He’s 400 films old. Yet when, playing the part of chief minister in his latest movie, he says ‘Are you a thief?’ to an MLA, and then without waiting for an answer, addresses the gathering of a coalition government, ‘If you’re not a thief, then why are you afraid?’ you are hooked.
I watched the Malayalam film ‘1’ (One) as it was released on Netflix on the morning of April 27, 2021, and it forced me to weigh the question this film raises in these very testing times: Do we the people have the right to recall elected government officials before their five-year tenure is over?
Sachindra Nath Sanyal tabled this idea in 1924 and some states do follow this rule but it is limited to local government levels: sarpanch, mukhiya and even the mayor who can be removed if the people are unhappy with their performance.
In 1, the politician in opposition says confidently that elections are expensive business and our democracy will be crippled if we hold politicians responsible. Accountability from politicians? Perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.
The film, though, relies too much on the star power of the one and only Mammootty to deliver the ideal politician. He delivers the lines, but after a while you wish there was something bigger as opposition rather than conniving turncoat politicians. The role of his long-time friend and now the head of the party could have been brilliant, but Iruvar this is not. Zenda, this is not. Iruvar by Mani Ratnam remains on top of my favourite political films ever list, but don’t take my word for it, watch it on DisneyPlusHotstar. Zenda is a Marathi film about a split in the local political party and two friends who split too because of opposing ideologies, and it plays on Amazon Prime Video. Bollywood also has its fair share of good and bad politicians and one man trying to battle the system in films like Nayak with Anil Kapoor (a version of director S. Shankar's Mudhalavan).
One does nothing to explore its protagonist's battles with unexplained headaches and memory loss, his friendships and enemies… We are only offered a glimpse and then it’s all ignored. This makes One, a single-minded star vehicle, giving a black and white version of politics that will leave you dissatisfied. There should be more to ideology than just inspiring music accompanying the good guy as he makes an entrance into situations and handling it. That said, we do need heroes in these times, and perhaps, this idea of the right to recall bad government could take root.
Mammootty shows up on Amazon Prime Video in the same big beard from the last scene in One in a film called The Priest which was released less than a fortnight ago.
Not to be confused with the Paul Bettany Korean comic book based film Priest that was released in 2011. This priest has Mammootty in a bizarre hat, stick and rosary swag that only adds to the painful horror of the film.
Without giving us any warning, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) allows a priest to conduct an investigation into a murder/suicide case. Played by Mammootty, the renegade priest is an exorcist who speaks with ghosts plus a crime-buster investigator plus owner of dog who senses ghosts plus punisher plus altogether unruffled. Yet when he slow walks through the whole film, it makes you feel grateful for the 10-second fast forward button on your device.
As the film progresses, he solves the mystery behind not one death by suicide in a family but four. Enter: grouchy child who looks like a cross between Damien from Omen and the girl from the Renee Zellweger film Case 39 who was seriously creepy. This grouchy child, called Ameya, has two expressions: lower head and look angrily at people, and two, smile widely. You don’t know which one is scarier. Of course she’s an orphan, she’s maladjusted and she’s suspicious of everyone. But transforms when a substitute teacher shows up.
The problem with this film begins here.
How did a ghost occupying the body of a sullen child manage to get the sister of the ghost a job as a teacher in the school where the sullen child studies? Ghost plans well! But this ghost has nothing to do with the string of murders occupying the first half of the movie except the child was there in the house when the last murder took place. Why didn’t the ghost who meets the priest tell us who killed her? That would make the solving of the murders simpler, no?
But there’s no time to think because the substitute teacher and her boyfriend are now being terrorised by the kid because the kid is evil (don’t forget the awful cliched long handle wrench which is kept for the evil child to find and drag menacingly). By now, the kid has stopped being scary to the audience, and the exorcism scenes are predictable (shaking beds, levitation, breaking of shackles, ghost sitting in the rafters, child screaming, evil ghost moving like worm inside body). I gave them points for omitting the hurling of green slime…
Of course the ghost is avenging the death caused by an accident and the story just does not seem to end. What made me fall off the armchair laughing was the ghostbuster type but reverse vacuum cleaner device that blows the ghost right out of the child’s body. They should have done this ages ago! They’d know exactly who and why the ghost is because the priest has exposition-wallah conversation with the ghost. The relentless music hides the holes in the plot which stop you from asking: if the heroine could drive, why did she need an escort?
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.