I have a feeling that Vineeth Srinivasan's writing has always been inspired by the people around him. His latest release Jacobinte Swargarajyam acknowledges it upfront with a note saying it is based on real events. For that matter, even his earlier screenplays Oru Vadakkan Selfie and Thattathin Marayathu could have easily been influenced by one of us. The thing with translating such actualities to screen, especially in the 'youthful' celluloid space where Vineeth usually operates, is to know how much of relatable realism can go with the fancy fabrications needed for a 'cool' entertaining film. Let me tell you the truth. Everyone wants to see their stories on screen, but no one wants it served right on their face. The trick hence as a screenwriter, is to make their stories a lot more interesting and engaging than what it is in reality, while not going overboard with the cinematic liberties so much so that they stop identifying with their counterparts on screen. It might take Vineeth a few more films to master this one, but right now with JS, he seems to be on the damn-right track.
The film opens with a NRI father-son duo trekking up a rugged hill in Dubai, to a view of endless, uninhabited sand dunes. The father is all excited about it. But the son doesn't hide his disappointment over the whole idea. "Why spend an entire morning to get a glimpse of such emptiness?" he complains. We sort of agree with him. The father responds saying that the Dubai they know was once such a vacant land, and whatever it is now is because of the spirit of its people. He assures him that he might be staring at blankness now, but soon, when he gets a perspective, he would be seeing buildings, lights and vibrancy. This sort of layered writing might not mean anything, at least for now, but much later, we get a beauty of a scene at halfway point, when it all makes sense. Coming to think of it, Vineeth is playing the father here and we are in his son's shoes. Just like the young man, we are disillusioned about the proceedings. But we are asked to wait for a perspective. When we see it, what a heart-warming experience it turns out to be! In that way, Jacobinte Swargarajyam is as much a personal coming-of-age journey for each one of us, as it is for the son Jerry, who finds his feet, realizes his strengths and steps up for his family in testing times.
But it's not only that. It is also a beautiful, unapologetically old-fashioned family drama with neat character sketches. The ambitious businessman Jacob, his misleadingly docile, home-maker wife Shirley, the disillusioned elder son Jerry, the rebel son Philip, the prodigious youngest one Chris, the medical aspirant daughter Ammu, the well-wisher uncle, the affectionate driver - each of these characters are resolutely nudged out of their generic casts and presented with delightful details. The first hour of the film, which brilliantly establishes the Jacobs' kind of family, despite baiting us with continuous Visu movie cliches, superbly spins each of them in tasteful angles. The moments of bonding - the meal times at the dining table, the everyday car rides, the father and son bonding over a bottle of wine in the terrace, the pain of an unavoidable separation - 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, imparts to the latter half of the film.
The second half of the film, which gives all the opportunities for unabashed melodrama and parental sentiments, is surprisingly restrained, refreshing and free of bloat. The romantic track is brushed away confidently with a two minute exposition. Characters don't go out of their way for the sake of entertainment. Nivin plays Jerry with nonchalant ease, and Renji Panicker efforlessly slips into the shoes of his energetic dad. But more than these two, it is Lakshmi Ramakrishnan playing Shirley and Sreenath Bhasi playing Philip, who get the meatiest 'surprise' moments, Shirley finds herself in the police station in Dubai one evening, tired and helpless. We expect her to break down. But the tables are turned on the moment in no time. Philip, for his part, gets a terrific bit when he is needlessly admonished for being useless in trying circumstances, and he later explains to Jerry why he didn't argue back. Another scene involving the old family driver and a Mercedes Benz leaves you in goose bumps. When the climactic narrative ended in a simple yet soul-stirring CG feat of one photo dissolving into another, I almost teared up. With scenes like this, breathing life and soul into the urban-NRI milieu, Jacobinte Swargarajyam at times, comes across as Vineeth's Jacob & Sons - South's answer to Kapoor And Sons. It's not fair comparing them, but both films are proof of what a capable film-maker can do to the cliched family drama.