Vattamesha Sammelanam: The Makers set out to make a Flop Film
The saying, third time lucky, was true to a certain extent in my attempt to watch this movie in a theatre. Let me make it clear, the first two attempts didn’t fail because it was running houseful. Theatres cancelled shows because there weren’t enough people to watch the show. I met a few of them who were trying to justify the film to the usher who thought that the film’s humour went above his intellectual capacity. After losing almost 180 minutes of my life in that theatre, I was numb.
To be fair, the Vipin Atley film had warned viewers in advance. The posters itself termed it “The flop film” and told viewers to watch it on the first day because it would be out of theatres the next day. The poster declares that it’s the worst poster of the worst Malayalam cinema! The makers employed a negative publicity tactic and it proved to be true—the film, an anthology of shorts, is an unbearable mess, barring one.
The film is about an underworld don from Mumbai named Jaggubhai Khurana Saheb (Shashi Kalinga) who is in Kerala to produce a flop film to write off his black money. Based on the advice of a famous astrologer, he sets out to produce an anthology of shorts, with the worst scripts, cast and crew.
The first short film, named Superhero, directed by Vijeesh A C, is a good one. The story about a Muslim boy adoring the cartoon character Little Krishna and wishing to enter a temple to see his idol is cute, funny, heart-warming and conveys a strong message that struck a nerve. From that point, the film just nose-dived into a steaming pile of dung.
Atley had carved a niche for himself with Homely Meals, a film that he wrote and starred in. It was the story of an awkward film lover’s struggles to get his innovative programme aired on a television channel. He seemed like a worthy successor to Malayalam’s master of self-referential comedy and satire: Sreenivasan. Atley had dug into his personal experiences while doing a show on a Kochi-based channel. He did not shy away from poking fun at the TV industry as well as the Church. The simple, endearing and funny film won applause and was a hit at the box-office too. Atley’s directorial debut Ben was also widely appreciated and he enjoyed a cult following, especially among the youth who venerated him as an anti-industry hero. In the end, the fans’ faces belied their true feelings–they were taken for a ride by their idol.
Humour based on stomach upset is funny in general, but it is also the last resort of a comedian. Atley uses the trope in two of the short films here, one that he directed and another that he wrote. And both of them were unfunny and devoid of any deeper meaning. Known for his meta humour, Atley uses a lot of movie references, mostly to dismal effect. And since the film is made by the Kochi fraternity, they also make snide remarks about southern districts in Kerala. The attempt to satirise Kannada and Telugu films misses the mark. The makers could have easily kept it under 120 minutes and spared the audience the torture—the supposed comical pursuit of Jaggubhai by Major Ravi playing a police officer.
The late American comedian Andy Kaufman is considered by many as a misunderstood genius. He stretched the limits to breaking points with his sketches and totally bonkers alter-egos. Atley’s Vattamesha Sammelanam takes the audience, especially his loyal fans, for granted. Honestly, it felt like an elaborate set up for a joke. And it begs the question what they were smoking while making this one. It can be debated that this was an attempt at being hyper-meta but failing to entertain is a cardinal sin as far as film making is concerned. And I must say that Atley has certainly tarnished the goodwill he had earned over the years. It will take considerable effort from his part to rectify this seemingly deliberate attempt to make fools out of the audience.