Wednesday, February 5, 2020


Release date:
Kerala: January 10, 2020
Delhi: January 24, 2020
Midhun Manuel Thomas 

Kunchacko Boban, Sreenath Bhasi, Unnimaya Prasad, Jinu Joseph, Indrans, Remya Nambeesan, Jaffer Idukki, Sharaf U Dheen, Nikhila Vimal, Mathew Thomas, Nandhana Varma, Divya Gopinath
Malayalam with Tamil 

When the Kochi Police becomes the target of a shadowy serial killer, DCP Catherine Maria (Unnimaya Prasad) goes all guns blazing into the investigation. ACP Anil Madhavan (Jinu Joseph) persuades her to rope in the psychologist Anwar Hussain (Kunchacko Boban) who is pursuing a PhD on criminal minds. Anwar in turn bullies a young hacker called Andrew (Sreenath Bhasi) to help the team. Together they set off on the trail of a criminal with a modus operandi they have never before encountered. 

The murders in Anjaam Pathiraa (The Fifth Midnight) are intriguing. I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout, scared on behalf of every Kochi police person I spotted wandering down a lonely street or into a darkened room on screen. Writer-director Midhun Manuel Thomas (may I call you MMT, please?) keeps the twists constantly flowing, and even when weaknesses in the writing of the investigation rear their head, the consistent tone and tempo ensure that the narrative remains engaging.

Those weaknesses cannot be ignored, of course. Certain details are left unexplained or under-explained (I had to struggle to recall the reason why – no spoilers here – Anwar connected that toy to the serial killings), the title sounds nice but in retrospect feels contrived, some of the discussions among the police are banal, the English lines are often drab and at least one leap of the imagination is made during the probe with no logic to back it.

Some of the Kochi Police’s screw-ups in this film are highly believable, a reflection of the poor training, pathetic infrastructure, inefficiency and inherent apathy of police forces across India in real life (and are pointed out as such during conversations in the film). One mistake though seems to have gone unnoticed by the writer himself. Imagine tracking a serial killer and not immediately looking for a link between the victims. DCP Catherine and her colleagues do not, and no eyebrows are raised about it.

Frankly, Catherine seems to have been inserted into the script merely to pre-empt any criticism that Anjaam Pathiraa is an all-male scenario. She is there, and she is the boss, but she is pretty useless, spending much of her time helplessly asking the men around her what is going on. On the only occasion when she comes up with a plan, it is stupid on the face of it and not surprisingly leads to disaster. Another policewoman (played by Divya Gopinath) has been thrown in for good measure as a bit-part player, which would have been fine if Catherine had been better written. C’mon MMT, give us convincing, well-fleshed-out policewomen next time rather than tokenism.

Mostly what Catherine does by way of action is stand around issuing brisk instructions that make her seem busy and in charge, while Anwar and Andrew get the job done, serving as yet another reminder that even Mollywood’s otherwise-admirable parallel cinema movement is more comfortable telling stories of men. This is particularly ironic because the larger plot of Anjaam Pathiraa is driven by gender sensitivity.

It is a measure of MMT’s directorial skills that he succeeds in sustaining interest even through these uneven stretches. Besides, in other areas there is some smart writing on display here, including with the red herrings strewn around but not forgotten in the end. All complaints recede into the background anyway when the startling, heart-rending back story to the crimes is revealed.

It is frustrating that to avoid spoilers I cannot tell you exactly why this film is gutsy. Suffice it to say that MMT takes on an organisation that is powerful in Kerala and is justifiably shamed in Anjaam Pathiraa for its actions and inaction in response to alleged crimes by its functionaries.

Courage combined with MMT’s storytelling and a crew to match make Anjaam Pathiraa a winner. Cinematographer Shyju Khalid here does not employ a single one of the clichés that are staples in formulaic Indian thrillers: no jerks, no sudden movements around corners, no overt manipulation of the audience. His camerawork for this film, his low-lit frames and dreary gray-black-white palette with red and yellow appearing as ominous intrusions create an atmosphere of foreboding and ultimately, great sorrow. Khalid’s choices are a perfect fit for MMT’s own non-sensationalist, non-voyeuristic approach to the tragedies and extreme violence featured in the written material.

Sushin Shyam’s affecting music is put to good use by the director – it is there only when necessary, and then too not over-used. Considering that Anjaam Pathiraa comes to Delhi in the same week as the Mammootty starrer Shylock, it has soothed my troubled ears just recovering from that film’s deafening background score. Gratitude to Mr Shyam. Also to sound designers Vishnu Govind and Sree Shankar.

The ensemble cast is a reliable lot. Kunchacko Boban as Anwar brings his trademark sincerity to the role of an unhero-like hero who must keep his head on his shoulders during his first full-fledged murder investigation and grapple with his emotions on discovering unnerving truths. Sreenath Bhasi as an unscrupulous nerd lends just the right touch of youthful mischief to his character. Unnimaya Prasad is saddled with the one badly written role in the script, but saves Catherine from the brink with her earnestness.

Remya Nambeesan and Divya Gopinath are the only actors who are completely wasted in Anjaam Pathiraa. The casting director’s triumph lies in the careful selection of known and brilliant artistes for significant roles in the second half that give them barely a few seconds or minutes of screen time but must (and do) remain memorable all the same.

MMT’s filmography so far has been marked by light-hearted entertainers with a point to make. There is nothing light-hearted about Anjaam Pathiraa. Nothing conventional either. In fact, the first half seems intentionally designed to lull viewers into assuming that it is just a suspenseful whodunnit, its wacko antagonist teasing the police with a signature – clever but done before in different ways. It left me completely unprepared for that second half, drenched in a beautiful sadness, brave and deeply disturbing.

Anjaam Pathiraa may not be perfect, but oh my goodness, it is special.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 3.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
144 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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