In Vysakh’s film, the superstar delivers box-office stuff; he is particularly convincing with his demeanour and he never overstates his image

Turbo is Mammootty’s holiday movie. Having done a bit of heavy lifting over the last couple of years, the Bramayugam and Kaathal — The Core actor is apparently in a mood to catch a break and in all fairness, he probably needs one. The latest film is also part of his penchant for mixing up things, no doubt, and he is fully aware of what he is doing here. He knows what a collaboration with director Vysakh and screenwriter Midhun Manuel Thomas (a filmmaker himself) will produce and the 72-year-old star is committed to the hilt, letting his star power take the centre stage for a bona fide action entertainer. Just don’t expect me to be this fraught-with-complexities guy this time around, he adds, as he runs riot for a little over 2 hours and 35 minutes.

And Turbo, to its credit, is exactly the kind of old-school, mindless yet well-designed fun that one expects it to be. Vysakh presents the veteran as this jolly hellraiser from Idukki named Jose, who has no preoccupations in life except raising that occasional hell, aiding his friends when need be and being a doting son to his pop-culture junkie mother. Every time Jose makes a fist to wreak havoc, the sound of a revving Turbo engine goes off in the background to suggest that it’s best to not ruffle his feathers. He could be affable, chivalrous and merry at most times but something about him tells you that if you are ever in trouble, you would want him by your side. And thanks to Mammootty’s superb screen presence he effortlessly elicits that feeling in the viewer, without having to dispense punchlines or any general words of wisdom. All that jargon is left to the villains here and they appear across a whole range.

An outlandish plot

So, imagine a situation wherein Jose finds himself waging a tall battle against a huge crime syndicate led by a madman, described more than once as the ‘Kingmaker’ in Tamil Nadu politics. Why Tamil Nadu when this is a Malayalam movie? Well, the answer lies in the details but it would be best left unquestioned if your priority is no-holds-barred entertainment. Both Manuel Thomas and Vysakh adopt a template/sensibility for Turbo that’s overly familiar to us and has the rhythm of a commercial outing that we have encountered countless times already. What they really want to do is to rebrand that package a little, throw in a new plot (a semblance of it) and use the lead star’s persona to maximum effect.

And that last bit of their approach is what works both in and against their favour. This is a film that wants to be so cavalier at its core that it almost writes in bold letters that the audience shouldn’t take anything seriously. It is intentionally fan-service but the problem occurs when it forgets to intrigue us or draw us close to the world that is attempting to build. Mainstream films are bound to have their frills and prerequisites but Mammootty’s own Bheeshma Parvam (2022) has proven that the heart of it all is a good story that has clearly-defined characters.

Vysakh’s film stems from a run-of-the-mill villain: Raj B Shetty’s Vetrivel Shanmugha Sundaram.

And as far as the characters in Turbo are concerned, a majority of them fail to impress because the writing lets them down. Manuel Thomas, known for his work on films like Abraham Ozler, Garudan and Aadu 2, employs a slightly outlandish plot concerning a huge money-laundering scam that in turn has ramifications on the current Tamil Nadu political scene. The kingmaker has the main role to play in this but he brings into the fray a plethora of characters that don’t stand out because they aren’t deemed significant enough in the narrative.

A full-blown mass movie

Anjana Jayaprakash plays Indulekha in the film, a bank manager who becomes the prime target of the villain. In any commercial, ‘mass’ film that one has grown accustomed to, a female character of this kind wields very little significance and that’s exactly how she fares in Turbo as well. She joins a tall list of add-ons in the film — Shabareesh Varma’s Jerry, Sunil’s Auto Billa and Kabir Duhan Singh’s Vincent, to name a few others — that contribute very little except wait for Jose to take charge of the situation.

But a major part of the problem in Vysakh’s film stems from a run-of-the-mill villain. Raj B Shetty’s Vetrivel Shanmugha Sundaram is a man of mystery at first glance but his origins remain unexplored till the very end and his motivations to be the ‘psycho’ (as another character puts it) are a tad too formulaic. Sure, in stature he is the fitting force opposing ‘Turbo’ Jose and Vysakh does a fine job at cranking up the tension between the two. But when the bad guy in the film is just an accessory like everybody else, the result is a tepid face-off because you know the hero is going to come on top anyway. Raj B Shetty steps up to the game regardless and makes for an uncanny antagonist with an assured performance, holding his own against a mighty performer like Mammootty.

But despite all this, Turbo might just work because the film doesn’t try to subvert at any point. It is full of contrivances, of course, that should not work — from Jose landing in Chennai and later settling down there for a flimsy reason to the nexus of crime lords and politicians chasing a murky goal — but they come through nevertheless because the film is self-aware and confident in its stride. The main lure here is that series of action blocks that fans have been craving for a while now and the superstar, aided well by his director and other technicians, delivers box-office stuff. Mammootty is particularly convincing with his demeanour and he never overstates his image,simply allowing the platform he has been lent to take care of the business. If you are someone who loves that rush of a full-blown mass movie and nothing else, then Turbo might just work for you.

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