Cast: Dhanush, Parvathi Menon, Appukutty, Salim Kumar, Uma Riyaz Khan; Music: A R Rahman; Direction: Bharat Bala

There’s a lovely scene at the very early stages of the film. Panimalar, the lead girl in the film, goads Maryan into visiting their neighbourhood church. She is desperately in love with him although he doesn’t reciprocate it. She is serenely singing along a prayer whilst simultaneously eyeing on him. When their eyes connect, hers twinkle. There’s pain, longing and of course a bit of playfulness in them. And she is achingly beautiful. How it is possible for a girl to act out such a scene without actually being in love with that guy, I don’t know.

Thank god for Parvathi Menon, who has portrayed Panimalar to spectacular perfection that we are able to sit through this crushing bore of a film. Other than her graceful presence, nothing else works in the film, actually two films, because the first and second half could be played as independent films and we won’t know the difference. The first set plays like your typical village love story, with the girl drooling over the guy and trying all sorts of tactics to win over him. You have seen those scenes a million times, hero’s single mother, heroine’s single father who is an alcoholic and deep in debt, the area ‘minor’ who pines for the heroine and wishes to marry her. And of course, the hero has two sidekicks to provide comic interludes. There’s a scene where the fishing hamlet watches a communal screening of Padagotti. That’s when you wonder if the director used that film as the inspiration for his characters. In other words, they are that old!

Then, all of a sudden our hero is kidnapped! Not in his fishing hamlet, obviously, because he is the king of his territory and no one can beat him in the sea. He is kidnapped in Sudan by some unknown terrorists who look like they were students in London and had escaped with some reggae CDs from a shop in West Croydon. They neither inspire awe nor terror. Bharat Bala doesn’t make it easier either with his use of over the top music and some comical scenes involving the terrorists dancing around fire to a semi-reggae tune, and worse, dancing to Maryan singing about the sea in his hometown. In a scene immediately afterwards, they tie him up and beat him to pulp. Was it for that inappropriate song, I wondered, because that’s what I felt like doing to him when he was passionately singing among the dreaded terrorists carrying automatic weapons.

Who are those terrorists by the way, and what is their cause other than driving around in open-top vans shaking their guns vigourously and shooting repeatedly at the sky? Yes, they want money in exchange for the hostages, but I felt like gently reminding them to stop shooting in the air and wasting those expensive cartridges. It’s bad enough that they are so broke that they are driven to kidnap three poor contract labourers!

They don’t listen. When they are not beating up Mariyan, they shoot in the air and drive around wasting both fuel and the cartridges. Meanwhile we don’t understand what’s happening. Are they in negotiation with Maryan’s employers? Where are those company representatives? We don’t see them. How far has the negotiation progressed? Has any deadline been for the money to be delivered? When does the deadline end? How much have they demanded?

We are in as much darkness as Maryan is. If the director intended to put us in the shoes of Maryan by keeping this information dark, it doesn’t work. If you want to know what I’m talking about, watch the film Buried. An American contract labourer in Iraq is kidnapped by the terrorists and buried alive in a slightly larger coffin. He wakes up there, to find a torch and a mobile usefully left. He needs to now convince his employer to pay up the terrorists within a certain time if he wishes to be saved. There we don’t see the faces of his employers, his family, or anyone. We are in the same position as he is, stuck in the coffin, and we feel as urgent and claustrophobic as he is.

Maryan doesn’t have an iota of the brilliance we saw in Buried. Even his escape is staged as a very insipid drama. Again there is no perspective. He is on the run and the ‘bad guys’ are on the search. We don’t know where Maryan is and where they are, whether they are closing in on him, or whether they are missing him by a whisker, and how far away they are. We see miles and miles of desert. We see miles and miles of parched earth. We see horizon filled with blue sea. And we unlock our mobile to see the time, and wonder how much more of the film is left.

Not long ago, we witnessed a unique film called Meera. Its visuals were so beautiful that each frame could be sold as a picture postcard. Strung together it was the most boring film of the decade. Bharat Bala should have seen Meera before writing the script for this film. Maryan is yet another example that proves the theory that great visuals alone don’t make a good cinema.