Not only does Prithviraj and writer Murali Gopy bring back the vintage Mohanlal in Lucifer but also the class and sophistication that has been largely missing in commercial entertainers since the 80s. It is not only Prithviraj's most impressive work till date but also Murali's. This is the first time that the latter has produced a work which finds a perfect balance between style and substance. The film manages to juggle multiple characters with ease, and there is a natural progression from one point to another. It's that rare 3-hour film that doesn't give you the constant urge to check your watch or phone.
Lucifer is a celebration of Mohanlal the actor by someone who knows the ABCD of filmmaking -- it has been made with the skill of a veteran -- and someone who has a very clear idea of what works and what doesn't in a masala entertainer. In fact, a sly dig is made to this at one point, in an interaction between Sai Kumar and Vivek Oberoi. "You watch a lot of masala films, do you?" asks Vivek, when Sai is trying to build up Mohanlal's antihero, Stephen Nedumpally. This is a film that lets the main character's actions speak for himself.
Lucifer brought back sweet memories of the 90s, that time when we used to get a well-made mass entertainer every year -- and all of them became hits. You expect Prithviraj to do what his predecessors did before him, but he doesn't. He doesn't give Stephen a grand introduction scene, which is exactly the right approach. Remember Sagar-alias-Jacky's introduction in Irupatham Noottaandu? It didn't have the actor arriving in slow motion; it was all about his character's gravitas. Lucifer, too, has plenty of such restrained moments. Speaking of, there is an Irupatham Noottaandu reference in the film that had me cheering silently.
But at the same time, Prithviraj doesn't go completely old school either. His style is a combination of different filmmaking schools, both old and new. One slow-motion fight scene is accompanied by a rousing Tamil track praising the hero. But nowhere does he go overboard. Stephen is the Malayali equivalent of Vito Corleone from The Godfather. This is not a man who is interested in loud and flashy outbursts. He conveys a lot with very little, just like Prithviraj's filmmaking style.
And there is why Stephen is a quiet and subdued character. Lucifer is not just about Stephen but about a lot of other things as well. Through his sufficiently potent script, Murali makes some topical statements about current affairs. The film gives you the feeling of reading one of those exciting, half-fictitious Frederick Forsyth novels which are packed with international intrigue. It shows a disdain for TRP-hungry media organisations which are funded by unseen forces. It reminds you that you live in a world where your life is not under your control -- that no matter how idealistic you are, in the end, you'll have to make certain compromises for survival. Nyla Usha plays the Chief Editor of a TV channel who becomes increasingly frustrated with corporate interference in editorial decisions. Giju John, who played the tough cop in last year's Ranam, is quite effective as her helpless boss.
As all good action thrillers of the past have already proved, the hero is only as good as its villain, and Prithviraj couldn't have found a better villain than Vivek Oberoi's wily Bimal Nair a.k.a Bobby. It is Vivek's finest performance since his debut in Ram Gopal Varma's Company, which also had the actor sharing screen space with Mohanlal. The personification of a cunning fox, Bobby is a man who is unapologetic about his perversions and has no qualms about revealing his true intentions because he always has an ace up his sleeve. He believes that one doesn't have to be in possession of a political seat to be powerful, because real power, to him, comes from manipulating those in power. Stephen is a manipulator too, but of the good kind. "Politics is not the battle between good and evil," says Stephen. "It's the battle between evil and evil." Stephen, as he makes it clear, is the lesser of two evils.
But this is not just an out-and-out Mohanlal show. It's also Manju Warrier's (as a woman struggling desperately to correct the wrong choices she made in the past), Tovino Thomas' (as an unexpectedly clever and witty character who gets enough clap-worthy moments despite his short screentime), Indrajith Sukumaran's (as a restless, funny, and fast-talking whistleblower), and last but not the least, Prithviraj himself, whose secretive character has been designed to deliver the maximum impact, especially in the climax.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of cinematographer Sujith Vaassudev, who had earlier shot several films starring Prithviraj. The anamorphic widescreen format employed couldn't be more apt for an epic of this magnitude. Given the number of characters and extras present in the film, Lucifer has a scale reminiscent of the old-school Hollywood epics. Every shot is rich, elegant, and indelible. The fight scenes are characterised by neat choreography and fluid editing. You know who is hitting whom and where.
Prithviraj is a man with lofty ambitions, and it's a delight to see him realise every single one of them. Like his maiden production venture 9, which delivered spectacle and thought-provoking ideas in equal measure, his directorial debut comes loaded with enough goods to satisfy not just his fans but also Mohanlal's. The experience is the equivalent of going to a buffet where every single dish leaves you wanting more.
Director: Prithviraj Sukumaran
Cast: Mohanlal, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Vivek Oberoi, Manju Warrier, Tovino Thomas, Indrajith Sukumaran, Saniya Iyappan, Saikumar, Kalabhavan Shajohn, and Nyla Usha
Rating: 4.5/ 5 stars
(This story originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)