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Polandine Patti Episode 11

Last updated on August 1, 2022

Dishoom!  Dishoom Dishoom!  Okay, let’s face it, Malayalam cinema is not particularly known for its action films, but action does exist, and we’re here to talk about it.  In this first of four parts on Action in Malayalam Cinema, we take a look at the Big Ms, Mohanlal and Mammootty, and how action plays out in some of their films.

Spoiler Alert! We try to remember to alert listeners to spoilers, but just in case, know that we talk about the films in-depth, so be sure to watch them first if you’re concerned about spoilers!

[CW/TW]  Some of what we’re going to talk about in this episode involves violence/sexual assault, particularly involving a child, and it was hard for us to talk about, and may be hard for people to listen to.]

Download Episode Eleven.

Episode Eleven Highlights:

[00:00:50]  We’re coming through a period of very dark and/or plot heavy Malayalam films (cue Fahadh Fasil!) and looking forward to talking about something more fun.

{00:01:12}  Katherine notes that our film choices invariably are restricted by her need for subtitles, and some of the best examples of action films don’t have them.

{00:01:40}  We begin today, though, with a discussion on intimacy coordinators in India.  If we need action coordinators to make sure action sequences can be filmed with safety in mind, then we also need to ensure the safety of actors when it comes to sexual intimacy, sexual violence, and other intimate moments on film.  This article, entitled “Navigating Boundaries And Choreographing Moves In Cinema: Intimacy Coordinators” introduces the profession and its importance.  We also talked about “Filming a sex scene on the set: Why intimacy professionals are necessary”

{00:12:00}  Today’s films are all over the place in terms of action:  Irupatham Noottandu, Yodha, Rajamanikyam, and The Great Father. 

{00:12:35} Harsha notes that neither Irupatham Noottandu nor The Great Father are great action movies, and suggests that good action movies also need some humour for them to work.  Both of them are more thrillers, or have some element of gangster activity.

[00:12:45]  Katherine notes the Wikipedia definition of action films, and it helped her with some framing around the films we’re discussing.

[00:13:45]  Katherine finds Irupatham Noothandu more “capery” than action.

[00:14:00]  Harsha sums up:  Irupatham Noothandu is about smugglers in the 1980s.

[00:14:05]  This is the film that gave us “Sagar alias Jacky”, although neither of us understands why Sagar really needed an alias.

[00:14:30]  The film involves smuggling in Kerala in the 1980s, but note that smuggling here involves luxury goods that you couldn’t get in India in the pre-economic liberalization period.   Harsha likes to use this period as a marker when talking about Malayalam movies, because there’s a significant control difference in movies in the pre-liberalization period and post-liberalization period.

[00:14:55] Katherine notes that although Sagar is smuggling gold at the beginning of the film, we also see a character played by Mamukkoya who is involved with smuggling things like soaps and perfumes, ie, those luxury goods from the Gulf that people want.

[00:15:48] Shekharan Kutty (Suresh Gopi), the character who is Sagar’s partner, wants to get into drug smuggling, but for Sagar, that’s a moral line he doesn’t want to cross.  “Narcotics is a dirty business.”

[00:15:55]  The split between these two characters is the moment when we finally start to see some action in the film.

[00:16:00]  Aside:  Suresh Gopi was Harsha’s childhood crush.

[00:16:40]  Katherine notes that she’s seen that “drugs are the line” in a number of Malayalam films.  Harsha feels that’s likely because a lot of families, especially middle-class families, have some experience with buying smuggled goods.

[00:16:55]  Harsha invites people to think about Irupatham Noothandu as Malik, but set in the time period that these things are actually happening.  Both films are set in the same area of Trivandrum where a lot of the smuggled goods are sold.

[00:17:10]  These are fishing communities, and when they refer to the smuggled goods coming in they use the term “chaakara”, a phenomenon particular to Kerala where fish come up on shore in great numbers.

[00:18:00]  There are differences between Malik and Irupatham Noothandu, especially caste and community, but IN is a good film to watch after Malik for people seeking more about this period and place – Malik is kind of a spiritual successor to Irupatham Noothandu despite the differences.

[00:19:10]  Once again, Katherine expresses disappointment about lack of or quality of subtitles, because the version on Hotstar has subtitles mis-timed by about a half an hour.  But she likes the film, even if it’s not high on action.

[00:19:25]  Sagar does fulfil the idea of action film’s having a resourceful hero doing clever things.

[00:19:55]  Harsha does see it as more of a gangster film than an action film.

[00:20:20]  This is a very complex film and there’s a lot of information in the dialogues that you have to pick up and follow.

[00:21:00]  Katherine called it a “contemplative action film”.

[00:21:40]  Katherine thinks people going to watch it as an action film have to set their expectations differently:  it’s action film in an unusual niche, different from what we think of typically as action.

[00:21:55]  Harsha notes that the film’s editing is ALL over the place, likely due to the technology available in the era the film was made in.

[00:23:20]  Katherine finds the ending poetic.  Harsha is reminded of the “Oof, poetic cinema” meme.

[00:23:55] Ambika’s character is a journalist who is writing about underworld operations and political connections.  She’s the one that gives us “Sagar alias Jacky”.  But we still don’t know why.

[00:24:50]  Harsha mentions the 2009 movie Sagar Alias Jacky Reloaded, directed by Amal Neerad, but she only watched it because she’s a big fan of one of his other films, Big B.  But SAJR is not as good a film as Big B.  However:  SHOBANA.

[00:25:25]  Katherine suggests that if you’re going to have a “contemplative action film”, it’s going to have to come out of Malayalam cinema.

[00:25:40]  We turn to The Great Father.  We do not recommend this film.

[00:25:55]  Katherine begins a plot summary, but this is the film we referred to for the CW/TW.  It’s a very problematic film, and could potentially be very triggering.

[00:26:00]  The film sets up Dad as Superhero, with a dollop of father worship.

[00:27:10]  The father’s first reaction to his daughter’s assault is to isolate her.  We disagree with this approach.

[00:28:00]  Harsha reminds us this content could potentially be very triggering. She also finds the reaction of Mammootty’s character very unnatural, because it’s more likely that the first though of any parent finding their bloodied child would be to immediately take them to a hospital.

[00:28:55]  It’s even more problematic because it’s a convenient plot point, used purely to set up the competition between the characters of Mammooty and Arya, the police officer working the serial killer case.

[00:29:20]  ASP Andrews Eapen (Arya) is not very sensitive to the needs of the child in this case (this is an understatement!).  His driving factor is just closing the case.  This sets the tension between his and Mammooty’s character, where David only wants to protect his child at all costs.

{00:29:40} Katherine notes again that all of this is used as plot points, and it’s a real disservice to the issue in that it ignores the needs of the child.

[00:29:55]  Harsha notes that in the tension of the competition between these two men – needed for an action film – there’s the loss of agency of the young child who is at the centre of it all.  There’s also a loss of agency of the mother of the child, who had the right instincts of what the child needed in this situation.

[00:30:45]  It’s perfectly fine for the film to argue that Sarah can choose, when she’s an adult, to talk about what happened to her or not; however, as a child, she is pressured to think she’s fine, instead of letting her process her emotions in a way that is helpful for her.  It’s painful to watch.

[00:31:40] Some of the behaviour of the police and social service workers in the film are appalling. Harsha believe that some of the protections for children that Katherine notes are also available in India.

[00:32:10] The aggression towards the child is justified by the film, but we think the argument is wrong:  if you have a young niece, wouldn’t that make you more likely to be tender with the child and approach her in ways that are legally appropriate?

[00:32:40]  Katherine notes the film was directed by Haneef Adeni, who also directed Micheal with Nivin Pauly.  She notes his films are not his cup of tea.  His style is what we would think of as an action film.

[00:33:25]  A detour into Hong Kong action films, which both Harsha and Katherine love.

[00:34:25]  The Great Father deals with sensitive themes in ways that are very insensitive.

[00:35:00]  The film values style (endless slo-mo shots of Mammootty walking) over substance (the trauma of a child).  It’s very manipulative.

[00:35:40]  Harsha feels you could deal with the same themes, and still make Mammootty seem cool for his fan base, and do it in a much more sensitive way.  Katherine suggests that film was Drishyam, though Harsha notes that even if Drishyam was less problematic, it still removed the agency of the victim.

[00:36:20]  Katherine admits that some of The Great Father’s writing really creeped her out, especially in how the father/daughter relationship was portrayed.

[00:36:45]  Harsha agrees, but notes that Anikha Surendran is a great child actress, and Katherine urges listeners to check out the Tamil web series Queen, where she plays the younger version of main character Shakthi Sheshadri.

[00:37:50]  Harsha is much more in favour of children who think their dads are lame than those who worship their fathers. 

[00:38:09]  You can deal with children in an affectionate way without making it cloying.  See also:  Yodha, another film we discuss in this episode.

[00:38:50]  We need to talk about why Mammootty needs to keep playing these rape avengers.  These may not be the views of the star or the producers, but we still don’t know why these kinds of movies are still being made.

[00:39:45]  We turn to the next film, Rajamanikyam, directed by Anwar Rasheed (Ustad Hotel, Trance).

[00:40:10]  The film is about a blended family fueding over the property of the dead father.  Mammootty plays Manikyam.

[00:41:35]  Mammootty as a kind of lovable, uneducated, lower class kind of character (see also: Pokkiri Raja and Madhura Raja).

[00:41:50]  Mammootty does not generally (unless he’s making an art film) play lower class/lower caste characters typically – usually that’s something Mohanlal does more often.  Part of the selling point of the film was probably watching Mammootty playing against type.

[00:41:25]  Why is Mammootty the only one speaking in Trivandrum slang in the movie? 

[00:43:05]  The point is playing against type, punch dialogues, recognizable as a masala film.

[00:43:50]  The film was Rahman coming back to Malayalam cinema after a break, and Katherine really likes his character in the film.  He’s so handsome, and his character is the classy straight man to Mammootty’s character.

[00:44:40]  The film came out in 2005, and it’s a low period for Malayalam cinema.  Not a lot of high grade movies with complex plots were being made in this era.  This film stood out, despite a pot-boiler plot, and that’s a credit to Anwar Rasheed and it’s a credit to Mammooty’s charm.  He really centres this film.

[00:45:28]  Why is Manoj K. Jayan not in more of the New Generation films that get more attention and press?

[00:46:00]  Katherine whinges about subtitles again.

[00:46:25]  Remembering why this episode exists: it does have action.  But Harsha reminds us of her constant complaint, that Indian cinema really doesn’t know how to do action.  That said, it’s still a very enjoyable masala film, with some good actors doing extremely schlocky roles.

[00:47:15]  The movie is also very caste heavy, with constant caste-based insults.

[0047:50]  Our final film for discussion is the 1992 film Yodha, directed by Sangeeth Sivan (with cinematography by his brother Santhosh Sivan, and music direction by A.R. Rahman). 

[00:48:00]  Katherine notes she had been warned off this film by some Mohanlal fans, but of all the films discussed in this episode, this one is her favourite.

[00:49:45]  The film sees Mohanlal on the streets of Kathmandu as the protector of a young monk who some black magic practitioners want to kidnap.

[00:49:55]  The film is essentially about the fight of good versus evil.

[00:50:05]  Katherine notes that the film is a kind of mash-up between the Eddie Murphy film The Golden Child and Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman.

[00:51:00]  Katherine notes that The Golden Child had enough of a budget to extend to hiring Industrial Light and Magic to do special effects, but finds Yodha noteable in how it sets up the relationship between Mohanlal’s character and the young rinpoche.

[00:51:08]  Katherine also gushes about how expressive Mohanlal’s face is in this film.

[00:51:35]  The films of this era are what make Mohanlal, Mohanlal for Harsha.

[00:52:00]  Harsha notes that the theme of good versus evil is a very common fantasy hero’s journey.

[00:52:41]  The film departs from The Golden Child in that the rinpoche escapes, rather than being kept captive, and this sets up the really lovely relationship between Mohanlal and the boy.

[00:52:55]  The highlights for Harsha are the competition between Jagathy Sreekumar and Mohanlal, as well as the sweetness and comedy of the interactions between Mohanlal and the boy.  Check out the song Padakaali Chandi Changari, which is a lot of fun!

[00:53:35]  Yodha is a great example of how you can make interactions with children in a way that is not saccharin or gross.

[00:54:04]  Like other Malayalam action films, it’s less heavy on action than we might expect.  But it does have that central role of the hero’s quest.

[00:54:30]  Katherine was fascinated when the film took a turn towards Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman.

[00:55:35]  The sword sequences are the ones where the action comes in, and why you can call this an action movie.

[00:56:20]  The film also has a lot of mystical elements in it, also not typical of Malayalam cinema.  See also Santhosh Sivan’s film Anandabhadram, which we talked about in Episode 7.

[00:56:25]  Harsha found the depiction of Nepal fairly respectful.

[00:57:10]  Yodha is an enjoyable fantastical caper.

[00:58:20]  Are we fated to talk about Christian Brothers?

[00:58:45]  Katherine doesn’t necessarily go to Malayalam cinema for masala type action films.  Harsha notes it’s not a central genre in Malayalam movies.

[00:59:45]  Our next episode will deal with Suresh Gopi and Jayan, the heroes who are actually the action stars of Malayalam cinema.


  1. Nikhil R Nikhil R

    There’s kind of an explanation for Mammootty’s character being the only speaking in Trivandrum slang in ‘Rajamanikyam’. In the parts showing his childhood it says that his mother didn’t have time for him and he was taken care of mostly by this lady from Tvm and that’s how he is supposed to have picked up the slang. How believable/ acceptable that is as an explanation is up to you 🙂

    • Katherine Matthews Katherine Matthews

      Ha, that would work — thank you for pointing that out 🙂

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