Manju Warrier at 43 is more dynamic on the screen than any actor, even those a decade younger than her, in Malayalam cinema at the moment. Within the movies she headlines, she creates her own little show that, often, turns out to be many times more entertaining than the former. In Jack N Jill, she plays Parvathy, a patient of schizophrenia, who, without her will, becomes the subject of an AI experiment conducted by Kesh (Kalidas Jayaram), a US-based scientist. The test transforms Parvathy into a superhero equipped with the best cognitive and combat skills. When she dances, laughs or fights the villains like a seasoned warrior, she submits herself to the camera without the slightest inhibition, one of the last true entertainers in Malayalam mainstream cinema. Say what you may, but Warrier is cutting new grounds in Malayalam cinema, reclaiming and developing an ancient wasteland where filmmakers and the audience dumped their junk, into a thriving space for women.
This waxing eloquent on Warrier’s performance is, by no means, a compliment for Jack N Jill. This fantasy-comedy, directed by renowned cinematographer and filmmaker Santosh Sivan, is a damp squib, possibly a project dead on arrival. The widespread criticism against the film must be that it does not look like a Santosh Sivan film. Where are Sivan’s famous fascinating compositions, frames dripping with delicious colours and lights, the building of atmospherics? The film has what the general viewers call the “video” look ﹣blunt and raw, resembling old home videos. However, this texture is not consistent throughout the film. There are fleeting parts where Sivan uses stark shadows and elaborate lighting.
Everything, from the cinematography and production design to the choice of actors, smells of absolute indifference. Nedumudi Venu plays a former soldier, the grandfather of Kesh. The house he lives in looks tacky, embellished with a poor riot of colours, not the kind of house a cinematographer as sharp as Sivan would pick, in a usual scenario.
Except for the lead actors, Manju Warrier, Kalidas Jayaram and Nedumudi Venu, everyone else looks out of place in this comedy. There is no logical explanation to why Shaylee Krishen, who plays a Kashmiri woman in a Malayali household, gets several close-ups. A young actor confined to eye-candy characters, we might never know if she is a good actor ﹣the word good might be stretching it too much ﹣or at least, a decent performer who would not make one want to turn off their screen. In Jack N Jill, she gazes in envy at other women getting close to the man of her desire, and fumes when he shows interest in them. The expression of love, including its most fleeting variety, deserves some flourish on the screen, and Sivan, who brought to screen the naive beauty of first love in Anathabhadram and Urumi, must certainly know that. The sight of Krishen awkwardly dancing to Malayalam folk tunes, accompanied by a man dressed like a lower-caste farmhand, whom she freely talks down upon, must be the sorest in the film.
The film’s comic supporting cast includes Soubin Shahir, Aju Varghese and Basil Joseph, three popular actors in the young fold, whose comic mettle is well-known. Soubin is the genie, a chatty AI that Kesh develops based on an old friend. Aju and Basil are forced to hang around the hero and relentlessly deliver quips. A humongous waste of talent! One can see their characters resemble Balarama’s Vikraman and Muthu, the foolish thugs, in tune with the film’s overall low-cost comic book nature. But the jokes do not work, thanks to the flat staging of the scenes. An actress, who hardly speaks a line in the film, gets plenty of screen time as an object of the comedians’ desire. One can only wonder what prompted Sivan to pick these actors or write these characters.
Or, look at the actor playing the villains. They generously ham up, speaking Malayalam in an alien tongue. You can see that there is a decent story in the clutter that the narrative is, about a greedy capitalist who invests in a chemical factory that will turn a pristine village and its river toxic and the local residents who fight him with all their might. The plot is simple yet with a child-like quality which could have been a unique home-grown female superhero tale. Unfortunately, it does not happen.
The sole takeaway, besides Warrier flaunting her fun side, is the hinting of a romantic track featuring her and Kalidas, the 28-year-old son of her former co-star, Jayaram. Kesh gazes at Parvathy in awe when she explodes into a wild thing, singing gibberish songs and dancing like no one is watching, turning his quiet laboratory into her party. Their relationship, sometimes, turns mildly sensuous, slipping into the terrain of romance, only to be interrupted by Krishen’s more conventional and obvious romantic advancements towards Kesh. Nevertheless, a rare shine in an otherwise dreary movie.
This Jack N’ Jill 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.