Solo – If only . . .

As a wise person once said, “While watching a movie, one does not necessarily need to know the director’s vision, the effort put in by the cast and crew, etc… The only factor is if you liked it or not. Basically… Wortha Illaya?”

So, on a personal note, I have stopped believing that at times intent, experimentation and guts can maketh a movie.

Probably that is why I am unable to give Bejoy Nambiar, the director of Shaitan and David, the luxury of “Oh-wait-but-he-has-tried-something-different”.

Solo is definitely an ambitious attempt, one that uses four elements in nature(Water, Wind, Fire, Soil) to showcase four facets of Lord Shiva and treads a path that Indian filmmakers tend to avoid.

However, it isn’t enough if the intentions are in the right place and Solo, unfortunately gets as underwhelming as it gets interesting.

Unlike one of the other anthologies in Malayalam cinema, Kerala Cafe, where the eponymous cafe was a commonality connecting all the ten stories, Nambiar decides to treat the movie as four separate films and uses a few plot devices to conjure a semblance of similarity.

There are many threads that are common to the four stories, with my personal favourite being pregnancy.

Though the narration might be in ultra non-linear mode, there is a structure to this madness. There is a definitive ending to every story. There are no loose ends and unanswered questions. There is a clear beginning and an ending for each of the four stories even if the middle portions get incoherent at times.

We are pulled into the different worlds created by Nambiar right from the time the titles roll.

It starts with a rendition of carefully written verses that acts as a brief introduction to the story.

Anbin thanimayil, unakku maranam illai” (In the solitude of love, you are immortal)

There is an accident in the rain and we witness a time jump that takes us back by four years. We enter “The World of Shekhar”

world of shekhar

In the words of Radhika (played by an effortlessly charming Sai Dhanshika), a visually challenged dancer, Shekhar (Dulquer Salmaan nailing the role of an angry person with a stammer) is also born with a ‘manufacturing defect’.

There is irreverence in the love between Shekhar and Radhika right from their first meeting.

Points to Nambiar for etching out a female character who doesn’t mind manipulating her way to achieve her means and managing to stay away from painting her with a brush of stereotype.

Shekhar-Radhika are lovely as a couple and their moments shine on the screen. But, each story is burdened with a lack of time and it is a huge gamble on the emotional investment of the audience with the characters.

Even if there was a sense of disconnect due to the hurry to get things to a well-rounded finish, the World of Shekhar left me wanting to stay a bit longer with him and Radhika.

There are many scenes that leaves you wanting a lot more – like the importance of a beach in the lives of Shekhar and Radhika, the women ‘chenda’ players in the ‘Devadhai pol oruthi’ song sequence, the marriage, the way Radhika reasons out her liking for Shekhar and many more.

The entirety of this story might have been disjointed, but it lives through its moments.

We then move on to the next story with an introduction that ends with the words, “Aayiram thanimai kaathirukka, unakku neram illa” (You don’t have the luxury of time to wait for a thousand solitude)

world of trilok

Nambiar woos us into the “World of Trilok” with wind rustling through the hair of a beaming ‘angelic’ cyclist who is thrown off the road by a BMW.

As she struggles for her life in the back seat of the car, the perpetrators get into a heated discussion about Jesus, forgiveness and retribution.

A story that deals with intent, karma and divinity changes tack as abruptly as it begins.

Trilok (Dulquer, in terrific form, playing a man trying to finding his way around life after losing its meaning), a veterinarian, is caught in a quagmire and gets to play God in the lives of certain people despite losing his belief in one after the unfortunate accident.

Trilok’s world is also filled with those stand-out moments and it works better here because of the central conceit is not a love story.

However, there is no sense of longing to stay with Trilok when the story reaches its end point. This feeling of aloofness from Trilok is what makes this story tick all the right boxes.

Veezhchiyin thanimayil, unakku purayidam illai” (In the solitude of downfall, you have no place to hide). These words ring in our ears as we enter a dark and space-constrained world.

“World of Shiva”

world of shiva

Nambiar, a protege of Mani Ratnam, pays obeisance to his guru with his version of “Thalapathy” and the “World of Shiva” goes on to prove why Dulquer might be the best person to play Surya if and when there is a remake.

The biggest strength of the World of Shiva is Nambiar’s usage of songs. It is not just the way he uses the rock version of “Aigiri Nandini” to make a particular stretch the most exhilarating portion of this movie.

He has also effectively changed the way I perceive the song “Maankuyile”. There is a wonderful portion of a MGR/Sivaji Ganesan songs face-off and “Vethala Potta” song from Amaran playing at a time when there is initiation of a character into the realm of crime and gangsters.

Nambiar knows his way around the right usage of music and silence.

Shiva’s story is one that is constantly in motion. There are no measured pauses and shots cutting away to the waves making its way to caress the feet of the protagonists.

There is no time for niceties. There is no facade. There are no grey areas.

It starts with a family breaking due to an alcoholic abusive dad, who commemorates his wife leaving by throwing all her pictures into the fire.

Shiva’s portions begin with a killing and ends with another.

There is a mother of all twists that adds more credence to my belief that this is an effectively made, digitally remastered and stylised version of Thalapathy in 30 minutes.

When Shiva is involved with Rukku (Sruthi Hariharan), a woman with a child from a previous relationship, my idea does not exactly seem far-fetched (remember Bhanupriya and the kid)

Shiva is the best Dulquer performance in this movie. At times, there is a violent ferociousness to his silence while at times there is just melancholy.

While the “World of Shiva” is peppered with a lot of effective moments enacted by actors in top form, my personal favourite is that the antagonist to Shiva, interestingly named Vishnu, is first shown praying to Goddess Durga.

I initially sided with the thought it would be tough to beat the reveal in the “World of Shiva”.

Then these lines, “Izhappin thanimayil nirka, unakku nizhal illa” (You do not have the luxury of cover while standing in the solitude of loss) take us into the whirlwind “World of Rudra”

world of rudra

This is the love story of army cadet Rudra Ramachandran and Bhama (Neha Sharma). The more I see Dulquer in that uniform, the more I am convinced that Mani Ratnam could have repeated his hero after O Kadhal Kanmani in Kaatru Veliyidai.

Though I believe Karthi did a fine job, Dulquer’s anger and possessiveness doesn’t feel overbearing and maniacal as it did when Karthi enacted the role of VC.

My heart did a loud groan when Dino Morea enters the screen playing Dulquer’s senior in the army. It reminded me of the painful cameo he had in Rajiv Menon’s Kandukonden Kandukonden playing Mammootty’s junior in the armed forces who wants to marry Aishwarya Rai.

I couldn’t stop thinking if this was the same guy who has now been promoted in the army and is now doling out advice.

Well, be as it may, this story is Nambiar at his wicked best. He lets himself soar free and this sense of freedom is visible in the performances of his actors.

This story too has that common thread that binds these four episodes — an ‘accident’, a pregnancy, a time-jump of four years and probably the father of all reveals.

The reveal also tells a lot about the mindset of the audience. It is a reflection of our basic instinct and to quote Kamal Haasan’s oft repeated dialogue in Bigg Boss, “It is a social experiment”

You might smile, grin, laugh, feel disgusted, angry, remorseful or even just go blank. It tells a lot about us than the movie and that is an achievement in itself.

Despite all its towering accomplishments on the technical level, spectacular visuals and exquisite music, Solo just gets lost in translation.

Is it because of the nature of the medium or just under-par execution that stops this movie from becoming a game-changer.

Is it because of putting all the eggs in one basket or just the fault of the basket itself that the movie fails to deliver.

But, by no means is Solo an offbeat attempt for the sake of it. It works well within the so-called norms of commercial cinema, but there is a definite sense of detachment from the proceedings and it acts detrimental to the way this movie was absorbed.

I would watch Solo again.

Not because it has quite a number of excellent performances from the supporting cast that includes the likes of Sai Tamhankar, Nasser, Manoj K Jayan and the Thaikkudam bridge.

Not because it is a great movie, but because it has quite a few wonderfully woven moments strewn across the screen. Especially when certain actions and dialogues is resonated elsewhere within the movie.

For example those references to Gautam Vasudev Menon’s Vaaranam Aayiram.

Was it intended or is it just me overthinking?

There are a number of such Easter eggs that crop up here and there in this movie and it gives weight to the argument that here is a filmmaker who knows his wares and does not take his audience for granted.

Honestly, just this quality should have been enough for a filmmaker. But, it is an anthology with four stories and not being able to pique the interest for close to half the running time leaves us feel cheated.

Solo isn’t what they promised it would be and I walked out with mixed feelings even as a couple crossed me calling it a snooze-fest while two young kids raving about the movie.

That is exactly what Solo is all about.

The voices of disappointment is equalled by the voices of awe. Unimpressed shrugs are seen alongside encouraging hi-fives and disapproving memes are matched with “What-a-filmmaker” ones.

Solo is polarising and is further proof that opposing opinions can and should exist peacefully with each other.

What is cinema if not the biggest democracy in this world?

#VaazhgaJananaayagam

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