Anwar Rasheed's 'Ustad Hotel' is a richly textured fable, the emotional power of which is bewitching. Engaging and entertaining at once, it is undoubtedly one of the finest films to have come out in Malayalam in recent times.
Feyzee (Dulquer Salman) hopes to be a chef, much against the aspirations of his dad (Siddique), who is a business tycoon. As circumstances would have it, he lands up at 'Ustad Hotel', a small beachside restaurant at Kozhikode, renowned for its scrumptious Biriyani. Working at the hotel along with his grand dad Karim (Thilakan), who is fondly called Ustad, Feyzee unearths a real world that exists beyond the sea and its shores.
Structurally the film sticks to conventions, all the while retaining an introspective query right at its heart that prompts each one of us no doubt, to reflect on what we have been doing with our very busy lives. We live, bustle around, work hard, mint money, get married, make children and if lucky a few grand children, and on retrospection finally comprehend that possibly it could all have been done a different way. Or better still, that we could have made a difference.
The film is lined with bravura moments through out, and as a terribly confused Feyzee learns to tackle life, he discovers in the process true love as well. This is gentle story telling at its best, and the steady pace and delightful realism works wonders.
It isn't every day that a movie comes along with an exhilarating message as the one in 'Ustad Hotel'. I should admit at the cost of sounding sexist, that the positivism that abounds in the film has a delightfully feminine charm to it. That Anjaly has been inspired by the real life story of a man who chose to live for the less fortunate makes the blend deeply humanistic. In doing so, she keeps shopworn stereotypes at bay.
This is a film that entirely belongs to the director however, and Anwar's visualization of this invigorating script is transcendent. The sparks that we had got a glimpse of in the short but incredibly sweet 'Bridge' of the 'Kerala Cafe' anthology make way for a stunning fireworks display in 'Ustad Hotel' that dwells on something called Kismat
, and those several other unknown forces that govern our lives.
Feyzee doesn't offer extreme challenges to Dulquer as an actor, but he is good, and I mean incredibly good at what he does. There is an arresting simplicity to this young man whose acting is almost pitch perfect, in that he delivers exactly what his character demands him to; not an ounce less, not one more. Nithya Menen is amply supportive, and excels as Shahana. No surprises in store though, when it comes to Thilakan, who is as usual, purely fabulous.
The atmospheric brilliance that Lokanathan's camera offers transforms the hotel into a Jannat
. Here is a heaven that has the dampness of the sea surf in the air, where Sufi dancers in long flowing white attires twirl around casting their shadows across the sands; where agile acrobats do somersaults as the sun decides to dip in the sea once again. The striking musical score by Gopi Sunder adds to the delectable whiff of the Biriyani that is all ready to be served.
Feyzee, sipping a Sulaimani along with Ustad, as the cold beach breeze blows across, asks in a subdued tone as to what it is that makes the drink taste so special. Mohabbat
, answers the old man. Now that I think about it, perhaps it is this very special ingredient - mohabbat
- that Anwar and Anjali have added on in profusion that makes this exemplary film an out of the world experience! This one, folks, is sheer poetry on screen!