June 30, 2017
Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Alencier Ley Lopez
Extracting the extraordinary from the ordinary is a unique skill, one that Dileesh Pothan possesses in bagfuls as we discovered from his debut film last year. While telling us the stories of Mahesh, Jimsy, Jimson, Soumya and Crispin in 2016’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram, the director heroined gorgeous Idukki, a “midu midukki” who served as a microcosm of Kerala society yet bore her own unique characteristics.
Pothan is out with his second film this week: Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (The Exhibits and the Eyewitness), in which he teams up once again with his Mahesh – actor Fahadh Faasil – and music director Bijibal. The film is set in Kasargode, but the heroine here is not the town as much as the police station in which the action plays out, mirroring the corruption, pathos, humour and ridiculousness in what we routinely decry as the ‘system’.
First-timer Nimisha Sajayan and veteran Suraj Venjaramoodu in Thondimuthalum play Sreeja and Prasad, a couple who elope and get married because of violent opposition to their relationship from her parents. They are a simple and loving lower-middle-class pair. Their lives are disrupted one day by a petty thief also called Prasad (Fahadh Faasil) when he steals one of their few precious belongings – or at least they think he does.
This Prasad is caught and detained at a police station where ASI Chandran (Alencier Ley Lopez) presides over the case. The goings-on at that station and how it affects the lives of everyone involved are what Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is about.
If you ask for a detailed description of the plot, frankly, there is nothing much to tell. This is the sort of film that might have emerged if you placed hidden cameras around a cop station and edited the footage down to a manageable, viewable 135 minutes. The conversations between characters seem so believable and the flow of occurrences so authentic that Thondimuthalum genuinely feels like a reality show. Sajeev Pazhoor’s screenplay is one of 2017’s best pieces of film writing, which is saying a lot in a year in which Mollywood has already delivered such jewels as Take Off and Angamaly Diaries.
In the midst of all the rib-tickling mayhem in Thondimuthalum, a point is being made. What we may not wish to admit, even as we point fingers at the ‘system’, is that most of us even among the best of us are participants in its follies. Playing along is tempting and brings with it quick rewards; taking a stand, on the other hand, usually attracts quick retribution. To say the middle class make the easier choice always out of helplessness would have played to the gallery, but Pothan and his writers say it like it is instead. The truth is that the path of least resistance is less problematic than challenging the status quo, and when push comes to shove, most human beings have flexible morals.
Supplementing the writers’ commitment to realism is the cache of gems that make up the cast. Sajayan is a find. Venjaramoodu and Lopez are brilliantly believable. And Faasil, who seems to get better with each film, is a picture in understated hilarity. The supporting cast is a perfect match for this lead quartet.
The title track of Maheshinte Prathikaaram has been my earworm since I first heard it last year. Though Bijibal has not come up with an equivalent sparkler for Thondimuthalum, this film’s music too is special. In particular I enjoyed the song Kannile poika with its lyrics by Rafeeq Ahammed and vocals by Ganesh Sundaram and Sowmya Ramakrishnan.
Since Maheshinte Prathikaaram was so lovely, comparisons are inevitable. The two films are similar in their tone and narrative style, but to my mind there is an interesting difference in their cinematography. Although Maheshinte was an intimate portrait of Idukki, Shyju Khalid used his camera to give us larger-than-life images of the region’s delicious greenery while adhering to the film’s intentionally small scale with his shots of the interiors of Mahesh’s shop, his home, etc. In contrast to the lavishness of Khalid’s images of the countryside in Maheshinte, Rajeev Ravi in Thondimuthalum carries forward the air of intimacy in the police station and Sreeja-Prasad’s home, to the rich scenery too.
That long-drawn-out chase scene through woods ending up in a water body must rank as one of the best pursuits ever captured on screen that would not find a place in a Fast and Furious kind of film.
Ravi’s camerawork and Kiran Das’ editing of that passage are among my favourite parts of this film, closely rivalled by the look of mischief Faasil summons up on his face when Prasad is being interrogated at the police station.
Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is as simple or as complex as you want it to be for yourself. Either way, it is a lot of fun. There are few things in this world more captivating than reality.
Rating (out of five stars): ***1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/thondimuthalumdriksaakshiyum/