In this column published in the first week of each month, I name The Best and The Worst in Indian Film and Television in the month passed. Think of it as a report. This December gave us both a super new movie and a superficial new series.
Minnal Murali (Netflix)
My favorite scene in Basil Joseph’s homegrown superhero film shows a bunch of schoolchildren at a function who marvel at a costumed superhero beating up some cops. In a glorious moment, a boy playing Mahatma Gandhi begins to loudly cheer the superhero and ask him to beat up the police, when another boy scolds the child for breaking a nonviolent character. ‘Gandhi’ remembers who to play, and is quietly, appropriately punished.
Minnal Murali is streaming on Netflix. It’s hard not to be captivated by this beautiful Malayalam adventure set in a small village of immense character, with a roguish and gullible hero played by the ridiculously charming Tovino Thomas. It’s hard these days for a superhero movie, especially an origin story, to surprise viewers who know what meal they’ll be getting, but Joseph gives the numerous residents of Kurukkanmoola a signature flavor, while Thomas — goofy, clumsy, unsuspecting Thomas — is undoubtedly the secret sauce. from the movie.
His character Jaison, a tailor with American travel dreams in his eyes, is a layabout who proudly wears “Abibas” and “Lowcoste” t-shirts without knowing they are fakes. The moment he is struck by lightning (giving him his powers), he is drunk and whining about a girl who doesn’t want him while wearing a Santa Claus costume. He is a loser in every way. As played by Thomas, he’s also so immersive – even when he’s sobbing – that it takes almost an hour for his superpowers to come into play, but by then we can’t get enough of Jaison.
However, lightning struck twice. At the same time as Jaison is felled, a tea shop employee named Shibu is also hit by the same bolt, but no one knows – or cares – where he is, while even those who laughed at Jaison’s antics take him to the hospital. Played suggestively by Aaranya Kandam star Guru Somasundaram, Shibu is just as enamored and pathetic as Jaison, but as a lower-caste man who grew up being cruelly mocked by villagers for his mother’s mental health issues, he finds no friendly benefactors, no one to point him to comic book heroes and give him enthusiastic advice. So he makes his own way.
Minnal Murali therefore – discreetly – sues his audience, even if it entertains them. We are the ones who label our heroes and our villains, are generous to some and fall short of others. The film is a cheerful, confident and nimble entertainer, which also questions the absolute nature of good versus evil on which the genre is based. Even Mahatma Gandhi would applaud that.
My biggest problem with Disconnected isn’t that the writing is juvenile or the acting is childish or that the jokes belong to the WhatsApp uncle genre. No, my biggest problem with Netflix’s latest Indian comedy is an obvious – and painful – lack of originality. In the first episode, for example, a writer, Arya (played by R Madhavan) goes to a more famous writer (Chetan Bhagat) at a restaurant and asks Bhagat to come and greet him and his wife. Bhagat sportively agrees, but when he shows up, Arya waves him off and scolds him for interrupting their meal, leaving Chetan flushed.
It’s a great situation, but it’s something the comedian Don Rickles once did to Frank Sinatra, a story Old Blue Eyes often told on the talk show circuit. There is nothing new here.
Disconnected, the story of a writer who speaks in aphorisms tries his hardest to be like Larry David’s great HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. But while the Curb jokes are always aimed at David, as my colleague Sudhish Kamath pointed out, Madhavan plays the obnoxious, mouth-to-mouth Arya with superiority and swagger, as if he were the hero. He just doesn’t seem to know that his character has an egg on his face. This causes the show to pretend that all of its obviously ridiculous generalizations — about the unappealing of Gurgaon housekeepers, for example — are correct.
Bhagat, who sends himself out playfully and refreshingly, is arguably the most self-assured person on this set. Directed by Hardik Mehta and created by Manu Joseph, this is a slack series. David’s show pushes boundaries, this one points out. Audiences who haven’t seen mature, enveloping comedy shows might be amused by this less intelligent and shallow cover version, but most of us — including the American sitcoms with laugh numbers — have moved on from misinformed men who enjoy the female orgasm with a beer. . Consider our enthusiasm curbed.
Raja Sen is a critic, author and screenwriter. He co-wrote the upcoming film Chup with filmmaker R Balki.