Muddy Movie Review: Largely campy, but the efforts are commendable
Perhaps Muddy would find some interest in audiences outside Kerala - that is, those who don't mind the lack of character development or over-the-top performances
A day after the trailer of RRR dropped, we get a new Malayalam film in which two men are established as having a bit of bad blood between them but later reunite to thwart a common threat. In this case, though, the two men happen to be brothers from different mothers. The fresh faces playing them -- Yuvaan Krishna and Ridhaan Krishna -- are real-life brothers too. The first thought that popped in my head after seeing them on screen is that if someone wants to make a film on Karnan and Duryodhana, these two would be apt. Yuvaan, in particular, also looks like someone from a Sergio Leone film. As the jeep driver Muthu, he's got the sort of piercing eyes and intimidating presence that Charles Bronson had. Such actors are suited for a particular kind of story - the one that's got more adrenaline in it than substance. Muddy, directed by newcomer Dr Pragabhal, is one such.
Director: Dr Pragabhal
Cast: Yuvaan Krishna, Ridhaan Krishna, Renji Panicker
I have much respect for filmmakers that deliver exactly what they promised in the trailers (or more). I knew what to expect going into Muddy, which did not give one the impression of a film with lofty goals. It has no illusions about what it is. I have to give one thing to the makers: passion. You can tell that much effort has been made to deliver something that hasn't been explored before in an Indian film: off-road mud racing. The vehicles are shot with almost a fetishistic glee. Notably, there is no attempt to bore us with elaborate discussions on the mechanical details, despite one of the abovementioned brothers playing a mech grad. Cinematographer KG Ratheesh has placed cameras in every possible nook and corner, either giving us a fly on the steering wheel perspective or a first-person pov as in those computer games that some of us used to enjoy.
The film knows where to slow down or speed up the action. Some of the high points of the race get the slo-mo treatment, but the film is also careful not to overdo it. In films of this sort, there is usually a tendency to use too many rapid cuts to hold our attention. Thankfully, the choreography in Muddy is coherent. The attempts to give us a sense of the degree of peril involved are laudable. The same sophistication, however, is not found in the fight scenes. I was not excited by them because of the missing novelty factor. Also commendable is the idea of showing mud racing as something that's as respectable as any other sport and not to be frowned upon. At one point, someone talks about it in a dismissive tone, and Muthu is quick to correct him with reason. I also liked that one of the racing jeeps has women at the helm.
Unfortunately, Muddy suffers from the same problem that Abrid Shine's Kung Fu Master did. The degree of effort put into milking thrills cannot be found in the screenplay and characters. Muddy is heavy on the campy side when it comes to the performances. The actors don't have the most polished lines. The bad guys, in particular, behave like characters from a cheesy 90s Bollywood movie. Don't even get me started on the main villain, who resembles a taller version of the villain played by Ashwin Kumar in Jacobinte Swargarajyam. He, too, has an accent. But unlike the restrained Ashwin, the actor here hams it up to the max. He goes to ridiculous extremes to express his angst. He is essentially an overgrown man-child who throws tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants. Muddy already has two actors on the side of the good guys for comic relief (nothing worth discussing), but it's the bad guy's antics that provoked more laughs.
There is also an attempt to give us a sense of family and brotherhood by showing those aspects of the brothers' lives, but they fail to register any impact. I know it would be unfair to expect much character development from a film like Muddy, but it seemed to me that it could've done better without the little character development it has. Taking out at least 15 mins from the first hour could've made it smoother. Besides, there are moments where you can't make out what the actors are saying, which is particularly true of Renji Panicker.
Released in five Indian languages, Muddy ends with the promise of a sequel, but I wonder why. It's not KGF (despite having its composer Ravi Basrur making a significant contribution here) or Gangs of Wasseypur. Perhaps Muddy would find some interest in audiences outside Kerala - that is, those who don't mind the lack of character development or over-the-top performances.
That said, I must add that I sense much potential in Dr Pragabhal. As I said earlier, you can tell he put too much work into exploring a subject that seemingly makes him tick. If he is indeed serious about a sequel, I hope he includes better writers, bigger names, and higher stakes in it.