Imagine being a soldier posted in one of the most isolated and dangerous points along one of the most dangerous and volatile borders in the world, with no one but a dog for company. Of course there’s another guy standing 50 feet away from you, you know across the border. Major Ravi’s Picket 43 starts with one of the most interesting and original premises in Malayalam cinema in a while. The only problem is he seems determined to keep the number of original ideas in his film at exactly one.
Prithviraj plays Hareendranath Nair, and Javed Jaffrey plays Mushraff. No points for guessing who’s on which side of the border. Mushraff is thankfully not a Malayalam speaking Pakistani. The interaction between the two, the way in which they learn about each other and, how they eventually form a great friendship forms the best parts of the film. Had the movie been a tight one and half hour long action-comedy, revolving solely around these two, this could have been one of the best films in the career of everyone involved in it. But as we all know Malayalam films are legally prohibited from being less than 2 hours long. So, here comes the padding.
Prithviraj’s Harindranath Nair has a kindly but ailing widowed mother waiting for him back home (of course), is in love with his uncle’s daughter (of course. I…guess?). Oh yes, and his girlfriend is about to be married off to some other guy. In Pakistan meanwhile, Javed Jaffrey’s daughter can’t go to school because the Taliban won’t allow it. Interesting, maybe the film wil- no, it’s just one flashback and then we’re done. Also, the Taliban show up like old masala movie bad guys. They come in a jeep (if I’m remembering it right), and circle the hero’s family a few times, issue a warning and then the scene ends. What.
And is it just me or does the Kashmiri base camp seem disproportionately full of Malayalam-speaking army men? Everyone Prithviraj talks to, from his bunkmates to his superior (played by Renji Panicker playing Suresh Gopi playing Mammooty playing Renji Panicker) speaks Malayalam. And no, it’s not because it would be difficult for the audience to follow. Javed Jaffrey’s Mushraff never speaks a word of Malayalam. Like I said, the parts of the movie that focus on these two soldiers growing closer and learning about each other are the best parts of the film. It’s one of the most original premises that I have seen in Malayalam cinema in a while.
Do you know that feeling when you hear a 5-year old talk about complex issues? You know after hearing her or his parents talk? Yeah, ultimately that’s kind of what it feels like watching this movie. Don’t get me wrong! The movie isn’t bad at all, especially for a Major Ravi film. In fact it’s perhaps his second or third best film depending on how much you liked Mission 90 Days. It just seems naive.
Look, I don’t think every frame of every movie needs to be original to be good. Some of the best works of fiction borrowed liberally from almost everything that came before. There’s nothing wrong with giving our protagonist a romance subplot to make us care more about him, there’s nothing wrong with giving the protagonist a kindly ailing widowed mother who always dots on her son to give the audience the weight of all that he’s missing while stationed at the LoC. It can be done right; in fact the same director did it right in his first film. But, simply showing the hero’s life back home, his mother, or his clichéd romance is not enough. It should have been tied to the main plot a little better. It worked in Keerthichakra, it didn’t work here.
Having said all this I would still recommend this movie. There is enough good in it that you’ll probably come out remembering more of the good stuff than the bad.