Film: Lonappante Mamodeesa
Director: Leo Thaddeus
Cast: Jayaram, Anna Reshma Rajan, Shanthi Krishna
There are some films that don’t come with a lot of expectations and then take you by surprise. To me, Lonappante Mamodeesa is one of those. I don’t know how others are going to react to it, but the film worked for me on a deeply personal level: I found most of the emotions relatable; I have experienced nearly everything that Lonappan goes through in the film. The only difference here is Lonappan happens to be much older than me. I don’t know how I would’ve handled everything if I were his age.
The title, which translates to Lonappan’s Baptism, is surely an amusing title to anyone stranger to the film. But once you’ve seen it, you begin to realise its deeper significance.
You may even come to the conclusion that the title couldn’t be more perfect. The baptism happens twice in the film; one of them metaphoric. When the first one happens, the priest tells Lonappan’s (Jayaram) mother that the baby is ‘a blessed one’ (what Lonappan’s name stands for) and is bound for greatness. His mother’s wish, however, is relatively simpler: that her son doesn’t end up like her loser husband who wastes his time acting in plays. But he also happens to be a good storyteller, a quality which Lonappan inherits. In fact, he is a much better storyteller than his father could ever hope to be. But imagining stories alone won’t earn him his daily bread.
Though Lonappan’s exact age is never mentioned, he is assumed to be in his 40s. He is unmarried, and so are his three sisters. It goes without saying that fate has dealt him a bad hand. This scenario, in the hands of a different filmmaker, may spawn a bunch of melodramatic scenes which make you reach for the tissues. But Leo Thaddeus is not that kind of filmmaker. His characters wish for a better life, and occasionally shed a tear or two, but they don’t linger in such moments forever. They are not interested in recreating a scene from an Adoor Gopalakrishnan film. They are not starving; they are able to get by. Lonappan is prone to an outburst or two, but everyone seems capable of keeping their emotions in check. And Jayaram hasn’t given such a genuine, heartfelt performance in a long time. It’s a performance evocative of his yesteryear classics.
Lonappan reminded me of a talented friend of mine who became disillusioned after experiencing multiple setbacks. He went on to pursue something else and I haven’t heard from him in a long time. This film is a tribute to similarly undiscovered or overlooked talents who either couldn’t find the right platform to showcase their skills or muster enough courage to consider various options.
Such situations drive you to the edge and you start blaming everyone else for your troubles except yourself. I know this feeling all too well. It took me almost a decade to realise my true potential. As with Lonappan, it took one person to show me that I’m capable of doing much better. I was for the longest time concerned about stagnating in one place, just like Lonappan. Lonappan knows he is better off living somewhere else — a place where he is treated as someone special — but he hasn’t found that place yet. Also, it doesn’t help when you learn that all your classmates are steps ahead of you. This is why school reunions can be sometimes very awkward. And there is an awkward reunion scene in this film. Dileesh Pothan appears in the role of an old school buddy of Lonappan who may not be leading a fully successful life as Lonappan previously assumed.
The film’s pacing is deliberate, and Thaddeus takes his own time establishing the backgrounds of Lonappan and his sisters. These facts are revealed in an organic manner, and they show up at the appropriate moments. Thaddeus peppers his film with background characters whose situations are in no way connected to Lonappan’s story but they lend a sense of richness to the overall film. Their appearances are random, but they all have something interesting to contribute. I don’t know how much of the film is drawn from Thaddeus’ own childhood.
It has that autobiographical quality to it, akin to some of the classics made by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. I’m not saying that Lonappante Mamodeesa possesses the greatness of the Fellini films. I’m simply saying they reminded me of them. Alphons Joseph’s fresh and vibrant music never once hampers the flow of the narrative.
Lonappante Mamodeesa also got me thinking of those talented singers and stand-up comedians who, after getting turned down by several establishments, came up with ways to make themselves visible to the rest of the world. Unlike the olden days, it has become much easier today to do this given the existence of social media and platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Everyone has an innate ability to do something, and if you’re passionate about it, hold on to it and never let go regardless of the setbacks that threaten to bring you down. This, in essence, is the principal thought driving this film.