Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jacobinte Swargarajyam: Great First Half, Bland Second Half

Director: Vineeth Sreenivasan
Cast: Renji Panicker, Nivin Pauly, Sreenath Bhasi
Year: 2016

After I watched the trailer of Jacobinte Swargarajyam, I was really intrigued. I knew from reading some previews that the story was about a son who took over the burdens of his family after something happened to his dad. I didn't know whether the dad had died, or if it was something else. Since I knew I wanted to watch the movie, I didn't want to ruin the element of surprise by checking out the plot details prior to watching the movie.

The first half of the movie definitely matched the energy of the trailer. The casting was superb. The chemistry between the family members was superb. It really felt like they were a real family. It was kinda weird to see Sreenath Bhasi doing such a morose, withdrawn character though. I am so used to seeing him in comic roles.

Renji Panicker as Jacob was awesome. As the doting husband and father who is adored by his wife and kids, the loyal friend, the well-respected community leader, the brilliant businessman, the man who was cheated by someone he tried to help, and finally as the broken man standing helplessly in front of the son who so efficiently replaced him, Renji was perfect. His expressions, his body language, everything was right on the money. Somebody give that man an award. He certainly deserves it. When he exits the frame, the movie loses its life.

The second half of the movie focuses on Jerry, Jacob's eldest son who scrambles to pay off the massive debt that his father incurred. During that portion, the movie struggles to find its footing, primarily because Vineeth Sreenivasan in trying to stay true to his friend's story, failed to see that there was not enough there to warrant a cinematic exploration. Or perhaps a different director, who had no relationship to the real-life family, would have been able to make a few tweaks to the story to make it more interesting. Jerry is shown trying to beat the clock to raise enough money to pay back the debt, but in the end the whole drama ends in front of a courthouse clerk. That felt like a big letdown after the build-up.

Nivin Pauly as Jerry does a good job. He portrays the role with effortless ease. But the director did not take pains to delve into his anguish. He was a very one-dimensional character with very little in his story to help us connect with him emotionally. Perhaps a melodramatic song a la "Kanneer Poovinte", would've helped. Instead, he is swaying between melodrama and comedy so fast, it makes it difficult to develop empathy. His romance was so poorly developed that it would've been better left out. The actress who played his girlfriend is very pretty, but not very talented.

The casting of Ashwin Kumar as the villain felt to me like a hollywood cliche borrowed by the director. Hollywood loves to use the "scary-looking" black man as the rapist, the terrorizer, etc. Ashwin Kumar has a prominent forehead and a big nose and big eyes. Throughout the movie, he is seen bulging his eyes, flaring his nose, and shouting, to scare Jerry, and in turn the audience. I didn't know this at the time, but a quick search online led me to this tidbit: Ashwin's role was initially meant for director Gautham Vasudev Menon. So, it doesn't seem to be a conscious ploy on the director's part, but perhaps he could've aksed Ashwin to play it slightly differently. Perhaps a more understated, but psychologically more potent villain rather than the screaming, nostril-flaring thug. Millions of people around the world are suffering from the negative effects of post-colonial prejudices. We really need some enlightened directors in Malayalam to help shift the industry away from the callous use of such stereotypes to advance their plot. It takes a bit of effort and some creativity, but it is possible to develop an entertaining movie without resorting to such cheap narrative techniques.

I think the movie would've benefited greatly had they included Jacob's struggles in Africa, alongside Jerry's efforts in Dubai. The movie is aptly titled Jacob's Heaven, because it is Jacob who is the glue that holds the family, and by extension the film, together. Like I said earlier, once Jacob exits the frame, the movie loses its energy.

Overall a very entertaining movie. I would recommend.

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