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ROSHIN GEORGE

Mammootty’s 1 (One) has dropped on Netflix at an opportune moment – when Kerala awaits State Assembly elections results that is expected to make history. Exit polls as well as pre-poll surveys have predicted a return to power of the LDF government under Pinarayi Vijayan, marking a break from the State’s see-saw politics.

Although initially there was speculation that Chief Minister Kadakkal Chandran essayed by Mammootty was inspired by Pinarayi’s no-nonsense politics, the film’s scriptwriters Bobby and Sanjay clarified that it was a neutral character, the kind of leader the public desires. And only films and superstars can give birth to such ideal leaders who rise above coalition pressures and the corruption ingrained in the system.

There are a few leaders and real-life incidents that events in the story resemble. The shiny black shoes – the first visual as the protagonist is introduced – of the mundu-clad reel life CM is quite like the real-life CM’s, the auto ride he takes during a traffic jam is reminiscent of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s recent escapade and the customer-delivery man spat is not too different from the experience of a Zomato delivery boy in Bangalore. Ridiculing Chandran for his father’s occupation is also similar to the casteist taunts Pinarayi has occasionally faced. Of course, the script must have preceded some of these incidents but the political churn we witness here is part of the package that movies of this genre gift the audience. Political movies have often been a hit with the Kerala audience, and One is no different.

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The film has deftly incorporated the power of technology and social media into its plot. If a viral Facebook post by a college student, Sanal, against the CM prepares the setting for the meeting between a young citizen and the No. 1 persona in the State (the CM’s car number plate also gets ample coverage to bring in the relevance of the movie title) as well as the superstar’s grand entry in the film, the CM is also shown using a laptop by himself and directing two enthusiastic college students to do a district-wise survey on elected members’ popularity.

The impressive star cast has both old timers and newcomers from Mamukoya and Jagadeesh to serial star Gayatri Arun. Joju George shines as the party president and the CM’s comrade-in-arms in his trademark easy style that we have seen in Joseph and June. Mathew Thomas of Thanneermathan Dinangal fame delivers as the diffident but sincere youngster who finds an ally in the CM while Ishaani Krishna makes her debut as the spunky college union chairman. The CM’s speech at his alma mater is preachy but not out of place.

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The characters that don’t seem to gel are Murali Gopy as the ruthless Opposition leader – who looks more like a prosperous Abkari contractor – and Nimisha Sajayan as the CM’s niece who migrates to Canada. Note the point that Canada is one of the new greener pastures of the ambitious Malayali and even an idealistic leader cannot persuade his only surviving kin to serve the homeland. While we fear the worst, nothing much comes of the CM’s occasional memory lapses caused by an old head injury and we see him in the end as a populist CM who returns to power in the rough and tumble of Kerala politics.

Mammootty’s frame looms large in many scenes, a conscious effort to marry the magic of his on-screen persona with the charisma of a bachelor politician wedded to his party and ideals. The script also scores in projecting him as a bachelor who put his party above his family – there is no hassle of finding the perfect heroine who is neither too young nor too old for the superstar while the plot doesn’t have to include allegations of nepotism and corruption that a family man leader can face.

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For the average Malayali who has grown up in Kerala, scanning political news in the newspaper as he sips his morning tea or discuss political developments at the local tea shop, the movie will not disappoint. We breathe a brand of politics that is still largely healthy, and One successfully tests our love for political stories while steering clear of communal issues.

After Arabikatha and Oru Indian Pranayakatha, One has given us a catchy political number – Janamanassinu Athipathi neeye – that will come in useful at political rallies.

One is definitely for Mammootty fans, and on May 2 when the election results are out, it will be a treat to return to your screens for 153 minutes and watch it yet again to celebrate the spirit of democracy.