Ever since Madhu Warrier announced Lalitham Sundaram with Biju Menon and Manju Warrier headlining the cast, it was highly anticipated. Lalitham Sundaram literally translates to simple and beautiful, but the film, a direct release on Disney+Hotstar, is anything but that and turns out to be a massive disappointment.
Just like the casting, the film’s opening credits are accompanied with postcards evoking nostalgia, raising your expectations further. But a few minutes into Lalitham Sundaram and you realize something is terribly wrong, as if nothing is in sync.
Well, it has nothing to do with the fact that Biju Menon and Manju Warrier play siblings, or the fact that the characters lack layers; the film is a flawed product at so many levels that you don’t know where to start. It seems Madhu Warrier set out to make a breezy feel-good film about familial bonds and rediscovering your roots, but what we get instead is an amateurish plot, clumsy scenes and contrived performances.
You might pinch yourself to see what’s unfolding in front of you is for real, for it is really unbelievable that such a film got made in the first place. The problems emanate from a poor script and shoddy direction, and even the accomplished cast hardly seems convincing in their respective parts.
Biju Menon, Manju Warrier, and Anu Mohan play three siblings leading busy lives in Kochi, Mumbai and Bangalore, and find themselves home in Idukki for their mother’s (Saira Banu) death anniversary. A week of staying together unravels old wounds and pent-up issues between the brothers come to the surface. Sounds great for a plot, no? Perhaps Lalitham Sundaram is an illustration of how an exciting idea can be torn to shreds by poor execution.
Biju Menon is an unsuccessful businessman who is also dealing with issues on the personal front with his wife (played by Ramya Nambeesan). Manju Warrier, we are told, is a high-flying CEO and Anu Mohan, a techie, who tags his girlfriend (Deepti Sati) along. Saiju Kurup plays Manju Warrier’s home-bound husband, a retired merchant navy captain running the household.
The genial father played by Raghunath Paleri is convincing and a rare silver lining, but there is absolutely no sibling dynamics working out among the trio. That’s strange because Biju Menon and Manju Warrier go back a long way. They are friends in real life and there is no reason for them to come up with such labored performances but for poor direction and juvenile script. Saiju Kurup also comes across as genuine and so does Sudheesh, as a friend of the family’s.
Biju Menon sports grey hair and a beard to look the part of the washed up guy and sleepwalks through his role. For Manju Warrier, Lalitham Sundaram must count among her worst outings, and the less said the better about the rest of the cast. The friction between the brothers, we are told, had to do with the alcoholism of the older brother…but wait, was it all a misunderstanding? There are flashback scenes with a reality show setting as dumb as the rest of the film. The younger brother is overcome with contrition and the cringefest gets worse.
The storyline being predictable is the least of Lalitham Sundaram’s faults – it wouldn’t really matter if it’s a convincing retelling with a dash of drama and some memorable moments, but there is nothing to salvage here. There are many tropes and stereotypes at play but there is no point in discussing those when the narrative itself is ill-conceived.
The heralding of the digital age and democratization of the Malayalam film industry in the previous decade saw the mushrooming of low-budget films with varying results. There was a fair bit of trash being churned out, a number of films with newcomers and unrecognizable actors playing meaty parts helmed by greenhorn technicians and a lot of experiments going haywire. But Lalitham Sundaram cannot really resort to such excuses, with a stellar cast to boot.
Today, the multitude of OTT platforms would ensure that the much sought-after Malayalam films backed by a strong cast have minimum guarantee, regardless of the quality of the film –which is a tragedy, because there would be more such attempts, on the basis of half-baked ideas and dates of stars.
Madhu Warrier has produced two films prior to Lalitham Sundaram but he has most probably not been an Assistant Director (AD) prior to his directorial debut. It would be terrible for the viewers for someone to learn direction while being at the job, and to be subjected to such neatly-packaged trash in the process. One can only hope that people would respect the medium of cinema enough to not take viewers for such a ride.
For those who signed up expecting a film like Fireflies in the Garden (2008), Aalkkoottathil Thaniye (1984) or Manjadikkuru (2012), sitting through the film would leave you feeling terrible. I personally found some relief by watching Fireflies in the Garden on DVD (not on any streaming platform in India as I learned) immediately thereafter before sitting down to compose this review. Lalitham Sundaram is strictly avoidable-- a terrible film in every sense.