SPIRIT - Classy & Powerful - Don't Let the Drink Drink You!

Ranjith does it again! The ace Malayalam movie director known for his prowess of dealing with the life and times and social issues picked right out of contemporary Kerala society gives us "Spirit", his latest offering. Teaming up with Mohanlal, he delivers a classy outing of a movie built up on one of the most widely discussed evils that is plaguing Kerala society today: Alcoholism, or the urge to live to drink and drink to live bottled in a satirical yet dark manner. It also touches many other societal issues in Kerala today. It will not be right to label this one as just another "New Generation" movie because that term has become quite cheesy now with all kinds of chick-flicks coming out under this label. Call it just a movie which is made how a movie should really be made, without the trappings of over-commercialization, jingoism, formulae and larger-than-lifeism. I know I have been saying this for a long time. But I dislike Masala movies. Here are my impressions and review of the movie Spirit.

Directed By: Ranjith
Starring: Mohanlal, KanihaShankar Ramakrishnan, Lena, Siddharth, Thilakan, Madhu, Tini Tom, Nandu
Genre: Drama, Dark Satire
Release date: 14 June 2012
Running Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Produced by: Anthony Perumbavoor
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Why you should watch it

  • Mohanlal. Towering presence and overwhelming performance
  • Real-life and plausible story and characters
  • Execution, Clean and Direct Screenplay
  • Socially Relevant Message
  • Non-Formula, Non-Commercial

Why you should not watch it

  • You should really watch it.
  • A bit long, stretched in parts

My Verdict and Ranking: Four and a Half out of Five

Spirit - The Characters and Story in a Nutshell

The movie tells us the life and times of Raghunandan (Mohanlal). He used to be in a top position with the bank of England, but quit his very high paying and lucrative job because he had gotten bored with it and wanted to live doing what he loved. He is very brilliant and has multi-faceted talents, and as he himself says: "I had the arrogance that there was no place that I haven't traveled, no book that I haven't read and that I could speak five foreign languages". He worked as a journalist, columnist and writer, now working as a TV anchor for an enormously popular one-on-one interview show. He is also writing his first novel named "Spirit", which the background narrator tells in the beginning of the movie that "will end only with Raghunandan's death, because it is his own story". He is also very rich.

Raghunandan also drinks. A lot. He loves his spirits and drinks only "branded" stuff, smokes only Marlboros and lives in an exclusive gated community. In fact, he is a raging alcoholic, downing as much as a full bottle a day as per bartender Johnson. He starts drinking the moment he gets up in the morning till he goes to sleep late in the night. In fact, he can't live without alcohol, but he considers himself to be a "social drinker" and vehemently denies that he is an alcoholic. It also seems like he is not interested in anything fancy except for rare liqor as he still drives a 1992 Toyota Cresta. But his personal life is a mess. His first wife Meera (Kaniha) left him seven years ago with their deaf and mute son Sunny when she got tired of his drinking and irresponsibility. She later married Alexy (Shankar Ramakrishnan), owner of a premium resort Casa Rosa. Raghu is still best friends with both of them. Both are well grounded and supportive.

Raghu hosts a one-on-one Television chat show "Show the Spirit" where he asks no-bolds barred questions to politicians, VIPs and other such people, rubbing most of them the wrong way. But he does not care. He also does not fall for temptations. His friends circle involve a retired captain next door, some vague intellectuals (budhijeevis), writers, poets, lyricists etc. And all of them drink too. In fact, anyone whom he knows drinks. Maniyan (Nandu) is a very low-income plumber who also is a raging alcoholic, though he can afford only the cheapest stuff available through government retail outlets (BEVCO). He regularly beats his wife Pankajam (Kalpana) who also Raghu's domestic help. Maniyan is so addicted to alcohol, even worse than Raghu himself, that he cannot distinguish from what is real and not. He creates a profound impact on Raghu. As the movie progresses, a couple of incidents happen in Raghu's life and surroundings which forms the remaining part of the movie.

How Spirited is Spirit?

The best part of the movie is that it does not start sermonizing and pontificating about the ills of drinking and morality and so on, but the director subtly shows that through the character, which Mohanlal does a blast of a job performing. The story of the movie does not have a beginning or an end, it is a total departure from the formula introduction-buildup-mid part-suspense-climax setup. The movie just depicts a chapter of Raghunandan's life, told in a subtle, with-the-flow way. What I liked about the movie is it's subtleness: You are feeling as if you are watching "real life" on screen. There are no screeching violins, garish background music, dishum-dishum fights, mindless "koothara" comedy tracks (no, not even Suraj Venjaramood), whoosh-whoosh angle shots and other such assorted masala. There is a lot of melodrama, but Ranjith was careful not to let it go overboard and cliched dialogues and scenes were kept in check.

Ranjith touches many of today's social ills: Alcoholism, Eve-teasing, Drunken driving, Domestic violence, Family troubles, Addiction and so on. He also takes potshots at the elite or upper strata of the society by establishing that it doesn't matter whether you drink Remy Martin VSOP and Glenfiddich Single Malt or Napoleon Brandy and Contessa Rum, alcoholism is alcoholism irrespective of your class. Maniyan's dialogue: "If rich people drink it is Fashion. If we drink it is alcoholism" establishes this. "Social drinkers" who drink too much Scotch everyday in their polished living rooms while listening to Mozart and contemplate about the reason of life are the same as the laborer who downs cheap Golconda in that filthy anteroom behind the retail outlet listening to traffic noise and go home and beat their wives. Spirit also pokes at the generally useless and pretentious "intellectual" class who kind of romanticize the use of alcohol with cliched phrases like "Alcohol is bottled poetry" and so on. It also touches on sexual violence, showing 15-year old boys whose pastime is to grab parts of the female anatomy in public and film themselves doing it, which becomes the subject of one of Mohanlal's shows. The comedy is beautifully delivered by the screenplay. There are plenty of instances to laugh.

Spirit gives an insight into just how alcohol has become a solid part of Kerala life showing how people drink just for the sake of drinking. It shows those famous queues in front of BEVCO outlets. Thilakan who has taken up residence in a cheap one-room roadside eatery next to the outlet for easy access to alcohol and begging anyone he knows for money for it. This is a subject that has been discussed no end and has received much wide publicity, but no one talks about the reasons for this, only about solutions. But that is not what the movie is about. The movie is about Raghunandan's life. One thing about the movie that might feel a bit odd is that everything shown on screen is heavily sanitized and thoroughly made-to-order. Maybe it is because the movie focuses on the elite.

The movie is that not even once does it tell the viewer to "Stop drinking and do so-and-so" etc., neither does it preach high and mighty about the virtues of kicking the bottle or butt. Instead it leaves the choice to the viewer, sending a message that all it needs to do so is self-conviction and willpower. The film is a treat to watch with well-designed color coded sets and good photography. But what towers over everything in the film is Mohanlal. You are not watching the movie Spirit, but you are watching Mohanlal in one of his most convincing performances in recent times, barring Pranayam.

Conclusion and Verdict 

Ranjith movies seldom disappoint, and neither does this one. Alcoholism and all apart, the film is an enjoyable treat to watch, especially because of Mohanlal. The movie seems to have been cut out of a rather larger movie, which in itself is a novelty. These "real" movies which show life without jingoism and thundering background music and slow motion are what people really want to see. And you remember, that was exactly how Malayalam cinema used to be in it's golden years. We can hope that that time coming back now! Please go and see this movie, no matter whether you drink or not.

And there is nothing wrong in drinking alcohol if you can rule the drink and not let the drink rule you. And if it does, accept that and fight it.

  • Yes, Awesome movie. Could totally relate to life! But my non-alcoholic friends couldn’t enjoy it. But figured out their real problem after sometime as they were saying there was no proper climax.

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