When I went to watch `Maheshinte Prathikaaram,' the last thing in my mind was writing a review. The film was into its second week, already a hit, and reviews were aplenty. But I must write this to cheer this endearing satire that packs a nice punch on the face of all those silly characters around. And the best part is that those who have landed the punch aren’t realizing the weight of the blow, at least for now.
For, the film is brilliantly subtle, as any good piece of artwork should be. Maheshinte Prathikaaram is surely one of the best satires in Malayalam cinema in recent years. Scriptwriter Syam Pushkaran and director Dileesh Pothan effortlessly encapsulate the mess that is today’s India through a tale of love and revenge in a small Idukki village called `Prakash City.’
Mahesh, the protagonist, has inherited his father’s 'Bhavana Studio' in Prakash City, though he terribly lacks the old man’s passion for photography. For Mahesh, photography is all about clicking passport sized photos and weddings and funerals, and the studio is just a 'shop.' He takes care of his aging, widowed father and the household, and keeps to himself like any decent guy you would find in the neighborhood.
The peaceful existence of Mahesh comes to an end in the most unexpected fashion, when he becomes the last link in a chain of events triggered by a funny but violent altercation involving three fellow rustics of Prakash City. This chain of events reminds us of the quintessential India that we live in today: absurd politicking, violent reactions, vested interests and growing intolerance. The mobile phone calls that spread the friction across the village and even to a couple in another continent also remind us about the damage the all-pervasive digital gadgets cause by spreading inciting gossips. The sequence, so comically pictured, grimly tells us how narrow-minded and impatient the society has become.
In one particular scene, the singing of national anthem in a school holds back two fighting men. One is waiting for the anthem to get over to go for the jugular of his rival, who runs for his life just as the last 'jaya he' is sung. So much for the pseudo patriotism that we witness now: display unabashed respect for the metaphors to prove you are a patriot; and then go for the kill of your fellow countryman.
Mahesh, nicely essayed by Fahadh Faasil, too gets involved in the infectious acrimony, ends up beaten and humiliated. He vows to avenge for his disgrace. The filmmakers have shown remarkable restraint in handling the story from hereon. They don’t let Mahesh run amok like the usual wounded hero; Instead, they handhold him in his quest for vendetta. The revenge, in a way, is the coming of age of Mahesh, the typical lower middle class villager: an unambitious, status quoist who doesn’t give life a try. But as he seeks his revenge, Mahesh learns some harsh lessons – his girlfriend dumps him for a better match, to start with. He wins another girl nevertheless, the sister of the guy who thrashed him down. Mahesh chucks his mechanical ways of passport-sized photography and works to become a better photographer. The liberation of Mahesh from his own mindset is shown beautifully: he unleashes his pet dog that was always chained to a corner.
There are so many scenes in the movie that take a dig at petty politics and religions. Like a tilak-clad young man offering to buy beef curry to a Kung Fu master to entice him; a decorated picture of Jesus Christ reminding Mahesh’s father about the cabaret he once watched. In another scene, a group of villagers completely ignores a procession of red flag holders as they run to witness Mahesh’s fight with his foe. The attention to detail too is nice: In one scene, Mahesh carefully takes out a small piece of eggshell from a bowl after cracking the eggs for an omelette.
The female characters in the movie stand out. You don’t really feel angry toward Mahesh’s first lover for dumping him: she simply chooses a life she believes will be better for her. No melodrama, no melancholy, thank God. The girl who comes to his life later is smarter. She tells Mahesh that his arch rival is her brother and asks him to do the most sensible thing: just forget the rivalry and gives him a friendly slap after their marriage. ``All men are mad,” she says when Mahesh ignores that advice and goes for the fight. You can’t help but agree with her. If only all those men who take to violence listen to their women, this world would have been a better place.
It’s easy to scream at the top of the voice to show dissent or to drive home your point. But It takes quite a bit of effort to keep the poise and call a spade a spade. That’s what great cartoonists do. They make you smile and make you think. And deal a heavy punch. That’s what Dileesh Pothen and his team have done with Maheshinte Prathikaaram. Don’t miss it.