9 Review: This Prithviraj-starrer is a visually dazzling, Shyamalan-esque mystery thriller
Barring a few pacing issues in the second half, director Jenuse Mohammed deserves a pat on the back for delivering a one-of-a-kind experience that hasn't been seen in Malayalam cinema before
It's only fitting that the central character in 9, a child, is named Adam. Why? Well the film presents a scenario where mankind is made to experience the beginning of time thanks to a global cataclysmic event. This is a time when electricity hadn't yet been invented and the Earth is firmly under the grip of fear.
"There is no need to fear," assures Prithviraj's astrophysicist Albert to a large audience before the event occurs. "The sun will rise as usual, but the nights are going to envelop everyone in pitch-black darkness. The emergency lamp is not going to work. Buy candles, a lot of them." It's a simple scientific phenomenon, he informs. A supermarket visit is used as an excuse to deliver exposition, something that is best avoided in films like this. In fact, exposition is delivered here more than once, and while it occasionally does seem unnecessary, it does a fairly decent job of helping us imagine the gravity of the situation. Being a man of science, Albert will experience things that will test his faith in science as well as himself. Expect a night full of terrors.
Cast: Prithviraj, Wamiqa Gabbi, Mamta Mohandas, Prakash Raj
Director: Jenuse Mohammed
One of the things that 9 gets right is that it doesn't have that Interstellar problem: it gives the audience a sense of the event's magnitude by including the entire globe, even though most of the film is confined to a single location and revolves around a few characters.
This is a film that is not confined to a single genre -- I counted at least three -- in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won't reveal them here. Instead, I'll simply say that, in terms of scale and concept, 9 is the closest we have come to an M Night Shyamalan film in Malayalam. It's not just Shyamalan's films that 9 reminded me of, but also those of Nicholas Roeg, Roman Polanski, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, and even the television series LOST (hello, 'smoke monster').
Albert apparently loves his son Adam (Master Alok), but he also appears emotionally distant most of the time, an after-effect no doubt of the demise of Adam's mother during childbirth. The child is aloof, weird, and has no friends -- a fact that constantly bothers Albert. Some of their heated confrontations -- and the fact that some characters keep referring to Adam as an 'evil child' -- brought to mind films like The Omen and The Shining.
Why is this event happening? What connection does it have to Adam? What are the intentions of the mysterious stranger who suddenly enters their lives? Is there a world beyond the understanding of science? These are some of the questions that 9 tries to answer. I'm not sure it answers all of them, but there's fun to be found in the film. A few logical inconsistencies do show up now and again, but they make sense when placed under the light of the climactic revelations.
What Jenuse and team have also accomplished with 9 is a superlative audio-visual experience. Aided strongly by a remarkably-gifted cinematographer - Abhinandan Ramanujam - the director uses every cinematic tool at his disposal to deliver a visually dazzling, one-of-a-kind experience that hasn't been seen in Malayalam cinema before. The film is a testament to the fact that you don't need to go abroad for photogenic locales. Also, a big shout-out to composer Sekhar Menon for his Hans Zimmer-style background score, without which the build-up wouldn't be half as effective -- a prerequisite for any thriller, especially one that juggles multiple genres.
Barring a few pacing issues in the second half, which can be forgiven, 9 certainly deserves a pat on the back for going that extra mile. Films that end on an ambiguous note are interesting because you discover something new with each subsequent watch, and this is one such. It pleased the mystery fan in me, and I hope more Malayalam filmmakers come forward with such compelling and creatively daring ideas in the near future.