Bheeshma Parvam is pure class. The excitement began when I realised what was happening in the opening scene— when I recognised a familiar motif from an earlier, much-beloved classic. This time, the issue and characters are different. A mother and daughter need a favour from Michael (Mammootty), a patriarch who is about to celebrate a special occasion at his home.
The build-up has been done already in the first few minutes by the autorickshaw driver on the way to Michael’s bungalow. When they finally meet him, he listens intently and tells his right-hand man what to do. A while later, when this man calls Michael for the final go-ahead, the latter’s face sports a slightly mischievous glow not seen earlier. Mammootty is framed in broad daylight this time, unlike the relatively darkened atmosphere where he first met them. This dichotomy of Michael is one of his fascinating characteristics, and who better than Mammootty to play him? More on this in a while.
We have witnessed various iterations of Francis Ford Coppola’s benchmark-setting mafia epic The Godfather—an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s iconic novel—in Indian cinema. But hardly a couple of them got it right. By ‘getting right’, I mean the essence of the source material. I don’t think it would be fair to call any of these films ‘remakes’. Though Mani Ratnam’s tribute, Nayagan, bore similar elements, it had its own identity. The only Indian filmmaker who pulled off something close to a remake was Ram Gopal Varma with Sarkar. I don’t believe even RGV wants his film to be known as a remake. Malayalam cinema tried too, at least twice, but it’s better not to talk about them.
So how does Amal Neerad’s version, which thanks Mario Puzo, Ram Gopal Varma, Veda Vyasa and few others in the opening credits, fare? Brilliantly, I must add. Amal and writer Devadath Shaji impart Bheeshma Parvam with its own identity irrespective of its evident influences. Aside from having a string-pulling patriarch with a large family —some members adopted—at its centre, Bheeshma Parvam becomes its own beast later on. Michael is not Vito Corleone. Yes, they both share a criminal past and similar business establishments (grocery/supermarket; olive oil/automobile fuel), but Vito wouldn’t prefer to swing swords in an underground car parking lot.
And Mammootty is not doing Marlo Brando. He is doing himself in a way that I wished to see on screen for a long time. Michael has a better sense of humour, and it’s also hinted at in a couple of instances that he is—or at least he used to be—more romantic. When I think of Vito, it’s his serious side I remember more, despite his rare displays of affection and playfulness. But then, Michael also shares character traits with the titular Mahabharata character, who preferred to remain celibate. One applause-worthy scene has Michael telling a few soon-to-be conspirators that—and I’m paraphrasing here—plans to kill him would be an exercise in futility if he won’t die of his own accord.
Earlier I mentioned the dichotomous nature of Michael’s personality. We see a fine balance between the contemplative and high-spirited sides of Mammootty, the actor. It’s like watching Mammootty in Vatsalyam, Valyettan, and Peranbu all at once. In that sense, Bheeshma Parvam is the best tribute Mammootty can get. I waited so long to see a filmmaker bring back the version of Mammootty I grew up watching, which Amal has successfully managed to do here. At some point in the film, I imagined an unseen prologue where Michael was once known as Antony, a character from a 1992 Mammootty film, whose title also bore a Mahabharata reference: Kauravar, another tale of family, deceit and revenge. Speaking of, Bheeshma Parvam is essentially a Joshiy film made by Amal. But the latter favours quietly controlled fury instead of loud outbursts or pyrotechnics. Even Michael’s enemies don’t go overboard with the histrionics when expressing their angst over the former clipping their wings.
Bheeshma Parvam does one more thing: reminding us that when you have a magnificent character like this, you don’t need to boost him up with loud and intrusive music or excessive slo-mo.
It was refreshing to see Amal (a cinematographer himself) and director of photography Anend C Chandran employing lighting to great effect, particularly to inform mood. Bheeshma Parvam demonstrates that the way you light and frame someone can create a better impact than a rousing background score. Off late, we have been getting an overdose of the latter. The shots of Mammootty I remember most in Bheeshma Parvam are the ones where we find him in shadows, surrounded by muted colours and bathed in warm lighting.
Sometimes the menace is generated by the vehicles of both parties. In the 80s and 90s, how these machines looked and moved mattered, be it a truck involved in an ‘accident’ or a Maruti Omni van (the most menacing of them all), or the headlights of a vintage Mercedes Benz piercing through a mist-filled night. The 80s detailing in Bheeshma Parvam is impressive too. The costumes, movie posters, advertisements, and other props register a time-travel effect.
Don’t go in if you expect a fight scene every five minutes. We get a fair amount of action, but it’s the character-centric moments in Bheeshma Parvam that tower above all else. And it has so many fascinating characters. None of them looked out of place or unnecessary. Everyone has something to contribute. Some traits are suggested through subtle and clever flourishes, like when Shine Tom Chacko’s character Peter reveals his true feelings for a male actor. Sushin Shyam’s instantly immersive music alternates between various genres, from classical to contemporary and, at one point, evokes one of the spaghetti-western scores of Ennio Morricone.
Bheeshma Parvam is, undoubtedly, Amal’s best film. Is it a masterpiece? Well, I’ll wait a few more years before attributing that label. What if he comes up with an even better film? Let’s see.
Film: Bheeshma Parvam
Cast: Mammootty, Soubin Shahir, Lena, Sreenath Bhasi, Shine Tom Chacko, Dileesh Pothan, Anasuya
Director: Amal Neerad