'C U Soon' review: A Malayalam thriller that swipes right
This radical film offers a unique viewing experience: we meet its characters through their screens and screens alone
The girl is at the boy’s house. He is at work, thrilled to be going home to her, to be living with her. They have been through a lot, having surmounted unlikely—even peculiar—odds, and he knows she needs time to heal. He wants to hold her, protect her, reassure her. “We will go out for dinner,” he types on his WhatsApp window, but stops short of sending it. He deletes the message and, instead, types “How’s the chicken curry?” She had been cooking. He had forgotten. I, a viewer spying on these giddy lovers, had forgotten. The boy saves the mood in the nick of time.
The girl doesn’t reply.
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C U Soon, a radical Malayalam film on Amazon Prime Video, offers a unique viewing experience. We meet these characters through their screens and screens alone: through the windows they have open, through the unread messages on their chat windows, through the glances they exchange on video-chats, and through their friend-lists online. The film, produced by Fahadh Faasil and Nazriya Nazim (and shot mostly in their apartment building), has a credit unlike anything I’ve seen before: “Screenplay, editing, virtual cinematography and direction” by Mahesh Narayanan.
We’ve come a long way from Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s 2003 indie Flavors, where long-distance lovers shared a meal on Skype as a quirky romantic gesture. Now, regardless of generation or inclination, we’re handcuffed to our screens, talking to colleagues, teachers, family, increasingly confounded by (and yet habituated to) the "new normal". C U Soon is a direct descendant of Aneesh Chaganty’s gripping 2018 thriller Searching— where a father is hunting for his missing daughter, shown to us entirely on screen—but now, in our present moment where the pandemic has forced us all to our devices, that setting feels urgently, inescapably current.
If you’ve ever waited for the tick-marks on the side of a chat message to double and turn blue, you’ll relate. Which is to say we all will.
C U Soon starts off mushy. Jimmy Kurien (Roshan Mathew) matches with a girl on Tinder. Her name is Anumol Sebastian (Darshana Rajendran), and the two soon take their relationship to other applications. They move swiftly to Google Chat (she doesn’t use Whatsapp) and he starts pestering her for photographs. “You’re asking for everything too fast,” she complains, before sending him one. As she sends him video clips of her playing the guitar and he sends her pictures of him and his office colleagues, everything feels raw and real, albeit rushed—the way giddy men and women often are.
A right-swipe may not be a meet-cute, but the two fall into adorability right from the first emoji they exchange. The romance unspools the way it would in the first montage of a Mani Ratnam movie. As we see them both begin to overshare, to grin wider and wider at each communication, and to start exposing more of themselves, the chat windows and voice messages may as well be lines sung and whispered across local trains, classrooms, bus stops. Jimmy, with a history of bouncing from relationship to relationship, may be moving too fast. With him set on Anu, his mother asks his friend Kevin, a tech guy working in cybersecurity, to look into the girl’s past.
Kevin, played by Fahadh Faasil, is reluctant to intrude on someone’s privacy, but cursorily looks her over. And that’s when everything descends into uncontrollable chaos. Saying anything more about the plot would be an unforgivable spoiler, but we should all remember that things are rarely what they seem to be—especially when seen on the internet.
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The performances are disturbingly natural, the greatest compliment being that many a viewer might not consider them a big deal. The acting feels mostly invisible as Rajendran simpers coyly during a webcam chat, Mathew tries his best to keep up with the way his life turns upside down, and Faasil bursts into the most spontaneous of giggles as he hears that the boy and girl are planning to get married. It’s all candid, stripped-down and refreshingly far from theatrics, something that lets us feel like we happen to be sneaking a peek at someone else’s screen.
This is a genre that firmly exploits the voyeuristic concept of browsing across someone else’s conversations, or even remotely looking at someone else’s desktop. The very idea of being able to control a faraway cursor holds alarming potential for wickedness, and while I was hooked to these badly spelt conversations and nuanced attempts at realistic computer usage—Kevin is aware Googling the words “google map” is quicker than typing “maps.google.com,” for instance—I remain curious to see how those less used to living and communicating online will be able to identify with this film.
(One caveat: It’s dashed hard to read conversations and chat messages while also reading subtitles at the same time.)
The internet, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a frightening place. Narayanan’s film, however, demonstrates how it can indeed remedy as much as it can destroy. There are characters who casually install malware on devices just in case they need to snoop on them, but also those who send medical prescriptions on WhatsApp. The most lyrical flourish here may be the fact that the Girl learned to play guitar the same way the boy learned to make chicken: through a YouTube video.
The film commands interest but feels a bit long and overdone in the final act, when it ends up committing yet another internet sin: virtue-signalling. The idea of preaching is as outdated as the idea of privacy.
It is better to watch than to be watched. The highest compliment I can give C U Soon is that it made me want to stick tape over my webcam.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.
FIRST PUBLISHED01.09.2020 | 09:00 AM IST