Theevandi Review: A light-hearted satire on heavy-duty issues
This Tovino Thomas-starrer breaks some rules and operates on its own rhythm, fully aware of its own absurdity
Watching Theevandi feels a lot like reading a PG Wodehouse novel. Nothing bad ever happens in it; and even if something bad does happen, it will somehow resolve itself by the end. Theevandi is set in a utopian land called Pullinad. The number plates on the vehicles read 'PL', not 'KL'. This place could be anywhere in Kerala and the characters could be you and me.
This is a film that isn't afraid to take some risks. It breaks some rules and operates on its own rhythm. And it isn't afraid of being slightly irreverent at times. Just like its characters, it is aware of its own absurdity, and therein lies its beauty. This is a film designed to put you completely at ease: it won’t cause a spike in your blood pressure or increase your heart rate.
Director: Fellini T P
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Samyuktha Menon, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Saiju Kurup, Sudheesh
Directed by newcomer Fellini TP, Theevandi is comprised of a series of amusing episodes stitched together and is replete with conversations. These conversations are nothing extraordinary, the characters are not discussing rocket science, and yet they manage to hold our attention. If a film can hold our attention through dialogues alone, does it matter if the plot or character development becomes secondary?
A character could be discussing something inconsequential and still not bore us. It gives you the effect of watching a bunch of characters in a coffee shop talking about some random, insignificant topic which has got nothing to do with us. Though its concept is fresh, films like Theevandi have been made before by some renowned filmmakers. This Fellini film is structured a lot like another Fellini (Federico) film, I Vitelloni (1953), which inspired successors like Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982), George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973), and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973). The characters do random things and share amusing anecdotes that can be sometimes profound and sometimes not. These are unemployed, idle young men who refuse to grow up and are supported by their parents, relatives and friends. They sit around playing various games, and their ridiculous shenanigans can stir up a lot of trouble.
Leading a similar pack of misfits is Binish (Tovino Thomas), a 27-year-old nicknamed 'Theevandi' (train) because of his cigarette addiction. But if he intends to settle down with his girlfriend Devi (newcomer Samyuktha Menon), he'll soon have to give up the habit. And to make things more interesting, the political future of two men — one from Binish's family (Saiju Kurup) and the other from Devi's (Suraj Venjaramoodu) — depends on Binish's decision to quit or not quit smoking. This is where the real fun begins.
Watching Saiju and Suraj's characters play mind tricks on each other reminds you of Jayaram and Sreenivasan in Sandesham. Now, I'm not comparing the two films — they tell two different stories; and Theevandi is not as sophisticated as Sandesham — but I see Theevandi as this generation's Sandesham.
Tovino continues his successful run of playing men with major character flaws whose path to redemption is facilitated by the arrival of a girl (a similar thing happened in Tovino's previous release Maradona). But this time it would take more than a girl. There is a fascinating backstory to his character that, if revealed, would spoil the fun of discovery. This backstory explains Binish's near superhuman ability to inhale copious amounts of smoke, as if he is sure that his body has an in-built mechanism to reverse its after-effects.
And given this bad habit, one would assume this film is a statement on smoking and its ill-effects. You expect intense depictions of the hero's withdrawal symptoms a la Trainspotting. It is nothing of the sort, although there is one scene where Binish experiences minor hallucinations brought on by withdrawal.
In addition to exploring that emotions associated with making a choice between growing up and staying a kid, Theevandi is a light-hearted satire that takes on several issues, from anti-smoking videos (like the Rahul Dravid one) shown in theatres to the dangerous Blue Whale challenge. There is a perfectly timed scene where one character's Blue Whale challenge clashes with Binish's attempts to break a cigarette-smoking record at the same time. It's a brilliantly done instance of dark humour.
Samyuktha looks quite comfortable in her debut role, but Devi's romance with Binish feels half-baked, perhaps because we don't get to see how their romance was established. Also, I wish we got to see more of her character than just 'a girl pissed off with her boyfriend because he smokes'. And a small portion in the second half involving two guitar dudes spewing dull philosophy nearly put me to sleep. That could've been left on the cutting room floor.
The film's standout performer is Saiju Kurup, whose restrained approach to comedy here is an absolute delight to watch. He is blessed with that rare ability to make people laugh without doing much. It's his eyes that do all the talking. And Sudheesh proves once again what an underappreciated actor he is. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of cinematographer Gautham Shankar, who, with his fluid camera work and use of yellows and browns, lends the film a vintage look. Theevandi's overall look brings to mind the Malayalam classics from the 80s, especially those made by Sathyan Anthikad.