Director: Anwar Rasheed
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Nazriya Nazim, Sreenath Bhasi, Gautham Menon, Soubin Shahir, Vinaykan and Dileesh Pothan
UAE rating: PG15
Stars: 3 out of 5
Fahadh Faasil’s mind-bending Malayalam film ‘Trance’, centring on a phoney preacher Joshua Carlton, takes you on a wild psychedelic trip, but it doesn’t give you that high and leaves you with an unsatisfying conclusion.
‘Trance’, which drips with stylised scenes, an intriguing premise and superlative collective acting, is that cinematic crash and burn which doesn’t realise its full creative potential.
Director Anwar Rasheed, who’s the byword for cool in Malayalam cinema, begins on an absolutely promising note.
The movie opens by giving us a peek into the life of two dysfunctional siblings Viju Prasad-turned-fake pastor and Kunji (Faasil and Sreenath Bhasi). They are saddled with a troubled, traumatic past where they saw their depressed mother commits suicide by hanging herself on a fan. They were kids and with such a troubled, bleak past, their sanity began hanging by a precarious thread — especially Kunji who is at suicide risk as he grows up.
Right from the word go, the dynamic between the two brothers where Viju is that responsible caregiver is swiftly established. But Kunji’s suicide disturbs Prasad on a visceral level and sends him on a downward spiral.
Faasil as the insomniac on the brink of insanity is acting gold. You feel his pain when this sprightly, enterprising young man moans to his psychiatrist that his prescribed anti-depressants isn’t a miracle drug. He seems like a wounded animal trying to gain closure and move on from that ghastly family tragedy.
The movie shifts gears when the emotionally volatile Viju is cherry-picked by murky and morally-bankrupt corporate giants Gautham Menon and Chemban Vinod Jose to become a sharp-suited faith healer and preacher. Their interaction where he agrees to be a con man in a swish hotel seems impossibly staged, but his transformation from a non-entity and powerless Viju Prasad to the wily, pretentious and gaudy pastor Joshua Carlton is laced with wit and wry humour. The staged miracles where he sprints offstage and pinpoints to an ill person from the crowd on the basis of the instruction given to him in an earpiece is hilarious. The method behind the miracles is sheer madness, but fun to watch.
Dileesh Pothan as the devious, insincere Avarachan who grooms Viju to be a bible-quoting spiritual guru is on-point. But just as we are about to take a leap of faith with ‘Trance’, the swish movie unravels and enters the bizarre terrain. It wades into the loopy territory in its choppy second half. His exponential growth as a self-styled evangelist who wears velvet coats and prances around an army of believers pretending to heal them in showbiz style is interesting at first.
But his garish charm of conning unsuspecting believers wears off quickly. As his fame grows, his mind decays and derails from reality. This movie could have been a searing commentary on religion and faith being a lucrative business, but it doesn’t come together as a whole. But before you give up on it, Pastor Carlton’s face-off with a TV anchor, played ably by Soubin Shahir, who calls him out as a fake impostor comes off as a much-needed miracle to boost our flagging interest.
Actress Nazriya Nazim, who’s known for her cute girl-next-door chirpy roles, goes out on a limb and plunges into a dark, morally-grey zone. She’s refreshing as a honey trap arranged to spy on the volatile pastor, but her underwritten role reduces her to a token presence. She looks amazing in her salon-perfect, girl-interrupted avatar, but her character arc isn’t developed fully.
But ultimately, this film is bloated with a languid running time of 170 minutes and the appeal wanes towards the end. While there are sparkling moments featuring Faasil and other actors, there’s no salvation towards the end.