Sunday, April 21, 2024

1744 White Alto: A quirky and oddly gratifying cat and mouse story

“You know Hegde from Mangalore? He’s a scoundrel. Let’s make a deal with him for
this stuff”, says the character Ebi played by Rajesh Madhavan to his crime partner Kannan in 1744 White Alto as they were getting away after the crime. This part from the movie was also used in the trailer, possibly to set a tone for what and what not to expect from director Senna Hegde, in case the buzz around Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam (2021) is still around. 1744 White Alto is the second ‘Made in Kanhangad’ feature film to come from Senna Hegde, the writer-director of Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam. His first in the ‘Made in Kanhangad’ series is a docu-drama named 0-41*. Writer-director makes a genre switch with the movie, which is an on-the-run crime comedy.

A costume change store in the middle of an isolated terrain, a bar that has signboards inside that parody traffic warnings, police cap which changes colour every five years, presumably to go with the changing governments, a getaway car that has a Rubik’s cube in it, clowns lurking around in a car with no front doors—the movie demands attention with its deliberately staged retro props. It creates an orange and teal colour-graded miniature world and adds to it a limited set of out-of-the-way characters to ensure a Western treatment to the movie. Although the movie is made in Kanhangad, efforts have been taken to make the arid terrains look like it is a part of some Western landscape. The encounters between outlaws and law enforcement in the movie thematically complement such a setting. In the characters of Sharafudheen and his police, Kannan and Ebi and in Vijayan we can find parallels to the characters of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Sharafudheen plays the role of the smart cop Mahesh Varghese who is quick-witted and brilliant when it comes to his job but is ambiguous and inarticulate about his personal life. He is assisted by CPO Rajan (Arun Kurian) and CPO Ranji (Sajin Cherukayil) to whom his advice for life is not to use their brains too much. The plot is based on a case of mistaken identity where the liquor smuggler Vijayan’s (Navas Vallikkunnu) car gets swapped with that of Ebi (Rajesh Madhavan) and Kannan (Anand Manmadhan), two goons who are on the run after a planned stick-up goes wrong. The movie works best in the scenes where the cops are out on this chase. We laugh at the frivolity of their slapstick and dim-witted ‘brilliance’.

The movie’s humorous dynamic is carried by characters who seem to turn into comedy double acts at the drop of the hat. A straight person/ funny person format is employed tactfully in the movie where the funny person is made funny to the audience through circumstances. Where Vijayan’s wife’s sister is the straight one, the wife herself plays for laughs a bit, undercutting the seriousness of her sister. The same happens with the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in the whole homely food vs fried chicken scenario. Ebi and Kannan share the same dynamic.

The team behind the movie retains most of their cast and crew from their previous project. Sreeraj Raveendran, who has also assisted Senna Hegde in the screenplay of both movies, does a brilliant job again as a cinematographer in 1744 White Alto. Music complements the aesthetics of the movie. Mujeeb Majeed is masterful in catering the music according to the mood that any Hegde movie demands. While the musical album of Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam had fresh and dewy tracks like ‘Payyaram’ and ‘Le Le Ma Ma’, 1744 White Alto sports groovy and fun English tracks like ‘Disguise’ and ‘Watta’ sung by Shah, Shaamz and Mujeeb Majeed. The English track ‘Born From Fire’ and Malayalam track ‘Theeye’ have mysterious and gothic undertones to them. The production design done by Ullas Hydoor, which coordinates well with the colour grade is one of the best we have seen in recent times.

The lodge room scenes in the movie have a Wes Anderson touch to them. The setting, with Rajesh Madhavan in it, reminds one of Kanakam Kamini Kalaham (2021), another quirky movie, which, similar to 1744 White Alto drags the spectator a bit too much into the character played by Rajesh Madhavan. An interesting gay angle is suggested by the receptionist of the lodge, which easily earns quick laughs. In the carnivalesque, silly, and unexpected turn of events, the plot descends into chaos with sartorial and material references suggesting an inverted world order, only to be saved again by a deus ex machina. The ending is similar to how Andhadhun (2018) and Neram (2013) had worked, except that the deliberate absence of a purpose in the movie brings about an element of absurdity in an otherwise linear plot. Unlike Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam which was plot-driven, 1744 White Alto is ‘driven’ by its characters. It follows a shaky momentum and after a point expects its audience to quit looking for any method in the madness that they witness.

Although it satirises politics, and religion and has references to certain ‘woke’ movies from the recent past, it distances itself from the issues. Joji Mundakayam plays the role of the priest who is probably the most cynical character in the movie. Even this unpunished cynicism of the priest is probably very much in keeping with the Western. From cow vigilantes to love jihad to the construction of churches on hilltop, the movie says what it has to say, but, refrains from moralising. Unlike Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam which was loved for its realism, relatability, humour, and innocence, 1744 White Alto alienates itself from the mundane, except for the women characters in the movie. Vincy Aloshious plays the role of Mahesh’s wife and Sminu Sijo plays the role of a stereotypical and nosy mother-in-law.

With its signature humour, fascinating backdrop and a stellar cast, 1744 White Alto is the latest addition to the list of movies like Avasavyooham, Thallumala, and Mukundan Unni Associates which have successfully experimented with diverse genres in the recent past in Malayalam.

Ashikha N
Ashikha N
Ashikha N is a research scholar at the University of Calicut.
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