When the first few promo videos of Shylock, the new film of Ajay Vasudev, aired there was drops of hope. Since it’s a mass-masala movie and the writers are not the typical collaborators of Ajay Vasudev. There was something vibrant about the way Mammootty’s character was marketed. This wasn’t just about the frenzy swag or costumes, but also about the diction. An area of expertise for Mammootty. In Shylock writers Bibin Mohan and Aneesh Hameed attempts a Rajamanikyam similitude characterisation and camouflages it inside a Petta template. Right, the Karthik Subbaraj film is what i am referring to. They also makes a mashup of cinema within itself. Mammootty’s character is a mortgage financier for the Cinema Industry. He is only called as BOSS in the preceding portions and Vaalu (tail) in the later flashback. The cinema fraternity calls his Shylock, which is a nod to another domain of pop culture, meta of the protagonist from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.
The storyline is of that of a routine masala movie. It’s on a sense rehash of Petta itself. An impeccable mass hero disguised himself in another terrain – quite obviously a definition of mass protagonist from our pop culture itself, a man with a past or identity foreshadowing. Which is the central mass-conceit of Ajay Vasudev’s previous two films (as well with Mammootty) Rajadhiraja and Masterpiece. The flaws from these films follows up in Shylock as well. But Ajay Vasudev refines his treatment quite a one notch further, it’s not a filmmaking refinement but an intrinsic stylisation, something that’s apparently working in the current scenario. He changes his cameraman at first, Renadive, who has worked with Amal Neerad before is roped in for Shylock. Because Shylock is the closest Ajay Vasudev has come in lines with the multiplex audience. He gets two different terrains to crack as well, Urban and Rural.
To be honest, here the rural flashback works more than the urban contemporary story. The key takeaway for an average audience might be Mammootty’s rollicking energy in the first half, which had glimpses (very few) of Rajamanikyam. But Raj Kiran’s performance works big time with the flashback story. He brings a restraint effectiveness, this also is from vintage masala pop culture – Kamal’s Thevar Magan (but quite tweaky), and the Tamil dialect is enchanting. But later on the circumference of screenplay, the establishing connect between these two timelines becomes bland. It feels hurried and tied up. And the writing that arranges to a climax action set up was a WTF moment when the climax actually reached. The casting is also quite obvious and typical Ajay Vasudev, that seriously damaged plot points. Bibin George is given a yawn worthy cheap Sympathetic scene that is below every rational standards. Probably the one casting i found ‘Huh, surprising’ was Arthana Binu, that must have been a role reserved for Mahima Nambiar.
Take, the act structure of Petta for instance. It’s a classic masala revenge. The writers of Shylock does the same, but the roots are clumsy. Scene one of hero introduction is arranged in a shipyard, it’s a movie shoot being intercepted by our protagonist. The introduction set up as well is clichéd, tho i liked the idea, it’s something we have been witnessing for quite some time, even Ajay’s Masterpiece was akin. The roots are the causes of conflict and repercussions we would foresee. It’s something that enthralls someone to root for sides. In a masala movie this forms the DNA. So Shylock establishes the antagonists in a very silly way, after the introduction they gets frustrated, tries to harm and inflict Boss, but eventually fails. The antagonist must be supposed to be a major part of a genre like this. Every successful mass movie might have a strong foundation as a base for the antagonist. But Shylock instead is torn between two villains, Kalabhavan Shajon and Siddique (the quintessential police officer), the insanity possessed by this particular character might be drawn from Manoj K Jayan’s role in Phantom? These de-arrangements causes further mishmash with a third villain (John Vijay) coming in the flashback. There’s nothing such as arcs for these characters, these are just cynical templates. And this causes the drawback when Mammootty punches a mass one-liner. It’s like, this too shall pass.
But apart from giving sold foundation for a tidier act structure, the writers goes for pop culture mashup (or mishmash?). Some might find it cinematic bullshit, as what Siddique’s character refers at some point of the film. But the character has causes. So we get a charade of cinematic references out of the blue. The major contributions are from Petta of course, since Boss is an ardent Rajini fanatic. Thalapathy, Padayappa (a footage is nicely used in one song sequence) also takes it further. Interestingly so many cinematic meta references of Mammootty are placed evenly throughout the screenplay.
Like the Bar action sequence that’s a nod to the cockiness of Rajan Zakariya in Kasaba (Special thanks to the writers for not including shitty women interludes as eye candy subplots) or the one associating with Mafia Sasi (implicit reference) which reminds Martin Prakkart’s Best Actor. But the hilarious nod is reserved for Joseph Alex (The King), who blatantly torments the police officers and walk away from his own guest-house. And the best of all is the Rajamanikyam reference that is treated generally through and through. Mammootty also gives few counters to his contemporary Mohanlal, with Aaran Thampuran, Devasuram, Ravana Prabhu and Spadikam references. It was also fun to see Mammootty giving homage to Cochin Haneefa’s iconic Pottanum Poyi Vattanum poyi Bottum kitti hailesa! Line of Punjabi House.
Apart from these, few Tamil films and actors gets their part, Vijay Sethupathi and Vijay gets one, There is a line from Vikram Vedha and also the sensational Vijay signature swag of Theri-Bigil is rehashed by Mammootty in the interval block.
Shylock doesn’t bore the hell out of you. Even though the writing is bland and direction is blandest, Mammootty makes sure you have one passable affair despite its shortcomings. This line is only for the ones who are concerned about pop-corn entertainment. And thankfully, there is no signature – gravity defying stunts of Vasudev here at least. This too shall pass!