9 — An Engaging Tale lost in its Grandioseness
9 (Nine) is a Malayalam Science Fiction, Horror Thriller from Jenuse Mohammed and Prithviraj Productions. It tells the tale of a father and son who has to prevent the unknown from tearing them apart in the event of a comet visit.
Spoiler discussion at the bottom.
The movie starts off in the city, in a space research center where the news of comet has started to spread through the world. This comet is so large and has an electromagnetic field that will block out all communications and any magnetic powered devices on Earth for nine days (and hence the nine in the title) Prithviraj who plays Albert, an astrophysicist is forced by his mentor (Prakash Raj) to venture out to the Himalayas to study the comet. His son Adam (played masterfully by Alok) joins him on this trip to the great mountains. Here they meet Eva (played by the gorgeous Wamiqa Gabbi) who has come accidentally come across a piece of the comet. This triggers off events in their life unfolding a quick right paced thriller.
The Big Picture
Nine is a step forward for the Malayalam movie industry. Jenuse after his debut movie 100 days of Love has come up with an intriguing and engaging concept for Nine. Some of the technical effects used for the film are superb and raise the standards set for the industry itself.
Music by Shaan Rahman and Shekhar Menon are on point and set the stage for some thrilling moments in the movie. It gets loud, sometimes thumping but quite impressively pulls off many of the movies jump scares. The only song in the movie beautifully sets up the relationship between the lead pairs Prithviraj and Mamta Mohandas.
Cinematography by Abinandhan Ramanujam plays a game of lights and shadows with characters constantly moving in and out in tandem. Even when the movie is based inside the city, you can see Abinandhan doing some amazing work with long shots in projector light. When the story moves into the Himalayas, the cinematography is in its element with candles, fires and even the moonlight. There is some good work behind the camera too, as the camera paces itself very quickly to capture its characters and story. However, the scenes from the Himalayas did leave much to be desired. For a place with grand scenery like the Himalayas, you have come to expect more wide angle shots. But most of the actual shots were inside or were too generic to tell the difference. Even when there was an expansive shot of the landscape, the camera seemed to rush itself to fit the faster background music.
Prithviraj, as always puts on a natural performance as Albert the father and astrophysicist. But actors who completely steal the show are Wamiqa Gabbi and Master Alok as they constantly play off each other trying their best to make the terror feel real. Wamiqa has that out of the world feel to her and brings both drop dead beauty and terror onto the screen with ease. Master Alok does all he is asked for and more as he controls most of the plot. All three of these characters have quite the number of close-ups and head and shoulder shots that they have nailed. Prakash Raj, as in many of his Malayalam movies is a presence only for exposition and pretty much wasted. Mamta Mohandas while pairing with Prithviraj the second time after their much talked about chemistry in Anwar has nothing much to do spending time going in and out of shadows.
9 (Nine) is a must watch experience in theatres for the experience it provides, but also for the intriguing premise it puts forward. Only if movies like these do well in box office, can we expect more experimental cinema in Malayalam that bends genres and goes beyond the scope of what is termed normal.
What it could have been
For all things Nine is, there is an aspect of what it could have been that I’m dying to discuss. But this would make sense only if you have watched the movie, so do watch and come back.
Good, you are still here. So, as I mentioned earlier, the movie begins with an interesting proposition, the world is going to be left dark for 9 days without internet, electricity, vehicles or any form of cellular communication. The movie takes the first 10–20 minutes of exposition constantly breaking the rule of Show. Don’t tell, to bring in characters who explain the story to us with highly detailed monologues. It talks about riots going on in different parts of the world, protests, prayers, and theories. But when our characters visit a local supermarket, we see that people are standing in queues to buy out stuff. While this is fully practical, coming from a scene just explaining riots, this does seem pretty out of place. But as an audience, I’m pretty intrigued by the premise and wants to see what is to come.
This is where the movie tricks you, from this world ending premise, the movie takes you and it’s lead characters to a village in the Himalayas. Prakash Raj through pure exposition has by this time said that this is the best place to see the comet, but he is apparently going to China to view the comet (because he is seeing it with this friends? Whatever that means) so he wants his student Prithvi to go instead. The movie has apparently taken the premise and placed you into a place where it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow and never talks of the riots or people in the city ever again.
Since this contributes absolutely nothing to the story (other than disappointing the audience anyway), it could have been cut off safely and replaced with scenes where the hero and his son bond over something. The reason this is important is two-fold. The alien power that wants to take Adam is pretty evident that it does not want to hurt him, just wants to take him with them on the 9th day. So, for the movie to span 9 days, there is no danger for him till the last. Albert’s character comes off as a jerk throughout the movie, while there are explanations on why, there are no likable parts to his character. He always gets angry and is in someone’s face. What would have made the tale stick would have been if there was a bonding between the two characters and the way they were attached to each other was clear to the audience.
As a textbook part of the thriller, there is a twist in the tale that comes out at the end of the tale. What it ends up doing is making the tale even smaller than it began with. This makes even the journey to the Himalayas not worthwhile to work with. While the movie seemingly makes it a point to tie all loose ends with a Prakash Raj exposition, it does seem Eva was seen in a shop purchasing woman’s clothes and (menacingly) interacting with a local character.
The fact that both the boy and father has visions of the dead mother could have been more useful. All Mamta gets to do here is to play in the shadows. For example, in the scene with Eva trying to entice Albert as his wife, she tries to get him into believing his son is a menace. If Albert has caught on to this, and angrily replied that his wife wouldn’t say such as thing, it would have given both these characters a new depth. It could also have been a way to end Adam’s character arc of wanting his mother whom he has never seen.
There are multiple places where the film seems to be saying much more than just familiar dialogue. With the characters named Adam and Eve playing off each other, or care and love as a central theme. There is also the fact that Eva very frequents in black while Mamtas’ character alternates between black and white shades. Alberts character also for a moment delves on famous Arthur C Clarke quote at a point.
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
But that is where it stops.
If it had cut down some it’s grandioseness and put the effort back into the story, it could have been one of the most engaging stories told in Malayalam Cinema in last few years and that is what worries me. As far as horrors go, that is what would keep me up at night.
But on the scale that it did, kudos to the entire team approaching this project and bringing it to success. I hope we find new horizons for Malayalam cinema to conquer while holding the personality of stories we tell.