Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anandabhadram Review

While I am sure everyone reading this blog knows about my undying love for cinematographer/director Santosh Sivan, who can do no wrong as far as this blogger is concerned, I need to also make sure everyone is aware of my newest crush, Malayalam actor Prithviraj. Because you know, this review may be (read: IS) partially (read: completely) influenced by this little detail. But I promise to try and keep it real. Emphasis on "try".

The film starts with a lovely scene where a mother tells her son about the legend of the Sivakkavu temple, an ancient place where the diamond containing the soul of the world is kept.

Evil sorcerers have tried to snatch it to obtain its power, but the little snake Kunjoottan protects it with the help of the locals. However, the temple has fallen in ruin and is now host to Digambaram's blood sacrifices. The powerful sorcerer is, as his predecessors, in search of a way to obtain the diamond hidden in the temple.

Anandabhadram belongs to the fantasy genre of Indian cinema. You know, the genre based on local legends, with black magic priests, guardian snakes, temple goddesses and power rings. Yeah, the genre that usually goes all kinds of wrong in the hands of other directors. Thankfully, Santosh Sivan manages to do it justice, despite a rocky beginning.

Namak: Oh God, those white people on the train in the beginning were just awful. What was the point of that anyway?
Dolce: To introduce Anandan as the son and the other villager, I suppose, but yes, pretty awful stuff.
Namak: You know, why is it that in Indian movies everyone who comes from "foreign" (be they Indian born or not) has to appear slightly retarded? There have been a few instances just in the past 6 months where that really bugged me: Delhi Belly, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, The Householder and now this one. Really guys, not every pardesi/firangi is a caricature! Prithviraj took a good half of the movie to start acting like a normal person instead of the hyper doofus he appears to be in the beginning.
Dolce: It may be some sort of subliminal patriotic message. But either way, I was too busy making fun of the goofy moustache to notice. At least until this moment, when it really stopped being goofy.

Namak: Right, well, there goes that intelligent conversation...

The film gets better once Anandan gets to his mother's village and the pace is very well maintained throughout. Even the suspense, which most Indian films have trouble with, is kept up well. And the tale takes some interesting turns as more pieces get added to the puzzle. It may not be a terribly layered story, but it's definitely a well told one, which is more than enough for me.

The fantasy premise of the film doesn't allow for too much social commentary, except for one moment towards the end, which I will discuss in the spoiler paragraph.

**SPOILER for the END**

So as it turns out, the only way to defeat the evil sorcerer is to rob him of his powers obtained through chastity. In other words, someone has to rape him. While I am not typically a violent or vengeful person, I did find this twist particularly delightful because this is the first time I am seeing a man losing everything along with his virginity, while we see women raped and their lives destroyed by this virtually all the time in movies. It felt rather satisfying, even if someone had to make a sacrifice in order for this to happen (which makes for a whole other discussion, but I suppose in Sivan's defense, we could claim that her life had already been compromised and revenge was the only possible solution).


This film is surprinsingly tame for a Santosh Sivan offering, not his usual visual extravaganza, and in a way it reminds me more of Mani Ratnam films. Granted, all Mani Ratnam films that Sivan did the art direction for, so I suppose it's all coming from the same source anyway. Just a few screencaps to illustrate:

A girl's innocent surprise in front of her own beauty, such a Mani Ratnam staple!

That last one reminds me a lot of Raavan/Raavanan, which also makes me wonder, after seeing Prithviraj in the second half of Anandabhadram when the evil forces take over: what would he have done with the role of Beera/Veera in Raavan instead of Abhishek/Vikram? Food for thought...

Despite some similarities to other film makers, Santosh Sivan still makes this movie all his by adding some of his favourite little quirks: those reverse spinning shots and the rivers of fabric in this song:

...mist-filled close-ups like this one:

...and I am pretty sure I saw Chemban training with an urumi for a brief 3 seconds!

Also, unlike many film makers, especially in this genre, Sivan knows how to keep his focus on the topic at hand and to not try to cram too many sidestories. Is it any wonder, with a name like Santosh, that I'm always ridiculously happy while watching his movies?

Apart from the visuals, which are exquisite, the other forte in a Sivan movie is also present: gorgeous songs. The concept of Pinakkamano in particular made me giggle with delight: it's a song set inside a series of paintings! Now what can I possibly want more?

Dolce: And a special shout out to the actresses in this film! 
Namak: Right, Kavya Madhavan, Riya Sen and Revathy all do a fantastic job, almost outshining the men.
Dolce: Ok, you need to get over this issue you have with Prithvi in the first half. He was great after he became normal and fell in love with the village girl. He even forgot to say "interesting" all the time.
Namak: Nope, not letting go, I will not have my boy overact just to show how dumb foreigners are. It was silly and I will not get over it.
Dolce: Suit yourself. I'll forgive him anything after that sexy chemistry with Kavya.

We wonder, as we always do, what will happen to these characters after the closing credits, as this is another one of those stories where things cannot possibly go smoothly what with the different backgrounds, and different views of the world that each half of the couple brings to the table, but I really don't think we are supposed to go this far. I did however appreciate that despite the strict parental control, some of the elders in this village were enlightened enough to root for the blooming romance with the "man from foreign", and the village belle herself was not exactly the sheltered type. There's no shying away from holding hands and sharing embraces, so Bhadra is definitely my kind of girl.

And one last random thought: Oh my, how gracefully Revathi has aged since Mouna Ragam! She still lights up the screen with that smile!

Aye haye, what a beauty!

Anadabhadram is like Provolone cheese: smooth, tender and buttery without too many strong notes. It leaves a sweet impression and you crave the texture of it often, despite it not being a strong cheese. It's easy on the taste buds just like Anandabhadram is easy on the eyes and light enough to not weigh you down at the end.


Ness said...

oooh I love me some Santosh Sivan. This looks really good. I love the mustache! Dammit, you're gonna woo me to the wonders of Prithvi soon.

Dolce and Namak said...

Mwahahahaaa!! Yes, that IS the plan :)

Jokes aside, it is a well crafted movie, I really liked it, even if Prithvi kinda pissed me off by being a doofus in the first part. :P He totally made up for it later though. :) It is truly a delicious movie.

Mette said...

Looks very interesting, I like all those fantasy things and stuff.

me said...

Loved the review, thanks. I always enjoy reading reviews like this, of films I'm never going to watch, for the pleasure I get from reading a well-written piece by someone who knows and loves the subject matter. Well done. I have to point out that Dolce made a small mistake though:
"Dolce: It may be some sort of subliminal patriotic message" - there is nothing remotely subliminal about it. To be non-Indian is to be be morally, intellectually and physically inferior in every way to the matchless excellence which is the unique and sole preserve of those born inside the Republic of India's borders, and we videshi should just be grateful we get any screen time at all, not complaining about how we're depicted. You should have learned that by now.

Dolce and Namak said...

Ahahaa!!! Yes, true that, maxqnz. My apologies on behalf of Dolce, she can be a little dense sometimes on these cultural things. :P

As for the movie (and thank you for the compliment on my review :)) I do hope you get to see it sometime. It would totally work for you, I think.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Mette, yes, this is a good one in that folk fantasy genre. A very enjoyable movie, it's not often this genre gets it so well. Highly recommended!

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