Friday 19 April 2024

Risky business: "Aavesham"

The collective galaxy brain that is the Malayalam cinema has figured out a way of making moviestars out of YouTubers, that species who - in the West, at least - have tended to present on screen as insufferable, airheaded twits. The surprise Indian hit of Eid weekend 2024 - outperforming several glitzier Hindi titles -
Aavesham is a college-kids-gone-wild comedy where the violent hazing rituals so closely resemble Mob manoeuvres it's scant surprise when an actual, grown-up gangster shows up to slap these kids about; the joshing action itself seems to manifest him. An online trio who trade under the handles Hipzster, Mithun and Roshan have been recruited to play boyish engineering-college students whose freshman parties are being stormed by motorbike-revving seniors; their unlikely protector, found stalking the fleshpots of Bangalore, is Fahadh Faasil's Ranga, a posturing hood who's covered his wiry frame in solid-gold bling, and thus suggests some unholy union between Robert Carlyle's Begbie and darts icon Bobby George. Given that Ranga introduces himself at the urinals, performing an aggressive variant of the Now, Voyager cigarette trick, we may justly suspect our heroes are playing with fire: sure enough, Ranga is soon keeping the lads up all night with grisly war stories, and installing them in their own dubious fraternity house stocked to the rafters with booze, cigs and working girls. It's not unlike the way writer-director Jithu Madhavan has slotted digital-age talent into an agreeably disreputable teen-throwback plot: Risky Business or Porky's, if our cherubic young seekers had gone looking to hire muscle rather than ass.

What follows works as entertainment because it anticipates the charges one might expect to see levelled against it: it's not obviously a film trying to get down with the kids by recruiting online personalities, rather a smartly scripted comedy about the perils of playing it cool. Ranga, who we learn posts self-shot dance videos on his Insta account, clearly regards the boys as a means of extending his empire and demographic reach. Yet at best he's a swaggering ponce, at worst a fraud, surrounding himself with an entourage of burly dupes to win the bulk of his fights for him and shore up a legend that is plainly bunkum. He is above all a terrific movie character, and Faasil, funny from the first moment he enters the frame, plays him with the same precision he's brought to more dramatic material, getting laughs whether trying to free a hand from the sheet he's wrapped himself in or conveying Ranga's internal confusion as he makes polite phone conversation with the sweetheart mother of the betrayer he's attempting to cut down with an axe. To some degree, Faasil serves as our onscreen director or ringmaster, determining the course of action and the speed Ranga's goons should go at, then applauding the minions who've just kicked seven bells out of one another, and stoking our enthusiasm for more of the same. After a while, everybody before and behind the camera seems to forget about the college backdrop, but the gangland knockabout is such fun we're as swept up as the kids in the excitement of the title.

For while Aavesham is thumpingly violent - properly rowdy - in a manner not untypical of South Indian commercial cinema, Madhavan knows full well that, removed from reality and reframed in a certain way, violence can be extremely, intensely funny. He twists these frequent free-for-alls into unexpected, amusing, cartoonish shapes, like a performer fashioning balloon animals at a child's birthday party. To its slight detriment, the film calms down in its second half: after the conspicuous fucking around, there is some shruggingly rote finding out. Yet even here, Madhavan's script still succeeds in alighting upon some genuinely original and inspired ideas. Given the scope and volume of that preceding hullabaloo, it's a source of particular amusement when we discover the turf war Ranga is waging against a local rival, Reddy (Mansoor Ali Khan), boils down to a simple matter of image rights. (How 21st century is that?) As for the kids: they're alright! Sure, none of them is burning up the screen exactly, but in an age when that callow wisp Chalamet has been positioned and embraced as a major new screen idol, that might no longer matter. They're comfortable in front of the camera, and convince as nerdy naifs, bickering among themselves as if they were still in their bedrooms, livestreaming Fortnite shootouts - though it's another minor limitation that they've been asked to play this one straight; the non-FaFa scenes aren't quite as uproarious as they could be. Still, a diverting night out - and set in the context of the movies' other efforts to induce cross-platform synergy, Aavesham falls somewhere between object lesson and mini-masterclass.

Aavesham is now playing in selected cinemas.


  1. Good review. But you have made an incorrect assumption of the 3 main leads as gaming streamers/youtubers. Which is understandable cause most counterparts their age in the west are mostly twitch streamers.

    The guys who play Shanthan (Roshan Shahnavaz) and Mithun Jai Shankar (who plays Bibi) make comedy skits on instagram and youtube. The only guy who used make gaming content is Hipzster (who plays Aju) and even he did not live-stream games. He has currently pivoted away from gaming content.

    Also I just want to mention that the Now Voyager cigarette trick is very different from what Ranga did in his intro scene. Did not feel that comparison to be accurate. Take care.

    1. Thanks for reading - and for the redirection! (Have edited accordingly.)