“What is a love like you doing in a dump like this?”
Bob Dylan wrote those words in a much different and more complex context, but they somehow spring to mind every time a great actor or charismatic star chooses to lend their name and presence to an abysmal movie.
There’s really no other way to say it: white is abysmal. he is boring, drab, vacuous, insipid, and worse yet, pretentious. Every frame, every word suggests that director Uday Ananthan felt he had a big sweeping romance on his hands. if that’s what he was thinking, sir ananthan, he was wrong. white is not great. it’s pompous.
Which brings us to that urgent question: what’s a talented and much-loved veteran like mammootty doing in a dump like this? A multi-award winning Malayalam actor and one of the best in contemporary Indian cinema, Mammukka has made his fair share of eccentric, noisy and commercially unapologetic films over his nearly 40 years on screen. Most recently, he played a woefully misogynistic cop in the Eid Release Kasaba. but even that reel of nonsense had entertaining elements, like the suspense of it and the protagonist’s trademark hilarious arrogance. white doesn’t even have that. he is inert and soft.
It all starts when Roshni Menon (Huma Qureshi) is sent to work in London. While dealing with an evil boss in a foreign country, he finds himself saving a handsome old man who one day is about to fall (or was he jumping?) in front of a train at a London Underground station. they break up, but soon he begins to force himself into her life in strange and aggressive ways. he turns out to be prakash roy (mammootty), a billionaire with a sad past. After many wanderings and talks, a great revelation arrives. you’ll catch it if you haven’t fallen asleep by then.
someone please tell ananthan that all the low angle shots in the world, all the polish in pradeep maralgattu’s art design, all those frames of beautiful castles and dop amarjeet singh’s picturesque london can’t make up for the bad writing. the script by praveen balakrishnan, nandini valsan and the director himself lacks meat and maturity. he also falls flat on his face with his attempts at originality within the clichés.
Formulaic filmmakers of all Indian languages have long held that every romance must be preceded by a clash between hero and heroine, often a silly imagined grievance. Possibly in an attempt to build some tension, or perhaps because the writers found him cute, or perhaps to build him up as a dominant figure, White has Roy being persistently unpleasant to Menon, showing up at his office and demanding that he leave with him. “in two minutes” no less, being rude to your boss and putting her down in conversation.
(spoiler alert) gets so ridiculous that at one point roy fakes a situation where menon thinks she’s about to be mugged, raped, or murdered on a dark, deserted street before before he enters slow motion to an augmented background score, opens a bottle of champagne and wishes him his birthday. As if the film’s Malayalam dialogue isn’t clunky enough, White also features some terrifyingly clunky English dialogue. On that London street, standing next to her luxury car, she tells him in a grandiloquent tone: “I never wanted to be the first to wish you, nor the last. but I wanted to be a person to wish you.” what the hell does that mean?
despite all this rudeness and verbosity, she falls in love with him.
no star comes out well in this movie. Mammootty is overwhelmed by the effort of making laughable dialogue sound imposing. Qureshi, now in her fifth year in Bollywood, and making her Mollywood debut here, is pretty but expressionless and weighed down by distracting false eyelashes. both are overwhelmed by an age difference of more than three decades and zero chemistry.
To be fair, the script defies trends in one respect: it doesn’t minimize mammootty’s 64 years (which makes him even more appealing as a result). In one scene, a casino hooligan addresses Roy as “Uncle” and asks Menon if he is his teacher or his boss. the director may well claim then that such a young female star was cast alongside mammootty because white is meant to be a romance between an older man and a younger woman, and not a continuation of commercial cinema’s conviction that it is worthless. it pays to love women of mammukka’s age. Hmm. however, that’s no excuse for the utter lack of spark between the leads, culminating in one of the most awkward hugs ever exchanged between a man and a woman on screen.
everything in white, including your title, is geared towards an obvious effort to impress. rajesh pm’s sound design, for example, is exaggerated to the point of being irritating. The crunch of Menon’s shoes on the floor as he walks away from Roy’s mansion is particularly annoying in its exaggeration. No matter how much noise and fury you add to it, hot air is hot air.
The most interesting thing that happened to me during the 149 minutes and five seconds of this movie was that a guy in the same row as me at the cinema where I saw it started humming out loud sau tarah ke from the Hindi movie dishook at some point. I didn’t ask him if he was trying to calm his boredom, but I do know that I endured two canceled shows and 100 miles (read: seven hours) of travel over three days in the delhi rain before getting “lucky” a third time with white. travel and ticket money can be forgiven, but time is priceless, mr. ananthan. You owe a great debt to your viewers.
Footnote on subtitles: It’s great that more Indian movies are being released with subtitles outside of their home territories and sometimes even inside. however, the bad subs backfire and the white ones are among the worst I’ve seen in recent times. the name “charlotte” appears as “a lot” on the screen at one point, I saw at least one mistranslation, and I’m sure we can all agree that it’s not okay to write “heartbreak” as “brakes”.