With a battalion of artists hailing from Trichur, speaking the peculiar rhythmic Trichur dialect, Ranjith’s new venture ‘Pranchiettan and the Saint’ tells the story of a man who meets with recurrent failures in life. By making the Star-Actor Mammooty to don such a role, leaving no space for a villain to win over, Ranjith redefines the Malayali hero-image through a social satire that brings his audience down-to-earth once again, says Gayatri Sundaram
‘When you give food to the poor, they call you a Saint. When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a Communist.’
But, Ranjith, the herald of revamping changes in the Malayalam film industry somehow, was swaying in between these floorers, when he brought the Saint to earth to be with a human being in a divine but decisive blend, through his otherwise loosely sought after scenario.
Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me (Matt. Xxv). Ranjith retold it through an Australian Theatre Artist, Jesse Fox Allen, deliberately or not, giving his own masculine voice to the Saint. Thus once again a film stamped as ‘Ranjith & Crew’ was being carried over to the intelligent Malayali audience through a fictitious and whimsical voyage of Pranchiettan and the Saint. Incidentally, one will turn back to Priyadarshan’s ‘Chandralekha’, where Srinivasan asking Mohan Lal “Ingalu padachone kanditundo..?” (Have you ever met with God?), after the show.
A cinema of Trichur
For a Trichurian, after the matinee show of ‘Pranchiettan and the Saint’ in the Ramdas theatre, it does not matter much more than a simple rounding of Trichur Swaraj Round. For him, it is a usual practice to round the Round, to ramble along the mess of Rice Bazaar, walking along the footpaths glancing around the thickly planted flux boards, roaming around the Thekkinkadu pecking some pea nuts…
Ranjith’s ‘Pranchiettan and the Saint’ tells the story of a typical rice merchant of Trichur. He can be a Pranchi or Jose, it doesn’t matter. He is familiar to every one in Trichur – as a rich rice or stationery vendor with unsophisticated manners born out of his uneducated background, as a rich textile merchant doing the same business as a chain of his ancestral trade, as a man of prejudice and show-off to get a chair in the society of upper class. They know, how to trade. Ranjith himself tells in this film that if you have some cash and the brain of a Trichurian no one can block you. It is Trichur, the native of the Pooram of Poorams, the place of exclaimed secularism, the mine of charities!!!
“Pranchietan and the Saint’ whistles umpteen characteristic features that belong to the city of Trichur alone, like that particular slang with a distinct rhythm and pace that cannot be imitated easily. But Mammooty as the protagonist has done his role as a pakka Trichur rice vendor having typical Trichur dialect without any tint of apprehension. (It is crystal clear that Mammooty would have done that much homework to make this role otherwise a simple and gaudy mimicking). As Trichur is blessed and messed up with a number of PadmaSrees,, to get a Padma Sree is not a great thing but a matter of prestige for an average Trichurain. Pranchi also, chooses this title as an option to glamorize his debased name.
‘What’s in a name if a rose..’ is an out-dated dictum. Name creates news in Kerala now. Here also Pranchiettan the protagonist is after a name, a nick-name, another characteristic of a Trichuraian (putting nick names to everyone he meets). Pranchiettan (Trichur has already taken patents to some words like..’ettan’, ‘maash’,‘gedi’etc to call a person without sensing how dignified he is) has got the nick name ‘Ari Pranchi’ from his school mates even though he was Chirammel Enaasu Francis, a name that holds the ancestral dignity and divinity of a Saint. To get rid of this nick name, he craves for a social recognition other than this rice business (which makes him an aristocrat financially), he tries his hand in some other fields like real estate, jewellery etc. In spite of all his efforts, ‘Ari Pranchi’ grapples on his shoulder like an elf. He does a number of charitable activities also with fifty percentages his mental propulsion and other fifty with persuasions that any rich business man (in Trichur) meets with.
Pranchiettan appears as a comic character before the audience whenever he tries to exorcise his elfian nickname and fails pitiably. As to any uncouth rich man, Pranchiettan also possess a team of sycophants the leader of which is Vaasu menon, essayed excellently by Innocent, who brought the Trichur dialect into the Malayalam film industry with all the ‘innocence’ it bears. He also joins with Edavela Babu, T.G.Ravi and Tini Tom of which the former two belongs to Trichur and hence only Tiny Tom needed to act for the cinema.
Like the nick name, its ‘inventor’ Jose (Siddique), his class mate, also follows Pranchi with his smutty lingo, to break down him wherever he goes to shake off his ‘destiny’. Besides winning his love Omana (Khushboo), Jose plans the plots to win over Pranchi, using his ‘education’ that demotes the latter. Though Jose plays negative to the protagonist, the particular thing about this movie is, it lacks a villain, a ‘must’ for the movies of today to create a plot for the hero to win over.
Through his revealing flashbacks to the Saint, we come across with the numerous characters in Pranchi’s life. Ranjith narrates this voyage as a social satire using comic flavour deviated from his usual tracks. Every dialogue in the film lets loose bolts of laughter in the theater – the way of presentation of each and every dialogue is closely twined with unadulterated Trichur slang that itself creates laughter among Malayalis who live outside Trichur. Besides Innocent, T.G.Ravi and Edavela Babu, Sadique, Ramu, Jayaraj Warrier, Sivaji Guruvayur, Sreejith Ravi, V.K.Sreeraman, K.B.Venu etc join the Trichur battalion with their own style of a native. Though not a native of Trichur ,Sasi Kozhikodu (the cook Iyyappan) deserves special appreciation, for his natural rendering of dialogues and mannerisms. More over, the one and only song of this movie is composed by Ouseppachan and sung by Gayatri (both belong to Trichur) is an add-on to its melodramatic texture though carries hardly any tint of slang concern.
Mammootty – The Actor
Contrary to the superhuman characters who strive for truth and takes weapon so as to restore the shaken righteousness, this movie lacks a stereo- type hero image, though the posters shout that Mammooty the Titan of Malayalam movie is the hero in this film. . Pranchiettan, the hero is apparently different from our age-old concept of hero-image. Pranchi faces recurring failures whenever he tries to win. His craving for a recognition sprouts from his thoughts of exorcising his bad names. In every phase of life, he encounters with failures but with a smile he consents with all. Here we witness the sorry plight of a common man happened to be rich by birth and is being persuaded and coveted by a team of friends, who often guises him as a buffoon before the public. Mammooty dons zero image of a hero, but he assures us that there is an unbeatable ‘actor’ in him far more than a ‘star’. But the ‘fan menace’ makes the real audience dumb to the dialogues as the theatre shudders with hoots and howls from the three sides, as usual.
By making Pranchi acting himself in the publicity ad of his own jewel shop and in explaining its ‘why’ factor, Ranjith retells what is understood by a common Malayali who dwells in TV channels. Through the Trichurian talks of the ad director and his crew, it exposes the covetous factor overtaking the craftsmanship of the advertisement which needs an element of art. By talking straight that donating huge sums of money to temples and churches never incorporates in the ‘charity’ segment but only makes an add-on to fabricate a profile in the application form for a Padmasree award, Ranjith scores over the populace of Trichur (may be other places also) who compete to perform secularism via charity.
Meeting a ‘high-handed’ politician to bribe for a Padmasree award is nothing new to the enlightened Malayali. But when Ranjith narrates the crooked ways in detail and at last when reaches the Historian Warrier Master (V.K.Sreeraman) we find the depth of its nothingness. When Pranchi hand over the receipts of his donations (for his originally carried out charities), Warrier Master, throws away all those papers and turns his pen to scribble something drastically contrary to Pranchi had been, we see the footages of flash backs, that instill the fact of contrasts that exist in the society. In the backdrop of Ayodhya verdict, the visuals of Masjid demolition over a glass of liquor blur the vision of Pranchi as well as the audience.
Through his earlier movie ‘Nandanam’, the Lord himself and in this film, through Saint Francis of Assissi, Ranjith advocates the divine communion of man and God. If to quote a piece of dialogue from ‘Nandanam’, this magic is meant to make those who do not believe, to believe in the very facts.
Anyways, it is for the good, never for the bad.
In the climax, through the life of Pauli (Ganapati), Pranchi comes out of his fabricated mania, and takes a crash land to touch the earth. It also conveys life is not to be blocked in the torrents of failures. Biju Menon, though only for a two-minute’ presence in the screen, makes one moved by his unexpected twist of a masculine image. Priyamani, the national award winner has nothing to do in this movie with her exuberant talents except white washing the walls of Pranchi’s home and his heart to fix her painting in the right spot. Venu’s camera goes hand in hand with the motif of this scenario, especially in the upper wide shots. Jagathi Sreekumar’s character also like his Rubick’s Cube, bulges to churn inside the audience as they always expect something worthy from him.
What lack in this movie are the well-defined characters that stamp the trade mark of Ranjith, the ultimate film maker. Except that of the molding of the protagonist Pranchi, all the other characters, even that of Priyamani and Khushboo, seems to be loosely woven. The aimed satires doubt to pierce the social fabric when observe outside the Thrichur market. Ganapati who portrayed the role of Pauli possesses immense store of talents as that of Priyamani, but Ranjith failed to exploit these potentials to rock the screen as he had done in his other films. At the end we see a hasty winding up when we are taken along the capricious visions of Pranchi to the bedroom of Khushboo and the court room where the corrupt politician stands in hand-cuffs. Anyways, when visualizing Priyamani’s decision-making scene, we see Pranchi closes his eyes once again to recapture it, which makes the audience also crave for the same.
However, Pranchiettan represents someone near and dear to a Trichurian. The political and social slapsticks revealed through his moony mania evoke the banner heads of every day Malayalam news papers. So Pranchiettan never becomes a stuffed filmi tamasha in the CD libraries, but a concrete character who lives next door to make even the Saint Francis of Assissi to call him ‘daa Pranchiye..’ in typical Trichur slang.