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Attention Please Movie Review: A ferocious, unsettling work that incites meaningful debates on art- Cinema express

Attention Please Movie Review: A ferocious, unsettling work that incites meaningful debates on art

At the heart of Attention Please is a phenomenal performance from actor Vishnu Govindan, the soul of Jithin Issac Thomas' film

Published: 26th August 2022

I wonder what the reaction of those around Jithin Issac Thomas would've been when he first narrated the idea of his debut feature, Attention Please. Did they tell him that it won't work out? Did they tell him that it's short film-friendly? Did they tell him that it's so dark? Did they tell him that it resembles something they saw in a foreign film? Did they tell him that he doesn't have the talent to be a storyteller/filmmaker? Did they tell him to find another job?

Director: Jithin Issac Thomas

Cast: Vishnu Govindan, Sreejith Babu, Jicky Paul, Anand Manmadhan

I watched Attention Please in Kochi's Sangeeta theatre, the only place where the IFFK-honoured film to which acclaimed Tamil filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj recently attached his name as co-producer, is being screened. I was the first person to enter the screening hall. Seeing that I was alone, I wondered whether they would cancel the show. Two people came in later. The show was on regardless. Phew! After the screening, I was enraged. Why? Because it was one of the most gratifying film experiences I've had and there were only three people to watch it! What's happening? Now don't give me that 'OTT-friendly' excuse. Some films, no matter how small the scale, work better on the big screen because of their top-notch technical quality.

Who knew that a film about a group of cinema-obsessed youngsters talking about filmmaking would be this engaging? Who knew ordinary conversations would suddenly take a disturbing turn? Despite being set entirely inside a bachelor pad (yes, one or two characters go out and come in, but the film doesn't go out, not even once), Attention Please is not one of those films that fall prey to the usual talking head cliches. Though wholly reliant on dialogues, the innovative storytelling and arresting performances ensure a boredom-free experience -- at least, that's how my experience was. In fact, every performer brings their A-game to the film, particularly Sreejith Babu, who recently delivered a scene-stealing turn in the much-acclaimed Aavasavyuham. And kudos to cinematographer Himal Mohan, editor Rohith, composer Arunvijay, and the entire technical crew for lending a sense of richness to what would've been just a long rant in a less-talented filmmaker's hands.

Writer-director Jithin Issac Thomas has already proven himself an inventive storyteller with his segment Pra.Thoo.Mu from the recent Malayalam anthology, Freedom Fight, released before Attention Please. At the heart of Attention Please is a phenomenal performance from actor Vishnu Govindan, gifted with the sort of meaty, unpredictable, darkly humorous and utterly terrifying character that most talented actors usually relegated to supporting parts for the longest time would kill to get. A desperate scriptwriter hungry for his big break, Vishnu's character Hari is the soul of Attention Please. Hari has a vast reservoir of stories, all dying to come alive on screen. Hari represents every artist sick of censorship. Hari represents every filmmaker yearning for an original style instead of aping someone else's. Hari represents every artist limited by caste bias. Hari represents every misunderstood artist. Hari represents every filmmaker that's told that their work is unoriginal. Hari represents every filmmaker dismissed because of their colour or physical appearance.

Attention Please is a series of storytelling sessions moderated by Hari. All these stories have one thing in common: they aim to unsettle. Some of these have a touch of reality to them, others fantasy. But whatever the genre, they all carry the ability to shake you to your very core. One of the most impressive things about these narrations is the absence of visuals. It's all verbal, enhanced by disturbing audio effects. It got me thinking that Hari's impressively hypnotic storytelling skills would make him an apt fit for the world of radio.

Of course, his roommates would disagree with me on this. But isn't that the point the film is making? Who decides what is good art and what isn't? If a piece of art works for one individual but doesn't work for another, should it be labelled bad? It reminds me of those online arguments where someone says Marvel cinema is not art. (It is.) Oh, and Attention Please also takes a moment to address fan fights through another one of Hari's disturbing stories.

Jithin doesn't hold back when it comes to the raw dialogue too. Though less on cuss words, they are not always sanitised family-friendly conversations. They occasionally take a detour into unchartered, uncomfortable territory. And the impact is reflected in the characters, too. At one point, a character remarks, 'Mood poyi.' (My mood is gone). It reaches a point where the film takes on an ironic quality when life begins to imitate art. (Spoiler territory, of course.)

While on the same, Attention Please doesn't forget to address, among many other things, the influence of art on real life. Here, 'art' also includes video games. One of the characters in Attention Please is -- as his roommate puts it -- "24 hours on his phone." One of them asks him, "How many did you kill?" which receives the response, "Millions, bro." These words come from the same guy who earlier demonstrated an aversion to 'dark' stories. In one of the film's most crucial scenes, Hari points out that if cinema has the power to corrupt, then the majority of society would be evil by now. In another instance, Hari counters an unwarranted plagiarism argument with the question, "Aren't stories the same everywhere? They first establish the protagonist's background, then put him through conflict, which later gets resolved." Perhaps Jithin is alluding to the oft-noted tendency of 'online reviewers' to call even a filmmaker's respectful attempt at homage an act of plagiarism.

Attention Please has a neat resolution, too -- one I didn't see coming. It's a great relief after an intense 'hostage crisis' situation (you'll know what I mean once you see the film). But it's also wicked in that it can go in any direction. I don't think Hari would want you to think of it from just one angle. Isn't that what great art is supposed to do?

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