Lucifer: A story that never was
Let me be honest, when I heard about this project, I was excited. Prithviraj seemed charismatic, calculating and well spoken. His first directorial project to have Mohanlal in the lead? That’s the dream, right there.
Prithviraj bought a stellar cast to table too. Tovino Thomas, Manju Warrier, Vivek Oberoi, Saniya Iyappan and the man himself joined Mohanlal and it was an exciting cast balance on paper. The crew made perfect sense too. Script by Murali Gopy, cinematography by Sujith Vaasudev and music by Deepak Dev. A dream combination alright.
So what went wrong?
The posters had made a blatant claim. This was exactly how Prithviraj wanted to see Mohanlal and he has bought that image to screen with precision. This is the first statement that we need to go after to find out where things went awry.
Mohanlal as an actor comes with decades of experience in the industry. Over the course of time, he has starred in many genres of movies; many of them absolute classics. There are movies like Devasuram, Kireedam or Iruvar and then there are Rajavinte Makan, Aaram Thampuran and Ravanaprabhu. He has been praised by Hollywood to Bollywood actors and makers and is an absolute favourite even among critics. When the movies that made your teenage blood boil were this guys machoism, I won’t question the phenomenon much. But it has given our Lalettan this god-like persona which has ultimately led to the downfall of many of his projects.
The Ultimate Power?
The plot for Lucifer is a teenage dream. A man who holds power above each and every one of it’s characters. I’m not saying invisible characters do not make for a good story. As a fan of the John Wick franchise, what I’m saying is far from it. But there is a difference in plot here. John might be stronger than all the other characters in the franchise, but we do not know if he is stronger than all of them put together. He is always the underdog in his own story, he is the person who has to make uncomfortable alliances, take life threatening decisions and this grounds the movie on a whole.
But when it comes to Lucifer, the character of Stephen Nedumpally is always in control of his surroundings. The only challenge Stephen faces in the entire plot is when he is thrown in jail as one of the women from his care home reports against him. But all this is thrown aside in a moment as it is made clear that he knew this was happening and he could get out of jail anytime he wanted, he is just choosing not to (for reasons that are totally unclear).
When the hero faces no challenges and we don’t even care about the side characters, you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
The Side Characters?
The character of Mohanlal holds so much power in the movie, that the other characters are given very less to play with. The character played by Prithviraj, has just two dialogues, side goonda characters in Malayalam cinema has had more than that. While Tovino has a few more moments, none of them seem earned. Even the big speech that he makes for the entrance would be very dull if not for the background score.
The women, played by Manju Warrier and Saniya Iyyapan drive the story and it’s twists and turns. Saniya paints a very sorry figure and it seems that it is the role the story had in store for her. But Manju’s character is the disappointment in this regard. While she is given a brazen introduction, it soon turns into a token feminist measure. As the plot progresses, she grows weaker and has to plead to the hero for protection.
This movie is out and out build for the masses. How much did that work out?
The camera angles are almost always in slow motion (except a tracking shot perhaps) but the cinematography does well to remain fresh throughout. The soundtrack is great and ramps up expectation whenever played. The action sequences are well choreographed and does well to bring out the power. But all these instruments are repeatedly used which makes it very tiring for a two and half long movie. When every dialogue delivered by the hero is going to have a soundtrack backing and slow motion camera angles it is tough to keep track of which ones are the mass scenes.
This one is where I wish things were different.
The character of second fiddle played by Prithviraj was mostly disposable. I keep wondering if Tovino Thomas could have played a double role that would be both Chief Minister candidate and second fiddle to the Don. That might have made the reveal for the mystery character much more relevant to the story rather than just Hey! It’s Prithvi himself!!.
The character of Priyadarshini Ramdas was in a good place after her introduction. I really hoped they would take it forward from there. Her opposition to Stephen is on a personal level and should have stayed that way. You would see Priya’s rise to power as she is the chief minister candidate after the death for her father. She has just got the political and media attention to take up this position. She would also be the best candidate to field for sympathy votes (as this is the explanation story provides). When Priya disagrees with her husband to imprison Stephen for unfair reasons, she would have to step down and hence Stephen stays in jail to bring in his lieutenant to power. She could even take up looking after the care home when Stephen is in jail showing she can care for others and is capable to taking up that leadership mantle.
The reason I do not have anything for improving the character of Stephen or Abraham is because the whole movie is centered around him being the ultimate power that he is. To change that would be changing the whole movie itself. But the climax was as impersonal as it gets. The character of Jhanvi is never seen with Stephen and as far as we know, they have not interacted in any way so far. What if Bobby had kidnapped Jhanvi on his way out and lured Abraham to come rescue her? This could lead to the reveal of Jathin Ramdas as Abraham’s lieutenant and an epic shootout between them and the drug cartel…
This movie always had a lot to accomplish. Prithviraj had vowed not to direct if this did not work in the box office. Mohanlal was coming off a failure in Odiyan which was not the most pleasant experience. The expectations with this scale was huge and they have pulled off a movie for the masses.
This reminds of Ranjith Balakrishnan, who is said to have directed to Raavanaprabhu, an outright masala film so that he can do movies on his own accord later. I hope this is what Prithvi is striving to do and wish he is successful in it. The industry would be better place with him as a director in it.
There is a news that there would be a sequel for Lucifer. I would like to see that extend into the world that Qureshi Abraham inhibits and more stories from this part of the world. I would love for that to focus on the story rather than the procedure.