Mohanlal has been doing some unforgivably godforsaken films in recent times.We fans he thought he could never top the ignominy of playing , don’t laugh, a Sardarji in Vysakh’s Monster. It was a cringe binge for Mohanlal’s fans even if they were unwilling to admit it.

Then there was Aaraattu. Every frame is dedicated to glorifying Mohanlal’s august presence. Every shot is targeted at telling the world what a great soul he is .As if we need to be reminded of his greatness! What do we see in Aaraattu? A nearly three hours’ long loveletter to Mohanlal. There are more than forty characters in this film. I saw only Mohanlal in every frame. And if not Mohanlal, then characters talking about him with that mix of awe and veneration that went of style with N T Rama Rao’s generation.

Just when one thought it couldn’t get worse there is the hat-trick curse: Malaikottai Vaaliban is worse than anything Mohanlal has done in recent times. Mohanlal plays the title role,which means ‘Youngster From The Mountain’.

The ‘youngster’ is Mohanlal who apropos nothing, is now 63.

The distinguished Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban is rigidly vain in its conceptual construction, determinedly projecting Mohanlal as an invincible warrior in one action piece after another.In fact the entire film seems to be a pretext to stage virile action scenes with Mohanlal’s character clumsily executing gravity-defying moves like an aging monk who is too power drunk to realize that the daredevil stunts he is assuming to be real are actually being shot on camera for a school film on ‘How To Be An Aging Superstar Without Squirming Through Age-Defying Stunts.’

There is no dearth of visual astuteness in the presentation. Director Pellissery has set the long winding film in a no man’s land,a kind of jejune Dune. The frames are structured as slightly askew desert paintings by M F Hussain. But the space in the frames, the spacefillers if you will, are wooden and caricatural, none more so than Mohanlal himself who behaves like a mix of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee in the fights.

When not fighting Malaikottai is busy peeking voyeuristically at Rangapattinam Rangarani(Sonalee Kulkarni) whose dances , a mix of Lavani and Kathak, are as hybridized as Malaikottai’s fights.

Everything seems like a languorous mashup in the peculiarly ambivalent product.

Throughout the meandering pilgrimage of passion as retro-fashion, cultural anomalies abound. At one point Malaikottai is captured by the Portuguese and flung into an arena. The ‘Portuguese’ royalty is heard speaking what sounds like French mixed with Malayalam.

Maybe they are as cosmopolitan as Malaikottai and his son Chinnappayyan(Manoj Moses) whose chemistry with a local lass is electric ,alas short circuited by the loose wiring in this culture-unspecific costume drama filled with sound and fury signifying something: take a break, Mohanlal.

Let me end with a private conversation I had with Amitabh Bachchan, undoubtedly the biggest superstar this country has produced. Once when I addressed him as ‘Sirji’ he snapped at me, ‘Cut out that Sir business. The era of hero-worship is long over. Screen Heroes now extinct, thanks to social media and a general erosion of values . The qualities that made Lata Mangeshkar, Dilip Kumar Sivaji Ganesan and Rajinikanth such venerated figures are neither obtainable,nor accessible or acceptable.”

Mohanlal’s recent films prove the veracity of Mr Bachchan’s observation.