'Classmates' was the one of the biggest hits and the most popular of all Malayalam movies released in the year 2006. Even months after its release, the song 'Ente Khalbile...' was still on the lips of all Malayalees. The movie did very good business in all the centres. It was a bit surprising, since it had no superstars in it. The film, directed by Lal Jose, won praise from all quarters for its screenplay, songs, and not least, the performance of all the actors.
The film unfolds with the reunion party - after 15 years - of a batch of final year B Sc Chemistry students of a college, presumably in central Travancore. The reunion party has been organized in the memory of one of their classmates who had died tragically in the college. Each of the main characters has a lot of memories of their last year in college and they all are eager to meet their classmates after such a long gap. The story of their last year in college is told in flashback.
So, what is special about the movie? Lots of things, one would say. First, as mentioned above, the film has no superstar, which makes a grand opening near impossible. Yes, it would have been foolhardy and utterly unbelievable if Mammootty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Jayaram or even Dileep was cast as a college-goer. Malayalees are a lot less tolerant than Kannadigas or Tamilians in this regard; there will be heavy criticism even if the movie does well [A 60+ Rajnikanth being cast as a young guy or a 70+ Rajkumar being cast as a college student are all normal in TN and Karnataka and the films are guaranteed hits!!]. The absence of superstars itself is a big strength for this movie. All the actors - Prithviraj, Indrajith, Narain, Jayasoorya, Vijeesh, Kavya, Jagathi, Balachandra Menon and all newcomers including Radhika - have put in a power-packed performance that is convincing. Full marks to the director for the perfect casting. All of the younger actors now have a rightful claim to the baton held presently by the superstars. In fact, one can go on and on about their performances. The meatiest of the roles of course went to Prithviraj and Narain. As the leftist students' union leader Suku, Prithviraj truly lives the role; his mannerisms and dialogues are all typical of a leftist leader in college. The variations in his tones and body language as when he is leading a march and when he confesses his love are amazing. Narain, as Murali, the peacemaker, singer, the secret lover and the tragic hero steals the heart of all. This role has given him a big break in the industry. Though he'd been noted in his roles as the IPS Officer in '4 The People' and as Ijo in 'Achuvinte Amma', the different appearance he came up with, in this movie and the name change - from Sunil to Narain - seems to have worked magic for him. Indrajith as the college Romeo Pious is hilarious and natural. The chemistry in the movie between him and his real-life younger brother Prithviraj is something to be seen to be believed. Jayasoorya and Kavya too excel in their respective roles. It was truly a mind-boggling performance by debutante Radhika.
Coming to music, Alex Paul has done a decent job in the movie. The music is not, in my terms, outstanding; but, it blends well with the storyline and the songs have been picturised well too. However, background score is poor. Even when there is high drama on the screen, the BGM fails to make its presence felt, let alone matching the scene.
Editing is strictly OK; nothing to write home about. In fact, it could have been much better, to intensify the drama and its impact on the viewer. Similar is the case with cinematography - nothing much to appreciate; it's just good.
The real hero of the movie as such is the story and screenplay. That again is by a newcomer, James Albert. He has cleverly weaved in campus life, comedy, romance, action, tragedy and a murder mystery into the story. The liveliness of college life - student activism, campus love, bunking classes, welcoming junior students, etc - is shown without losing its sheen. The unfulfilled, subtle, unknown-to-others love of Murali and Razia is sure to move everyone, even as it is the high profile love of Suku and Tara that everyone will notice first.
For one, the movie can be appreciated better only if one is familiar with the background of the movie - the politically charged atmosphere in Kerala's college campuses, more so in the 1990s. The students unions in the state's colleges - especially the arts and science colleges - are dominated by SFI, KSU or ABVP. It's a no-brainer that the unions mentioned in the movie, SFK and DSU, stand for SFI and KSU respectively. If the DSU leader is shown as a manipulator, the SFK guys too score no better - they leave Suku to fend for himself, even as it was his humble background that led to his joining SFK as a natural choice. If you would notice, there is not even a single shot of these student leaders attending classroom lectures, but there are scenes showing them exhorting students to strike; it tells a lot about the nature of student activism in Kerala and about how the student leaders "study".
In my view, this movie is a powerful indictment of student politics in Kerala and the violence that is very much a part and parcel of such politics. Politics in college campuses serves the interest of only politicians; they use the students as pawns in their political game of power-grabbing. Colleges, or for that matter, any educational institution, are temples of 'Vidya' and no other activity should be allowed to thrive there. The earlier the students realize this, the better the future will be for them; nobody other than the students stand to lose from campus politics.