Seeing ‘Kerala Café’ was like reading an anthology of short stories, ten short stories written by ten different writers. ‘Kerala Café’ presents a compilation of ten different short films directed by ten different directors. For those who like short stories, the film is a treat to watch; for the people of Kerala, this is a new kind of film-viewing experience. Of course anthology movies from Bollywood, like ‘Dus Kahaniyan’, ‘Darna Zaroori Hai’ etc have come to theatres here and our own Adoor Gopalakrishnan has given us anthologies of short films in ‘Naalu Pennungal’ and ‘Oru Pennum Randaanum’ (and the IFFK has had anthology films from different countries being showcased), but these films have all had limited viewing in Kerala. This is the first time an anthology kind of movie is being attempted as part of mainstream film making in Malayalam, with popular stars being in the cast.
‘Kerala Café’ begins and ends in Kerala Café, which functions in a railway station. It is from here that we move on to the first story, and it’s here that it all ends, thus weaving a connection of sorts between the ten shorties. ‘Kerala Café’ comprises of the following ten short-films:
Nostalgia: Directed by Padmakumar, ‘Nostalgia’ has Dileep, Navya Nair, Babu Namboothiri, Sreelatha and Sudheesh in key roles. This is about Johnny (Dileep), who works in the Gulf and who loves to wallow in nostalgic memories about his homeland. But when he reached homeland with his wife (Navya) and daughters, he is a totally different man, behaving contrary to what his words have been suggesting.
Island Express: Directed by Shankar Ramakrishnan, ‘Island Express’ has Prithviraj, Jayasurya, Sukumari, Rahman etc in key roles and tells about these people traveling from different places to one common point. The film is all about life and death- death giving a new meaning to life itself and life going on despite death taking away near and dear ones.
Lalitham Hiranmayam: Directed by Shaji Kailas and with Suresh Gopi and Jyothirmayi in key roles, the film is all about the web of complex human relationships focusing on a man and two women in his life.
Mrithyunjayam: ‘Mrithyunjayam’, directed by Uday Ananthan, is about a young media guy (Fahad Fazil aka Shanu) who ventures to unearth the mysteries surrounding an old, desolate house that’s ominous and from where no one has come back alive. Thilakan and Rima Kallingal too play key roles.
Happy Journey: Directed by Anjali Menon, ‘Happy Journey’ is about J.K (Jagathy Sreekumar) and his meeting a mysterious young girl (Nitya Menon) in a bus-journey.
Aviraamam: Directed by B.Unnikrishnan, ‘Aviraamam’ has Siddique and Shwetha Menon in key roles and tells the story of Ravi (Siddique) and his wife Devi (Shwetha). Ravi, who runs his own IT business, is in a hurry to send off his wife and kids to his wife’s place. He has got some plans to carry out once they are gone.
Off Season: Set against the famous Kovalam beach and directed by Shyamaprasad, ‘Off Season’ tells about the friendship developed between a tourist guide (Suraaj Venjaramoodu) and a Portuguese couple.
Bridge: Directed by Anwar Rasheed, ‘Bridge’ has Shanta Devi, Salim Kumar and Kalpana in key roles and tells about the complexities of human relationships and the plight of the aged and the unwanted.
Makal: Directed by Revathy, ‘Makal’ tells the story of what happens when the young daughter of a poor Tamil couple is adopted by a rich couple with no children. It’s a story of our times.
Puramkaazhchakal: Directed by Lal Jose and with Sreenivasan, Mammootty and Manikantan in key roles, ‘Puramkaazhchakal’ is all about a bus journey and what happens when a rather unfriendly guy (Mammootty), who tends to quarrel with almost everyone clambers into the bus.
These ten stories have a culmination at the Kerala Café, an ending that speaks of life going on and on despite all odds and also about those who are destined to be left behind with no one to care for them.
A main highlight of ‘Kerala Café’ is that the film tells stories of our times. The numbness that has crept into our relationships as we go on with the rat race for money and material pleasures, the way the recession has affected lives, the warmth of human relationships and friendship, the shams, hypocrisies and betrayals surrounding relationships, the understanding that we develop with fellow human beings and with those whom we love and also with those whom we meet maybe once in a lifetime- all these and much more get discussed in the movie, or rather the compilation of short films that stands apart from what we get to watch in the name of cinema.
Of course, just as in any anthology, not all stories are equally good. ‘Bridge’, ‘Puramkaazhchakal’, ‘Island Express’, ‘Lalitham Hiranmayam’ and ‘Makal’ stand out as the best. ‘Aviraamam’ too is good. ‘Mrithyunjayam’ may not be liked much, but still, as said earlier, it’s an anthology and hence it’s OK for an anthology.
The directors have managed to get their key players give the best of performances. There is no point in mentioning names specifically as almost everyone has done his or her job convincingly.
Coming to the technical aspects, it’s all top-notch. Of course the respective directors take the credits for bringing in the best of technicians for their short-films, but Ranjith too has to be given the credit for ensuring that the over-all quality of ‘Kerala Café’ is maintained on the technical side.
Music plays an important role in the film. The background score has been worked out well.
The script writers, ranging from B.Unnikrishnan to Joshua Newtonn to Didi Damodaran have all done a good work of their respective scripts, paying attention to all details and taking care that the essence of the stories are all retained.
The ten directors and Ranjith too have to be appreciated for having come up with such a different and marvelous kind of film. Hope ‘Kerala Café’ contributes its share towards changing the face of Malayalam Cinema.
Overall verdict- Short stories on celluloid; excellent.