Gaganachari Movie Review: Arun Chandu’s ‘Gaganachari’ is an amusing dystopian mockumentary with enough pluses to outweigh the minuses

Arun Chandu
The film stars KB Ganesh Kumar, Gokul Suresh, Aju Varghese, Anarkali Marikar. It works because of the performances and because the filmmaking energy is so contagious.
Gaganachari Movie Review

Gaganachari Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Ajith Vinayaka Films
Director : Arun Chandu
Music Director : Sankar Sharma

Let me begin with a disclaimer. One part of Gaganachari is based on references to a particular era of Malayalam cinema, so if – like me – you are not 100 percent tuned into that period of pop culture, your enjoyment of this movie is likely to be diminished. But the other part of Gaganachari – a dystopian satire in the form of a mockumentary – should work pretty well for audiences from all over. But again, another disclaimer. Krishand is the executive producer, and when his name appeared in the opening credits, I was instantly reminded of his film Aavasavyuham, which dealt with eco-issues in the mockumentary format. Gaganachari doesn’t reach that level of brilliance, it doesn't aim for that level of subversion of form and content. Gaganachari deals with issues, too – but they are fairly simplistic and they exist mostly on the surface. The film works because of the comic performances and because the filmmaking energy is so contagious.

At a time a post-apocalyptic world is imagined mostly along Hollywood lines (deserts and so forth), director and co-writer Arun Chandu springs a beautiful and very imaginative surprise. (Siva Sai is the other writer.) This dystopia – set in the 2040s – is drenched in water. Cyclones and rainfall have flooded Kerala, and we see submerged stadiums and paddy fields. At once, the sci-fi feels like it belongs here, like it is our own. Even outside earth, the space station plays Malayalam patriotic songs and the astronauts grumble like regular office employees about not getting leave and how bad the idli-s are. For the first forty-five minutes or so, we get world-building. We get an idea of the society, a big war that has occured, the secret nightlife that has sprung up after the Internet has been banned, the fact that beef has been replaced by something made from non-cow sources and is called “geef”...

Into this “world”, a documentary crew sets out to record the life of Victor (KB Ganesh Kumar), a former army man, a national hero, and a renowned alien hunter. He has built a bunker with devices like a sleeping pod, and he lives with two younger men: Allen (Gokul Suresh) and Vaibhav (Aju Varghese). The fourth occupant of this bunker is an AI presence named Raghava. Unlike Aavasavyuham, where the tone was surreal, Gaganachari settles quickly into a goofy zone, and the three actors are wonderfully nuts in their own bizarre ways. The natural state  of this world is the mild absurdity of a weed-induced dream. Nothing is over the top, and the jokes never call attention to themselves - and this makes the goings-on even funnier. The old-style happy-making sitar music in the background when Allen learns something about Victor had me in splits.

And then, an alien appears in the form of Anarkali Marikar – and Gaganachari begins to resemble E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. A strange creature is stranded on earth. It is in danger. It needs to be sent back home. And – like in E.T. – there’s even a kiss induced by an old movie. Gaganachari picks up many issues: fuel price hike, oppressive Brahminism and right wing-ism, moral policing, man being his own worst enemy, and so forth. But the ones that register best are the issues woven around the alien. As Allen falls for the alien, the interspecies relationship mirrors an inter-caste (or any other) relationship that is frowned upon by a conservative society. Also, when Victor was hunting aliens, he appears to have seen creatures that looked like monsters. But here’s one that looks like a beautiful woman. Suddenly, the “national hero” Victor begins to look like a liar, someone who exaggerated his exploits.

Gaganachari makes clever use of spaces and colours and cardboard motion-paintings and odd props like cat food (there’s a great payoff at the end). Cinematographer Surjith Pai does not try to hide the low-budget nature of the project, and this non-polished “look” is a big plus. The film isn’t consistent. After a while, the story runs out of steam and seems in no hurry to get to any particular point. When we witness some sort of ritual meant to control the alien, it seems to come out of nowhere – this plot point and the people behind it aren’t built up to very convincingly. Yes, human nature is to exploit, control, and dominate – but this film is too slight to accommodate these big themes. But at the end, I did not find any of this a major deal-breaker. Gaganachari is a smart, contained film that can be seen as a series of amusing people doing amusing things, and sometimes that’s more than enough.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.