Cast: Jacob Gregory, Anupama Parameswaran
Director: Shamzu Zayba
Here is yet another Malayalam movie centred on an average joe’s obsessive efforts to get hitched to a conventionally beautiful woman. Maniyarayile Ashokan, directed by Shamzu Zayba, asks the audience for sympathy when the joe gets rejected by the stone-hearted beauties right, left and centre for being “short, dark and ordinary”.
One might think the film would take this scenario forward by challenging society’s idea of what makes a person worthy. But Shamzu Zayba takes the most unimaginative way out, by turning the film into an endorsement of the Indian arranged marriage system that has, since time immemorial, made sure that no young man, eligible or otherwise, from a traditional household, died a bachelor.
Maniyarayile Ashokan has the aesthetics and emotional quotient of a pre-wedding photoshoot where two almost-strangers awkwardly pose like soulmates as family and friends cheer from the sides of the frame. The film is centred on Ashokan (Jacob Gregory), a young man from a well-to-do family, who has supportive parents and friends, and an enviable government job. Strangely enough, the man has trouble finding a bride for himself.
A large part of the film is composed of slow-motion shots that futilely attempt to cover up the absence of any kind of cinematic merit in this mess. Sometimes a random scene of a few seconds comes out of nowhere and ends abruptly.
The writing pales in comparison with the script of a primetime television soap. Ashokan, who painfully cancelled a wedding because an astrologer predicted his fiance’s death, wonders aloud if it is rational to do a symbolic wedding with a plantain tree to resolve the horoscope issues. “It’s 2020! How can I do this stuff in this age!” Actor Dulquer Salmaan, who has produced the film, should have asked himself this question before he approved the screenplay and green-signalled the project.
Thanks to the film’s lack of focus and abysmal staging of scenes, the audience hardly feels for Ashokan. He seems to have everything that takes to earn the approval of society. What pushed him to this state of desperation? Who stopped his family from creating an account on a matrimonial website?
Vineeth Krishnan, who has written the film, has a tin ear for good prose. In an early scene, a sub-character gives her boyfriend a coconut sapling and says it will yield, “fertile coconuts”. It’s one thing to be sensible or profound, it’s another thing to be not stupid.
The brief love story of Ashokan and Syama (Anupama Parameswaran) is awfully shallow. She is brought into the picture as a woman who’s madly and secretly in love with Ashokan. Someone who would fill a notebook with his portraits and threaten her parents with suicide in order to get their consent to the wedding.
However, she is without an identity. We hardly get to know of her personality or of how she became obsessed with this rather ordinary man. Maniyarayile Ashokan wants to be about love. But nowhere it comes across as a film that understands people, let alone about people who do crazy things in love. In order to emphasize the good nature of Ashokan, the film creates an elaborate scene about his rather freakish habit of jumping into water bodies to save the moon’s reflection from drowning. In the film, the line between adorable and creepy is dangerously muted.
The crux of a lot of the recent Malayalam commercial entertainers or “feel-good” dramas seem to be an assumption that ordinary people are simpletons with a poor sense of judgement and a heart full of love and kindness. When Ashokan starts taking his symbolic wedding to a tree rather seriously, the people around him play along. They agree to take care of his “wife and children” and treat him kindly. Neither they nor the film calls out the nonsense.
Gregory, who has co-produced the film with Dulquer Salmaan, has made a career-destroying move by playing a role that pronounces his shortcomings as an actor. The film doesn’t make use of his talent as a comedian. He puts up an awkward performance, unable to make up his mind who Ashokan really is.
Dulquer Salmaan must be the kind of film producer debut directors dream about. He brings in ornamentations, like a bunch of stellar cameos. His name creates good pre-release buzz. He chips in with a song and a special appearance.
In the film, he plays Ashokan’s bosom friend who delivers a philosophical monologue in the time of a crisis. The actor hasn’t played a more forgettable cameo in a film since the time he sang a dance number for Shravan Mukesh’s Kalyanam. From the looks of it, he also gives the filmmakers a free-hand, even if the script is a bad joke stretched out to be a headache.
The Maniarayile Ashokan 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.