The lockdown has pushed creative artists, especially filmmakers, to think out-of-the-box. As a result, many imaginative attempts came into limelight. Pandemic thriller, lockdown film.. as the name goes, the social phenomenon itself became genre and subgenres. An American indie called Host, similarly a found-footage film, caught the attention of people across the globe. Host, however, was an attempt that anyone would expect from the found-footage genre, a slasher horror. Found-footage films are virtual narratives, happening entirely on computer screens, monitors or smartphones. The genre is mostly associated with horror films, including the recent Host (2020), largely popular Unfriended series to the very ancestor of this subgenre, The Collingswood Story (2006). Perhaps, a more close attempt India had before is Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex aur Dhoka (2010) which propelled it’s storytelling using unconventional methods, framed through cctv cameras, webcams, video recorders and etc.
From Searching to CU Soon
It is the 2018 mystery thriller of Aneesh Chaganty that mainstreamized the genre. Searching, the american indie, grossed more than $75 million from the worldwide box office. It certainly has widened the scopes of an internet-movie, and Mahesh Narayanan is admittedly inspired from Aneesh’s film. What Searching did to the genre was widening the canvas, making the logistics more authentic and the form, intriguing. And thus, it became fittingly engaging for an average viewer. But, Mahesh Narayanan’s ambitions are not limited only to create a one-time watchable suspenseful drama. He creates something more immersive―a character driven drama, both emotional and layered.
Mahesh Narayanan’s creative genius
Mahesh Narayanan has taken cues from Searching only wrt to the format and logistics, so the drama is authentic and the screen time has logics. Mahesh specifically designs the movie for an OTT audience by using the widescreen format and close-ups tightly to savour the mood, making the viewer attentive and closely observant. We see what the character sees. CU Soon opens with character exposition, it registers a monitor screen showing the tinder profile of two characters who are going to interact with each other. It’s Jimmy (Roshan Mathews) and Anumol Sebastian (Darshana Rajendran). They both are living in Dubai. So we see them getting on track through a text chat. It’s a straight 6-min static shot of a computer screen. The stretched scene recalls the crackerjack opening sequence of David Fincher’s The Social Network, it’s almost a similar setup as regards to it’s virtual format.
The drama levels from an intimate romance to a sophisticated tech-thriller, and further from an emotional drama to mystery. It finally lands with devastating revelations and grounds as something far more political. Ultimately, CU Soon becomes just like Mahesh’s previous film, Take Off, as a story about survival and emancipation. But the humane undercurrents of the film still remains rock solid. These characters at no point become Mahesh’s tools to bend and twist accordingly to suit for convenience, they are layered and flawed―except one, of course, Sanjana CK (Amalda Liz), a colleague to Fahad Faasil’s Kevin (Kevin is the cousin of Jimmy), who is just written as a physical form of cinematic liberty in order to clear the road ahead. Mahesh does take an effort to give parallels between Kevin and Jimmy, as two toxic and misogynistic men (she even exposé a line) who monopolize their male sentiment over the mutual prospects of the relationship.
CU Soon is also, in a sense, a creative spin on the misogynistic trope―’woman redeems man,’ celebrated umpteen number of times in Malayalam pop culture, including the recent films like Kumbalangi Nights and Kappela. These films undermine woman characters and use them as tools to redeem the male. Here, Anu’s character sort of becomes a non evil desi adaptation of femme-fatale. She finds emancipation in a patriarchal world only by being a manipulator of command. But she deceives no one. Her love for Jimmy is true. This narrative feels so intimate because of the fact that CU Soon is the story of a social media era in general. Like every techno based film, Her, The Social Network or Unfriended, CU Soon also holds a conscience about virtual connections. But like Unfriended, it doesn’t proclaim to condemn cyber culture entirely. It shows many dimensions of the cyber world and the flawed humans inhibiting it.
In the film’s most beautiful scene, Mahesh uses a split screen, Kevin and Jimmy on the two ends. It is when all the mystery behind Anu is finished unraveling by Kevin. It is a peak poignant moment when both the male protagonists consummate their character arcs with redemption. It is also a complex scene for Jimmy, because he first feels cheated and disgusted knowing he slept with a call girl but a minute later he also recognizes that… he is in love with her. This works even better in context, the casting of Roshan is brilliant, in his last release Kappela, he played the role an online sex racketer luring a countryside girl through phone calls.
CU Soon should ideally get rid of at least a few crazy Fahad Faasil admirers. Because he has proved right in breaking consistency. Fahad delivers what can be called his most terrible performance since 2017’s Role Models. But it’s okay for an actor because the format is totally new and alien, adding the fact that Fahad was the one who got more tightly compact shots compared to the other two. But there’s a contrived overplaying from his part, at times gets too camera conscious. Roshan is too charming in the romantic portions and his voice modulation is beautifully harmonious with the silence around, but the expressions sometimes become baffling. However, it’s Darshana Rajendran who seems to understand the right pitch to this format, delivering a measured, career best performance. It’s hard to not get camera conscious at least once in the same lensing, but Darshana has pulled it off effortlessly in her histrionics.
If Searching widened the canvas of a found-footage film by enhancing it’s production appeal, using various modes, drone shots to helicopters and sprawling environment. In CU Soon, Mahesh Narayanan uses solid human drama in the virtual backdrop and employs a global narrative on international affairs. CU Soon can also be categorized as a successor to Take Off, given it’s political and scale-wise aspirations.