Offbeat friendship drama bolstered by organic performances
Dear Friend has a strong sense of the setting these characters inhabit. It takes a while to figure out that the film takes place in Bengaluru against the backdrop of the startup culture.
Dear Friend is one of those films that should inspire young aspiring filmmakers who think out of the box because this is a work that screams simplicity. It tells you that you don’t need big, earth-shattering ideas to make a film. You can do that even with the most simple thought and then get supremely gifted actors to enrich it with their performances. Yes, one can argue that Malayalam cinema has been doing that for a while, but very rarely have I come across something where this philosophy seems more pronounced. The essential idea is to capture a certain feeling, which Dear Friend succeeds at doing. This is a difficult film to review. How does one describe it without stepping on spoiler mines? I’ll try.
What happens when a ‘dear friend’ suddenly leaves with very little explanation? (No, it’s not like Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly or Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura.) As the film opens, Vinod (Tovino Thomas) dons a—ahem, ahem—superhero costume for his birthday bash at his friends’ insistence. The friends: Jannath (Darshana Rajendran), Shyam (Arjun Radhakrishnan), Sajith (Basil Joseph) and Kumudam (Sanchana Natarajan), and Arjun (Arjun Lal). The film, which has a strong urban flavour, has the habit of not spilling out everything at the outset. Two key events in the story occur on special occasions—a birthday and a death anniversary. I liked how the details of these friends’ lives are unravelled slowly without relying on unnecessary exposition. It’s a filmmaking quality rarely practised these days. Who are these people? What are their professions? From which part of India do they hail?
Dear Friend has a strong sense of the setting these characters inhabit. It takes a while to figure out that the film takes place in Bengaluru against the backdrop of the startup culture. At one point, the characters go to Mumbai to seek some information. And it accomplishes the atmosphere through a few brushstrokes. It also captures the angst of those trying to survive in a bustling metropolitan city, especially IT professionals. The six friends are a closely-knit bunch. We assume all their hearts beat as one. But we later learn we are wrong. One of them is an anomaly. It has all been an act.
I kept thinking of Dil Chahta Hai while watching the first half of Dear Friend. No, it’s not the same story, but it has that organically rendered sense of camaraderie we saw in DCH. It’s as though we are suddenly plopped in the friends’ shared apartment and asked to study a particular episode from their lives. That’s precisely what Dear Friend is: an episode that spans a year. If you are the sort who expects to see something huge happen in every frame, then I wouldn’t suggest Dear Friend. It’s a film that takes its own sweet time. It revels in the experience of watching these terrific actors do their thing.
Darshana is an apt fit for the psychologist with a gift for putting her patients at ease. Basil is, as usual, in his natural element as a character who can be boisterous one moment and sober the next. Arjun Radhakrishnan makes a striking impression as Tovino’s business partner, who exudes a quiet intensity and a small measure of vulnerability that recalled the late Reghuvaran’s non-villain roles. Sanchana is a Tamil-speaking friend with a sunny disposition. Arjun Lal is that softie prone to get nervous in situations where his friends would remain calm and unconcerned. As for Tovino, his character fits perfectly well with the career direction the actor recently took.
I’m sure the ending of Dear Friend would divide viewers. It’s the sort of thing that Priyadarshan once did. (Dear Friend has much in common with one Priyadarshan classic that I won’t name. Can you guess?) Would this film create the same impact? I’m not sure. But it worked for me because I’ve seen a friend—with a side of which I wasn’t aware—disappear from my life without an explanation. However, that’s not necessarily a guarantee of Dear Friend resonating with everyone who experienced the same. I understood what the film was trying to say.
Film: Dear Friend
Director: Vineeth Kumar
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Darshana Rajendran, Arjun Radhakrishnan, Sanchana Natarajan, Arjun Lal, Basil Joseph