Abhishek K. Venkitaraman
Much before Bollywood and the OTT space became obsessed with anthologies, a group of directors with a stellar star cast gave us this gem called Kerala Café. An anthology of 10 short stories beautifully interwoven with the right mix of emotions and never over the top. Kerala Café manages to cover all the genres like romance, tragedy, horror, child trafficking and merges them in a movie format. There are too many characters and too many stories, yet each story will have a profound impact on you. Kerala Café is like that bouquet of flowers where each flower has its own fragrance despite being a part of the huge group.
Story & screenplay
A son who abandons his mother, a haunted mansion, an eve teaser uncle on the bus, an extra marital affair, a stray cat who forms a bond with a kid, a teenager infatuated with her teacher, these and other stories make Kerala Café for what it is, a beautiful anthology which manages to capture your attention rightly. Revealing too much about the stories would be injustice. Moreover, each story is a slice of life. The integrating factor between the stories? A café at a railway station in Kerala where the lives and hearts collide. The screenplay never falters and transitions smoothly from one story to the other. In the end, you are left craving for more. All the characters in the movie demand your attention. Kerala Café was an experimental movie when it released, and a good one!
Direction & Cinematography
Despite having a limited runtime for each story, each director has done a wonderful job in carving out a character arc for every actor. Its not easy for 10 directors to come together and be happy with whatever screentime they are allotted. This one is a worthwhile experiment in which every director has done what they could do within the permissible time limit. Its like a set of assorted candies. Cinematography is top notch in some of the stories like ‘Mrityunjayam’ and ‘Bridge’ where the emphasis is on the characters to reflect the horror or melancholy on the actor’s faces. I feel like any Malayalam movie is incomplete without a shot or two of the sea/oceans. Here as well, we are shown waves of the great Arabian Sea crashing and thundering on the stones. Maybe a metaphor for unsettling emotions? The color palette is diverse and comprises of different styles.
With a stellar star cast like that of Kerala Café, its honestly quite difficult to fault the performances. All the actors, the leads as well as the supporting cast have given earnest and honest performances. All the characters demand your attention and its almost if you are the 11th anthology: the audience, who is witnessing these characters and how their story unfolds.
A man is on a visit to his hometown in Kerala and can’t wait to be back, but there are selfish motives behind it. He wants to sell his ancestral house so that the developers can build luxurious villas in the estate. There is nostalgia, and capitalistic greed. Greed which doesn’t care about its roots yet boasts of how one’s native land is the best place to live while sipping whiskeys in air-conditioned apartments in Dubai. Journey, hence, becomes a common theme in all the stories. The independent narratives integrate when their journeys collide, or the characters meet. There is romance, an extra marital affair, the other woman, and you wonder what’s in store for these characters. A financially strapped family give up their daughter for adoption, not knowing that she is being trafficked and sold into prostitution. A son abandons his almost blind and ailing mother after leaving her in the middle of a movie. Its heartbreaking, yet it reminds us that people like that exist.
These independent narratives almost seem like merging into each other with journey as a common theme. After all, life is a journey…isn’t it? This movie was released in 2009 when the world was hit by a major economic recession. It seems that the directors took this into account and showed the affect that unemployment has on one’s mental health. So, dig into this box of assorted candies, this bouquet of diverse themes. There is so much to love. You can watch Kerala Café on MUBI.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.