Kerala: July 12, 2019
Delhi: July 26, 2019
Biju Menon, Samvrutha Sunil, Alencier Ley Lopez, Saiju Kurup, Dinesh Prabhakar, Sudhi Koppa, Srikanth Murali, Sumangal Singha Roy, Sruthy Jayan, Musthafa, Bhagath Manuel
Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? (Will you believe me if I tell you the truth?) places a cover-up at the centre of a slice-of-life saga steeped in alcohol and amorality. The setting is small-town Kerala where Suni (Biju Menon) and his gang of buddies work as masons and swill alcohol in every spare moment. Suni is married to Geetha (Samvrutha Sunil) with whom he has a daughter. As he depletes his savings and his limited social standing with his perennial drunkenness, his lack of responsibility begins to erode their relationship.
Like scores of heroes before him in Malayalam cinema, like Siby Sebastian in Venu’s Carbon and P.R. Akash in Sathyan Anthikad’s Njan Prakashan just last year, it seems not to occur to Suni that a straight path is one of life's options. He also just does not see that he is responsible for his dire circumstances, and salvation will come with his own choices.
A dramatic turn of events offers Suni and his friends that lifeboat they have been hoping would “save them” even as they have chosen to drown themselves in a river of booze. Up to that point and thereafter, what makes Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? different from many other Malayalam films with similar male protagonists is that it does not romanticise these men and their self-destructive ways. They may themselves view their alcohol obsession as normal, but the film does not, as is evident from the hell they put themselves through and the hero's decisions in the denouement. The messaging comes couched in hilarious, believable scenes woven together so finely, imbued so deeply with cultural insights and narrated so realistically that they feel like a close friend's video on a real-life Suni rather than a fiction feature.
None of this should be a surprise considering that Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? is directed by G. Prajith who earlier made Oru Vadakkan Selfie (2015) and is written by Sajeev Pazhoor who wrote the smashing Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017). There are some thematic and plot borrowings from both – a laggard’s get-rich-quick fantasy, an elopement defying parental opposition, a theft – but this film is unlike either of those two. For one, Suni and Geetha’s financial condition is truly pathetic. For another, in terms of visual scale, Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? is a smaller film. And that is not all.
The film’s sense of humour, realism and observant socio-political eye are its primary selling points. Its cast is another. Making a comeback to acting after a post-marriage hiatus, Samvrutha Sunil delivers a wistful performance that explains fan nostalgia for her. She gets less screen time than the men but leaves her imprint on every scene featuring her Geetha.
Biju Menon was born to play men like Suni. By now he probably knows the happy-go-lucky chappie with crackpot plans like the back of his hands, but he lends a degree of pathos to Suni that sets this man apart from the other characters he has played in recent years.
The supporting cast is top notch. A word here for Sudhi Koppa who spends most of Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? lying about and being sloshed, yet owns the film with that one amusing scene in which his long-term friends first discover his official name. Sruthy Jayan as the tellingly nicknamed Highway Jessy and the forever-dependable Saiju Kurup as a creep pretending to be a nice guy are both impactful.
For the most part then, Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? is entertaining, engrossing and intelligent. The satellite track about two sets of rival local politicians is neither intelligible nor absorbing, but it is not long enough to mar the rest of the proceedings.
The one cliché in this film comes when it romanticises the unswervingly loyal wife of an ass who has squandered away their comforts, and sort of villainises her brothers who offer her an escape from this marriage. Suni is likeable almost entirely because he is played by the charming Biju Menon, and nothing in the writing of this character explains why he has earned the stable, level-headed Geetha’s attention, attraction or affection, an affection so deep that she was not swayed by the massive class divide between them and turned her back on the father she loved to be with him. This guy is a liar, a thief and a wastrel. He does nothing to deserve her devotion. The onset of their married life and moments of quiet domesticity play out over a song. We are given barely any insight into the depth of their relationship. No scintillating conversations. No glimpses of a shared worldview. We are simply expected to accept that she fell in love with him and continues to love him because Sajeev Pazhoor says so.
Where Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? does get adventurous is with the inclusion of the character played by Assamese actor Sumangal Singha Roy in Suni’s group at one point. Migrant workers from eastern and north eastern India are usually airily clubbed together as “Bangali” and treated as an aside in Malayalam cinema (as they are in Kerala society), rarely given the respect that was accorded to them in Njan Prakashan. Here though, Roy is shown as part of a local Malayali family. He also speaks only in Malayalam. This makes him a dual surprise. First, because the othering and/or marginal presence of the so-called “Bangali” is the Mollywood norm, whereas this film is inclusive. Second, because non-Malayali, non-southerners are rarely if ever shown speaking Malayalam in Malayalam films – they are usually shown speaking Hindi. While this by and large mirrors the twin realities that Hindi bhaashis – who are a politically dominant group in India – tend to expect those outside their region too to know Hindi and additionally that Hindi has spread outside the Hindi belt due to this among other reasons, it is also a reflection of what seems to be the average Malayali’s (possibly sub-conscious) inferiority complex about Malayalam that leads to a self-defeating assumption that no non-Malayali would know or care enough to speak Malayalam – some people do, let us represent them too in stories. Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? does, and what a breath of fresh air it is.
Particularly because it does something so different in this matter, the throwaway line about Hindi in the closing scene is inexplicable. Coming as it does in a film that otherwise knows how to be comical without being casual, this fleeting mindlessness is irritating.
One of the most precious moments in terms of a larger social comment in Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? comes in a mob scenario during which humans swarm like insects and vultures over an accident site. It is a scene designed to evoke revulsion for those creatures as they shrug off every shred of their dignity and let greed take over their beings. What really works here is that they are not merely brushed aside as unidentifiable masses. Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal’s camera, which had pulled back to give us a long shot of the crowd, then closes in on one of them, a self-righteous member of the community who turns out to be no better than the rest. (This is one of the few scenes in which Jalal does anything close to being grand in Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? – for the most part his work in the film remains compact and unassuming.)
Sathyam Paranja Vishwasikkuvo? has a lot to say. It is also a real hoot.
Rating (out of five stars): ***
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost: