Salaam Baapu's directorial debut 'Red Wine' starts off with one of the best scenes in the film marked by a deft stroke by the director that emphatically proclaims his arrival. Sadly though, it's a drop down for the film thereafter, as it meanders along conventional plains towards a disappointing denouement.
The future looks all dazzling for Anoop (Fahad Fazil), a young comrade who hails from Wayanad, and who has fast risen to be the party local committee secretary. The young man is remarkably popular among the masses, has a solid education to fall back on, has a way with words and has the dexterity to move ahead with the changing times. When he is found murdered in a hotel room, ACP Ratheesh Vasudevan (Mohanlal) has several possible motives to explore, political rivalry being just one of them.
When one watches a film like 'Red Wine', one ends up remembering classic films in the genre, be it 'Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback', 'Kariyilakkaattu Pole' or even 'Utharam'. These whodunits that had set our brains working over time had also effectively remained some of the greatest entertainers that Malayalam has seen. It's a tough legacy to keep up with I agree, and 'Red Wine' falls short of the gargantuan expectations set up by the genre itself.
The comparisons aside, 'Red Wine' deserves to be analaysed as an independent film, and the issues that it discusses are many. Displacement of the tribal colonies in Wayanad, is just one of them, and the real estate mafia making their inroads into a disoriented world that is unsettled by economic disparities is another. Privatization of education is yet another idea that is dabbled with.
Even as it offers some very valid statements on these issues, the insights that it offers are nothing new. It's all something that we have been debating for a pretty long time now, and there are no fresh perspectives in store in 'Red Wine'. It's pretty much the same old story, and when we hear it all over again, the dejection creeps in.
The vital element that makes a film as this interesting is the suspense, and 'Red Wine' totally messes it up. You keep hoping that things aren't really what they seem to be, but they turn out to be exactly what they appeared ten minutes into the film. And its then that you realize that the attempt was to underplay the suspense as such, and focus on the characters instead.
Relationships cease after death, and those who depart often leave a handful of questions lying around. Those who continue to exist remain perplexed and obsessed with what might have been, and continue with their investigations to arrive at the truth. Or at least what seems like it.
The film belongs to Fahad Fazil, who carries it forward with poise, and thanks to him Anoop emerges to be one of those charismatic leaders in flesh and blood, whom we could very easily identify as one etched from real. Casting Mohanlal as the ACP is a surprise, since the role demands nothing from one of the most accomplished actors of our times, while Asif Ali is strictly adequate as yet another youngster who is hopelessly lost in life, being thrown around in financial doldrums.
'Red Wine' isn't a particularly uninteresting film. But it's very rarely anything more than a routine murder mystery in which the suspense is abysmally low.