Driving Licence review: A delectable and wholesome meta entertainer
The film takes delight in exploring the absurd shenanigans of characters who have to resort to ill-devised plans to get what they want
What happens when the person whom we put on a pedestal for the longest time suddenly turns into someone we loathe? We all have experienced this at some point in our lives. Our perception of this person is altered when some unpleasant trait of theirs comes to light. Kuruvilla IPS, Suraj Venjaramoodu's character in Driving Licence, goes through his vigraham udayal moment quite early in the film when his idol, a superstar called Hareeendran (with a triple 'e'), behaves in a way he didn't expect.
Written by Sachy and directed by Lal Jr, Driving Licence is built on the conflict originating from the clash between a celebrity's real and perceived image. Hareeendran, played with great panache by Prithviraj, sees himself in a certain way; Kuruvilla and the rest of the world see him in two different ways. The 'long-distance' relationship of Hareeendran and Kuruvilla is fractured after the former's plan to acquire a new driving license goes awry owing to a minor misunderstanding. What's interesting is these characters are not portrayed in a negative light. But one of them is a 'villain' to the other. It's a third person's negativity that actually causes this. The ego of these two men won't allow them to go down without a fight. This isn't some tale of a celebrity stalker gone mad. It's about power and authority making one blind to the truth. A little bit of restraint would have helped avoid all the chaos. But then, you wouldn't have a movie.
Director: Lal Jr
Cast: Prithviraj, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Miya George, Saiju Kurup
When Kuruvilla makes things complicated for Hareeendran, the latter challenges him to a 'public' learner's test in the presence of all media channels. It's a riveting battle of wits that resembles a television quiz show (with no 'lifelines', of course) more than an ordinary viva voce. There is one particular minute in this segment where Prithviraj's charisma is fully utilised. And Suraj complements him in yet another arresting performance. What a great year it has been for the actor! He has been giving one fantastic performance after the other. Note a scene towards the end of the film where Kuruvilla's face, after a seemingly victorious moment, runs the gamut of regret, sadness, and embarrassment when he realises what Hareeendran is going through. Moments like this speak to the narrow-minded ones among us who are quick to judge someone without knowing what the other person is going through, no matter how big a celebrity that person is. A moment is also devoted to the aggressive behaviour of fan groups.
Driving Licence takes delight in exploring the absurd shenanigans of characters who have to resort to ill-devised plans to get what they want. We get a Saroj Kumar-style actor in the form of Bhadran (Suresh Krishna, who manages to be hilarious in nearly every scene he is in). A wig-wearing middle-aged actor way past his prime, he is now doing laughable masala action films (he gets breathing difficulties after performing a fight scene). On one side, he is looking to bring down Hareeendran — his main competition — and hires an astrologer to make some 'adjustments' to Hareeendran's 'planetary alignments' to disrupt his career; on the other, he hires his fan association head to orchestrate Narada-style operations against Kuruvilla. Considering what's happening in Malayalam cinema right now, I wouldn't be surprised if I learned that there is a real-life actor who actually did/does these things.
The ever-reliable Saiju Kurup appears in a role that makes the best use of his comical side. As the mediator who is indirectly responsible for all the trouble, it's a joy to watch his character trying to get out of his unusual dilemma. Miya George delivers a surprisingly funny performance, as Kuruvilla's fame-obsessed wife who has to go through her share of embarrassing situations as well. It's easily her best work so far.
Sachy, who earlier wrote and directed one of Prithviraj's best films, Anarkali (2015), proves once again why he is one of the best screenwriters in Malayalam cinema at the moment. His writing carries the sort of colour and flavour last seen in the early Priyadarshan, Sreenivasan, and Siddique-Lal films. His characters don't speak more than they have to, and exhibit behaviour that's natural and cinematic at once. When Hareeendran is first introduced, it's a "movie within a movie" moment. Kuruvilla is inside a theatre cheering with the rest of the audience, while we are here cheering for Prithviraj. This meta aspect is one of the reasons why I loved the film — and there are plenty of such delightful meta moments in it. To give you an example, Hareeendran makes a joke about his "weakness for climactic twists" just moments after learning about a little climactic twist in his life.
The purpose of any good cinema is to not just entertain but also deliver a wholesome community experience, which is exactly what Driving Licence does. By involving us in the behind-the-scenes drama that goes on in the film industry and, to some extent, the media, it opens its doors to some stuff we are familiar with and some that we are not. Perhaps the makers were exorcising some of their demons. If true, then Driving Licence is a wonderful catharsis.