The hero centric masala movie is the most popular genre in South Indian cinema. This genre has made the biggest stars out of Rajni, Vijay, Ajith, Surya. The problem with this genre is off late most movies in this genre have started to look and feel the same. Bigger problem is the scripts are getting thinner as the budgets keep getting thicker. Petta was a welcome change in this genre with the fan in Karthik Subbaraj showcasing Thalaiva the way he wants to see him on screen. Similar vision works for Lucifer.
First time director Prithiviraj Sukumaran (a star in his own right) has created the world of Lucifer with the biggest superstar of Malayalam cinema Mohanlal at the centre of it. It is a fan’s ode to his matinee idol. It is also the work of a director with a sharp cinematic brain. Murali Gopy is aware that he is developing an arc that has been created many times before. What he elegantly does is construct elements of political drama, emotional conflicts, narrative tropes into it to make it stand apart.
If you look closely Lucifer has all the standard elements of a mass hero tropes. The treatment of the scenes is what makes it an interesting watch.
- The Stage is set: in a typical mass hero film there is small prologue before we see the entry. This is usually the ‘avar varuvar’ dialogue by the sidekick or an oppressed common man. In Lucifer before Stephen enters the screen, we get a set up but the way it is written is what makes it interesting. Indrajith Sukuraman as the conspiracy theorist (he even mentions the most popular of the theories, Illuminati in a later scene) is used as the narrative device to create a mist of myth around Stephen, about him culminating with his christening to Lucifer.
- Enter Lucifer, Good Devil: You hear Stephen before you see him. From the setup the audience already imagine him to be this power centre and then Mohanlal’s stoic delivery already make him larger than life. When you first see Stephen, he is inside a church (first of the fallen imagery), the camera zooms to his face and the intensity in his eyes convince you that he is Lucifer. When Stephen alights from his vehicle (that is aptly numbered) and walks among the crowd, you see his stature among people. No flying goons, intro songs with paeans alluding to the character and the star playing it and ‘punch’ dialogues are necessary. The director has established man at the centre of this movie’s universe.
- Show of Strength: The rite of passage of every star vehicle. Stephen does get to beat up the goons but the heavy lifting in this action scene is done by Mohanlal’s face. The expressions, the fierce gaze make it believable. It does not seem unreal even though the actor does not have the body or agility to pull of the action sequences. In many other ageing star’s hands this scene would look unintentionally funny, but not with Mohanlal. It also shows the power of an Actor-Star and the edge he has over others who fall in only of the buckets.
- The Interval Twist: The fall (?) of Stephen provides the necessary interval twist. But the intermittent time before his rise is peppered with an interesting sequence involving an ex-revolutionary that leads to talk of unworthy children, amicable political rivalries, and a beautiful comrade song.Stephen waits calmly in prison for the opportune moment and Mohanlal’s expressions do not betray any emotion at this stage. You realize there must be a well laid-out plan that will take care of things.
- ‘Avan yaaru teriyuma’ flashback: You hear about Stephen’s past throughout the running duration of the movie and make your own imaginations to complete the dots. Although there are other flashbacks in the movie (a little too many, I felt) we are spared the mandatory flashback sequence of the hero’s past that was pioneered by Baasha and run to the grounds by a barrage of movies across all the major South Indian industries. The screenplay cleverly conveys all we need to know about Stephen’s past without taking this done to death route.
- Fight to Death: The climax fight is unique in the way that Stephen does not raise a finger all through the fight. Yet he strides majestically like a king through the battlefield with enemy soldiers falling around him and clearing his path. The devil then quotes the scripture (Mohanlal rendering Ezekiel 25:17 in his own style, diametrically opposite to Samuel Jackson’s rendition in the classic Pulp Fiction) and closes the chain of events.
- Coronation of the Devil: Stephen, Lucifer, Khureshi Abram (Unholy Trinity?) – one man, 3 names. You see the actual man only in the epilogue and only for a moment. Leaving you wanting for more, for the pre-planned sequels.
Lucifer was a welcome break from the one-size-fits-all template of the ‘hero’ movie. The bar was raised slightly higher for the subsequent movies in the similar genre. Would be interesting to watch other superstars from the different industries take this to the next level. The routine punch dialogues, flying vehicles and dances with much younger actresses are becoming a drag.