Filmmakers Rojin Thomas and Shanil Muhammed have come up with a bravura blend of imagination, wit and emotional resonance in their directorial debut 'Philips and the Monkey Pen'. A highly engaging social commentary with its heart right on place, it casts a charming spell over the viewer in no time.
Ryan Philip (Sanoop Santhosh) is not quite the charmer at school, and has a horrid tale to tell of having peed his shorts when confronted with a mathematical problem in the first grade. A few years have passed since then, and hes is relieved that in V B, not many of his classmates remember the vile tale. Not much has changed otherwise, and Ryan and his three best friends - Jahangir, Raman and Innocent - have had it up to their throats with the complications that crop up in their otherwise simple lives, by something called Math homework.
I hold a very special affinity towards Ryan, since I need to admit that I see myself in his chair, slouched behind my classmate sitting before me, terrified of meeting the Math teacher's eyes. Some miseries in the world are unexplainable, and the overwhelming terror that is generated by those numerals that possess an uncanny power to multiply, divide, add and subtract with each other falls into the aforesaid category. As the teacher bellows at Ryan seeking a clarification from a multiplication table, the numbers that reach his ears assume bizarre contours all on a sudden before developing butterfly wings and flying far away. I can see what you have been through, Ryan! I really can.
There is a Decimal for every Ryan, and the nerd with the glasses who would refuse to budge from his front seat, hoping forever to catch those words of wisdom that would drop down the teacher's mouth before the rest of the class would even get a whiff of it, is someone whom we know like the back of our palms. Alert, sharp but easily disappointed, they often miss life by a decimal.
The hazy plastic ruler through which Ryan looks around to find a prospective girl friend who could do his Math homework yields positive results. Joan (Diya Lena) flutters into Ryan's life but is quick to reject his appeal for love. She does not however squeal and make the class photograph a mess, and slips his note beneath her before putting up her best grin for the camera.
Joan finds it surprising that boys have brains as well, and Ryan is quick to prove his point. The first major challenge that is hurled at Ryan's face is coincidentally from Joan, and the girl does mean business, as her dad furtively suggests. Several scenes and days later, when she waves at him from the school bus with a smile that makes him blush, Ryan has emerged a new boy.
Padmachandran (Vijay Babu), the Math teacher is no monster, as he initially seems to suggest. However, the impermanence of his job and the resultant insecurities that creep in, coupled with the persistent jabs of a hostile colleague almost transform him into an ogre that Ryan simply dreads. Eventually, as he helps Ryan come to terms with failure, the teacher who had almost given up once, looks like he has learned a lesson or two himself.
Times have changed and so have the kids, and as someone points out they have plans of heading for the moon, as they lie in their cradles, sucking their thumbs. The retort that Philip Sr. (Joy Mathew) receives from Ryan is appalling and so is the ploy that the kids devise to bring a troublesome instructor to book. On a lighter note arrives the lean kid who sashays in on his bike to offer his service, takes a quick look around the internet and confirms that no software has yet been discovered to do homework in Math.
The rustle of the answer sheets before they are handed over after valuation, the gulp that escapes down your throat as you wait for your name to be called out, and the final moment that draws the curtains on what seemed to be an infinite wait - they are all there. We still hold fast to those fond memories of having rushed into the class all drenched in the rain, and pulling off those shoes to topple out the water that had settled inside. How could you ever forget the watchful eyes of the class monitor that dart right towards you at that fatal moment when you utter a word, and that feeling of disappointment at yourself as he scribbles your name under the list of defaulters who had broken the vow of sacred silence. For once, it smells like the good old school that you and I have been to, and it feels good to be there again.
The glitter sparks of goodness that the monkey pen splatters over you, starts with the seven day task that it has in store for Ryan. With closed eyes and a bowed head, Ryan wishes a teacher a fine morning, making the latter wonder if the kid was pulling his leg. Here is a superb thought that finds further expression in a brilliant visual which has a teacher acknowledging a word of greeting put forth by a child who hands it over straight out of his heart.
The monkey pen has even more splendid assignments lined up for Ryan. Without much of an effort, he manages to stick a smile around and exhorts his school mates to clean their lunch boxes and their class rooms. The principal quickly adapts himself to Ryan's dictum to share food, and is moved beyond tears when the toddlers throw him a surprise party on his birthday! And last, but without doubt not the least, Ryan indulges in a heart to heart chat with his mom.
I would simply hate to label 'Philips and the Monkey Pen 'as a kids' film. Rather, this is a film that needs to be watched by anyone who would love to sense those tiny drops of care, integrity and warmth drip over a weary heart that has turned almost deadbeat, having churned the very last bit of innocence and virtue out of it.
There are not one, but two scene stealers in the film - Sanoop Santosh who literally lives as Ryan Philip, with every smirk and every tear of his, etched to perfection, and Gourav Menon, who with his toothless grimace, gawk and gape should undoubtedly emerge the most adorable kid whom we have seen on screen this year. Diya Lena, Akash Santhosh and Antony Elrin D'Silva put in spectacular feats as well. While Vijay Babu is highly imposing as the tutor, Jayasurya as Ryan's dad proves yet again that he's more of an actor and less of a star. Remya Nambeesan is perfectly cast as well.
There is a visual eloquence that is visible throughout the film courtesy the poetry that Neil D Cunha's camera pens down on screen. Almost every frame in it feels like a stellar set piece enriched with striking textures and colors, that dynamically comes to life as if on the wave of a magic wand, nurtured by an incredible musical score by Rahul Subrahmanian.
The high philosophical notes that the film occasionally strikes are impeccably orchestrated. Truth, they say, is never bitter. It's just that a lie always appears a bit too sugared. And it's this disarming sincerity in what it attempts to tell, that makes 'Philips and the Monkey Pen' one of the best films of the year.