Being a non-resident Keralite all my life, naadan food and Malayalam films are two things that help me connect back to my roots. I have spent many a weekend at home, laughing over the antics of Dasan and Vijayan, or watching the gorgeous Ganga transform into a murderous Nagavalli seeking revenge on a Durgaashtami day. Needless to say, there are a number of Malayalam films that I am likely to remember for a very long time, and this post is about one such film that I recently watched.
I have always been a Mohanlal fan, and can never tire of watching some of his old films. Remember classics like Chitram, Kilukkam, Devaasuram, Thenmaavin Kombathu, Aaraam Thamburan...and I could just go on! However there is no denying that certain more recent films show him in a less than flattering role, and many of us thought that he should be playing roles his age. And that's when he came out with Grandmaster, once again proving to us what a versatile actor he is, bringing back the magic on screen.
Directed by B Unnikrishnan, Grandmaster tells the story of an IPS officer named Chandrasekhar (played by Mohanlal) who leads a rather lonely life, struggling to come to terms with a broken marriage. We are told that he used to be a brilliant cop, but ego clashes over professional issues between him and his lawyer wife Deepthi (portrayed by Priya Mani), have torn him apart. Even as the head of the Metro Crime Stopper Cell in the city of Kochi, he prefers to spend his time playing chess with himself, seeming to have lost the zest and passion he once had for his job. However all this changes when he hears of a mentally unstable young man named Jerome, who in a fit of anger at being ignored by a young girl, abducts her and two of her friends. Being the father of a teenager (whom he gets to meet only twice a month), he immediately sets out to rescue the girls, and we see traces of the old Chandrasekhar return. The next day, he sees a stack of letters and enquires about it. His colleague Kishore (played by Narain) tells him that most of these letters are pranks, and they shouldn't be taken seriously. However, Chandran tells him that he should be able to differentiate a genuine letter from a prank, and proceeds to pick out one addressed to him, in red ink.
To his surprise, the letter is from an admirer, impressed that he was able to make a comeback of sorts by arresting Jerome. But the letter also contains a rather chilling message- It is an invitation to Chandran to stop playing chess against himself; a challenge to play against the writer of the letter instead, and the stage would be a place called Adityapuram on the 10th of February. Chandran remembers that date to be inauspicious for him, and he wonders what's in store for him. Fast forward to that date, and we see a woman named Alice lying dead in front of her coffee pub. She has been murdered, and the murderer has left behind a children's alphabet book, opened at the page for A. The word 'Apple' has been struck out and in its place the page reads 'A for Alice'. Rather chillingly, the murderer has also used his weapon to inscribe a cross on the victim's forehead.
As he tries to trace who could be behind this murder, two other murders take place, and the names of these victims begin with a B and a C. He is convinced that these murders are all linked, and somehow uncannily each victim had a visit from a travelling salesman before their fateful deaths. Who was this person? What is his role? And why on earth did the murderer insist that Chandran gets involved in this game?
Based on Agatha Christie's book titled The ABC Murders, Grandmaster has all its elements in place. It has none of the over-the-top heroism usually associated with thrillers of this kind, nor does it rely on soppy romance in the flashback used to describe Chandran and Deepthi's marriage. Jagathy, as Chandran's colleague Rasheed, once again proves to us that he is an actor par excellence. Narain and Priya Mani, as Kishore and Deepthi, have pulled across really good performances. Anoop Menon, playing the role of Deepthi's psychiatrist friend named Jacob, was brilliant-I felt there was a quiet dignity about this whole character. There is one scene where he proposes to Deepthi, and I especially liked the way he dealt with her rejection. Babu Antony, as the travelling salesman, sent shivers across my spine. Especially the scene where he opens a Bible and prays to God in repentance, or the scene where he confesses to a priest that 'they deserved to die since lust was their sin'. But undoubtedly, the film belongs to Mohanlal. With his salt-and-pepper hair, and a graceful dignified demeanour, he plays his age, and oh my, he does it incredibly well. This role seems to have been scripted especially for him, and he brings sheer magic to the film- almost like the old days when his Midas touch transformed many a drab movie into a blockbuster hit. Lalettan's top notch performance puts the 'grand' in Grandmaster. A movie NOT to be missed!