Movie Review: Outwardly sunny bright cheerful and brimming with joie de vivre, Bejoy Nambiar’s startling omnibus opens on a deceptively positive note as a college romance burgeons between a stammering student leader and a sexy blind dancer. The zest and grace with which Nambiar projects the growing love between two youngsters with a “manufacturing defect” each,lulls us into a false sense of wellbeing.
Solo (in Tamil & Malayalam)
Starring Dulquer Salmaan
Directed by Bejoy Nambiar
Rating: ****(4 Stars)
No,forget it, all is not well with the universe.Each one of the four stories that form the essence of Nambiar’s compelling treatise on life love and related deceptions, secretes a dark despair-filled underbelly. Nambiar takes little time to get to the unlit core of the human heart. Like his characters, Nambiar too is at the risk of running out of time.In 2 ½ hours he must unravel the mysteries of the human heart as they tie themselves in tangles of anguishedimploration to anyone who would answer the call of the heart.
Indeed Solo with its supremely impassioned plea to fob off isolation is a shout-out for comfort and warmth in a world gone completely cold. In the frigid frozen environment of isolated hearts and broken promises, a light is lit.
Nambiar’s characters find love and then lose it in the most bizarre ways. In the first and my favourite story Shekharwith the speech impairment loves and marries the seductive dancer Radhika(the very fetching Sai Dhansika) who can see better than those with vision. Their ravishing romance, more Mani Ratnam than Karan Johar, reaches an awful dilemma then slides into a tragedy with such resonance that I was rendered teary eyed and speechless in no time at all.
Nambiar gives us no room to grieve for lost love. The next story which is cleverly and stylishly noire-ish(Kashyapand Ramu on one of their more inspired outings) has chameleon-like Dulquer transforming into a vendetta-seeking widower. I found this story way too devious and self-congratulatory to be spontaneous. The storytelling here lacks the grace of the first story. Bejoy is way too eager to push all the right de Palma-Hitchcock buttons. The morality tale is just about gripping though never gloriously memorable.
The third story , a dark violent saga of persecution and retribution again soars to tremendous heights of lucidity. Here Dulquer,playing the gun-toting killer from a broken violent home, uses his silences to express screaming disdain for social codes. Among the four stories this one has the optimum velocity and an ability to be an independent full-length feature film on its own.
The gangsters (these include the very wonderful Dinesh Prabhakar , seen in the week’s other release Chef) are constantly fighting over MGR-Sivaji Ganesan songs . The brutal hits are staged in grotesquely ironical circumstances , for instance a Tamil melodrama plays on television while the man of the house is being roughed up outside. Or a businessman who is vital to the plot is attacked while he performs Ganpati puja in Mumbai.
This story is partly set in Mumbai and conveys a lot of the city’s gangster-patois with a relish that Nambiar had displayed in his stunning debut film Shaitaan. There are images and shots in this story that I’d rate as among the best in the gangster genre in Indian cinema.Like the first two stories this one too has an unexpected twist in the tale that leaves one of the protagonists bereaved and alone….solo!
Interestingly there is an infant child in all the three stories so far, while Dulquer plays the child-man in the fourth and least satisfying story about a volatile armyman and his forbidden love for his neighbour’s daughter(Neha Sharma). The incestuous undertones in this story left me somewhat underwhelmed though not in any permenantly damaging way.
Solo is ample proof of Bejoy Nambiar’s mastery over the desi noire genre which so far Anurag Kashyap thought he owned. It is also a lucid testimony to Dulquer Salmaan’s virtuosity, He has rapidly emerged as one of India’s most exciting contemporary actors. There are other performances in the film that heighten the feeling of exacerbated intrigue underlined by that feeling of dread which remains just under the film’s simmering surface.
No review of this remarkable film can be complete without mentioning the cinematography which propels the innermost hankerings of the characters into tangible images, and the redoubtable Sreekar Prasad’s editing which brings all the four stories into one moral and emotional line of vision without forfeiting the individual flavour and mood of each story.
Solo is a work of such acute and sometimes simply cute, mastery that we tend to moved back in awe to admire its physical and emotional construct, only to be pulled right back into the profound conflicts of Nambiar’s protagonists who are strong enough to face the winds of adversity but not unbreakable when lashed by life’s disappointments.