It was on a fine evening of June in the year 2017, that the entire social media spectrum was on a frenzy following the announcement of a Malayalam Film. The culprit was the title and the name of the actor and director attached with it.
Anwar Rasheed who made a league for himself within the industry after producing three back to back hits like Bangalore Days, Premam and Parava , all career defining flicks for the ones associated with it decided to venture back into directorial territory. A hat he hung up in 2012, after the globally acclaimed Usthad Hotel. On top of that Fahadh Faasil, one of the finest stars of the industry was slated to play the lead.
The news was that of immense excitement and joy for an average Malayalee. Following the announcement was a wait of three years, over the course of which the rest of the cast and crew were revealed.
Ace director and cinematographer Amal Neerad, the man who brought the stylish treatment to Malayalam cinema was signed on to handle the camerawork. The hype was unreal and the film was speculated to be a smash hit! But then, it wasn’t. The incredibly divisive reviews showered on social media within the first few hours of its early viewing in Kerala.
Now, why would a film that had the best ensemble of technicians and actors the industry could bank on, face such an underwhelming reception? There might not be one definitive answer but let’s take a look at the facts and draw conclusions.
Trance wouldn’t certainly be one among the films to build up so much expectation and ultimately be a let-down. The title “Trance” was decoded by several speculators. Some thought it would be a psychedelic trip like “Requiem for a Dream” Some thought it have a supernatural/fantasy based undertone.
But the film took an even bolder route by dealing with blind faith and the illusions or in this case “delusions” that came with it. The story explored the atrocities of corporate overlords plundering the faith of Christian believers for their own gain. Despite taking such a drastic route, this story that could’ve taken so many avenues went down a path that was underwhelming and needlessly complex.
The brand that is Anwar Rasheed after his 8 year hiatus as a director decided to experiment with a very bold subject which proved to be a definite miss in Mollywood. The hype was unreal but the product was unsatisfactory.
The` ensemble of actors that came on board team Trance were the best in the business. The film roped in ace Kollywood director Gautham Vasudev Menon to play an anti-hero. Adding on to that were the likes of Soubin Shahir, Vinayakan, Dileesh Pothen, Chemban Vinod Jose and Nazriya Nazim. But unfortunately, the impressive pool of talent were not even utilised up to 10% of their potential.
The reason may be a simple one. Following the three years post the announcement of Trance both Soubin and Chemban Vinod had their stardom upgraded to the league of A-Listers. Soubin who has had massive hits like Kumbalangi Nights, Parava a film he directed , Android Kunjappan and Ambili, is already a leading man. Chemban Vinod also played the lead in several acclaimed films such as Ee. Ma. Yau, and Porinju Mariyam Jose.
Trance did the unthinkable by confining the A-List talents to mere supporting characters with almost no depth. The talented Joju George was relegated to do a cameo as a news reader with barely 30 seconds of screen-time. Dileesh Pothen’s character Avaraachan had some moments to shine but nothing memorable.
The former half of Trance started slow with an introduction to Fahadh’s character Viju, a young unemployed depressed motivational speaker who holds on to every little semblance of hope that remained after his life went awry following the suicide of both his younger brother and his mother (which happened at a much younger age). His human condition along with his gradual travel towards a cause bigger than himself was beautifully fleshed out and navigated to a point of great impact at which the first half peaked.
The latter half was downhill from there, if you look at it from a normal movie-goers perspective. The film decided to take the route of a heavy-hitting drama that dealt with human conditions like love, sorrow, greed and faith where each character represented each condition one way or another.
Speaking freely, the average Malayali would not want to spend Rs 200 or more at an A-class cinema hall only to see nuances of his/her own life reflected back at him with such intensity. Simply put, Trance failed to entertain.
The excessive usage of Biblical Allegories
If catching upon your knowledge about the bible and its infinite verses had to be one of several criterions to prepare for a movie, then you’d be sure to have a problem.
The latter half of Trance dwelled too much on metaphors and analogy that drew parallels with biblical tales and commandments. Whether such a treatment was deliberate or not is yet to be determined. Having said that, one finds it difficult to ignore the possibility that several scenes from Trance were direct nods to the Bible.
*Spoilers Ahead* , so be sure to look away if you still haven’t watched the movie.
Soubins’ death in the movie is an analogy to Icarus, the man who had wings. Icarus who flew across the world got to greedy and flew too close to the sun, burning his weeks and plummeting to his demise. Similar to how Soubin burned to his death after being ambushed by the villains following his decision to blackmail them for money while holding on to a confidential confession video by Fahadh Faasil’s character Viju, disclosing all the shady activities of the lobby he worked for.
Vinayakan’s arc drew parallels with Abraham sacrificing his child for his Lord and Saviour if I’m not mistaken. There maybe another allegory in play. Nazriya was a reflection of Mary Magdalene whose faith in Jesus liberated her from the prison of her own self-loathing and harm.
Allegories have always been a part of storytelling. But if one depends solely on drawing parallels without paying attention to detail. A story is bound to fall flat. Case and point, the superhero behemoth Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice which faced similar reception like that of Trance following huge hype, also had the same sort of treatment with its characters.
At the same time, allegories have worked well with the audience as well. The 1991 Mani Ratnam-Rajinikanth classic “Thalapathi” was an allegory for the Mahabharatha on the whole, specifically the story of Karna. The film is still considered a master piece.
Trance had its moments. It had the potential to elevate the industry to a stage of absolute glory had the premise it chose to explore took it’s time to gestate and develop into a smooth sailing story. However, the film only ended up satisfying self-proclaimed Auteur’s and Perfectionist’s of the craft while the normal movie-goer sits down flustered, questioning his own gumption and intellect which is the same as antagonizing someone through your work.
Fahadh Faasil who went all-out with his stellar performance of a deranged merchant of faith tried his level best to pick up and carry a movie that was falling part, but even his energy, aura and outstanding performance couldn’t ultimately save the film from its inevitable crash landing.
Perhaps, years from now the context of the story Trance tried to put forward might show its relevance in a society that exists then like how Padmarajan and Bharathan are lauded now for their layered and multi-dimensional characters in today’s society, while they were not done so, back in the day.
By S. Sai