26 April 2016


Director Ranjith had announced Leela based on a short story by Unni R long back, after that names of many actors did rounds to play the main lead, a complex character named Kuttiyappan. But, the project took off the ground only recently with Biju Menon (an actor who has created a niche for himself playing the comic second lead). It seemed to be a curious choice as the story on which it is based on is of serious nature and provided very little cinematic scope. Then the trailers came out, they convinced us that it is more of a Biju Menon film than a film inspired by Unni’s story or a film directed by Ranjith.

Here Kuttiyappan (Biju Menon) makes an entry on horseback with a cowboy hat and all the paraphernalia, in the town centre in the middle of the night. This ingenious choice of transport is to avoid blowing into the breath analyser that cops put in front of you and being booked for drunk driving. This sets the tone for things to come.

Kuttiyappan is a scion of a rich plantation family of Kottayam. He is single and can throw wads of currency notes to get whatever he wishes to have and that includes call girls from all round the State. He has an ageing lady as domestic help and Pillechan (Vijayaraghavan) as his mate. He is a typical hero who looks lecherous from outside and golden hearted inside as he does not take advantage of a female who was compelled to enter the flesh trade. He even finds a respectable job for her.

These are the facts about Kuttiyappan’s character. But, the core of the story is Kuttiyappan wanting to fulfil one of his sexual fantasies that involves an elephant. For this he goes on a search of an elephant owner who would spare an elephant for an hour or so. And, he would also need a courageous lady to accompany him near the animal, lean on its tusk and engage in an act of love with our man. Such a scenario can be crisply explained in a short story. And, we can put it aside with a smile or a grimace on our faces as per our temperament. On the other hand, in cinema it should be acceptable to a wider audience so, it should be wrapped in something glitzy; here it is Biju Menon, every second line he utters is laced with humour and he does have an opinion on everything, be it the politics, religion or the dignity deserved by sex workers who are the true socialists in his opinion. All these utterances does make us wonder whether these lines were fed to him by the writer Unni or was he expressing the thoughts of the director as he does not seem to have the depth to contemplate about such things.

Kuttiyappan is new-gen feudal Themmadi, not as harsh as the original one Mangalassery Neelakantan created by Ranjith himself for Devasuram (1993). The new-gen one roams around in shorts and sleeveless vests when he is home. He has tattooed biceps, yet he does not let us forget that we are watching Biju Menon act and the trademark one-liners keep coming thick and fast. Vijayaraghavan who acts as the hunchbacked and the ageing mate of Kuttiyappan. His father was the caretaker of Kuttiyappan’s household and his wife accuses him of carrying on with that servility in this generation and he does impress us doing that. Jagadeesh is another actor who surprises by taking up a cameo that we could never imagine he would be fit for.

The females make just fleeting appearances as if they are punctuation marks amidst sentences, telling us that things would have been messier if they were absent from the scene. Be it Parvathy Nambiar donning the title role or be it Pillechan’s wife played by Parvathy Sr. do leave an impression.

Leela may carry the buzz that it deals with a controversial subject, but if a band of moral police or a family with children go in expecting another comic caper from Biju Menon in the vacation time; both sets of people will come out happy finding nothing objectionable in the film.

So, you can safely that Leela is not an adaptation of a bold story by Unni R or even a piece of Ranjith cinema, but just a film catering to Biju Menon fans.

As it appeared in Rediff.