If absurdity is a genre, Malayalam cinema has not experimented with it much. There was a 'Double Barrel', and that’s it. Senna Hegde’s '1744 White Alto' is undoubtedly Malayalam’s latest addition to this less-explored genre.
From the setting, plot, characters and to the climax, everything about this film is quirky. It happens in an imaginary terrain ruled by dark hues. The cops there wear red berets and behave in bizarre ways. The cops and criminals of '1744 White Alto' keep challenging their own and the viewers’ intelligence sequence after sequence. You would find the film intriguing only if you are ready to lose yourself in this vortex of absurdity.
'1744 White Alto' is Hegde’s second outing in Malayalam after the critically acclaimed ‘Thinkalazhcha Nischayam’ which won hearts with its organic humour sprouting from a realistic setting. 'White Alto' drives in with the ‘Thinkalazhcha’ baggage but takes an entirely different route from the word go.
The plot is all about the investigation into a case at the centre of which is the common man’s car. The plot has its crucial twist as the car the cops are after gets switched with another one of the same model and colour. A series of quirky events during the investigation led by officer Mahesh, played by Sharafudheen with ease, make up the rest of the film. Mahesh’s troubled family life caught between his wife and mom forms a parallel plot with its own share of comic elements.
Comedy is the predominant emotion of the film with its cartoonish characters and institutions. The portrayal of the police force – supposed to wear the red cap for the next five years instead of the previous blue one – is satirical to the core. So is the portrayal of a priest. Questions of religion are raised often in the film but in vague terms.
In style and substance, a Wes Anderson influence is too evident in the film. It could even be an attempted tribute to the contemporary American master. It has moments of empathy hidden carefully amid its absurd world. The portrayal of the character of Kannan (Anand Manmadhan), a furious youngster who pulls his gun on those who tease his inability to speak, is an example. The angry young man is also shown as someone who enjoys 'Home Alone'. Rajesh Madhavan plays his partner in crime and delivers yet another convincing performance.
The problem with the genre is it challenges set norms of filmmaking and film watching. While the filmmaker may enjoy it, you can’t expect the theatre-going crowd to share the craftsman’s enthusiasm. The unlimited freedom the filmmaker takes with his story and characters may look faulty to the ordinary audience.
If there was an uninterrupted flow of humour in 'Thikalazhcha Nischayam' and its characters looked relatable, 'White Alto' seems to have a lot of forced humour and alien characters. It wouldn’t, however, disappoint you if you are ready for a change.