Note: I know this review is extremely late. Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the film during its original theatrical run. However, upon seeing it now, I simply HAD to write a review on it considering how strongly I felt about this modern masterpiece.
The colors of a bustling city, the aroma and preparation of different varieties of mouth-watering Angamalian delicacies (Angamaly is a district in the South-Indian state of Kerala) and the sweat of ruffians as they beat the ever-living shit out of one another.
These are the opening images that greet you in Lijo Jose Pellissery’s ‘Angamaly Diaries’ and while you might think such an eclectic mix of cinematic ingredients to be quite the weird combo; much like the local Angamalian delicacy of fried tapioca and pork, it’s all been put together perfectly for a cinematic experience that is thoroughly delicious and more than earns its tagline of ‘Oru Katta Local Padam’ ( ‘A hardcore local film’)
‘Angamaly Diaries’, is without a doubt, one of the best films I’ve seen all year, English or otherwise. It is a film that celebrates the sights and sounds of a town, all of which is subtly hidden underneath a plot that focuses on numerous ‘Teams’ (a colloquial term used to describe the gangs in the city) and their conflicts with one another, some of which are sparked from seemingly avoidable and childish incidents (For instance, one is triggered because one team takes the Rabbit curry that another team had ordered in a local hotel), all of which are highly entertaining and results in a film that feels like a love letter to a city that is sure to endure for years to come.
Being a film that focuses on groups, it is more an ensemble piece than anything. However, we do experience the events in Angamaly through the eyes of Vincent Pepe, a local youngster who gets involved in gangs and their conflicts from a very young age. In most ensemble films, the protagonist is almost always passive, owing to the film having to balance numerous storylines and characters. Fortunately however, that is not the case here, as Pepe’s reckless actions ends up being the biggest driving force for the whole film.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t focus on other characters; In fact, it more than delivers on that front, bringing you characters that are thoroughly memorable and endlessly quotable, not unlike the ensembles in Quentin Tarantino’s films. It’s a film where your favourite character could be one that had the most minimal screentime.
The film also does amazing things with certain mainstays of Malayalam cinema that I found extremely refreshing and hope will be the norm going forward – The fights in the film actually feels visceral rather than choreographed and there is a palpable sense of character development that I truly appreciated, owing to the terrific script by Chemban Vinod Jose. Much like Anurag Kashyap’s brilliant ‘Gangs of Wasseypur‘ duology, characters in ‘Angamaly Diaries’ actually feel like they’re flesh-and-blood people rather than fictional plot drivers. When conflicting characters end their beef with one another, they won’t hesitate to celebrate the parley with some drinks with their now ex-enemies, a seemingly small touch that I found intriguing and truly quite refreshing.
Everything about this film stands out – From Lijo Jose Pellissery’s confident direction with a refreshing use of single take sequences (which results in perhaps, one of the most riveting final sequences in Malayalam movie history), the actors’ performances (made even more commendable considering most of them are debutantes) to the locally energized background score – ‘Angamaly Diaries’ is a film that is to be experienced, rather than merely seen.
It also makes yet another case (along with the likes of Premam, Maheshinte Prathikaram, Drishyam, Charlie, Bangalore Days, Saptamashree Thaskaraha, Guppy and Ustad Hotel) for Malayalam cinema to be the most experimental, fresh and consistent film industry in India today.
I don’t just say that as a Malayali, but as a lover of film in general.
Rating: 10/10 (Oru Katta Adipoli Padam)