To anyone who considers film-making an unattainable dream, filled with sacrifices, patience from dear ones, and an abundance of grace from God, this movie will speak volumes.
So, there’s a trend in Hollywood. In the Academy, really. Where the movie that won the Best Picture award usually wins the Best Director Award as well. In the 90 plus years of the Academy history, a contrary scenario occurred only less than 25 times, which says a lot about how a film, and how a director’s craft is judged. Now, hold that thought.
Of course, there’s a reason I’ve started with such an anecdote, as this post would contain the review for the latest Malayalam release: “And the Oscar goes to…”
The movie stars Tovino Thomas, Anu Sithara, Siddique, Nikki Rae Hallow and an array of other actors.
The movie, written and directed by Salim Ahammed, is autobiographical in nature. Hence, we cannot discuss the film without talking about the man himself.
The first half of the movie deals with Isaak Ibrahem’s struggles to direct his first movie, and it becomes India’s official entry to the Oscars. Post interval the setting changes to LA, where Isaak Ibrahem struggles to find a slot in the official Oscar Nomination list for his movie.
When it comes to performances, Tovino did most of the heavy lifting as the mild-mannered, almost always smiling Isaak Ibrahem. His spontaneous act makes you feel for Isaak. He makes you wish that things work out fine for his character, whose strength is nothing but his passion. Shareth Appani and Anu Sithara, along with Parvathy and Siddique, provided ample support. The real show stealer was Nikki Rae Hallow who played the PR from Hollywood and breathed life into a movie that was otherwise getting a bit stale.
Madhu Ambat’s cinematography was almost always on point. The “mystical” shot on top of the hills that captured a light moment shared between Salim Kumar’s Moidu and Tovino’s Isaac was nothing short of spectacular. However, some of the light VFX and CGI work on display unfortunately hindered Ambat’s vision. Even the chroma key (the green screen) provided at places felt so off that it takes you out of the movie experience. Editing by Vijai Shanker was fitting. Resul Pookkutty’s sound design again proves why he has an Oscar in his shelf back home. Music by Bijibal was easy on the ears and hummable. Especially the song in the title credits.
Salim Ahamed is a fantastic storyteller. Every time there is a script to be written, Salim goes researching. Adaminte Makan Abu, the debut film that won many awards, Kunjananthante Kada and Pathemari with Mammootty in the lead, have all come out of a lot of hard work and Salim became increasingly recognised as a director with excellent content in his scripts. Content that he has never failed to say, he got from life – his own and those around him. “And the Oscar goes to…” is the first time Salim chose a younger hero as the lead for his movie. A move, he says, to resonate with the youngsters watching the movie.
However, as a relative youngster who watched this movie, I feel he missed his mark. Even though parts of the film felt like it was written from the heart and the actors performed with complete earnestness, the execution felt off. Some of the dialogues felt tacky, which affected the delivery from the actors.
There were fundamental continuity issues like the look of our main lead or shots that were supposedly from LA. Now, I know that Alberta, Canada doubled for LA, but when the director ignores the basic things like signs clearly stating that they are in Alberta, or boards that were written in English and French, you end up asking yourself: Was this guy even trying? I mean, for a director whose first film won all sorts of accolades, where’s the passion? That’s when it struck me, even when his movies always seem to win awards as a film, or cinematography or performances, he never scored a Best Director award (refer the first paragraph). When going through the very few reviews of this movie I found online, I found that almost everyone seems to laud his directorial skills universally. Which means, either I’m crazy, or I’m the kid who is yelling out “The Emperor has no clothes.”
Coming out of a movie like Dangal, as sports noob, I could clearly state the rules for wrestling. What each move meant, what move gets how much points… You get the idea. However, even after going through hell and back with Isaak Ibrahem, I have no clue about the proceedings and the so-called “politics” of Hollywood and the Academy. All we know is that the whole charade costs a lot. There are moments in this movie where Nikki Rae Hallow’s Maria is angry, stomping and ultimately making a scene. We have no idea why she’s doing it. She keeps saying that her reputation is ruined. Again, we have no idea how, or why. Don’t worry, neither of these are a spoiler. Because the movie never addresses them anyway.
The reason why I’m so harsh here is that I genuinely hoped that this movie would be excellent. This is a story about a filmmaker made by himself. However, the final product is a bloated movie with some definite redeemable factors keeping it from being a complete failure.
That being said, the writer in Salim Ahamed deserves the recognition for the slices of life he adds in Cinema. As someone who personally watched the struggle of many artists and technicians in the industry from a close range, I could relate to many scenes depicting said struggle. Salim Ahamed’s innate belief in the goodness of people provides a much needed antidote to the usual, generic representation of the lonely battles one has to wage when it comes to film-making. From many angles, Tovino’s Isaak Ibrahem had help coming his way from various quarters and had a mostly supportive family – which isn’t the case with most film aspirants around us.
For anyone who considers film-making as an unattainable dream, filled with sacrifices, patience from dear ones, and an abundance of grace from God, this movie will speak volumes. If you’re a fan a Salim Ahamed’s movies, you might like this movie too. However, for the rest of the audience, I’d say that this movie is ‘skippable’.