Ahmed Kabir's 'Madhuram' review: Exploring the beauty of life

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Joju George is improving with each film.

You might have met such people in your life. The ones who will put up a brave smiling face even when the world came crashing down. The eternal optimists who believe in the Joie de verve of life. And you will keep wondering how they manage to stay so positive amidst such adversity. Those are the people who will melt your heart with their cheerfulness, make you teary-eyed with just their very presence. Ahmad Kabeer’s Madhuram is about such people.

Kochi government Medical college provides the backdrop for Madhuram. The focus is on the waiting room, where a cross-section of people live together and exchange their joys and sorrows. What binds them together is their near and dear ones' sickness. Madhuram narrates its story through four such characters. Sabu, Kevin, Ravi, Taju—they all hail from different socio-economic backgrounds. A few months in the hospital not only help them to strike a beautiful bond with each other but also understand each other’s past and present. They are somehow there for each other, offering solace during tough times. One almost gets the feeling that the hospital waiting room is almost real and the characters are living their part.

The narrative is non-linear. Every character lingers like that deep-fried jalebi simmering in sugar syrup, life might give them blisters but the aftertaste is sweet and memorable.  The first person who leads us to this story is Kochi based Sabu (Joju George), who works on a ship as an Assistant Chef. He is there on the ship for 8 months and four months on land. But when a beautiful Gujarathi girl, Chitra enters his life, his life takes a U-turn.

A cheery old man’s (Jaffer Idukki) unassuming Madeena Hotel stands testimony to their romance. The story revolves around Sabu’s romance, marriage, and the events following that. Parallelly, you have the story of a younger couple, Kevin-Cherry who are struggling in their marriage owing to his mother's illness. Arjun Ashok and Nikhila Vimal play Kevin and Cherry.

Chitra, Sabu’s love interest is played by Shruti Ramachandran. Sabu and Chitra’s romance provide the much-needed freshness and charm to the narrative. That in effect is the charm of Madhuram. Can’t think of such beautifully shot romantic scenes in recent times. Easily Chitra is one of the most memorable roles of Shruti’s career. Equally lovely was the chemistry between Arjun Ashokan and Nikhila Vimal.

Though a lot of characters are there in this non-linear narrative the screenplay beautifully manages to accommodate all of them without diluting their importance. Food is one tool used to convey a lot of emotions in the film. It’s there right from the opening shot where biryani is packed in a steel lunch box to celebrate Chitra’s birthday. That is followed by other delicious imageries.

Kunjikka’s biryani, Gujarathi Pappad, the yellow jalebi recipe Sabu learns from Chitra, the frothy glass of tea at the hospital canteen, the Rava Kesari Cherry makes to impress her mother-in-law, Italy’s black coffee, Rionova’s lobster pasta, steaming rice, coconut chutney, fried fish and mango fish curry—the film is filled with such enticing food scenes. Most of them are narrated through a character’s story or situation. What makes Madhuram different from films that had food as its central theme (Salt N Pepper, Godha, Ustad Hotel) has to be its different packaging.

The screenplay written by Ashiq Aimer and Fahim Zafar for the story of director Ahmed Kabir makes Madhuram a heart-touching film. What perhaps isn’t a fresh story gets a beautiful spin in the hands of writers and director. In fact, Fahim Zafar plays one of the key characters and there are a lot of fun moments involving him.

Without a doubt, Ahmed Kabir has come a long way from his debut directorial June. He has succeeded in picking the right actors and also using them beautifully. One even feels the presence of characters who never make an appearance on screen and a lot of credit goes to the actors (Joju George, Arjun Ashokan and Indrans).  It’s such a delight to simply watch these three perform on screen.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Joju George is improving with each film. He is setting new standards for himself. After watching him as Sabu, you might be tempted to wonder how he managed to breathe life into these characters with so much honesty. His romantic scenes can really put a smile on your face. Joju is as subtle in emotional scenes, and he makes us feel for every word and emotion he displays.

Another actor who deserves a round of applause has to be Indrans who plays Ravi, who was a senior officer at the Postal Department. Though his Sulekha never makes an appearance in the film, Indrans's narration is so sublime that you totally buy his 40-year-old love story, which he keeps narrating to anyone who cares to listen with a disclaimer. Every time he says, “Ravi weds Sulekha, 40 years,” you can’t help but cheer for that loving old man. But then we are used to the brilliance of Indrans by now.

Madhuram Movie screengrab - 2
Madhuram Movie screengrab - 2

After the much successful Jaaneman, Arjun Ashokan gets another cracker of a character in Kevin, and he nails it. He has proved now and again that he is here to stay. Another pleasant surprise has to be Jagadish who plays Arjun’s father. Then of course there is Jaffer Idukki who once again stuns us with his uncanny ability to disappear into his characters. He is absolutely nuanced as the Biryani local chef who can just smell the dum biryani from a distance to know how it will turn out.

 Navas Vallikkunnu, Lal as the doctor, the nurse in the small scene, the cousins in the hospital sit-in group, and the elder brother in the canteen are all great examples of perfect casting. Music and background score plays a key part in the slow-paced narrative. Hisham Abdul Wahab and Govind Vasantha are the musicians of Madhuram. Jithin Stanislaus' frames infuse a lovely sweetness to the narrative.

Jithin’s camera proves that one can make a hospital story realistic as well as colourful. Editor Mahesh Bhuvanand's Cuts has played a significant role in making the non-linear storytelling of the film clear and vibrant. The film, co-produced by Jojo George and Sijo North, has been released on OTT platform Sony Live.

Madhuram is about a bunch of strangers who connect over the invisible thread of love and sorrow. This isn’t a film about one character or a star. This film is a celebration of a lot of beautiful people and brilliant actors. You might want to fall in love, perhaps reconnect with your loved ones, or even share a plate of biryani with them after watching the film. What better gift for Christmas than a film like Madhuram?

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