Averil Stephen reviews Jacobinte Swargarajyam, a critically-acclaimed Malayalam family drama that reinstates the significance of human bonding and closely-knit ties in faraway lands.
John Cassavetes once said, “Film is, to me, just unimportant. But people are very important.” In today’s times, when stories and films are churned out like cloth from a mill, it’s the people, characters that live on even after the story is long forgotten. And that’s where Jacobinte Swargarajyam wins. A Malayalam family drama that translates into Jacob's Kingdom of Heaven, won many hearts, when it released worldwide in 2016. Written and directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan, the film stars Nivin Pauly, Renji Panicker, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, Sreenath Bhasi, Ashwin Kumar and Sai Kumar in the lead roles.
Inspired by a real story, the film follows the life of Jacob and his family who are settled in Dubai and how the closely-knit relations stick together in times of crisis. Renji Panicker dons the title role of Jacob, a righteous business entrepreneur and an ideal family man, while Lekshmi Ramakrishnan portrays the powerful role of Jacob’s wife Sherley, a lion-hearted woman. Nivin Pauly, other lead actor of the movie, essays the role of Jacob’s elder son Jerry, while Sreenath Bhasi, Aima Sebastian and Stacen play Jacob and Sherly’s other kids, Abin, Ammu, and Chris, respectively. Each of these characters are resolutely nudged out of their generic casts and presented with delightful details.
The first hour of the film brilliantly establishes Jacob’s life, occasionally baiting its audience with family clichés, each of which eventually spins into tasteful angles. Bonding over meals, daily car rides, father and son bonding over a bottle of wine on the terrace, pain of an unavoidable separation; these simple-yet crucial moments are so organic and grounded, that we are slowly dragged into the family's warm dynamics. We start to genuinely care for them. There is no denying the magic; this sort of unhurried character development before the staging of the actual conflict during the latter half, works well for the film.
The film gradually progresses to more captivating situations with effects of global economic recession prompting an ungraceful fall of Jacob’s business empire; its effect turning their financially secured happy lives into a struggle to survive. It is at this point that Jerry, with the support of his clear-headed mother, steps up in life and starts everything again from scratch to sustain their family, which forms the heart of the film.
Cinematographer Jomon T John’s delightful frames add warmth to the tale. Along with Vineeth, he has woven the city magnificently into the story. The scenes in which Jerry views Dubai from a rooftop and the one in which he watches the skyline during an ascent from a tunnel, manage to show the character’s evolution in Dubai – The city of endless possibilities.
Shaan Rahman’s music goes hand-in-glove with the story, particularly the beautifully picturised Thiruvavaniraavu. Set in the backdrop of Onam celebration of Dubai Malayalees, Unni Menon and Sithara have sung it with additional vocals by Meera Sharma. It is a heart-warming melody on Onam, the lyrics of which will make Keralites nostalgic. The pleasant song hits its high point with the “Poove Poli Poove” chorus and humming by the talented singers.
One of my most favourite moments from the film is this one night when the father-son bond over some wine and profound talk. This scene is visually clear in my head mostly for the way the city lights have been captured and highlighted. During the scene, Jacob tells Jerry, “You should always look at a city from the top, that’s when you feel like dreaming and earning it”.
While the director has taken an extra effort to tell this real-life story as honestly as possible, the added attention may have dropped the entertainment quotient a tad bit. Also, some of the lines in the film seem forced and unnecessary. But overall, the film is a blend of simple yet minimal family drama; a really good dose of humour with tint of raw human emotions. Neat character sketches, a well-established story line, refreshing cinematic experience are some of the features that would draw a cinema lover to this one.
Averil Stephen is currently a Fashion and Lifestyle Accessory student at NIFT Bangalore, and an avid reader.
This essay was written for the ‘Creative Writing’ course at NIFT, Bengaluru.