Boss (Mammootty) has an asinine laugh. It’s there when he casually swats a man charging forward to beat him, or when he breaks into a punchline inspired from a masala Tamil or Malayalam film. His gait, clothes, facial expressions and even his stillness convey an energy that’s formidable to watch. Right from his intro scene, Boss makes it clear that he means business. And those around him are merely fanboys who are as much in awe of him as the audience.
A money lender, he also loans huge sums to film producers but is ruthless about getting it back. His introduction scene has him casually sauntering in and wrecking a film set when the producer fails to pay up. It’s a character built like a quintessential Rajinikanth hero—the irreverence, drama, comedy, punchlines and even the fights. And Mammootty brings a particular energy and charm to Boss, adding little quirks (the character’s penchant to recite popular movie punchlines for instance) to an already larger-than-life character. So, when the 68-year-old actor who is often mocked for being stiff in action scenes swings his legs at a 90 degree angle at a villain, we buy it, because of the energy on his face. But remove Boss from Shylock, and you get a dull, formulaic revenge action thriller.
Director Ajay Vasudev begins from where he stopped with his earlier two vapid films (both headlined by Mammootty): Rajadhi Raja and Masterpiece. The template remains the same, except here the leading man at least brings relief, with his one-man show. Otherwise Vasudev’s films are typical massy potboilers, centred around an unbeatable hero, a cursory villain, heroine as a prop and a few forgettable supporting actors. They all meander into a wafer-thin plotline. There is an obsession with mindless action set pieces in slow-motion (ill-timed).
In Shylock, you get all the usual suspects hanging around Boss. His two sidekicks who can’t get enough of his heroism, the set of antagonists (Siddique is unintentionally comical while Kalabhavan Shajon is fairly ok) who are typically rich, greedy, corrupt and kill without batting an eyelid, women who are either helpless or domesticated (Meena looks divine but is criminally underused, the rest are either observers or just smiling and glaring) and a lot of fast cars.
Boss’s backstory makes us think we are watching two different films, when the scene shifts to a rural milieu in Tamilnadu where he used to be Val, the trusted Man Friday to Ayyanar (Raj Kiran), a kind but intimidating money lender. It’s also when the film digresses into a ’90s Tamil film potboiler narrative, about Ayyanar’s loving joint family, with wife, daughters and adopted brothers. The familiar caste feud, rivalry, lovers marrying from different communities and the revenge that follows makes it a stale watch. Even Boss’s characterisation loses steam in the flashback, where he displays no flamboyance or originality as Val. The camaraderie between Val and Ayyaanar lacks substance as the scenes are wrought with melodrama, and the production values seem too stagey and flashy. But even there, Mammootty manages to create a surprisingly poignant moment at the hospital.
Though Boss is the only saving grace, the shorter running time also helps. There is an unhealthy dose of blood and gore, so think twice if you’re planning to take children along. Shylock is a fanboy tribute to Mammootty, and unsurprisingly he outshines every actor in the frame. But it’s also true that such a performance deserved a better film.