The name Jis Joy has always been synonymous with feel-good cinema. His new film, Mohan Kumar Fans, doesn’t lack in that department either. As in his earlier films, you get some trademark Jis Joy elements - the 'motivational' lines that seem straight out of Facebook, the warm colour palette, and the characters simply being... nice to each other. And the director seems to be proud of travelling on the same route with no intention to change. However, he has played things a little differently this time.
Thankfully, this time, the feel-good elements have been dialled down a bit, especially in the second half, despite the abundant ‘nanma’ elements. And this is why I think Mohan Kumar Fans is superior to the director's earlier films. (I would've said that for Vijay Superum Pournamiyum had it not been a remake).
And describing a Jis Joy with the word ‘intense’ may look odd, but it’s what made the film work for me more than his previous films. He also utilises this opportunity to incorporate some satirical elements involving the film industry - ala Driving Licence or Udayananu Thaaram -— which, I think, enhanced the narrative, particularly in the first half.
The intensity comes courtesy of the titular character played by the ever-reliable Siddique. It’s Mohan Kumar around whom the entire film revolves. He is the "hero" of Mohan Kumar Fans while playing one.
A down on his luck actor getting a comeback of sorts with a strong arthouse role, Mohan believes his glory days are not over yet. And despite his producer sadly informing him that their film won’t get a longer run in theatres, Mohan hopes for recognition through the state and national awards.
So what is Kunchacko Boban role in this film? He is Krishnan Unni, Mohan Kumar's driver, who also dreams of being a celebrity. Casting someone with a matinee idol look as a driver may seem unconventional to some, but it doesn’t seem unrealistic either.
At one point, a character tells him that a driver shouldn't dress like a groom. It brings to mind Priyadarshan's Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu, in which Mohanlal's character had to pretend to be a driver.
Though everything is about Mohan Kumar, the film has as much space for Krishnan Unni as it does for the former. His actions have a direct impact on Mohan's life.
The story of a young man trying to make a so-called washed-out actor happy is not a new one. The best example of this is Tim Burton's Ed Wood, in which Johnny Depp played a real-life flop filmmaker who wants to restore the glory of a veteran horror movie icon.
Vinay Forrt shows up as Kripesh, aka Agosh Menon, an intolerably self-centred and attention-seeking actor with terrible dancing skills. We get a nod to Premam when he rudely tells a choreographer to come up with some "simple steps".
Agosh is easily the film’s most hilarious character. And given the loudness of his presence, there were moments where he nearly overshadowed the other actors. Agosh represents every actor who is looking for cheap tricks for the sake of publicity. The women are not behind either. A female actor refuses to "leave her character" even after the director yells 'cut'.
But again, this is the story of forgotten artists and how unfair Malayalam cinema can be to them sometimes. You get characters talking about losing your ego when you are at your lowest, the importance of awards, and the struggle to stay relevant at a time when the taste of both filmmakers and audiences are changing. You may cringe at some of these lines, but they speak the truth.
It’s admirable that Jis Joy went for a more serious tone in the film’s second half. But it is also where the film falters a little due to the injection of excess melodrama, not to mention the predictability. These portions made me wonder whether this was a Jis Joy film or some old Kamal or Lal Jose film.
It gets to a point where every actor in Mohan Kumar Fans behaves as if they are competing for a national award.
But Jis Joy does something interesting with the finale which sort of redeems the bleak moments that preceded it. It resonated with me because it brought back the memory of a dear relative going through a similar experience a few years back. And when you have all the actors having so much fun, what’s not to like?
Mohan Kumar Fans
Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Siddique, Anarkali Nazar, Vinay Forrt
Director: Jis Joy