Marconi Mathai Movie Review: Vijay Sethupathi deserved a better Malayalam debut
Sethupathi puts on a sincere performance, but the bland script often gets in the way
Why are some filmmakers still under the impression that feel-good content is all Malayali audiences want? Marconi Mathai is the latest in a series of misfires from Malayalam cinema that is overflowing with cute moments but ends up being an unbearably dull experience due to the same reason. It looks colourful, sure, but the material is shoddy.
In one of the film’s early scenes, Jayaram’s ‘Marconi’ Mathai asks his radio why it is being so old-fashioned—why it is content with an old station and not willing to accommodate an FM station. Fed up, Mathai tilts the antenna to rectify the signal problem. The FM station magically appears. The film, however, remains stubbornly old-fashioned and refuses to catch a ‘new station’. Everything it plays belongs to a different, much older era. Perhaps the vintage visual style and the occasional use of a yesteryear song or two is trying to make that evident. But it doesn’t work.
Mathai is a 47-year-old security guard who falls in love with a too-cute-for-her-own-good girl named Anna (Athmiya). Making a 40+ actor play a character who is either unmarried or divorced in order to cast him opposite a much younger heroine seems to be the new trend in Malayalam cinema as well. Also, is there no other way to make a heroine appear cute than writing her as a girl who is afraid of crossing the road? When someone falls off their bike due to her carelessness, she doesn’t even bother to help. Huh?
Anyway, it doesn’t take long for the still-single Mathai to decide that Anna is his soulmate. She happens to be an orphan, and Mathai sees in her a kindred spirit. But when unexpected conflicts rear their ugly heads, Mathai goes missing. The film fails miserably at resolving a few of these conflicts. Things are over before they have begun. Some scenes are abruptly ended, and you go, “Wait, that’s it?” The script seems to have been hurriedly built around random moments instead of aiming to be a coherent screenplay. And the unremarkable, cringe-inducing songs don’t help either. When Sethupathi is welcomed to the radio station, a bunch of guys breaks into a song-and-acrobatics routine. A celebratory finale song, which has Sethupathi and Jayaram shaking a leg together, doesn’t offer anything other than eye-popping colours.
Cast: Jayaram, Vijay Sethupathi, Athmiya
Marconi Mathai, simply put, is the cinematic embodiment of the Paulo Coelho quote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Here the ‘universe’ is Sethupathi, who comes into Mathai’s life through a voice from a radio. The superstar is at a radio station to promote his fictional Tamil film Oru Kaadhal Kadhai Sollava. And how does he promote it? By talking about love. He signs off all his conversations with “Love you”, which is addressed to his listeners as well as the staff at the station.
Also lovingly addressed as ‘Makkal Selvan’, Sethupathi’s name is often seen in the same sentence as the words ‘nice’, ‘warm’, ‘endearing’, ‘humble’, and so on. As the superstar with a heart of gold who radiates warmth wherever he goes, Sethupathi doesn’t have to do much. He simply has to be himself. Whenever he appears—his total screentime could be around 15 minutes—the film becomes more lively. The film has been widely marketed as the Malayalam debut of Sethupathi, but he deserved a much better one than this.
Sethupathi puts on a sincere performance, but the bland lines often get in the way. I wonder if there were actually any lines written for him in the script, or if he was just asked to say whatever that pops up in his head about love, and the filmmakers just rolled the camera. Sometimes his words trail off. Imagine Anne Hathaway’s ‘love’ monologue in Interstellar and multiply it by 10. That’s what some of his lines sounded like.
Also, how many actors have you seen spend many days inside a radio station? I get that this film is not aiming for realism, but it would have been nice to see some semblance of reality. What makes Mathai and Anna so special for him? Whatever happens to them happens to so many others as well. He hasn’t even seen them up close yet as we, the viewers, have. What if all this is the character’s ploy to get people to flock to the theatres to see his next film? You never know.
As always, Jayaram, like Sethupathi, is endearing, but it can only do so much. To the actor’s credit, he always manages to be convincing in every bad script he does. When Mathai stays away from the office for a long time, you start wondering what happened to him. Only Jayaram can do that. But to be honest, every recent film of his —with the exception of Lonappante Mamodeesa—plays like a broken record. It’s been a long time since we have seen him step outside his comfort zone. I would love to see him do a film like Aparan soon. Fingers crossed.