A caption reading An Anwar Rasheed Film and Amal Neerad DOP is enough to make most young Keralites flock to theatres. Anwar Rasheed has earned himself the tag for a very selective director and producer. For the sake of an example, the last movie he directed was in 2012 and that movie still holds a place in the heart of it’s audience — Ustad Hotel. Anwar Rasheed came back and produced a bunch of films in his directorial vacation — Bangalore Days, Premam and Parava to name some. Yes, these are some of the most successful movies that Malayalam industry has since and all of them are on Hotstar (if you feel Nostalgia creeping up on you).
So it is safe to say there was a lot that was expected from this film. The movie was announced in 2016 (yes, that long back) and released (after few last minute hiccups) in February 2020. Did Trance deliver? May be. Did it deliver what was expected from an Anwar Rasheed movie? Well, not really. With beautiful, dazzling cinematography and over the top visuals for every shot, Trance felt a lot like I was watching an Amal Neerad film and it surely enganges us at that.
This is not a review and more of an opinion piece. I’m going to assume everyone proceeding further watched the movie.
Things that worked
On top of things that worked in this movie is the main actor Fahadh Faasil. He dazzles us with his drugged up maniac style and charisma. He brings his A-Game and gets most out of it. To see his figure towering above people below him, to see him wave his magic wand to create miracles with his eyes are definitely the plus points of watching this movie.
The cinematography by Amal Neerad is nothing sort of amazing, it fits very well into every shot a wallpaper spectacle that he is known for. He also brings his cameras into the mix with robotic arms and crane shots, which decorate most of the shots in after the intermission. While the songs did not work for me, the sound design and background score by Resul Pookutty and Jackson Vijayan (brother of Rex Vijayan) is riveting in parts.
Things that did not work
The storyline was too lazy for me. It seemed to be hanging from a thread of an idea: Those fake pastors are evil. Let’s make a movie about them. Then Anwar Rasheed went ahead and made a segment (like he has done for Kerala Cafe and 5 Sundarikal) which lasted for 20 minutes with heart and soul. The rest, like they show was on drugs.
To look at how lazy the storytelling was:
Let us look at two times there was an attempt at constructed comedy:
- Esther (Nazriya Nazim) asks Avarachan for alcohol, to which Avarachan replies that it is a dry day and there is no alcohol available. While Ester is on the way to see the Pastor, the visuals show what is on everyone’s mind. A wall shelf filled with costly alcohol bottles. The joke hasn’t even reached it’s punchline, but even to insinuate that the ultra rich, jet owning Avarachan is concerned about a dry day is going a bit too far.
- Journalist Mathews (Soubin Shahir) brings in a fake disabled actor played by Dharmajan to one of Pastor Joshua’s sessions in one the biggest let down sequences. Mathews is a journalist, so instead of investigating the company behind Glorious church, he chooses a theatrical route itself seems unbelievable. But for a moment if we believe in it, Mathews only has motivation to expose the Pastor, not to be a pastor himself. The best way to achieve this would be to bring someone who is actually disabled and ask Pastor to cure them instead of going through all the work to hire an actor.
Let us look at two of the action sequences:
- Mathews gets hit by a truck on the way to deliver the crucial evidence. This is so overused at this point, that audience would have guessed all of that even if they didn’t show it.
- Thomas walks into a room with two of the most powerful men in the whole world and cuts them down with a billhook. Thomas even takes his time to kill the first person and move on to the second with camera going into slow motion blood shots. I mean it’s like Trance and all, but common on.
Let us look at the plot progression:
- Viju Prasad works two jobs — as a waiter and motivational speaker. This is barely making ends meet and requires an amount of money for his brother’s treatment. His brother is suicidal so he requires extra care and cannot work regular jobs.
- Brother with suicidal tendencies commits suicide. Viju Prasad loses it and moves to Mumbai for a start over.
- Two rich dudes recruit Viju Prasad for become Pastor JC.
- An argument with rich dudes ensures that Viju Prasad is drugged and most often is in Trance state?
- Characters like Esther and Mathews enter and exit.
- A girl somewhere dies because her father believed in Pastor Joshua Carlton. Viju Prasad breaks down. Vinayakan kills the rich dudes.
Quoting Ustad Hotel, Anwar Rasheed’s previous film,
A bit of love should be added to everything. When we have that, the whole world comes to a standstill.
That is pretty much what looks missing from Trance.
- Viju Prasad in the first half does not yearn for anything, he is reactive and too perfect a protagonist.
- Esther does not establish the goals because she is very late into the movie.
- The girl who dies does not have any personal connection with out protagonist to have any impact.
- The evil in the story is just a caricature of two dudes who go unopposed through 99% of the movie. There must be something internal for the protagonist to fight if not them.
- If Viju is the protagonist we should latch on to, which doesn’t he struggle with his ‘cult’ following?
- Cinematography is all well and nice, but do we need slow motion blood droplets when the villain dies, this isn’t a gangster film 🤷♂️ it doesn’t thrill me. I also think the cool slow motion scenes kinda ruined the chemistry between Nazriya and Fahadh.
If you follow my blog, you know that I love reimagining things. Sometimes a bit too much. Let’s look at parts of Trance that I love to have seen.
Viju Prasad and his little brother start out in Chennai with him working multiple jobs to support his family. His brother requires treatment immediately, but that is going to cost him. He pulls a money chain con from the people who attend his motivational speaker sessions but gets caught. Bribing the police a part of the con money, he gets out and arranges a doctor for his brother only to find him hanging when he reaches back to his house. Viju is broken and runs off to Mumbai for a fresh start where he runs into the casting agent. He tells her his story and she enlists him with Tripac group.
The rich dudes are impressed by his motivational speaker career and his ‘con artist’ history. Viju Prasad confesses that he needs the money, for not having money being the reason he could not save his mother and brother. He gets renamed to Joshua and trained by Avarachan and secretary Esther. He becomes famous as a pastor and performs ‘miracles’ to cure the disabled. He gets called to an interview by journalist Mathews. Mathews does not believe in miracles and starts asking Joshua difficult questions. Joshua (not the fidgety one in the movie, his confident self) deflects all questions pointing back to his educational institutions and charitable societies, hinting at the ‘greater good’ in play here.
Mathews calls upon Thomas and his son to the stage where Joshua makes a comment on the boy reminding him of his brother, calling him Kunjan. He blesses him and enlists his charitable society to look after the family. Joshua gets into an argument with Avarachan and rich evil dudes over revealing his past on the TV show (something Joshua could have controlled). There is a fist fight and Joshua ends up in hospital where he meets the doctor who used to treat his brother. Joshua reiterates that he is working for ‘greater good’ of the society to the doctor and asks him to stay away. Joshua confronts rich evil dudes and demands more money, he starts pouring the money into his charitable works to help more people.
Thomas does not believe in going to the hospital and the boy dies because of it. Joshua seeing the body of the child is broken, realises his charities were a scam, he goes back to the doctor for help. The doctor tells him that it was not the lack of money that killed his brother, it was his absence. Here, he had all the money in the world, but he still could not save the child, in fact it was his inaction that killed him. He goes back to Esther and confesses that he wants to do something about it, but he is nothing but a fake miracle worker. To which Esther replies that she was depressed and addicted but he has cured her, the first miracle he performed which was not staged. He shuts her out and asks her to go away.
Joshua is on drugs, he says he is going to perform the biggest miracle of his life. He goes into a crucified Christ stance and then faints. Mathews gets the recording, it goes on television. Rich dudes are killed by Thomas (not in slow motion though) and whatever happened to Avarachan. Few days later, we cut to Amsterdam where a magician is performing in a bar, him and the assistant are holding up red cloths they show their faces and then as they drop the cloth.. Boom! Vanishes. That’s fake! Boos from the crowd follows.