Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Malik And More: Fahadh Faasil’s Finest Performances

If you are a fan of Fahadh Faasil's, you must have watched these seven movies. If you're not, watch them and become one.

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Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Malik And More: Fahadh Faasil’s Finest Performances
Fahadh Faasil is a phenomenal actor, and doesn't need any lists to be proven so. But in case you had any doubt about the volcano of talent he is, you got to watch these seven movies, where FaFa has excelled in every sense.

MAHESHINTE PRATHIKAARAM (2016): Five years before Fahadh Faasil and director Dileesh Pothan got together for the neo-classic Joji, they collaborated on this intriguing -- what??? love story? revenge drama? comedy on caste clashes? Maheshinte Prathikaaram is all of this. It’s a gravity-defying miracle, in more ways than one. That Dileesh Pothan takes a one-liner from a newspaper - a man vows never to wear chappals until he avenges the public insult - and turns it into an amalgamation of multiple genres is a gravity-defying feat. That he often brings humour into the gravity of the theme is another achievement, all possible because of its lead actor.

Fahadh Faasil plays Mahesh as a small town, small time photographer with minimum ambitions. It is an ambitious performance. Fahadh finds a core of heroic dignity in a man who is uncommonly common. Director Dileesh Pothan is not of much help. His plot is scattered in every direction. For a while, it seems Mahesh’s vendetta against Jimson(Shujith Shankar) is forgotten as he spends incommensurate time wooing Jimson’s sister Jimsy(Aparna Balamurli). It all comes together in a combative climax which is a feast of fury. But the way Mahesh and Jimson call it a truce makes the plot appear like a joke in itself. This film is nowhere near what Dileesh and Fahadh achieved in Joji. But remarkable for showcasing Fahadh’s proclivity to plunge deep into his character no matter how shallow, inconsistent and insincere it may be.

JOJI (2021): Is Fahadh Faasil India’s greatest living actor? In film after film, he proves himself a fearless peerless seamless actor who merges into his characters like water in a stream. And better still, flows down that stream where the human condition merges with the very bedrock of existence.And look at where Fahadh has arrived in Joji! Shakespeare’s Macbeth gets the treatment which I am sure would make Shakespeare himself envious. Joji is a dark brooding translocation of the Shakspearean tragedy with unexpected bursts of warmth and humour which Shakespeare could have never imagined. Magically, the characters in Syam Pushkaran’s screenplay are relocated from their Shakespearean bleakness to a Malayali verdancy.

The overpowering greenery of rural Kerala has always served as a compelling counterpoint to the dramatic tensions so organically generated in Malayalam films. The tension has never been more palpable as it is in Joji. You can cut it with a knife and all you will see are bloodless wounds in the family of Kuttappan PK Panachel (Sunny PN), a tyrannical patriarch who runs the family business with a tight fist and an immovable grip over his three sons. While one of them, a drunken divorced bully named Jomon (Baburaj) loves his mean-spirited father unconditionally, the quieter Jaison (played brilliantly by Joji Mundakayam) has Daddy issues that he has long suppressed within himself.It is the youngest son, a wastrel named Joji who is the focus of the radiantly inky plot.

Joji is of course played by the great Fahad Faasil who brings to the character a kind of patriarchal bitterness that manifests itself in not-expected burst of devastating violence. This is director Dileesh Pothan’s third directorial with Fahadh (after Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum) and by far the most reflective, moody, sinister, subtle and sublime.Though Macbeth is an inherently violent tale of patricide and Oedipal guilt, Pothan’s film does away with the vileness of the protagonist's deeds by introducing a kind a dithering juvenilia  into Jijo’s character. His chosen weapon of violence is an airgun and his selected hideaway is a half-dug well. Fahadh’s Jijo is an unlikely villain and hence all the more devastating. He is also an unlikely Shakespearean hero who has in all probability never heard of Shakespeare. How unlike Vishal Bhardwaj’s Macbeth(Maqbool) where all the main characters behaved as if they had graduated in Shakespearean literature!

Joji is a remarkably artless tragedy filled with a looming respect for the spaces that divide individuals within the same family. Cinematographer Shyju Khalid creates a sense of distance and isolation by capturing characters who often sit physically distanced from one another  in the family mansion. In one striking shot we see Joji and his Bhabhi in two different adjacent rooms in the same frame. Clearly the frames are designed for the big screen. But what to do? If wishes were horses, Joji would be riding them, not selling them without his father’s knowledge.The relationship between Joji and his sister-in-law (Unnimaya Prasad) seems so ambiguous precisely because it doesn’t try to be complicated. Familial complications, says Dileesh Pothan are alibis we generate to justify and rationalize our greed and covetousness. Replete with wondrous images of everyday poetry (see Joji examining his father’s medical pills of different colours), Joji is a film that we all will go back to in the coming years. How did we miss this and that?! For now, don’t miss this great film with one of India’s greatest actors giving one of his greatest performances in a film that doesn’t aspire to greatness. It just gets there without straining to do so.

NJAN PRAKASHAN (2018): This is actually two films fused into one. In the first half, Fahadh Faasil plays an overweening under-gifted, closet-fraudster going all out to woo a nurse so she can serve as his passport into the West. The first-half brims over with a rare breed of humour. Director Sathyan Anthikad doesn’t allow himself to judge this slightly slimy man who doesn’t think twice before using anyone who can help him realise his dreams. Fahadh plays the cheesy hero with a relish,almost savouring every bit of his character’s lack of a conscience. In the second half, he moves into a completely different gear when he serves as a nurse to a headstrong rich little girl Tina (Devika), who brings out the humane side of Fahadh’s character. The transformation is neither sudden nor unconvincing.

Fahadh plays the character of the con-man turned into a caring caregiver with exceptional empathy. Fahadh and director Anthikad had gotten together earlier for Oru Indian Pranayakatha. But their collaboration really came to fruition in this beautiful drama of humanism versus self centredness.

ANNAYUM RASOOLAM (2013): This is a simple story lifted to greatness. Some films are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. Were it not for the wonderful Fahadh Faasil, what would Annayum Rasoolambe? I am not too sure of the answer to that. The kind of implosive energy that the actor brings to his role of an obsessive unrelenting lover (if the film was made today he would be called a stalker) transports the satiny tiptoeing sneaky romance to the stratosphere of extra-specialness. This extraordinary level of commitment seen in the film’s hero Rasool is fluently transposed to the narrative which never falters even as Rasool’s passion gathers momentum in a swoop of swooning ecstasy. This is a man in love, who ferries every single day from Kochi so that he can be on the boat with the girl of his dreams Anna (Andreah Jeremiah) as she travels home.

The ritual becomes so rigid that other passengers on the boat begin to recognise Rasool. “Don’t you have a job?” an elderly lady asks, not impolitely. Rasool is not the least embarrassed if he seems at a loose end. Dammit, he is love! Can’t the world understand his feelings? The narrative unfolds through the voice of Rasool’s friend Ashley(Sunny Wayne). The characterisation of Rasool’ s friends is in a league of their own. They are committed, quirky and querulous. They gave Rasool sound advice. “Why do you want to fall in love with a girl whom you have to follow every day ona boat and who doesn’t even look at you?” Why does a love that requires herculean volumes of self-abnegation always seem like true love?Fahadh Faasil, that magician of an actor, expresses Rasool’s earnest feelings of love with a blend of rhapsody and reality. He knows he is on slippery ground, especially because of their differing religious beliefs. But he also knows that if he loses Anna he loses his chance to be happy in love. He would rather take the chance.

Of course, like all great love stories, Annayun Rasoolam comes to a tragic end. But not before we are tansported into a world of furtive glances and hurried touches that are as fleeting as that breeze that blows off the Kerala beaches. Director Rajeev Ravi gives an unhurried languorous feel to those hurried fleeting moments between Rasool and Anna as he catches her in her workplace, a saree shop, on the boat as she goes home, in the church and at home. By the time Rasol’s romantic dreams have had their fill, the film is so suffused with the aura of love and ‘foreverness’ that you pray it won’t take the tragic route.Alas, what is a good love story without a tragic finale? And what is a routine romance without Fahadh Faasil to uplift its mood from the mundane to the meditative and melancholic? Director Rajeev Ravi who is a first-rate cinematographer leaves the luminous lensing to Madhu Neelankandan who captures the working class rhythm of romance with much the same fluency and anxiety as Mani Ratnam’s Alai Payudhe. It's a dreamlike world inhabited by sweaty commuters and idlers who pick fights because they have nothing better to do. The next Fahaad Faasil is still some time away.

TRANCE (2020): The latest Malayalam film to prove Kerala’s supremacy in powerful ceiling-shattering content and performances, is a pioneering achievement, tearing as it does into the innards of fake religiosity where billions of bucks are generated by exploiting the weak and the vulnerable and where faith is forever flogged to death. With a towering performance by Fahadh Faasil in the lead, Trance sweeps us into a world of depraved exploitation. Parts of the plot are purely pulp. But then what is wrong with pulp when it suits the narrative’s purposes so well? The lengthy film of almost 3 hours, begins like a desi Rain Man with Fahadh’s petty motivational-speaker character Viju Prasad looking after his psychologically disturbed suicidal brother (Sreenath Bhasi). It then veers viciously into a brown-man’s version of Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke where  Viju is trapped into doing a staged (fake) holy miracles .The exploitation of religious sentiments earlier done half-heartedly in Hindi films like OMG and PK is stripped of all veneer of politeness.What we see is a group of avaricious power brokers setting up con-props for a world hungering for change.

The villainous caucus (played by Tamil filmmaker Gautham Menon, Dileesh Pothan, Chemban Vinod Jose) lack finesse in characterisation and portrayal. They could be a trio of villains in any film about crime and punishment. It doesn’t take long for us to realise that the campy villains are seen to be part of the larger drama of grotesquerie that the sprawling plot systematically dismantles. Standing at the centre of  the diabolic debris is Fahadh Faasil. Magnificently askew and off-beam, he sweeps all the jerkiness in the narration under the carpet making us look not at the faults (albeit glaring) but the larger picture of merchandised religiosity.

Nazriya Nazeem provides some romantic succour to the battered hero very late in the film. She comes in at a time when Viju, now transformed to Pastor Joshua Carlton is plunging into the abyss.The last half an hour where the parody pastor must perform a holy miracle to wake up a dead child, reminded me of Dev Anand at the end of Guide.

C U SOON (2020): Thank God for happy endings. Well, almost. This thriller about an online dating plan gone horribly wrong has a whole lot of balls, plus a steadily beating heart. And it ends on a bright note. We need that.The important detail that we must remember is that the whole 98-minute film has been shot on iPhones. So now we finally know why they are called smartphones. This is as smart a thriller as they come with some of Malayalam cinema’s finest young talent pitching in with a conviction born out of isolation. Not surprisingly the well thought-out thriller simulates a taut tempo at a slow burn temperature. Since the world is under a lockdown none of the characters is in a hurry to go anywhere.

The plot, done up entirely in a virtual format, takes its time to whip up a frenetic anxiety. By the time we reach the devastating climax, there is no escaping from the film’s vice-like grip on our senses. A piano-based deceptively calm and soothing background score by Gopi Sunder goes a long way in getting our undivided attention as love-stuck Jimmy (Roshan Mathew) befriends the troubled Anu (Darshana Rajendran) in Dubai on the digital platform.

Remarkably, the entire romance and the horrific aftermath unfolds through images on computers and phones. This is an ingenious invention born out of necessity as the film is shot in quarantine. At the same time, that sense of virtual disengagement gives a muscular immediacy to the narrative. The actors get into the mysterious, melancholic mood effortlessly. I could almost feel Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran’s growing fondness. Mathew, so brilliant recently in Moothon, Kapela and Choked, is growing into one of the most interesting actors in the country.

But here, it is Fahadh Faasil, who holds this robust thriller together. The way his muted misogyny—his horribly rude attitude towards his girlfriend—melts and merges into a mass of repentance and guilt, is a journey undertaken by an actor who doesn’t stop at anything in bringing his character’s most secret demons on the table.

C U Soon is a very clever yarn told through a hi-tech vision which has no room for extra baggage. This is a flab-free thriller that shows us how constructively new-age technology can be used to tell a story that won’t let go of our attention for even a second. The last film I saw which was shot completely on the phone was Aneesh Chaganty’s brilliant Searching about a father’s frantic search for his missing daughter.

In C U Soon too a girl disappears. But not for long. This is a thriller that doesn’t play out a tantalizing drama. It moves at its own volition sweeping its characters into a situation that has no room for theatrics. Just plain blunt facts plucked from newspapers. The rest is his story more than hers.

MALIK (2021): Be warned. I think Fahadh Faasil is among India’s most talented actors. But I am not a fan of gangsters being glorified as Robin Hoods. It is an old trick in cinema. To show criminals with their hands soaked in blood, building a school here, and a hospital there for the poor, feeding the poor at religious places and meting out justice to tortured peasants… Marlon Brando did it 40 years ago. Now its is Fahadh Faasil’s turn.

Malik is a big film, and I completely understand Fahadh’s disappointment at the skipped theatre release. The film is stylishly mounted. The opening festivities at Sulaiman's (Faasil) residence are captured in a lengthy 12-minute shot which reminded me of the wedding in The Godfather, as I guess it is meant to.

From this ostentatiously impressive beginning, Malik never stops being that film which wants us to look at it without blinking. The frames are littered with legacies of unspoken violence and recrimination. Cinematographer Sanu Varghese (he also shot the same director’s first film Take Off) makes a virtue of a depressing dinginess that accompanies the narrative everywhere it goes.

The film is constantly on the move. When we first meet Sulaiman and his no-nonsense wife Roselyn (played by Nimisha Sajayan who looks like she decided to finally assert herself after serving endless meals to her husband in The Great Indian Kitchen) Sulaiman wants to wash away his sins by going on a pilgrimage.In a black-and-white CCTV-styled sequence he is stopped by the cops at the airport and arrested under TADA. Director Narayanan loathes the linear. He moves through the semi-fictional biopic (apparently this dupe-gooder Sulaiman existed ) like a drunken monk, negotiating the protagonist’s criminal beginnings and his  growth into a full-blown lawbreaker that comes naturally to artistes who believes only the lawless can bring justice to the oppressed.

There is also a very dangerous communal subtext here whereby the historically sanctioned oppression of a community is seen as a pretext for outlawry. I am not sure Fahadh Faasil agrees with the director’s moral landscape. Faasil moves through the landmine of moral ambivalence with stealthy cautious steps. At the end, I knew nothing about Sulaiman that I wanted to know. What impels such self-styled Robin Hoods into messianic postures? Faasil gives an exasperatingly clammed performance. We don’t know what Sulaiman is thinking. We only hear his close associates talk about him.

Image source: youtube/manoramaonline/AmazonPrimeVideoIndia/ManoramaMusicSong/ANNAYUMRASOOLUM/Muzik247/IMDb