Mohanlal's new film has one of the most daring interval blocks in recent memory. I'm sure the bizarreness of it made a lot of people in the theatre feel awkward. I felt awkward too, but after a few minutes, I started to appreciate its novelty. I expect it to be a major talking point among those who have watched the film. But there is a reason behind this plot twist, and the awareness that this is a Mohanlal film might help you predict the pre-finale twist coming from a mile away.
Ittymaani: Made in China can be easily described using the tagline of Karan Johar's Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham—It's all about loving your parents. In terms of the themes it discusses, it is similar to the Malayalam film, Dollar (1994). Though Ittymaani: Made in China is named after Mohanlal's character, the story primarily revolves around Radhika Sarathkumar's character Annamma. A widow whose children would rather make time for a picnic trip but not their mother, Annamma spends her days lamenting about the fact that she is being ignored by them. This is the exact opposite picture of Ittymaani (Mohanlal) and his mother Theyyamma (KPAC Lalitha). In some cases, a child's character is defined by his or her mother. Ittymaani's personality is gradually revealed as a result of the things he does for his mother as well as Annamma. If Theyyamma and Annamma are planets, then Ittymaani is the satellite that revolves around them. Any major thing he does will affect the two drastically.
Ittymaani, the character, runs a dwindling catering business which is also a front for selling counterfeit products. At times, he evokes Jayakrishnan from Thoovanathumbikal. (There at least two Thoovanathumbikal references in the film.) This is a Mohanlal film where Mohanlal the actor is given more credence than Mohanlal the star. He doesn't get a mass entry and there are no fight scenes where he is bashing up twenty goons, which is a welcome relief. It has every ingredient needed for a family-friendly entertainer (and also some that are not). There are a bunch of cleverly written comical moments featuring Mohanlal, Siddique, and Hareesh Kanaran. Siddique plays a priest who shares a hilarious backstory with Ittymaani. The film doesn't have any violent moments because it doesn't have a proper villain to boast of. But if you want to, it can be Hareesh's Joji Pothen, given his propensity for harebrained shenanigans. The thought of him as Mohanlal's antagonist is definitely laugh-inducing. At one point, a bunch of "conspirators" await the arrival of a dangerous thug, only to be met with Hareesh's face.
But at the same time, it also contains ingredients that aren't palatable, like the double entendres. On more than one instance, women are compared to vehicles (talk of "mileage" and whatnot). These are leftovers from much older films which are better left for dead and not revived in future films. And what's with this obsession with #MeToo jokes? In one scene, Dharmajan's character mentions the possibility of getting caught in a #MeToo situation. Some of these distasteful jokes also involve Aju Varghese, who plays Ittymaani's driver. By the way, it doesn't seem like Aju has any plans to put aside his Nivin Pauly fixation anytime soon. (It was only yesterday that I watched a Nivin Pauly-Aju Varghese film.) And Honey Rose plays a woman who falls for Ittymaani after a simple video chat. What age are we living in?
Although the film comes with good intentions —I have to give it to writers/directors Jibi and Joju for making me feel slightly guilty about not spending enough time with my parents— its contradictory nature can sometimes be confusing. On the one hand, it talks about respecting women and mothers, and on the other hand, it is cracking lame jokes about women. And that big speech Mohanlal and KPAC Lalitha give in the climax about setting aside some time for one's parents comes off as a little corny. It sounds good, I agree, but how practical is it really? While I agree that financially sound folks ignoring their parents is a deplorable thing, what about those who have to stay away from their parents for long periods because they're struggling to make ends meet? I'm not sure if this film is going to make people think twice about their attitude towards their parents. But if it changes the mind of at least one person, then I would be glad.
Director: Jibi Joju
Cast: Mohanlal, Radhika Sarathkumar, KPAC Lalitha, Siddique
Rating: 2.5 stars
(This review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)