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Salt n’ Pepper is a Cultural Milestone

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Salt n’ Pepper rocks! The movie ushers in modernity into the stagnated landscape of Malayalam romantic comedies. And by “modernity”, I did not mean a six-packed hero and semi-nude heroine breaking out into a pelvic-thrusting fantasy song-and-dance sequence shot at some exotic locations in USA/Europe. Nor did I mean a campus or IT-company setting where script writers make us believe that almost anything can happen. The characters and premise of Salt n’ Pepper are very ordinary and very middle class. But they are not fighting the usual set of obstacles stacked against lovers portrayed ad-nauseam in Malayalam cinema: A hero struggling in finance/career or burdened with responsibility to marry-off his sisters, a heroine facing objections to her affair from family or some scorned man turned abusive. We have already seen umpteen number of movies covering such predicaments: time to move on! In Salt n’ Pepper, the protagonists are fighting against their own inhibitions, self-perceptions and mindsets.

Rough looking chronic-bachelor Kalidasan(Lal)is a government employee working as an archaeologist at the museum. And heavyset chronic-spinster Maya(Shweta Menon) is a dubbing artist in the movie industry. The younger generation is represented by Manu(Asif Ali) who is Kalidasan’s nephew staying with him while job-hunting in the city and Meenakshi(Mydhili) who is Maya’s rental roommate at the home-cum-beauty parlour owned by Mariya(Kalpana). Kalidasan is a food lover and is practically married to his dexterous resident cook Babu(Baburaj). Maya finds solace in her lonely life through cooking and savoring memories of her lost mother. A wrong cellphone order for “Thattil kutti Dosa” connects Kalidasan and Maya and the rest of the story unfolds in front of our eyes in the most hilarious way possible.

Few of the scenes that stand out for their innovation and/or boldness:

  • Maya being a dubbing artist enables the movie to directly poke fun at the typical cliched romantic scenes found in Malayalam cinema. Maya herself is laughing at the outdated dialogues that she is told to dub. The question raised “Nammalenthaada ingane?” in the movie-within-movie is actually addressed to the whole Malayali community.
  • Being a foodie, Kalidasan’s bride-seeing event at the girl’s house ends up with him instead falling in love with their resident male cook who had prepared unni-appam for the event. The cook elopes with the groom-to-be!
  • I really liked the guts of the director to show a very realistic scene where Maya, Meenakshi and Mariya are celebrating new-year with booze. Maya eventually passes out drunk, lamenting about her life. Yes, we have seen intoxicated heroines in prior movies like Spadikam etc. but the intention there was solely comic relief.
  • Did we witness the first ever romantic lip-to-lip kiss shown in a Malayalam mainstream movie? The director’s effort to innovatively use props like a tire-swing, a bridge across rivulet etc. to decently picturize a kissing scene that advances progressively from head to forehead to lips needs to be applauded. This historic first kiss executed in any other way probably could have be irked conservative family audience who are not used to such visuals in public. I am talking about picturization of the melodious duet “Kanamullal” composed by Bijilal and immortalised by Shreya Goshal and Ranjit.
  • The audience were chuckling at the light-hearted purdah jokes that occur at the beauty parlour. Glad that it is coming from a Muslim director like Ashiq Abu himself.

The writer duo Syam Pushkaran & Dileesh Nair reminds us that script really is the king. Two movies old Ashiq Abu can now relax and enjoy the success of his path-breaking movie which is going to be heralded as a milestone in Kerala’s pop culture. In the acting department, Lal and Sweta Menon did a wonderful job, etching their characters to perfection. It felt like the character of Kalidasan was tailor made to suite Lal’s star persona. With Amina, Cheeru, Rathichechi and now Maya under her belt, Shweta Menon is becoming an irreplaceable asset to the Malayalam industry during her comeback innings. Asif Ali and Mydhili also did a convincing job portraying cupid-struck lovers who are attracted to each other but are also anxious because they are forced to hide their true identity. The surprise package of the movie is definitely Baburaj, who the audience is used to seeing only in villain roles. He was literally living as the skillful cook who is a perpetual bachelor practicing Hanuman-seva and body-building, and shares a very strong emotional bond with Kalidasan. There are gay undertones in the way in which the cook is presented and so is the case with Mariya’s assistant at her beauty parlour. It is truly a tribute to Bhagyalakshmi that the voice for Maya, the very first dubbing artist portrayed in a movie, is dubbed by the very first dubbing artist-cum-activist in the world. To Bhagyalakshmi’s credit, she has given a slightly different voice suiting Sweta’s character and body language.

National jury might have awarded the best film of India tag to ‘Adaminte Makan Abu’ which was released last month. But I would rate Salt n’ Pepper as the best movie that came out in 2011. The movie’s message put forward by Kalidasan & Maya is simple and straight forward: “Live to Eat, Live to Love”. Majority of Indians can not relate to hyper-religiousness and nearly suicidal spirituality of Adam’s son Abu. But Food and Love are two things that all of us, including Abu, can relate to. If you haven’t seen this gastronomic-romantic-comedy yet, go sprinkle this Salt n’ Pepper in your soul!

(The author, Kishor Kumar, is well known in Malayalam cyberspace through his RagaKairali web site. He can be reached @ http://ragakairali.blogspot.com )

17 Comments

  1. The article went well, until “..hyper-religiousness and nearly suicidal spirituality..”. Salt N Pepper might be a cultural milestone, but you don’t have to thrash another well-intentioned movie to make your point.

    Adaminte Makan Abu is neither about hyper religiousness nor suicidal spirituality. It has an overall humanitarian message of simplicity and honest living. Not everyone in India can have unni appams or booze for new year, but that doesn’t mean their lives are any lesser.

  2. the review is well written exvept for the excessive ‘adaminte makan abu’ bashing which crops up towards the end.Salt n pepper is a decent light hearted comedy but i dont agree that its the best movie 0f 2011..

  3. @Srijith, @Nikhil,
    Actually I liked the movie Adaminte Makan Abu but did not find it national award worthy. I also wonder what would have happened to Abu and his wife is they indeed went to the pilgrimage after spending *all* their life savings!

    Anyway, lets discuss Salt n’ Pepper here. Not Abu, unless its Ashiq Abu!

  4. no i truly agree with authors point.adhaamintae makan abu ofcourse its an excellent film.But 95% of movie buffs watch movies for entertainment.Not to measure directors intellectual versatality or actors adaptability.So salt n pepper is a true genuine entertrainer.’pranchiyettan and the saint’ and ‘salt n pepper’ are the best entertainers in the recent times.Traffic is such a film which can only happens once.At the core its not at all an entertriner.But its brutally brilliant.

  5. Good one Kishore! Did you forget the Moopan? Though he didn’t have any direct bearing on the main story line,the very presence of his dead pan face here and there in the background was hilarious.
    I totally agree with Sudeep’s first comment.

  6. I’ve two reservations: representation of the Adivasi mooppan is problematic. He had no role in the story; his presence seemed to enhance the role and charisma of Kalidasan. A film about food and taste could have remembered that hunger and starvation still exist in our society.
    Congrats for the write-up, except for the unnecessary last para.

  7. Yes Noushand, the inclusion of Moopan is a psychological balancing act and the logic behind that can be problematic. Jayashree, this is precisely why I did not say anything about Moopan!

    I also think every movie cannot address every issue and may not be appealing to all sections of the population. This movie is aimed at people who at least have a cellphone.

  8. nice review…but again its a masala film unlike adaminde abu…hence should not b compared

  9. well i have not seen the film adaminte makan abu but saw the film salt and pepper. being a foodie the thing that captured my attention was the title song and its picturisation.plus it tried to explain love with a simple yet perfect instrumnet which ofcourse is food. but i felt a lag in the second half and moopan just faded away from the film suddenly and even now i cant comprehend the idea of using such a motif . and about the humor in the film ,baburaj was exceptionally gud with his perfect timing and aftr a long time heard sum jokes without oft repeted slangs, and double entendre . but sumwhere i found the connection going weak i menat that all jokes are gud but couldnt find continuation and sustenance . it is a gud film but cant tag as the best film .one thing is sure aftr watchng the movie we will apprecite food and foodies and their sentiments 🙂

  10. @Ashwin, Actually many people see this movie only as a masala entertainer! And that is the real success of the writer/director. But its introduces many novelties and also does some self-criticism of Malayali culture in its cute little romantic comedy setup. The movie accomplishes this in its commercial-film format and not appearing preachy like art movies.

    Also, many audience have noted feminist undercurrents in this movie where men and women are shown as equals and share same desperation, insecurities and hopes.

  11. Salt n’ Pepper is a well made entertainer. Calling it a cultural milestone is just too much. If the author is comparing the movie with the other recent superstar craps, yes, it needs to be lauded for being a simple, neat film. I fail to understand why the movie is called a milestone just because it had common man’s language and some genuine humor situations. Sathyan Anthikkad gave us a string on movies in the 80’s and 90’s in the same genre, so Salt n’ Pepper doesn’t really break any new ground.

    The movie also fails in quite a few areas, like:

    Are the archeology dept guys fools to allow dig up a vast area of place so that Vijaraghavan can have tea at his ex-flame’s house? The writers include names like Musiris in the dialogues to make it look believable!

    The Mooppan’s character is now hailed by some as something symbolic. Though he offered some funny moments to the first half, the director didn’t really know what to do with him in the second half.

    And why was that elaborate ‘kidnap’ scene of Mooppan in the beginning? Didn’t serve any purpose.

    Hero-heroine meeting only in the last frame is nothing new. We have seen it in English and Tamil movies.

    The director was too engrossed with Lal-Shwetha romance, not even one scene was allotted to show the spark of romance between Asif and Mythili. The gutter incident was too weird to call romantic. Oh yeah, there was also a dreamy song sequence.

    First ever lip-to-lip kiss in Mal movies? Hasn’t the author seen any Shakeela-Reshma movies? Or aren’t they qualified to be ‘mainstream’? 😉

    I would say we should take Salt n’ Pepper as a nice movie which is to be encouraged. Calling it a milestone is only going to spoil the director. Remember what happened to Ranjith Shankar after the widely appreciated Passenger? 🙂

  12. I am an ardent fan of sathyan anthikkad and sreenivasan movies, agree that this movie is smthng which is really GREAT GREAT GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!>>>>>>>>>…………………….<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

  13. @Ramesh, @Arya : By I have no clue why you think Salt n’ Pepper is like a Sathyan Anthikkad movie. Sathyan himself has admitted that he is only comfortable doing movies with village & family setting (Which means we have hero/heroine, their parents, siblings, neighbors etc..) Nothing wrong with this–he is trying to tell stories set in an environment that he is familiar with. The premise of Salt n’ Pepper is entirely different.

    And the day a Sathyan Anthikkad heroine drinks booze, “kaakka malarnnu parakkum”!!!

    Human lips are always exposed. And a lip-to-lip kiss is the first expression of romantic love between two people. So nudity or obscenity or “Shakeela” issues should not even cross our mind when we see a lip-to-lip kiss.

  14. I simply loved the movie. Not just the script, acting, songs and direction but camera and editing were also top notch. Excellent team work. Lal and Swetha were so natural. Credit must go to the well etched out characters. Picturisation of the title song was something out of this world and set the tone for the rest of the movie.

    Here are some li’l tidbits I loved –

    – A young Kalidasan licking pulinga making not just other in his class but everyone in theatre salivate.

    – Little slice of life humor like the lady in Lal’s office shooing away the shouting, burly ex S.I. The old muslim lady’s husband waiting for her outside the parlour (that was sweet).

    – Swetha menon’s dubbing scene (enthada nammal ingane? did anyone notice podimeeshakaran’s mooch?)

    – Bold attitude and clear gay undertones Lal-Baburaj bromance.

    – The whole Joan’s cake sequence. Awesome! Had tears in my eyes. Such brilliant cinematography and art work.

    – Even the premier padmini had a character. So much effort the makers have put to the movie

    Maybe I have missed some, need to watch it again.

  15. @kishore sir, the characters and story line of S n P had no similarity with those of any sathyan anthikkad movie. i meant that s n p is a very realistic film just like any sathyan movie. well i will not agree that most of his movies had village as its background, more than a village story he tried to impart the subtlities and real life situations of middle class keralite people. nadodikkattu, gandhinagar 2 nd street,achuvinte amma and many more films like his recent film katha thudarunnu- are they having a village backdrop?????

  16. @Arya: Don’t get me wrong. MazhavilKavadi is an ever-green romantic comedy classic by Sathyan Anthikkad. I love it. But how much of that movie’s premise is applicable to lovers of present times?

    Sathyan movies are stuck in a time-warp and mostly operate on the stereotypes of “villagers are all goody-goody, city-folks are all bad & corrupted”. He is yet to do a movie with modern premise (I try to define ‘modernity’ in the beginning of my article).

  17. @kishor sir: i can’t understand why you still stick to the opinion that sathyan movies are village stories. its a wrong concept. the fact is that he used to narrate the lives of very common people around us despite the background is either rural or urban.eg.nadodikkattu,gandhinagar 2nd steet,t.p balagopalan, pattanapravesham,kalikkaalam,achuvinte amma,katha thudarunnu(SOME BLOCKBUSTERS of him, all have urban backdrop)The romance in mazhavilkkavadi is not applicable to present time lovers,it is fact. but it was applicable to the lovers of THAT TIME. the romance in his recent movies like katha thudarunnu are applicable to the lovers of THIS TIME. sathyan movies are satirical and deals with the very common issues of our society. if u think that women drinking booze as only modernity,u are wrong as a very small fraction of women, even in cities used to drink booze. also none of his movies tells us that villagers are only good.

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