Romance needs a lot of depth and nuance if it is to form the backbone of a film’s screenplay. It’s crucial to portray it in a manner that’s relevant to the times that we live in, but also, equally vital is to ensure that it is convincing. Almost a decade-and-a-half since his directorial debut Uthara, Sanil Kalathil seems to be still stuck in a bygone era while making his latest offering: Marconi Mathai. For starters, it’s a film that begins off as a routine feel-good family entertainer (that Jayaram himself has portrayed a zillion times) before taking a sharp turn towards a romance which seems jaded.
Mathai (Jayaram), a former Army officer, has taken on a job as a security personnel at a co-operative bank in a village. A self-confessed eligible bachelor who is in his 40s, Mathai has a group of friends whose only mission in life seems to be to find a bride for him. In fact, match-making seems to be the pastime of the village too. To add to this, his workplace is an unconventional organization where the employees share an unrealistically friendly rapport irrespective of their job designation and hierarchy. It’s no stiff atmosphere but like one big jolly family. Into this happy midst arrives Anna (Athmeeya), an orphan, when she gets a job as the sweeper at the bank.
She’s portrayed as an innocent young girl whose bubbly nature wins the hearts of all the bank employees. Mathai gradually starts to develop “feelings” for Anna and after mustering courage, decides to confess his love for her. Even as the romance is set to blossom, Vijay Sethupathi, who plays himself, is introduced as a star who decides to promote his upcoming romantic film on a radio show: Red FM. The concept of the radio show is to help those who are facing obstacles in love—Sethupathi turns saviour for those messed-up lovers. And you guessed it, Marconi Mathai as his name suggests, loves the radio, so inevitably Sethupathi’s and Mathai’s paths must cross.
The characters and the story lack freshness and it is like watching a rerun of one of Jayaram’s earlier films. It’s not helping that the rest of the characters too look tired as if they stepped off a bygone-era bus. Even the conversations lack the element of surprise and director Sajin is largely to be blamed for the mess. Apart from penning the story, he is also a co-writer of the screenplay and dialogues with Rajesh Mithila. Both seem to be hung up on the Malayalam films of the past decades.
While everything about the film goes downhill, the only spark of delight comes from Athmeeya. The actress puts on an energetic performance that tugs at your heartstrings and is the one person that the audience can connect with. Despite the clichéd character, she manages to rise above that with a lot of conviction. Jayaram’s role is one he can do even in his sleep—at the peak of his career he had done several of those at his charming best but that charm and energy is certainly not as effective anymore. It’s not his fault either but he should have kept away from such mundane scripts that demand nothing new from him. But for a few good moments he shares on screen with Athmeeya, the film is so been-there-before.
The most confused character in the film is Vijay Sethupathi’s—he’s put into unintentionally funny scenarios that leave you scratching your head. In terms of the script, he has a key role to play in the film and he tries earnestly to do his bit but is a victim of a crippled character that has no meat or logic in it. Considering the busy schedules of actors these days, it’s illogical to see a star investing so much of his time to solve matters of the heart of people he has no connection with.
While it’s not surprising to see Jayaram do such a film to stay relevant as a lead hero, it’s strange that Vijay Sethupathi chose this project to debut in Malayalam. There was a huge potential to make a quality film with two brilliant actors available but sadly, the film ends up as anything but that. Marconi Mathai is an outdated product that’s executed in an equally old-fashioned manner, thereby testing the audience’s patience to the core. For those who love the old romances, go watch it.