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Two behemoths of Malayalam cinema reprise their previous hit roles in The King & The Commissioner. Mammootty and Suresh Gopi rarely put a foot wrong in this otherwise tedious and tiresome film. While fans would probably find it worth a watch just for the ferocity with which the superstars essay their roles, this is not exactly the kind of film I would recommend to those new to cinema of the South.
The King & The Commissioner is a hard film to critique. While there is very little in the film worthy of a mention, almost of all of its flaws are pounded to a pulp by its two superstar leads – Mammootty and Suresh Gopi. But then let’s face it – that is pretty much what they do best – pound things to a pulp, with punches or with punch lines.
The pair reprise earlier hit characters from separate films of theirs, only this time, they are brought together in the interest of the nation (and the producers of the film, no doubt.) Still brash, still arrogant and still stylish, Mammootty’s Joseph Alex is now a top bureaucrat. He has been put on a special mission by the Prime Minister of India (played by our very own Mohan Agashe) and is to be aided in his cause by none other than Bharathchandran, played by Suresh Gopi – now on ‘Special Assignment’ and yes, still brash, still arrogant and if possible, even more stylish.
There is absolutely no denying that nearly everything is wrong with this film. Right from the opening reels of the film where Pakistanis with Malayali accents reveal their goal of terrorizing India, the film’s treatment and screenplay is all over the place. It is one of those bits of writing where it seems like a lot is happening, when very little is - too many caricature-ish characters, too much talk, but very little meat.
Sinfully long at nearly three-and-a-quarter hours, it can be an extremely exhausting film to watch. Far too verbose for its own good, its woes are compounded with a host of unnecessary scenes and subplots that pepper proceedings right till the very end. The film should ideally (and could easily) have been about two hours long.
The other big problem with the film is the technical aspect. Insanely over-shot and over-cut, this is the kind of film whose shot breakdown I’d die to get my hands on and whose editor I’d love to have a private chat with. It would be extremely enlightening to know exactly how he came up with the idea for those umpteen cuts where the screen is split into ways that would make a butcher feel terribly low about himself.
Far more serious is the way in which names have been taken in this film. Pakistan is clearly the villain, with no attempt at being mellow towards them for the sake of diplomacy in the real world. If the promos of Agent Vinod got them riled up enough to ban it, this film could severely hamper Indo-Pak ties for good if they ever happened to chance upon it. Not to mention some vicious attacks on a few public figures who’ve been in the news in the recent past.
This film has clearly been made to play to the galleries, which is a pity. The makers had two megastars who would have set the cash registers jingling in any case. They could have used this golden opportunity to make a film that was topical, relevant and engaging without resorting to needless sensationalism.
But then, when the two stars are on screen, really, all else pales. The two are clearly in their zones in this film. They thunderously deliver the over-the-top lines with ease, often making you forget how unnecessary the lines actually were in the first place. Yes, both well past 50 and both have paunches. The remarkable thing however is that they don’t look ungainly in action sequences at all. Suresh Gopi, in particular, looks extremely at ease decimating a dozen baddies without breaking a sweat.
The two of them also have the phenomenal ability to make others in the frame look good, no matter how silly they otherwise are. Their presence radiates and enhances people around them, even if the people are mediocre by themselves. Nothing, really, can take away from the fact that these two fine National Award-winning actors are as much at ease playing these over-the-top commercial characters as they are playing real characters in sensible and sensitive stories.
The King & The Commissioner as a film is a lot like some of the action scenes in it – two towering personalities standing in a sea of mediocrity. It is the kind of film that I would recommend only to those who would not need any recommendation to watch it at all – they would have watched it any way. For others, particularly for those who like to believe that they are above all the shenanigans that big stars in big films indulge in, I’d recommend settling in with a nice, quiet book instead.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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