Monsoon Mangoes (2016) – A pleasant treat for serious film buffs

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In this second film by Malayalam filmmaker Abi Varghese, Fahad Fazil plays D.P Pallickal, a middle-level executive in his 30s working at a U.S company that sells toilet equipment, a company that claims to be the “No.1 in the No.2 business”. He is bored of his job and dreams of becoming a filmmaker. He lives with his dad, a postal service employee who is trying to make extra bucks on the side trying to sell imported Ayurvedic products and his mother, a housewife. Like many Indian parents, they think he is wasting time by trying to pursue his ridiculous filmmaking dreams.

His incompetent attitude at his workplace is not tolerated by his Indian boss and naturally, he is fired. When his uncle brings him a proposition to shoot an ad film to promote his grocery store, Pallickal learns about Prem Kumar (Vijay Raaz), a washed-up and disgraced Bollywood actor who left the business after acting in a handful of cheesy 80s films. Prem Kumar is now residing as a reclusive alcoholic in a dilapidated residence somewhere in the neighborhood. With a fully prepared script in his hand already, he sees this as a terrific opportunity and proceeds to meet him. He approaches the owner of a sleazy movie house to set up a distribution deal but he is rejected. The rest of the film deals with his attempts to get his film made.

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The two things that came to my mind while watching this film are Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and Wes Anderson. The plot-line is almost similar to Ed Wood and the idiosyncratic production design is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s films. Fahad Fazil’s character is a bit like Johnny Depp’s Ed Wood. Just like many young film buffs of today, he idolizes Satyajit Ray, Steven Spielberg and the Malayalam director Padmarajan and has their pictures framed on his wall. And of course, he has a vast movie collection. Just as how Ed Wood dreamed of making his Citizen Kane by the time he turned 27, Pallickal hopes to make his earth-shattering debut by the time he turns 30. But Monsoon Mangoes is in no way a rip-off of that film.

So far, whatever short films he has made are amateurish and he is very much aware of that. We get a glimpse of one of these short films in the opening credits, which serve as a sort of film-within-a-film starring his best friend (played by Vinay Fort, the funny professor from Premam). Vijay Raaz’s character reminds one of Martin Landau’s portrayal of Bela Lugosi from Ed Wood. The film seems to be taking place in an unspecified time period/alternate universe. There are no smartphones, no iPads or flat-screen monitors. Instead you’ll see vintage television sets from the 1950s, computers from the 1990s and the lamps and table fans are, I’m guessing, from the 60s. All these serve as a nostalgic callback to those vintage eras when life used to be much simpler.

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Monsoon Mangoes is a simple and moving tale of pursuing your dreams come what may and is light-hearted entertainer with enough humor to make it worth your while. At the same time, it’s also a commentary on the deteriorating state of Indian cinema and makes an appeal to create and encourage good cinema. Pallickal is the only one who seems to be care about good cinema. Everyone else seems to be interested in watching B-grade masala flicks and there are quite a number of scenes that suggest this. The sleazy theatre owner, after seeing Pallickal’s absurd Bergman-esque existential drama, suggests that he better do something else and that filmmaking isn’t for him. He once again reminds him that it’s sex that sells and not some story of a guy playing chess with God.

And at one point, Prem Kumar vents his frustration, telling Pallickal that this is precisely why he left the film industry. Then there is his intolerable “digital is better than film” director of photography who is always looking for an opportunity to put him down. As Pallickal, Fahad is endearing and plays him as someone that many of us could easily relate to. Vijay Raaz is phenomenal as always. The cinematography is quite splendid and is on par with the films from Hollywood and is by Lukasz Pruchnik. This film is not for everyone and those looking for a typical masala entertainer should look elsewhere. Well, I’m sure that by now you’ve guessed that it’s not one. I saw some people walking out of the theater midway. You’ll have a nice time especially if you are one of these aspiring filmmakers and have similar dreams as that of Pallickal.

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