In the Business of Spirituality, they say, “The Most Powerful Drug In The Word Is Religion”. Trance is a movie which takes it up as the theme which is a bold step taken by its creators which has never been done by any filmmaker before in the history of Malayalam Cinema because of the potential of this theme to be controversial especially in current times.
Trance portrays the realities of the Business of Spirituality by taking us thru the journey of the protagonist, Viju Prasad as he goes from being a normal small time motivational speaker to becoming Pastor Joshua Carlton, the big business man who is one of the leaders of the Spirituality industry. The audience is treated to the gross realities of what happens behind the cameras and this is indeed a very bold project undertaken by the film makers considering how dangerous / volatile matter of Spirituality and religion are these days.
The movie begins by introducing us to Viju Prasad and his mentally unstable brother who had a disturbing childhood in their one bedroom house at Kanyakumari. It is indeed ironic to see the protagonist who after going thru multiple failures in life, suffering from acute depression, make a living being a motivational speaker. As mentioned before, we the audience are then treated to the amazing transformation of Viju Prasad to Pastor Joshua Carlton. The amazing portrayal of this transformation by the actor Fahadh Faasil forms the core of this movie and the amazing screen presence and performance of the actor is a treat for audience to enjoy especially in the first half of the movie.
Along with the “Fahadh show”, the audience is further treated to the magical and rich frames of Amal Neerad and also the brilliant background score by Sushin Shyam. All of them together is an incredible visual treat for the audience. However, while the first half seems crisp and clean to the point, the second half looses that and feels quite lagging to be honest especially with the introduction of seemingly unwanted characters (eg: Nasriya Fahadh’s character) which appears to somehow affect the tempo of the storyline. The complaint that we have been hearing which says that the movie makes the audience have high expectations on the climax but fails to deliver seemed to be quite justified. But still, the viewer in me felt perfectly satisfied with this movie. Overall I felt that thanks to Fahadh’s performance, the movie has an amazing first half and an average second half.
In addition to Fahadh in this movie, the actors Dilesh Pothan, Goutham Menon and Vinayakan deserve a special mention for their performances. The novelty and relevance of the theme in these current times makes this movie worth a serious watch. Another point to note is that this movie doesn’t attempt to equalise or. take a neutral approach by including other religions as how we usually see movies dealing with religious matters as their theme or as part of the content.
Disclaimer: Spoilers Ahead.
Person, Religion, Politics : Trance
The common factor that I have observed in Book sales from Delhi to Trivandrum include, “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, “Saint who sold a Ferrari”, “Who switched my Cheese?”, “The Secret”, “The Magic” and the father of them all, “The Alchemist”. Its the same across street vendors to the top class book shops in big malls. This is nothing but the business of exploiting the masses who are barely surviving by giving them a false hope of success by presenting examples of “successful” people. The narrative is that the secret to success is positive thinking and that this positivity can be used to transform lives and thereby mislead the people into believing that it’s possible to “change the world around themselves”. Such businesses which trap people into that belief system by making them forget about the past and the present and thinking just about that utopian future, ends up creating this wave of false positivity that really is toxic for the people who falls into that trap. This movie shows this phenomenon very clearly as the storyline progresses.
“A classical, clinical case of a fascist” is how Ashish Nandi recorded his experience more than ten years after his interview with a prominent Indian politician in 1992. But by 2007, Ashish was looking at how the above-mentioned political leader had transformed into a typical middle class politician. It is said that he has taken advantage of the middle-class psyche and has become a great politician, and that he has the potential to become a good spatula in the hands of big corporates. This is not a natural evolution. The role of the corporate HR team in his political life is not small, from a typical political campaigner in 1992 to one of the greatest fascist leaders the world has seen in 2020. He, who walked away from Karan Thapar’s famous interview in 2007, is said to have been interviewed by HR Training Team more than thirty times before the 2014 election. We have already seen the benefits of that training in how to deal with questions. The most important point made by Ashish Nandi’s Psycho-Analysis is how corporate mindsets are transforming certain types of moods and personality disorders and how the human psyche is the raw material of corporate capitalism.
The other major issue that the movie Trance has dealt with is nothing but what I mentioned above. It is a continuation of the post-Truth era of historical and scientific denial. It is common in the post-Truth era to conceal the truth and to tell lies that are more acceptable or rather marketable. This concept was the same that Karan Thappar wrote in the Week magazine in 2018, based on the book called “Devil’s Advocat – The UnTold Story” by Happer Colins. In the movie, the same appears significantly in the interview scene with Mathews where the protagonist presents a past that has more market value than his real life. That is the lie, that God had brought him back to life when he attempted suicide by getting hit by a train, which is shown as the “past” that has a market value higher than the real past which is that his mother and brother had committed suicide and was brought up without his father present.
If the leader is blindly followed in Fascism, in religion, its the God who is blindly followed. To borrow Freud’s words that say that “Religion is a universal neurotic disease”, the movie Trance conducts a careful examination of the conditions that bring the seemingly alienated society to that condition. For many reasons, religion creates a father figure for insecure people. Here, religion exploits the desire for success/happiness/completeness of alienated human beings as a whole. The journey towards achieving that is an endless journey and it’s something like a mirage, that drives you to follow it.
In the movie, speaking in front of an audience of 1500 people, is a lifetime achievement for Viju who comes from being a small time Motivational Trainer. However, where Viju stands at the moment as Pastor Joshua is not in front of an audience of like 5000 or even 10000, but rather in front of an audience of more than 5 Lakh people. That was his journey from Man to God. This is where Marx’s words that God is nothing but an alienated man and that heaven is man’s alienated desires become significant. Marx points out that the reason why religion continues to exist as a sigh of relief for the suffering man and the haven for the persecuted man and as a heart in a heartless world is because of the existence of societies that are alienated. In such societies, capitalism works with religion/faith as the capital.
Trance is not the first film in Malayalam to portray the hollowness and deception of spirituality and its market. There have been many such films before, including “Ekalavyan”, “Tian” and “Bhakthajanangalude Sradhakku” and what makes Trance different here is thru another relevant question. The question is whether some idol of religious, spiritual, political, or social presence will be able to just end its functioning in the near future, even if it wants to?? The movies have reiterated that such idols really don’t have any agencies when we traverse from Swami Amurthanananda from the movie Ekalavyan to the Pastor Joshua Carlton, things seem to have better precision and clarity.
This is a movie thats makes us understand in the best possible way, how hollow religion/faith/spirituality really is.
Verdict : 3/5