We all relish our school and college days and have so many stories from those times which we always keep so close to our heart. The name Classmates itself evokes that sense of nostalgia and has the power of pulling you close to it. Classmates is a movie which has surprised me at first instance and it was something of a love at first sight. But most importantly the movie has grown on me over the years. Over the past 14 years, I have watched it many a times and oft and it still remains my favourite campus movie and one of my all time favourites. Suku, Pious, Murali, Tara, Satheeshan Kanjikkuzhi, Valu Vasu, Rasiya, BBC, Pazhamthuni Koshi were all etched to perfection in a fascinating screenplay and were destined to stay with me forever.
The movie opens in bit of a tensed manner with a prologue where Suku(Prithviraj) wakes up distressed early in the morning after a bad dream which took him back to his college days, while his housekeeper informs him about the arrival of taxi booked for his travel to airport. The scene shifts to CMS college, Kottayam to the farewell ceremony of 2006 batch, where father Geevarghese, while addressing the students, informs about the reunion of 1991-92 chemistry batch as part of the inauguration of a Music Club built in remembrance of Murali, the late son of Prof.Iyer(Balachandran Menon) and Lakshmi teacher (Shobha Mohan) and a member of the 1992 batch himself.
The event fulfills the wish of Murali as it was his idea to have a reunion several years after their graduation. We see Murali sharing this idea in one of the later passages while reciting the lines “kalaminiyumurulum, Vishu varum, Varsham varum, Thiruvonam varum, pinne oro thalirinum poo varum, Kai varum, appol arenthum enthennum aarkkariyam” from N.N. Kakkad’s Saphalamee Yathra to his classmates. Though Murali is not with them anymore Iyer sir and Lakshmi teacher are fulfilling his dream of that reunion after 15 long years.
Scene changes to the college hostel premises, where Iyer sir and Lakshmi teacher are welcoming their favourite 1992 batch. We learn that Suku is now a diamond merchant in Mumbai. Pious(Indrajit) is settled in Dubai with his wife and kid. They meet in their old fortress, room no 118. It is evident from their interactions that they have been in touch even after leaving the college. They welcome their old pals one by one and they all seem very happy reminiscing the old times and shares jokes from those times. While Koshi’s new look has been a surprise for many of them as he now wears a gentleman’s outfit, Pious shocks Koshi’s wife with an old photo in which Koshi is in his trade mark ‘pazhamthuni’(old unwashed cloth) attire of torn Jubba and pants. But the mood soon changes with the arrival of MLA Satheeshan Kanjikkuzhi(Jayasurya) and his P.A. Vasu aka Valu Vasu(Vijeesh), who still sticks around Satheeshan just like the old days. Satheeshan talks to Iyer sir and says, “There are some issues from the past which is to be settled” while passing his eyes onto Suku. Hostel warden Esthappanachan( Jagathy Sreekumar) and his helper Ousepp(Suraj), who were ever present in the 1991 batch’s hostel life, are still with the college. Thara Kurup(Kavya Madhavan), now a famous dancer, is the next to arrive and briefly locks her eyes with Suku while Pious looks serious. The mysterious looks on Suku, Pious, Thara and Satheeshan clearly tell us about strong undercurrents from the past between them. The entire passage give us the warmth of meeting old friends and at the same time the mystery is set up so nicely even in the initial stages that we desperately want to go back to their college days to explore what happened between these characters.
They move onto the Music Club inauguration and then the classmates starts sharing their post college life with their friends and family. We learn from Thara that she is not married yet and indicates that her personal life is quite derailed even as her professional life was a huge success. As the session goes on, enters Rasiya(Radhika) with the group fondly whispering ‘Penguin’, a name she got because of her look in purdah. She looked mournful and when Vasu compels her to say a few words Iyer intervenes and informs that she has arrived there upon the condition that nobody should be asking her any questions. He alleviates the mood as the group started singing “Kattadi Thanalum, thanalathara mathilum, mathililla manasukalude pranayakkulirum” upon his request, taking us back to their college tour as we melt into the powerfully nostalgic tune.
Thara sets up an appointment with a paediatrician for Pious’s sick daughter at Mavelikkara, a little far away from the college. Pious agrees to his wife even though he has his suspicions and jokes about Thara taking revenge on Suku while he is away. The evening goes smoothly and after the dinner Iyer visits Suku who says he is the happiest man alive in the planet at the moment. Pious returns around midnight after meeting the doctor and was surprised to see the lights in Suku’s room. A startled Pious shouts in agony at the sight of Suku dying with his neck tied firmly to the frame of the bed. The entire batch and the teachers look to be in utter disbelief as the police investigation starts next day morning. Police recovers Suku’s personal diary from which they learn that he wanted to commit suicide after the never ending miseries in his life and he has arrived there after getting a divorce from his wife a couple of months back.
But Iyer couldn’t fathom how the happiest man on the planet can even think of a suicide in such a short time. He sets on investigating the situation and believes the truth or motive behind the incident lies in the past. Pious rewinds the years to tell him the story of their college life, as the tale of friendship, romance, politics, enmity, hostel life etc. unfold on the screen in front of us.
Politics is deeply rooted in the campus just like any of the colleges in Kerala and quite evidently plays an important role in each of the characters’ life and the story to be unfolded. Suku is the firebrand leader of SFK, the student wing of the Communist party. He is passionate in his friendship, but at the same time fierce in his political beliefs and towards his political counterparts. Satheeshan Kanjikkuzhi represents a classic right wing leader. He uses his crookedness time and again, either as a means of revenge or to win over his political rivals, be it bringing thugs inside the campus to beat Suku and his friends or throwing stones at the police by sneaking into the march organised by SFK. Pious is the college playboy who doesn’t miss any chance to flirt with the ladies and is Suku’s best friend. Thara is the daughter of local MLA from the right wing and the leader of the ladies’ gang. She has the boldness and certain amount of cockiness in her and she dares to fight Suku on the day of an SFK college strike demanding her teachers to continue the class. Satheeshan frequently ignite the friction between them using his trademark dubious ways. Murali is the favourite of his classmates and the teachers and often the balancing force between these conflicts. He takes the liberty of intervening in between their fights and cools them down. Rasiya was a shy and silent Muslim girl who is mostly busy with her books. Ample time is given to the character building of each of the lead players and though long, we never feel an ounce of boredom as the nostalgic premises and funny incidents were expertly intertwined with the narrative. For people who went to colleges during that time, it was a time to reminisce their campus life and for those who didn’t, it reminded them about the fun they missed in their lives.
On Fresher’s Day, Murali captures everyone’s heart with the melodious “Ente Khalbile Vennilavu Nee” song after his short introduction. He says he composed it without the permission of the writer who is also his classmate. At that point no one was going to guess that introduction had such a crucial part to play later in the movie.
The conflict between Suku and Thara increases when Suku sabotages Thara’s dance program by switching her kuchippudi song cassette with a manipulated one from his pocket. Just as she starts the rhythmic passage in her program which involves a brass plate and a pot, the song changes to “Vandenda Palkkaran..”(from Anna Malai released in 1992) as the gathered students goes berserk with their dance steps. This was surely one of the classic college ‘fun-fight’ scenes. Their spat and exchanges continue and gave us some of the entertaining campus funs. If you borrow the words of Lakshmi teacher, ‘the type of fights which they are going to share as jokes to their family and friends later in life.’
The give and take between the two goes on until the day of a police intervention inside the campus. On the day of a march organised by SFK, Satheeshan and team throw stones at the police while hiding behind a wall, which resulted in a frenzied attack on students from the police force. Suku rescues badly wounded Thara from the police and they hide inside the lab. Soon they reveal their secret love for each other after Thara finding her photo inside Suku’s purse, which kick starts their love story. This didn’t go well with Satheeshan as he sets on a mission to separate them. He pressurises the party to compel Thara’s father to force her as the candidate for Arts Club Secretary. Thara fighting for the rival party has irked Suku and the situation further aggravates when Satheeshan manipulates Thara’s election poster and the blame falls on Suku. While Suku and Satheeshan were arguing about the poster incident, BBC delivers the news of Rasiya quitting from the college. Satheeshan goes up to the extend of nabbing Thara’s love letter from Suku’s diary with the help of Vasu and puts it in the ballot box. Suku and Pious try to recover the letter from the college at night but are not successful as the police chased them. A violent Suku attacks Satheeshan next day morning only to be stopped by the news of Murali’s death. A completely dejected Suku soon leaves college without completing his degree. Pious completes his version of the story at that point. By that time, the makers have already established their characters and we cared for them like our classmates. We sit in kind of an emotional pit at the plight of our most loved characters.
Iyer sir continues further with his investigation, he questions Thara and meets Esthappanachan. Thara confirms meeting Suku before the incident in question and explained they had settled the previous issues and misunderstandings and had decided to reunite. Now the finger of suspicion is pointed towards Rasiya whose presence was confirmed by Esthappanachan when Suku and Thara were secretly meeting near the generator room while others were having dinner. Iyer sir suspects some connection between Suku-Thara love story and Rasiya’s involvement in Suku’s mysterious suicide attempt. He questions Rasiya and it is at this point that the movie turns onto you in mind blowing fashion. Rasiya tells her story and her secret love with Murali, as an alternate view opens up in front of us with Murali’s “Ente Khalbile” song in the background. The script remarkably connects Rasiya’s story to the earlier version of Pious, but with Rasiya and Murali the focal points this time. Murali taking Rasiya’s notebook and later singing it on Fresher’s day with that little introduction made much more sense now as we sit wonderstruck at the things that unfolded. It was a real surprise back then to learn that the script was done by a debutant named James Albert who went onto write brilliant scripts in Ividam Swargamanu and Cycle. Probably, the script is what elevates the movie apart from the nostalgic premises with which everyone connected instantly and for someone like me who started watching foreign language movies several years after that, the final few minutes of the movie was just extra ordinary at that time. The chemistry lab sequence of Thara revealing her love towards Suku was the only evident bump in this otherwise splendid watch. But, in my repeated watches over the years I have found a few loopholes in the script, editing errors etc. which I am conveniently going to overlook as I my affection towards this movie is beyond these errors.
Laljose has successfully executed the script and the wow factor in the final 30 minutes of the screenplay has been put into brilliant effect by the angles with which Rasiya’s story was shot. Both Laljose and Rajiv Ravi can take the brownie points here. And the latter has to be lauded for his finesse in the cinematography as well, his visuals always had the freshness even though whole length of the movie is shot in the same locations, in and around CMS College. Written by Vayalar Sharatchandra Chandravarma and composed by Alex Paul, the songs were soothing and melodious with ‘Ente Khalbile’ and ‘Kaattadi Thanalum’ ever-present in my ‘favourites’ playlist after the release of the movie. The songs and music played an important role in boosting the nostalgic visuals of campus premises with tunes of romance, friendship, and politics. Alex Paul sadly haven’t hit those heights after Classmates. There is not too much to be excited about art direction but it was heartening to see the makers giving importance to properties such as photographs pasted on the walls of the hostel rooms, the posters in the campus etc. Those were different in 1992 and 2006.
Just like politics is woven into the story with brilliance, the comedy and the funny incidents were included precisely in different situations. Esthappanachan’s trade mark ways of holding out against the hostler students, Pious jumping on every opportunity to flirt with girls, Ousepp’s nicely timed one liners, the already discussed Suku- Thara exchanges, the dinner scene and Vasu’s parody of Naranathu bhranthan, Pazham Thuni Koshy’s one-sided love failure with ‘economicsile Sushama’(Sushama in economics batch) and Murali’s ‘Sanyasini’ to console him, were all neatly knit into the narrative and superbly executed by the actors. Jagathy, Suraj, and Indrajith lead the way with their impeccable timing in comedy situations while the likes of Jayasurya, Vijeesh and Anoop Chandran chip in as well on a few occasions.
The acting department was exceptional from top to bottom. The youth brigade of that time, Prithvi, Jayasurya, Kavya, Indrajith, Vijeesh were all perfect in their roles along with superb feats from experienced actors in Jagathy, Balachandra Menon and Shobha Mohan. Radhika was the surprise package as she had quite a lot to do in the final 30 minutes of the movie and came out successful in her first major role. The makers surely did an outstanding job in casting a lesser-known face as Rasiya as it was important for that character to be behind the shadows until the final turn around.
Another remarkable thing about the acting department in the movie is that it excelled brilliantly in pairs. The lead pair Prithviraj and Kavya had pleasing chemistry. Be it their initial pranky exchanges or their romance. Prithviraj vs Jayasurya rivalry worked like a charm in the movie. Both Suku and Satheeshan negotiating each other with their strengths was one of the highlights of the movie, it was an onscreen battle of muscle vs cunningness. Narain and Radhika love story was powerful to capture our attention and touched us deeply within a very short time. Jagathy and Suraj made a deadly comedy pairing giving us rib-tickling moments. Balachandra Menon and Shobha Mohan played Iyer sir and Lakshmi teacher, them and their lose haunted us even after the movie. They had their fair share of exchanges and importance in the movie. Jayasurya and Vijeesh were in perfect sync as the leader-sidekick combo. Vasu was so efficient as Satheeshan’s assistant right from the college days that it rightly earned him the nickname ‘valu’(tail). But the best of it all was the on screen chemistry between the real life brothers, Prithviraj and Indrajith. They excelled as the best friends Suku and Pious. They brilliantly complemented each other in pretty much every sequence they were together.
Finally, when Rasiya admits to the attempted murder of Suku as she overheard Suku admitting to Thara about his inadvertent involvement in Murali’s death, Iyer sir only have sympathies for her and rushes to the hospital to the news of Suku regaining his consciousness. Much to his and everyone’s relief, Suku says to the investigating officer that he tried to commit suicide. A visibly distraught Suku begs Iyer sir for forgiving him and asks to kill him for his involuntary involvement in Murali’s death. Iyer sir gives the life lesson to everyone at that point, “One mistake can not be avenged by another one” as we try to hold our tears. Movie ends with Rasiya forgiving Suku and Suku going to airport to catch the return flight as the entire batch waves ‘good bye’ to him. At that point camera pans towards the first floor where Suku sees everyone including Murali waving at him, a scene that gave us the everlasting impression as we left the theatre.
Classmates is 14 years old today, a movie that is etched in the hearts of cinephiles like me forever. With an ensemble cast of youngsters, the Laljose movie took the box office by storm against all the predictions and made up for the disappointing outings of big M’s, Mahaasamudram and Bhargavacharitham moonnam khandam, that Onam season. Classmates was remade to so many different languages and so many campus movies followed its path, making it a real trend setter at that time. It has captured the imaginations of the youth all over Kerala with the nostalgic premises of college days, friendship, hostel life, romance, political fights, elections, were all etched to perfection. Perhaps not surprisingly, this movie made campus reunions a trending phenomenon from that point on. In that way it has made an impact in kerala’s popular culture. The movie has hit the theatres a couple of weeks before the Onam season of ‘06, during my college days. I still reminisce the feeling of entering the theatre it along with my friends with the least expectation and coming out with a heartfelt experience. Truly one of my all time favourites.
“I haven’t tried to dissect and criticise the movie here at any point as the movie is so close to my heart. In my repeated watches over the years, I have found a few gaps, editing errors etc in the movie which I have conveniently overlooked here, simply because of the aforementioned reason.”