Thursday, July 05, 2012
Usthad Hotel - My take
I had hardly heard of this movie – okay, so I’m not the most updated person on Malayalam movies; granted. It would be quite another thing if I were in Kerala and missed it; but I’m outside and some releases can go unnoticed. It would have been the same in this case, but for the song ‘Appangal embadum’. A friend introduced me to this song, and later I caught it on TV. The song did the trick, for I was curious; curious to catch this movie. And then I saw two blogs raving about the movie – but I didn’t read them. I just browsed them to figure out if this was recommended. After having been disappointed one day (it was sold out on a weekday in Mangalore!) – I booked a show for the next day. And I wasn’t disappointed.
---Do not read if you want to watch the movie. Spoilers ahead---
This is the story of Faisal (Dulquer Salmaan) or Feyzee (yes, that’s how it was spelt in the movie; not Faizi!) whose name (and life) was scripted even before he was born. He was the fifth in line; born after much ado, to Razak (Siddique) whose wife (Praveena) dies due to close consecutive deliveries. That leaves Razak with four girls and a boy whom he takes abroad to the ‘Gulf’ (as we Malayalis are prone to calling the Middle East!). Surrounded by his ithathas, Feyzee takes to cooking faster than a duck to water, which is resented by his father. As expected, they all grow up and are married off, leaving Feyzee to face his future. When higher education knocks on his door, he masquerades his intentions and trains to become a chef, while his father assumes his son’s getting a Hotel Management degree.
Unfortunately for Feyzee, he reveals the truth at an odd moment – a pennu kannal with Shahana (Nithya Menon), to be precise, which angers his father no end. Razak, who himself was chagrined his entire childhood because he was a cook’s son, is embittered at the quirk of life – his son is planning to continue humiliating him! Feyzee’s given an ultimatum to choose between his father and his passion – which was no match. He leaves the stifling Razak Manzil and seeks temporarily move in with his slightly eccentric Uppuppa Karim (Thilakan). How he lives with his grandfather, and how life decides to change his course is what makes the rest of the movie.
Even as the movie unfolded with lots of food in the offing, I was quite certain that this movie’s also following the footsteps of Salt N’ Pepper, and cashing in on the ‘food’ craze. And indeed, the movie is about food, but in a deeper way than it gives away. And it is best expressed by a dialogue in the movie, which is my favourite (yes, even more than the Sulaimaani dialogue, which seemed a bit flippant to me) – “Vayaru nirakkan aarkum pattum, pakshe kazhikkunnavante manasu koodi nirakkaan pattanam” which loosely translated means ‘Anybody can fill one’s stomach, but you should be able to fill one’s heart as well’ – that indeed is true Kaipunyam (something akin to having gifted hands). Karim sets out to send this message to his grandson, with whom he connects more than even his son – he recognizes that he has gotten his true heir; someone who can carry on his legacy.
Where the movie succeeds is in not being didactic. Through all the lighthearted bits and entertaining elements, the real message of the movie is revealed – just as the real intent of his Uppuppa is revealed to Feyzee. And even as reality hits him hard onscreen, I bet it also dawns on the audience. The true life story of Narayanan Krishnan, a former chef in Taj, who quit his job to provide three meals a day to the poor and homeless, is deftly weaved into the plot.
Dulquer Salmaan does a good job in the movie; somewhere I feel that he’s still a bit conscious onscreen – but having said that, he brought a sense of innocence to the character. He acted like a normal guy his age, which made it more real. Nithya really doesn’t have much to do – but her presence is enjoyable. The song should keep her on the charts as well… talking of which, the song may seem a bit frivolous in the context of the movie (in hindsight) – but the movie owes the attention and hype it generated, to the song (take my case – I heard of the movie only because of it). Thilakan walks away with a big portion of the cake. After playing Achutha Menon in Indian Rupee, he gets another prominent presence – he carries off the role with aplomb and makes Karim yet another of his memorable characters. The rest of the cast also duly supports the movie, be it Mammukkoya or Maniyanpilla Raju.
Among other things what I also enjoyed were the social comments the writer/director made through the movie – the erstwhile (and continuing) fixation to have a boy child, the un-spaced childbirths and poor attention to mother’s health, how ‘arranged marriages’ are arranged (sometimes with even business interests in mind), how women have it ‘easy’ in the world (the truck scene, where Feyzee’s subjected to roving hands), reminiscences of past romance (Uppuppa’s and Ummumma’s love track) among others. Such light-hearted takes on life were like Puttinu peera (okay, now that’s tough to explain in English, so let’s leave it at that!)
Not that the movie is without warts – I don’t know why it’s mandatory to have an angrezi girlfriend if you have studied abroad. Also, when Usthad Hotel is closed for unhygienic conditions, they manage to revamp the whole place. We are left wondering how they got their funds, when they didn’t have enough capital to run the place. They show all of them pitching in with their gold and savings, but even then it seems unconvincing. What’s more, they repay the loan in the blink of an eye. How Shahana breaks off her engagement – we are not told. But these are small inconsistencies, in an otherwise good movie.
Final verdict – definitely watch it once. Unlike some movies, this does not have punchy or memorable dialogues (barring one or two). And it’s not the kind of comedy we’ll recall and laugh later. But it should not be missed. It is not mediocre – that is for sure; neither is it exceptionally brilliant. It is a good movie which gives you a good time. If I were to slightly modify my favourite dialogue in the movie – anyone can make a movie to feast your eyes, but to make one that fills your heart – that is real Kaipunyam.