Cast: Mohanlal,Manju Warrier,Raashi Khanna,Vishal,Hansika Motwani,Siddique,Renji Panicker,Chemban Vinod Jose,Aju Varghese Director: Unnikrishnan B
“Nothing is black, nothing is white, everything is grey.”
“Life is a dark comedy, Doctor, you’ve got to live it.”
“There is a villain in every hero, a hero in every villain.”
As Mohanlal’s character Mathew Manjooran delivered these and a slew of similar English lines in this week’s Malayalam film release, Villain, I could almost picture a writer at a narration session in Kerala, reading them out to an admiring crew and bowing to expected waah-waahs. Whatever this review’s response may be to such hollow bombast, it is clear that someone somewhere was impressed, which is why this screenplay was green-lit and stars of Lalettan and Manju Warrier’s stature came on board. What were they thinking?
Director Unnikrishnan B’s Villain is packed with such pomposity. The wisdom dispensed by Mathew in Malayalam dialogues is fair enough considering the highly dramatised tone of the narrative in which they are set, but the English lines – given almost entirely to him – are painfully grandiose and stupid. And while the storyteller does manage to build an air of suspense around the murder in its opening half, after a while it becomes clear that this film is far less clever than it seems to think it is.
Mathew is a policeman in Kerala with a reputation for brilliance. Following a family tragedy, he decides to take voluntary retirement from the force. As he prepares for his exit, he is requested by his seniors to stay on for a while to look into the murder of three men at a building that has been lying locked for a while. They were killed by poisonous injections, and Mathew’s investigations – aided by his colleagues Harshita Chopra (Raashi Khanna) and Iqbal (Chemban Vinod Jose) – lead him to a mysterious creature with whom he appears to have a connect.
In the background, we are told the story of Mathew’s wife Neelima, a teacher played by Warrier, and their daughter, an aspiring doctor.
At first, the plot is intriguing. The moody background score, complemented by slick production and cinematography, manage to conjure up great expectations about events yet to unfold.
Mathew is a Sherlock Holmes-like figure whose powers of deduction are projected as being at the level of genius. Unfortunately, they are not. Some of his acute observations are impressive, no doubt, but beyond a point the writer has him arriving at truths that require great leaps of the imagination which are never explained. With mere guesswork, for instance, and virtually no clues to support his theory, he arrives at the scenario in which the three men were killed at the beginning of the story. Later, he guesses young Harshita’s relationship status with ‘logic’ that, frankly, defies logic. This happens repeatedly in the film, diluting the fun to be had from his occasional astuteness.
(Possible spoilers ahead)
Mohanlal lends gravitas to Mathew’s role, but his dialogue delivery, especially in English, is strained – not quite as bad as the 2008 film Aakasha Gopuram but somewhere in that neighbourhood. Warrier is far more natural, but is given too little to do. Vishal, who plays the main antagonist Dr Shaktivel Palaniswamy, does his best but cannot possibly be faulted for the ordinary characterisation.
The link between the two men is tenuous and unconvincing. It leads to what could have been an important discussion about the meaning of evil, the definition of murder (can euthanasia be equated with a revenge killing?) and the value of dictatorship – the latter particularly significant in the present global political scenario – but the point is lost in a crowd of further pretentious dialogues.
Villain is high on atmospherics and low on substance. Mohanlal and Manju Warrier’s charisma is wasted here.