In the class room scene from the trailer, Mahesh’s friend asks him to name the girl he likes the most in their class. Mahesh whispers back “Soumya”, which the friend promptly shouts to the teacher. It’s actually a big moment because that’s sort of a proposal scene. The teacher, who I guess, is an ‘extra’ actor, turns back and gives a disgruntled look before proceeding to ‘punish’ Mahesh. That look given by the teacher, a ‘barely 2second’ shot, in a frame where almost the entire class is shown, can be used to surmise the experience of the movie for me. Such fine care to the details, besides the obvious good work in all the departments, is what makes Maheshinte Prathikaaram, one of the best feel – good, underdog movies in Malayalam!
To paraphrase from the wiki plot summary - “A seemingly trivial incident catapult into various events which will culminate in a fight with Mahesh Bhavana and some strangers. He then takes a pledge that he will only wear his slippers after he fights back.” And the hilarious, rich in local- milieu, well directed sequence from the ‘trivial incident’ of Mahesh being a bit early to a funeral and asked to have a banana while he waits, to the ‘fight’ with strangers in Prakash kavala is more than worth the ticket money. It can’t really be called a fight. It’s more of a thrashing. Mahesh is just an ordinary regular guy, who has never even ‘raised his voice to anyone’ kind of person, who gets embarrassingly beaten up by a stranger. The stranger, the very effective Sujith Shankar, oh, how I wanted to beat the pulp out of him! It worked on multiple levels. We feel for Mahesh, but also, we hate the villain!
Mahesh’s woes don’t end there. His long time girlfriend, Soumya, would dump him for an alliance from a nurse working in Canada. Again more of the details - when this suitor meets her for the first time, he would talk to her mainly in English. After all, first impression is the best. Then later, after their wedding reception, he would be shown washing his hands and at that unguarded moment, when nobody is watching him, when there is nobody for him to impress, he brushes his teeth with his finger. Canada or not, a localite after all!
Mahesh seething for revenge get the details about Jimson, his sworn enemy, only to miss him by a day before he left abroad for a job. He can just set aside the entire incident and just continue his daily life. But Mahesh, newly single, with no passion for his job as a photographer, wants to win something. He has the right mentality to face up to his opponent, but to strengthen his ‘technique’ he enrolls for a Kung fu class in town. Why not hit the gym instead? As Master tells Vijilesh, Kung fu is a defensive martial art and not for beating up people. But Vijilesh lacks even basic courage to stand up to a guy. His problem with an auto driver, who is in fact one of Jimson’s friend, could have been solved just by confronting him and talking straight. This is evident from the auto drivers meek surrender when later, Vijilesh uses his Kung fu skills on him. But what Vijilesh lacks in courage and attitude, Mahesh packs in plenty. But his opponent is an ‘experienced’ rowdy. Just courage and attitude won’t do. Mahesh necessarily might not know Kung fu is a defensive martial form. But in a small town that might be the only option.
A good, hard working, sincere person should have his share of good fortune amidst all the troubles and Mahesh would find love, and not in any random girl. But in Jimson’s sister, Jimsy! But not before, finding love in his job first. Mahesh at the start of the story is a photographer because he inherited his father’s studio or as he called it, a shop. He believes a good photo is all about getting the subject in the frame and then playing with editing software - lowering opacity, applying dodge, smudge and then sharpening. Jimsy questioning his credentials as a photographer leads him to reassess his profession and to become better at that and more importantly to enjoy his work. Aparna Balamurali as the strong willed, smart Jimsy is a revelation or as Crispin (Soubin Shahir) puts it, pennu mass aanu!
Mahesh finally gets his chance for revenge, when Jimson returns home, having fought with his supervisor. Accompanied by thumping background music, a single - take shot of Mahesh walking up to Jimson through a ground where many are playing different games leads up to the climax fight. True to his Kung fu training, though Mahesh is not able to land a single proper punch, he blocks many and wriggles out of tough positions, to finally lock Jimson down. It’s not just Mahesh who wins. But every single one of us, with him.
Not just names like Jimson and Jimsy, which are typical middle class Christian names, but every character and their circumstances, feel so relatable. Every actor from the leads, to the extras and even Mahesh’s pet dog has done a great job! Thank you Dileesh Pothan and Syam Pushkaran for this beautiful movie! Idukki never looked so beautiful and inviting. And for me, its shoulder down, chin up, eyes open and re-watch.