Madhuram (Malayalam, SonyLIV)
Starring Joju George, Shruti Ramachandran, Arjun Ashokan, Nikhila Vimal and Indrans
Witten & Directed by Ahammed Khabeer
Rating: *** ½
At first the amount of sentimental sweetness that pours into writer-director Ahammed Khabeer’s modern fable on hoping healing and acceptance, overpowers you.
How can any film laying such a legitimate claim to realism invest so much nobility into suffering? How could a place of pain, a hospital, be used to project such unconditional joy? The government hospital in Khabeer’s film is overpowered by a lingering schmaltz . But wait. Let’s not be too hasty in dismissing this as just another feelgood fluff film designed to deliver some year-end hope.
Madhuram is eventually much more than a sum-total of its sentimental validation. Its ‘message’ of hope in the midst of despair and death,is never shrill or even insistent ; it just quietly hovers in the air like the aroma of the biryani that plays such a decisive part in the pert and inspiring plot.
Initially the film wears the aura of a daily soap .We meet various characters who are attendants to patients in a government hospital where we understand, the staff is polite, the doctors are patient, and the patients a gentle and undemanding lot….ummmm…arcadian angst?
For all its overt ostensibly unreasonable optimism, Madhuram is a winsome therapeutic journey into the dark tangled thought processes of those who quietly watch their loved ones heal or die in hospitals. There is never a middlepath to the conflict between mortality and immortality.
If the film so adroitly overcomes its inherent deficiency of excessive sentimentality it is thanks to the actors. I cannot say this enough times: Malayalam cinema has the best slew of non-acting actors, so natural it seems they are not aware of the camera capturing their emotions in undulating motions.
Joju George who in my opinion was better than the great Fahadh Faasil in Malik, is the plot’s centrifugal force. He is not only the all-round Uncle Agony for all the impatient attendants of the patients, he is also the purveyor of the film’s central lovestory where George’s character Sabu falls in love with a plucky Gujarati girl Chitra(Shruti Ramachandran) who, incidentally looks as Gujarati as an idli masquerading as a dhokla.
George’s love story comes to a stirring painful and poignant cathartic culmination ;this again reiterates the film’s over-sentimentality which is both its main strength and weakness.
Arjun Ashokan is also amiable as a newly married confused husband trying to cope with his mother’s surgery and his (arranged) wife’s efforts to blend into the marriage, not to mention her brave and not unsuccessful efforts to cook from YouTube recipes.
As for Indrans, last seen as Oliver Twist in the amiable domestic drama Home, when is he not completely into his character?With performances that never scream into our souls, Madhuram is the just the year-end send-off that we need. Yes, there is pain and suffering in our lives. But there is also hope and recovery.