If this were to prompt hysterical laughter, so be it. I would too. Happens when you listen to what a clumsy teenager then, coming of age in the late 80’s, felt about a blockbuster from yore.
With some movies, even though you wouldn’t classify them as innately cerebral or artistic, pop appeal gains credence and places them on a mantel that is pure adrenaline. Name it style or what, oomph or razzmatazz, anything that closely resembles a 190 proof shot of alcohol can be deemed a knockout and then some. Irupatham Noottandu came all guns blazing, no pun intended, when it hit the cinemas in 1987.
I remember the posters in the streets and you could gaze long at Mohanlal, stylish in a pilot’s uniform and the ubiquitous Rayban Aviator, snub-nosed silver pistol at the other end of a cold-blooded demeanour et al. For an awkward teenager, short on any kind of decent entertainment, this movie was a game-changer. There was an inevitability to the movie you could not ignore and its place in movie history as the biggest grosser of 1987 was guaranteed for good reasons. There was nothing cerebral about the movie except that it rode on the strength of S.N Swamy’s screenplay, reportedly inspired by, no prizes for guessing, the Godfather Trilogy.
The storyline runs on the premise of two friends, also partners-in-crime, estranged due to the Don Corleonesque dictum for decency – anything but drugs. Unless, of course, you have suspended your ability to discern and ask me what’s more decent about supari killing, gun-running and bootlegging than dealing in drugs. Beats me. Before drugs came along, people in crime, syndicated or otherwise, were just people like you and me, a tad darker and lost, happy on the easier returns. Drugs changed everything – the demand naturally raised the bar on profits so much that everybody wanted a piece of the pie. Most of all, it made all crime book-keepers ask their bosses why they were letting go of an opportunity to keep the director board more than satiated. Don Corleone was the last decent Mafioso and even that is fiction captured on film.
Sagar alias Jacky – an epitome of a visiting card – is perhaps the most laughable attempt to create something stylish on screen. It did achieve its objective, with Mohanlal resorting to it at every turn, but then, like my friend Cine Matters says tongue-in-cheek – it’s like the Jackal introducing himself as “I am Ilich Ramírez Sánchez ,alias The Jackal”. The last thing any criminal, big or small, wants to let slip by in public domain is his birth-name. Until IN came along, the quintessential criminal king-pin in Malayalam movies had lacked the suave and sophistication required to inspire a larger-than-life persona. To me, IN looked close to an escape from the very predictable botched-up versions I was used to seeing in Malayalam movies. Invariably, there was a natural comparison with the Hollywood movies, whatever little I could catch of them, and the level of in-adequateness was on a curve that never refused to cow. Here was a character, mired in crime, but displaying a level of class integration that helped viewers to empathise with the turn of events in his life rather than assume a position of moral judgment.
It did string off a series of such movies for Mohanlal, bordering on impetuousness in the face of conventional propriety, and it did influence people growing up in the 90’s. I have always believed that more than anything artsy – books, music or anything similar – movies have shaped popular opinion in general. This is probably a case-study for a social scientist, an interesting one at that, and the results could majorly breeze towards surprising everyone. Films make us and everything we do is just a mimicry of what we grew up on – movies. Even our minute reactions are choreographed. I can see you chuckling again and why not?
Until it was hashed and reloaded in 2009, with a chubbier version of Mohanlal, the legend of Sagar alias Jacky, remained untouchable. The reloaded version – that is something best left for another time or probably never – because there, even a chuckle would be a luxury.
The popular ‘Elevator Scene’ from the Classic!