbers, their precision doesn’t confuse him. He lives on a rigid timetable; sets alarm for meals, has a fixed menu, and gets cranky when the arrangements change a little.
It’s around this oddball Shyamaprasad’s Hey Jude! is set. The film, written by Nirmal Sahadev and George Kanatt, falls somewhere between a fluffy feel-good drama and a sensitive coming of age tale; never really fitting into a box. The plot is character-driven, proceeding from the point-of-view of Jude (Nivin Pauly) who is surrounded by people who aren’t like him. We get scenes from his daily life that might seem mundane, like a bus ride to office. Jude is crammed in a corner seat, and when the bus gets crowded, he moves nervously towards the door. In another instance, he is having a plain lunch of a toasted bread sandwich, alone at a table in his office pantry. A group of colleagues come in, and hang out by the coffee machine. Jude is visibly intimidated by their presence. He shyly sits there, facing the wall and quietly finishing his lunch. For Jude, everyday is a painful struggle, and no one sees his wounds. And it just feels very real.
However, Shyamaprasad doesn’t reduce Jude’s tale to a sob-story. The way Jude deals with life, people and himself make for some excellent humorous moments. The starkest contrast to Jude is his father, Dominic (Siddique), an utterly practical man with a gift of gab. He runs an antique shop in Fort Kochi where the customers are mostly the white tourists, eager to discover the exotic east. When we see him first, he is coaxing a bunch of tourists to buy a carved metal conch. “This is the only piece available in India. There might be another one in London museum,” he tells them, and the camera moves to the bottom rack of a shelf beside him, and we see a dozen of the same piece. In a normal world, Dominic is just an ordinary man, dishing out harmless lies to make a living as a trader. But for Jude, who lacks a sense of hypocrisy, the man is a liar. The scenes involving the father and the son boast of some fantastic writing and acting, eliciting laugh at the right place. The actors, sure, were having a ball shooting those scenes, for you could see the supporting cast present in the frame candidly cracking up.
Jude, for the most part of the film, is portrayed as a geek. He is that kid who is likely to get bullied in a school because he isn’t really like other students. We later find out that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, but that doesn’t make a difference to this image. He wears well-pressed shirts, sports a pair of spectacles, and is obsessed with marine life. He is intelligent, and has photographic memory. Jude is subjected to unprovoked insult and unreasonable hatred. “I don’t understand big words, but I clearly see what his problem is. He is plain lazy!,” says his father who believes every person has the responsibility to be social and practical. Jude’s colleagues at a software company play pranks on him, possibly because they think he can cope with it like a normal person; forget and forgive them when they say ‘chill! we were just kidding’. If Jude is unable to understand social norms in spite of making earnest efforts, the people around him plainly refuse to make any effort to understand him.
The film, despite having its heart at the right place, does join the bullies in laughing at Jude at few instances. Like the scene where Jude’s family, while driving to Goa in an old Ambassador car, comes across a hitchhiker, George Kurien (Aju Varghese). The latter ends up opening a conversation with Jude about Pearl-Spot fish. A little while into the talk, Kurien turns exasperated, asks Dominic to stop the car, and jumps out, before screaming at Jude. It’s supposedly a funny scene, and Jude’s inability to loosen up becomes the butt of joke here.
The film has an excellent ensemble cast. Vijay Menon gets, probably, the best role in his career as Doctor Sebastian, a out-of-practice psychiatrist. The man is an affectionate single parent to Crystal/Cris (Trisha Krishnan), a singer who runs a beach-side cafe called Beatles. It is as though Jude was destined to walk into that space. The father-daughter duo live in the outhouse of a Goan bungalow that Dominic inherited from his deceased aunt. There is a beautiful little scene where Jude peeps through his bed-room window at night, to see the father and daughter drinking and singing, strumming a guitar, on the yard of the outhouse. It is through this window the duo comes closer to Jude. He is first curious, and later charmed by their life that seems so different from his. The arc of his relationship with Sebastian and Crystal is neatly paced and done. When he starts spending more and more time with them, it doesn’t look odd, but organic, for you know they have a lot in similar than what it might seem on the first glance.
If living with a mental illness seemed like a walk in the park in Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi where the protagonist’s recovery from depression was portrayed through shots of her running around and hugging trees, in Hey Jude!, the pain is life-like. Crystal’s bouts of outburst – especially the one scene set inside the cafeteria where she breaks a guitar and screams at her band-mates – are marvelously shot and edited. There is a scene where an angry Jude storms into her house to confront her on stealing his personal notes. They start yelling at each other, seldom pausing to listen to the other person, prompting an exhausted Sebastian to scream, “Oh my god, I have surrounded myself with nut cases!” It is not a misplaced insult or a joke. It takes a matured writer and director to stage a scene so delicate as this one, without losing the grip.
Nivin Pauly handles Jude carefully, making him into a person so dignified and honest. He barely goes over-board, almost never exaggerates his expressions, and manages to maintain a consistency in the performance. Thanks to Pauly, Jude isn’t a laughing stock, but a character whom the audience would want to root for. Trisha Krishnan is a formidable co-star with a mighty screen-presence. She looks real, like a person from the space where the film is set in. Singer Sayanora Philip has lent her voice for the actress, and it’s a fiery blend. In some instances, Sayanora’s voice even outperforms Trisha’s acting skills, stealing the thunder from everyone present in the frame. Gireesh Gangadharan’s cinematography isn’t flashy, although the film’s production design calls for pretty bohemian lights and frames. The visuals are beautiful and lucid.
Hey Jude is old-fashioned, but undeniably charming. It is a film Shyamaprasad can take immense pride in. He infuses his well-known sympathy for protagonists who are social misfits, and a sense of humour he never had a chance to flaunt before, in this film, and it has all come out in delightful colours. The film’s dialogues lack the pretension that has come to be a tiring feature of Shyamaprasad’s films, but are disarmingly casual and natural. It uses music as a metaphor for life. Unlike the usual life-affirming dramas, it doesn’t discount the harshness of reality. The best moments of the film unfold in intimate spaces – on the veranda of Sebastian’s house at night where he wraps Crystal in a blanket and holds her close, or in Jude’s messy bedroom where he pours his heart out to a camera for he doesn’t have real friends to listen to him. The movie, like the compassionate Sebastian, listens, witnesses and understands.
The Hey Jude 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.