In Solo there are around 22 songs and all of them sound terrific, more so when seen on screen; they are all placed effectively. But in his quest to infuse his anthology with music, director Bejoy Nambiar woefully overlooks two key elements: depth and freshness. The anthology comprises of four stories with heroes whose names are synonyms of Lord Shiva - namely Shekhar, Trilok, Shiva and Rudra. The fact of synonymity is driven home with each story’s narrative set to begin with a charcoal sketch of Lord Siva. To this he then tries to bring in an extraneous theme of ‘forces of nature’ - water, earth, wind and fire - as the backdrop, and each story is further connected to these different forces of nature.
This is not the first time anthology films have been made in Malayalam— think Kerala Café and 5 Sundarikal. Both had intriguingly woven stories that mounted various genres with skill. There was suspense, drama, horror, romance, emotion and just plain feel-good. But alas, that is not the case with Solo.
Solo’s introductory segment is about Shekhar (who has a stammer and sports a badly fitted long wig) and his romance with Radhika, a blind girl. The second one is about Dr Trilok Menon who is out to wreak vengeance on his wives’ unsuspecting killers. Shiva comes in next and he is a small-time don who doesn’t speak a word and lets his eyes show his rage. And finally arrives army cadet Rudra, who is madly in love with a girl and cannot get over her unexpected rejection. That’s the whole story. It really doesn’t stretch beyond these one-liners.
Being the various forms and names of Lord Siva, all his four heroes are simmering with rage. Last time Dulquer Salmaan seethed with anger, in Kali, he took the screen by storm. But here, his various roles, even though they look diverse, are tediously similar.
Bejoy Nambiar has this superficial way of looking at situations and characters. There is an evident Bollywood hangover in his style. He is enamoured by pretty frames, beautifully turned-out heroines (a bit like his mentor) and would rather not dwell on the profound issues that may have been. None of his characters succeed in reaching out to our hearts—not even the emotionally overwrought Trilok; maybe because the writing is so bad. Siva, who is meant to be this brooding, intense don (lot of black and red in the backdrop) with a sad past, just manages to look at us blankly and walk away. Bejoy tries to buck-up the screen with canny, intense dark hues to bring forth this whole grim Mumbai underworld scenario and it just falls flat. The scene where Siva and his gang plots to kill a don is something we have seen in countless Ram Gopal Varma films.
Characters and relationships go unexplored. Siva’s younger brother is interested in joining his gang. But the complex bond between the brothers is never explored. Rudra’s segment ends up an unintentional comedy, Shekhar’s love story is boring and Trilok’s narrative is marred by predictability. Most characters seem redundant, such as this loud woman Siva’s gang meets in Mumbai (played by the talented Sai Tamhankar). So many questions remain vague, unanswered—like why did Siva’s mother (Asha Jayaram) leave them?
He brings in a steady line-up of stereotypes to fill in as sub-characters. The moms are either angry, selfish, concerned or sacrificing. Dads are silent, egotistic, friendly and indifferent. Friends are goofy, and yes, Soubin Shahir provides much respite as Pattu, Shekhar’s wisecracking buddy. Siva’s shady gang of people never really make an impact—a senior don who mentors Siva (Manoj K Jayan utterly wasted), a silly lad who keeps stuffing his mouth (Musician Govind Menon) and the usual set of cronies. Dulquer Salmaan, despite his valiant efforts is let down by badly written characters (and it’s a shout-out to most of his previous outings). Nassar and Suhasini do exactly what is required. Dhansika looks lovely and probably Dulquer gels best with her.
All the women are one-dimensional, their whole identity never goes beyond the men in their lives. Radhika, a dancer, is introduced in the middle of an absurdly choreographed contemporary number, where her feet is submerged in water. She is flawlessly turned out, in quirky silver earrings and great neckpieces—not a hair out of place. Their love story is uninspiring, bland and barely touches you emotionally. Trilok’s wife Aisha, presented on a bike, is clad in micro shorts and a white shirt. Rukku, Siva’s love interest, is the typical moll girl—temperamental and insecure; an insipid version of Ayudha Ezhuthu’s Sashi. Akshara, Rudra’s girlfriend is the usual bubbly, too-cute-to-be-true, smiling girl without any surprises.
A final sore point that can’t go unrecognised is the hackneyed South vs North clichés; from branding South Indians as ‘Madrasis’ to the whole incongruity of watching North Indian actors playing South Indians (Dino Morea struggling to lip sync in Malayalam for instance). Not to mention the superficial décor that is meant to convey the Tamil, Kerala aesthetics!
Bejoy Nambiar wants the best of both film worlds, but unless he gets at least one right, his films will never find a soul.
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