Ambili Movie Review: Soubin Shahir wins hearts, smiles, and laughs
Johnpaul George's new film is an enjoyable experience worth cherishing
After Sudani from Nigeria, here comes another film that proves Soubin Shahir is capable of carrying an entire film on his shoulders. In Ambili, he plays someone with the body of an adult and the mind of a child. Usually, in films featuring such characters, there’s a tendency to inject a heavy dose of melodrama. But Ambili doesn’t resort to that tactic. Its intention is not to leave the viewers depressed. A big shout-out to cinematographer Sharan Velayudhan Nair and composer Vishnu Vijay for complementing Ambili’s life with vibrant colours and mellifluous tunes.
As the titular character, Soubin is infinitely adorable and supremely hilarious. Oozing with goodness, childlike innocence, and boundless energy, Ambili is loved by everyone in his neighbourhood. What he lacks in maturity, he makes up in intelligence. This is a man capable of handling himself and his household chores responsibly in spite of the fact that he likes to play with children and indulge in mischief. It’s not a stereotypical characterisation even though Ambili’s get-up may recall Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi. I was hugely relieved to see that Ambili is not that film.
Director: Johnpaul George
Cast: Soubin Shahir, Tanvi Ram, Naveen Nazim
The film is a beautiful ode to those deemed odd by the rest of the world. The three main characters are odd for various reasons. There is Ambili, there is the girl who loves him, Teena (Tanvi Ram), and her brother, Boby, (Naveen Nazim). The former is odd because she has made up her mind to marry Ambili. The latter is odd because, well, it’s a mystery why he maintains a certain level of detachment with not just his family but also Ambili.
When the stand-offish Boby, who is a cycling enthusiast, comes back to his hometown, he is embarrassed by the idea of being seen with Ambili even though the two used to be childhood friends. When he learns that Ambili and Teena are in love, he is enraged, and we are not sure why. It looks like he is struggling to deal with some internal demons but nowhere in the film is that discussed. And it’s why Boby becomes the only character in the film that sticks out like a sore thumb. When Teena’s parents learn about the love affair, they don’t react in an explosive manner. They all go silent. It’s the sort of reaction that’s completely opposite to how Indian parents react in most movies. It’s an exceptional writing choice from director Johnpaul George, who exhibited similar flourishes in his debut film Guppy as well.
But then the film is not dealing with the conflict pertaining to Ambili’s love life. This is not that film. It’s more about reclaiming the bond lost between two childhood friends. Ambili, despite being treated harshly by Boby, doesn’t hold a grudge and follows him like a pet when he decides to take a cycling trip across various Indian states, in the hope of reaching Kashmir. You know that somewhere down the line Boby is going to change his mind about Ambili. But then it’s not about that either.
Though the film’s final scene doesn’t say it out loud, it’s obvious that it is not concerned with seeking a conventional resolution but rather delivering an experience worth cherishing, like the road trip Ambili takes with Boby. Like Ambili, it wants us to embrace our child and not worry about what others might think. And like Ambili, the film wins our hearts, smiles, and laughs.