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Described in one line, the story of Ranjith's new Kayyoppu is simply that of a talented writer fighting writer's block.
Yet this thin thread is weaved into a well-rounded narrative in the deft hands of the writer-director who has drawn a lot of flak for building up a superhuman image for actors in Malayalam cinema. Here too he does the same, but in a mild manner that attracts us toward the intelligence of a man past his physical prime, one who can largely be considered a failure.
Balachandran (Mammootty) is all about intellectual heroism: he quotes lines from Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's works verbatim and his room in the lodge is a treasure trove of world literature, where you could find rare copies of out of print books. His bread, however, comes from earthier means; he works as manager in a small fertilizer factory.
Balachandran's uneventful life gets a jolt when a famous literary figure (Nedumudi Venu in a guest appearance) praises his unfinished novel as the new voice of Malayalam literature, at a public gathering. From this point on, small-time publisher Sivadasan (Mukesh) keeps motivating him to complete the book -- hoping that he gets the publishing rights.
An additional motivation to write is provided by the return of his former sweetheart Padma (Kushboo), newly separated from her husband. These circumstances give Balachandran enough vigour to finish his novel.
The seemingly simple narrative is peppered with events and incidents that make the story wholesome. The peripheral characters take centrestage in unexpected ways. The way the characters are built makes it worthwhile. For example, Babu (Jaffer) the caretaker/manager of the lodge represents the mundane world, which doesn't understand or appreciate Balachandran's intellectual pursuits, but shows empathy and support in the time of need.
Similarly, the relationship between the author and the publisher, his link to the outside world, is also subtly displayed. For example, Padma never meets Balachandran after she resurfaces; they only communicate through the phone.
It is also to Ranjith's credit that he makes a film which looks intensely personal in the first half relatively universal as it goes on. The pacing of the film is slow and might be criticised for appearing pretentious, but the peppy dialogues keep the momentum going.
Mammootty on his part looks the introverted struggling author. The way he carries himself brings out the feeling of him being both a spent force as well as a resurgent genius.
Mukesh plays a perfect foil to Mammootty's character, with his enthusiasm and exuberance never going overboard. Kushboo too should be commended, as most of the time she is alone in the frame talking on the phone.
Kayyoppu, being a marked departure from the typical Ranjith style of filmmaking, deserves at least a watch.
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