Skip to content

Polandine Patti Episode 13

Last updated on November 19, 2022

We’re back with our third look at action films in Malayalam cinema! In this episode we look at the younger generation of actors who are entering the action space, with Prithviraj, Asif Ali, and Unni Mukundan.

Download Episode Thirteen

Episode Thirteen Highlights:

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!

[00:00:31] It’s not the last action episode!  Harsha notes we have plans to do one more episode on women in action films.

[00:00:35]  Today’s episode is on New Gen action films, pretty much films after 2008 featuring the newest generation of superstars in the Malayalam film industry.

[00:00:50]  We begin the episode by discussion Puthiya Mukham, the Prithviraj film from 2009.  It’s about a Brahmin musician who goes to college in Kochi, where he’s hazed by the students.  The physical assaults he suffers result in him changing into the film’s action hero.

[00:02:00]  Katherine notes that his character has had some kind of childhood trauma, which results in that any time he’s in a stressful/violent situation, his violent side may emerge.

[00:02:25] The film’s title can be translated as “New Face” or “New Persona”, so it’s a reflection of what happens to the main character.

[00:02:33] Harsha notes that this film is most notable because it’s what made Prithviraj a superstar in the Malayalam industry.  In her words, “It did bonkers business.”

[00:02:45] It also stars Priyamani, who was a popular pairing with Prithviraj early in his career.

[00:03:00]  The draw of a masala movie like this is that Prithviraj gets to play both the quiet boy-next-door as well as the action star.  In that way you get a whole range from your preferred star’s talent.

[00:03:10]  The movie came out in 2009, and this was a period whrere Telugu movies, especially with Allu Arjun and Mahesh Babu, were really doing good business in Kerala.  Malayalam movies of the 2000s weren’t that great and people weren’t excited to go to the movie theatre.

[00:03:25] Malayalam movies of the 2000s weren’t that great and people weren’t excited to go to the movie theatre.  They had the veneer of being “family movies”, but mostly they were movies that had lower levels of humour, in which women weren’t as interested in.

[00:03:45]  This film came out at a time when Telugu movies were doing really good business in Kerala, and this was a Malayalam movie trying to do what Telugu movies were doing.

[00:04:00]  You also see Hindi movies of the time – for example, Dabangg – that were also trying to emulate Telugu films.

[00:04:15] Katherine notes that this is the place (as we’ve discussed before) where Malayalam cinema gets closest to other industries from the south.

[00:04:25] In interviews from the time, Prithviraj actually name-checked people like Allu Arjun in explaining what he was trying to do.

[00:04;40]  It also benefitted by Prithviraj putting on some muscle, getting to do the clean-shaven good boy for the ladies who like that, and then he got to do the bad ass for those who that would appeal to.

[00:04:50] Despite the fact that it was a masala movie and typically we don’t think of action films as aimed at women, Harsha feels that Prithviraj in this era was making specific appeals to female gaze – something that didn’t happen a lot in the movies from the 2000s.  We haven’t seen that in our action series since Jayan.

[00:05:15]  Katherine discusses sharing one of the songs from the film, where Priyamani is literally grabbing Prithviraj’s chest.  We don’t see *that* a lot.  We see a lot of the women who need to be rescued, an object for the hero and villain to fight over.

[00:05:50]  We don’t see a lot of women with agency in this period, and at least with Anjana, despite the fact that her marriage is arranged, we have a character trying to hang on to a little bit of it, with her choice to stay in school, postpone the wedding for four years, and oh, yes, she’ll do what she wants during that time.

[00:06:20]  Harsha does point out that Anjana’s choice is a bit of a plot device, but, that said, she does have a certain amount of agency, certainly not something we see much of in masala movies.

[00:06:35]  In this series we’ve gone over a lot of movies in which the agency of women and girls is specifically taken away, so it’s at least a bit refreshing that Anjana has some.

[00:06:45]  All of that said, don’t watch the film and expect to come away with female empowerment, because that is not the case.  It’s a little step in a good direction.

[00:06:55]  The villain they cast in the film, Bala, is also considered attractive, or was, at least at that time.  He was considered someone women liked watching.

[00:07:20]  Katherine notes there’s a song at the beginning of the film, and there is Bala dancing with Priyamani while Prithviraj plays the drums.  It’s notable because Bala looks happy and cheerful and non-villain.

[00:07:50]  The other thing that stands out in the film is Guinness Pakru – who now prefers to be referred to by his real name, Ajay Kumar.  He is a little person who is an actor who did a couple of films with Prithviraj around this period.  He plays a kind of comedy uncle, and it’s a role Harsha isn’t completely comfortable with.  The comedy uncle is a role that’s laced with a certain amount of classism and castism, and with Kumar being a person with a disability, that just piles on to the comedy uncle aspect.

[00:08:35]  Katherine notes that Ajay Kumar was in a lot of films in this period, in Tamil films as well as in Malayalam films. She also notes that it was the first time she’d seen a little person in Indian films in a more substantial role, even if much of it was “comedy uncle”.   Katherine is reminded of Mimie Mathy, the French actor who is also a little person, and who built a substantial career for herself.

[00:09:40]  Harsha notes Game of Thrones, as well, with Peter Dinklage, who has also become a huge star and present in a lot of things.  But in GOT, he had a character that was pushing the story forward.  Ajay Kumar has a place, but he’s not had that kind of career.  He has directed a movie.  We’d love to see him in more substantial roles – much in the way that Salim Kumar has been able to transition from being a comedy actor to a serious actor.

[00:10:35]  Is the reason we don’t see him in more mainstream things these days because Malayalam cinema has, since the 2000s, moved away from less politically correct, more comedy uncle usage?  That would mean the kinds of roles he used to do aren’t as prominent as they used to be.

[00:11:05]  Harsha notes that Ajay Kumar is always on Malayalam television shows where they judge music and dance competitions, and he always comes across as a very likeable guy – we’d like to see him given the chance to do more as an actor.

[00:11:25]  Katherine suggests that despite the “comedy-uncleness” of some of his roles, he’s still an engaging presence on screen.

[00:11:35]  Harsha mentions a show that Ajay Kumar used to do, where he would pick an old actor and tell us all about the gossip – Harsha’s mother used to complain that they were making him voice misogynistic thoughts, and that’s the only way he’s allowed to make money in the industry.  It’s sad, and we want to see more work for him that allows him to do more than this.

[00:12:15]  If you want to see Prithviraj becoming a superstar, this is the movie that you should check out.  It’s not the best movie in the world, and if you want this kind of masala you’re probably better off checking out a Telugu movie, but it is a nice milestone in Prithviraj’s career.

[00:12:40]  If she has to watch patriarchy and misogyny on screen, Katherine wants it served up with big song and dance numbers and lots of glitter, and the Telugu industry serves that up.

[00:12:55]  Harsha notes that in the 90s and a bit beyond, stars weren’t there for the female gaze.  It was tried in the 70s with Jayan.  In the 80s you had actors like Rahman and Shankar who were more appealing to women, but they weren’t doing action movies.  In the late 2000s you started to see movies appealing to the female gaze.

[00:13:35]  Next we turn to the 2012 film Asuravithu, starring Asif Ali.  It has a connection to Prithviraj through the film Stop Violence, and it’s by the same director, AK Sajan.

[00:13:50]  The film is Asif Ali’s first foray into a massy action film.  His character is Don Bosco.  He’s in a seminary studying to be a priest.  He’s soft-spoken.  But he eventually goes up against the gang who killed his father.  SPOILER:  his father is Prithviraj’s character who died at the end of Stop Violence, though we don’t know that initially.

[00:14:20]  The film opens with his mother, Angel (played by Lena) leaving him with the priests.  It’s a “nature versus nurture” thing – she’s afraid if she raises him, he will become a gangster like his father.  She wants him raised by the priests so he will have a better chance at becoming a good person.

[00:14:45]  There is a Satan/Angel dichotamy that exists in Stop Violence, and this movie is fully about which parent this young man is going to follow in the path of.

[00:15:00]  Harsha did NOT like this movie at all.  It was a pain to get through.

[00:15:20]  Katherine suggests it’s almost caricatural as an action film.  There were moments where they were hitting all the right action beats and tropes, but they were done so badly she laughed (and she apologizes for how terrible that sounds, but she couldn’t help it).  It was embarassing funny.

[00:15:45]  As Harsha notes, any time Asif Ali’s characters was smoking or walking around, his outfits changed from the white seminarian outfits to his black suits, and then suddenly he’s smoking and drinking – it just happens so quickly after he finds out who his father was.  He gets the kernal of the idea that the world is unfair and you have to use violence to fight it.

[00:16:10]  His change in character happens so fast!  It’s not explained, for example, in the way it was in Puthiya Mukham, for example, where they gave the main character a medical condition (real or not) to explain the change in his character.  He becomes an underworld kingpin so fast!

[00:16:35]  There is an extremely diverse group of men and women who are his gang members.  They suddenly start calling him ‘bhaiyya” out of the blue.

[00:16:45]  One of the characters in the seminary with him, and who joins the gang with him is the son of Acid from Stop Violence.  Very conveniently.  And Harsha reminds us that he’s played by Mammootty’s nephew, Maqbool Salman.

[00:17:10]  The film is about Good versus Evil, and it really doesn’t have much of a plot beyond that.

[00:17:15]  Katherine read an interview with Asif Ali for his film Underground, another action film.  They asked him if there were any role he would like to try again, and he said it was this role from this film.  He said that he jumped at the opportunity to do something he hadn’t done before in films.  Katherine doesn’t think this is his wheelhouse, and Harsha agrees.  But he said he didn’t think he was a good enough actor to do the role when he took it, but he jumped at it anyway because it was something he wanted to try.

[00:18:10]  Katherine suggests we talk a bit about Asif Ali.  One of the things she’d started doing on Twitter is bringing attention to other actors than, as Harsha notes, “our dear beloved Fahadh Faasil”.  (WE LOVE HIM, but there are more actors in Malayalam cinema who are worth learning about.)

[00:18:45]  Asif Ali works steadily, he’s known, but for Katherine he doesn’t seem to be up there with the actors that people will always mention or recommend to you.

[00:19;00]  Harsha feels Asif Ali’s niche is something like Kunchacko Boban’s.  He obviously didn’t get the extremely stellar debut Kunchacko Boban had the benefit of.  But Asif Ali made his debut with Rithu which was a very experimental film from director Shyamaprasad.  He came into the film industry at a relatively young age.  He’s been steadily working, and he’s got enough charisma and enough interest.

[00:19:30]  He hasn’t risen to the beloved status that Kunchacko Boban has because he just doesn’t have as many years in the industry.  However, he’s on track to get to that place.  Harsha reminds us about the joke in Ustaad Hotel when Asif Ali shows up and they ask him if he’s Kunchacko Boban.

[00:20:00]  Katherine appreciates that Asif Ali takes the chance on quirkier and/or more experimental films.  Whether you like a film like Kili Poyi or not, it was an attempt to make a stoner film,  not previously done in the Malayalam industry.  She also thinks he’s quite funny in it.

[00:20:25]  Honey Bee is fun.  Asif Ali works well in a light, fluffy space.

[00:20:35]  One of Harsha’s favourite Malayalam films is Ozhimuri, with Bhavana.  He and Bhavana are really good friends so they’ve done a couple of movies together, including Honey Bee.  Harsha likes their chemistry because it’s clear on screen that they’re friends and they like each other. 

[00:20:55]  All the movies Harsha thinks of with Asif Ali in them, the ones she enjoys are the smaller films where he gets to play extremely “boy next door” roles, or ordinary men.  It’s good that there’s an actor who excels at playing those kinds of roles.

[00:21:15]  There is space for more than one actor.  And Harsha points out you get a great sense of a normal, ordinary Malayali man in many of his films.  Fahadh Faasil has done some of those roles, but Asif Ali’s movies are chock full of the ordinary life of people in Kerala, in the same way as Kunchacko Boban’s.

[00:22:20]  We encourage people to seek out Asif Ali’s films, other than Asuravithu.

[00:22:30] Asuravithu is, in some ways, a little bit of a good fit for his filmography, because with Honey Bee and films like it, he’s done some Kochi-centric movies where people are talking in Kochi slang and it’s all about the Kochi underworld.  If anyone ever wants to become an Asif Ali completionist they can check this out.

[00:23:00]  Every time the gang complete’s a job there’s a “D Company” stamp on the screen.  Harsha reminds us that D Company was Dawood Ibrahim’s gang, and she wonders why they appropriated that for the film?

[00:23:40]  Harsha believes we were supposed to get a second part to the film, where Maqbool Salman’s character in the lead.

[00:23:55]  The film is also incredibly anti-Semitic, which for Harsha came out of nowhere.  She suggests that Indian movies don’t have a context for anti-Semitism that is known in the West and the Middle East.  Jewish people don’t have as much of a presence in Indian life, but also, Jewish people were famously well received by and were not persecuted in the subcontinent.  So for no good reason, the film’s villains are extremely, comically Jewish.

[00:25:00]  There are a lot of things that are part of Malayali culture, like castism and colourism, but anti-Jewish prejudice is not one of them.

[00:26:05]  Katherine considers the film for Asif Ali completionists only, with lots of warnings about the content.

[00:26:15]  We begin a discussion of the last film for this episode, Style!

[00:26:30]  Katherine tries to summarize the film.

[00:27:30]  Harsha notes that from the film’s summary you can understand that the film is very low stakes, and a lot of fun – of the films we watched for this episode, this one was the most fun, with the caveat that we have reservations about Unni Mukundun because of the sexual assault allegations levelled against him.

[00:28:00]  The movie spends a lot of time objectifying Unni Mukundun.

[00:28:05]  Katherine suggests that Unni Mukundun seems to be the most natural fit in the action space.  Harsha notes that he really does have the physicality for it, and he may have been trying to create a kind of New Generation Suresh Gopi-type career.

[00:28:40]  The movie flips the masala trope of the hero following the heroine around at one point.

[00:29:35]  Can the situation with the sexual assault allegations be resolved in a way that respects the alleged victim, and rehabilitates the actor?  Katherine feels a wee bit uncomfortable recommending the film (despite it being fun) when there has been no resolution of this situation.

[00:30:45] Harsha gives an outline of the news reports on details of the situation.  We come back to talking about why are professional meetings being carried out in unprofessional contexts?  Why are the meetings happening in flats and hotel rooms and not in offices?  It’s completely inappropriate, and it’s something that has to change in the industry.  Women who want to work in the industry are often forced into these inappropriate situations, where they probably feel unsafe.  It’s unfair, and it shouldn’t be the standard.

[00:31:45]  There has to be responsibility and accountability and things have to change.

[00:32:05]  As viewers we have a choice:  if your actions are so egregious, and there is no accountability, then we can choose not to watch the content.

[00:32:15]  Katherine feels that right now she’s sitting on a fence with respect to Unni Mukundan and his career.

[00:32:35]  As Harsha notes, the sad effect of all this is that people are just no longer going to listen to stories from female writers, rather than realizing that they should be taking these professional meetings in professional places – like in an office, with other people present.

[00:33:05]  There is something about narrating a script that is very personal – they have to act out some of the characters, and maybe that’s not great over an online meeting platform like Zoom.  That’s fine, but then you do it in an office, in a space where other people can vouch for what you are doing.

[00:33:55]  All of that said, we enjoyed the film.  This was a time when Tovino Thomas (who plays the extremely hammy villain) hadn’t quite become the star he is today.  Unni Mukundan was probably the bigger name in this movie.  They came into the industry around the same time, but Unni Mukundan had the benefit of having Mammootty as a kind of supporter. 

[00:34:30]  Every time Tovino Thomas lights up a cigar it’s done in a way that emphasizes the movie’s title:  STYLE.  Harsha loops back to Asif Ali in Asuravithu – what they do in Style was what they were trying to do in Asuravithu, but that film didn’t have the tongue-in-cheekness of Style.

[00:34:50]  Style is very self-aware about what it is doing, and that always makes a difference.

[00:34:55]  Part of post-modernism, as cultures move into the post-modern art period, sees self-awareness as a key – otherwise it feels insincere to us as an audience.

[00:35:00] Asuravithu does *exactly* the same things as Style – the exact same kinds of tropes and beats – and they don’t work at all.  In Style, they work perfectly.

[00:35:25]  There are so many little tongue-in-cheek details in the film:  Unni Mukundan’s character suggests she looks like a heroine from a Telugu movie; The brothers are called Tom and Jerry.  It would be corny, except they are actively trying to be corny.

[00:36:55]  Tom also allows his little brother Jerry to take his own revenge. 

[00:37:35]  It’s an action movie.  We have to accept that people beating each other up is part of that experience, otherwise why are we here?

[00:37:45]  In the moral universe of action movies, we think people settling conflict by beating each other up is fine.

[00:37:50]  Violence solves nothing.  Stop Violence (yes, that is a reference to a previous episode). Except in action movies.

[00:38:00]  Katherine found it interesting to see Tovino Thomas and remember that period where Unni Mukundan was the bigger thing.

[00:38:15]  One of the criticisms Unni Mukundan used to face was that he wasn’t a very good actor, and probably Tovino Thomas got the benefit of being considered a better actor.   But Harsha doesn’t mind Unni Mukundan in these kinds of roles where he plays a hemming and hawing muscled guy who everybody keeps complementing on his looks and muscles.  See also:  Vikramadithyan, Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaya.  Though Harsha also thinks he doesn’t have much range beyond that.

[00:38:55]  Katherine thinks it’s quite all right for some actors to have a zone they work well in. 

[00:39:20]  Harsha thinks Malayalam cinema doesn’t know quite what to do with Unni Mukundan.  If Unni Mukundan is going to go in the lane of Suresh Gopi of sorts — Suresh Gopi had proved himself as an actor prior to becoming an action hero, and he’s a good actor all around.  Mukundan has had bit roles in other industries, and maybe they’ll know better what to do with him, but he’ll have to grow as an actor at some point.

[00:40:10]  Over the course of three episodes spanning careers from the big stars like Mammootty and Mohanlal, like Jayan and Suresh Gopi.  Now we’ve had a look at this younger generation, we considers some thoughts about what we’ve seen doing this.

{00:40:25}  For actors for whom action is just part of their bigger repertoire, like Mammootty and Mohanlal, we often see films that aren’t really true action movies.  Those movies don’t stick out in their filmography, and they’re not the ones people are drawn to when they talk about these actors.  For people like Jayan and Suresh Gopi, and Unni Mukundan and perhaps Prithviraj (he’s a much stronger action star than he is in other genres) – actions films are probably where they are most comfortable.  They’re the ones most associated with the action genre.

[00:41:25]  For Malayalam cinema, action movies are still a pretty small genre, and there isn’t a strong action choregraphy industry in India.  Harsha really wants that to change. 

Subscribe to our feed here.

You can connect with us on Twitter: @PolandinePatti

Mail your queries and comments to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *