Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The condemned cell is a small enclosed isolated space in jail where the lights never go off and the sentry does not go to sleep. It is a place where even hardened criminals breakdown as they wait for the eventual black warrant to be issued which will sentence them to the gallows forever. The slow wait for Death’s embrace is more painful than the actual swift action that leads to the final emancipation.

A sturdy man in his early 30s, who betrays no sign of his impending fate, walks into this condemned cell calmly with no sense of fear. Can a man be so devoid of conscience that even after committing multiple murders and standing on the threshold of the Hangman’s noose, he smiles to himself in a self-serving sense of martyrdom?

Sathyanathan (Mohan Lal) is condemned to death for brutally murdering four persons – two adults and two young girls – and is awaiting his final call. He shows no remorse and is just as cheerful as a man who knows he has done no wrong. The prison doctor Dr Nambiar’s (Thilakan) son Vijayan is one of Sathyan’s victims; he wants to sign his death certificate and see the fear in his eyes as he is led up the gallows but the doctor is just as puzzled as to why the crime was committed.

There are appeals in lower courts and petitions for pardons by the cops as a matter of routine but Sathyan has no great interest in living. Eventually, when he wishes to start life again on a fresh slate because he now wants to live, in an O Henry-sque moment, he’s denied a pardon and on Sept 29th, 1991, two years after he is originally convicted of the multiple murders, he is hanged to death. In a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds focussing on Sathyan’s past and recreates the chilling crime scene, explaining his actions.

Sathyan is a ‘bastard’ who is bullied and abused in his childhood by the people around him until he is rescued by a priest (Nedumudi Venu) who realises that the kid is a talented artist. Under the aegis of Father, Sathyan becomes a painter who makes a living by painting sign boards and hoardings. As part of one of his assignments, he takes a rented house in Kozhikode next to a house of ill-virtue where Jaya (Mathu) and her two young sisters live with their aunts. They have no future to look forward to and it is only a matter of time when the aunts get them to carry out the kutumba thozhil.

He helps the kids in their education and gets Jaya a job in the company in which he’s working. Sathyan likes Jaya and wishes to marry her but destiny has other ideas; circumstances force her to end up as a prostitute and there are signs that her sisters will sink in the same quagmire later. In a moment of extreme paranoia, Sathyan kills the two girls in a bid to save them from prostitution and eventually both the guys responsible for her state.

As a product of a broken household, Sathyan is immensely disturbed when he sees the girls headed into a bottomless pit where there is no escape. There is a sense of extreme helplessness and resignation of the fact that despite his efforts to rescue Jaya, he is unable to do so. He seeks his redemption through an act which represents an angst against society for its attitudes towards human trafficking. He does not regret his actions but later on as the movie progresses to a juncture when there are moments of contemplation and solitude, he is unsure of his act.

The multiple-murder scene is a slightly elaborate but extremely chilling piece that shakes you. You know that it will culminate in a murder but the thought still does not prepare you for what you see. It is largely shot in close-up and seeks to transform his character into a wild demonic one, as indicated in his painting. The atmosphere is built gradually with tense background music and the usage of dim lights with a red tinge, magnifying the impact of the gruesomeness of the scene. When Minikutty comes running to him escaping from the broker Chandran, it is a moment of déjà vu for Sathyan. He believes that his actions can only delay the inevitable and there is no escape for the kids and that one day or the other, they will be forced into the flesh trade.

It is not a planned murder but is also not something that happens in the heat of the moment. Eliminating just the perpetrators will not help, he reckons, because in some form of the other, they will eventually make their appearance and destroy the lives of the hitherto innocent kids; the society will never allow them to survive with dignity. A sense of moral uprightness coupled with desperation and extreme paranoia drives him to stab them to death.

Pedikka entha niram? Chuvappo atho karuppo? Krithyam niram illa – niram maari kondu irikkum. Pedi kore kazhiyumbol thamasha aavum, thamasha pinne pottichiri, pinne paatu, pinne karchil….

Is a normal human being capable of such an extreme act of violence? There are a couple of scenes that depict Sathyan’s sudden sense of unexplained anger and a scene where Father warns him to stay out of trouble, especially physically – these were possibly written to make us accept such extreme violence from an otherwise soft-spoken man like Sathyan who normally does not wear his emotions on his sleeve. A part of the tragedy is that we also accept that there is no way out of this repulsive future and go along with his actions.

Most of the film is shot in Kannur Central Jail and there is a general bleakness to the proceedings and MT redeems the atmosphere by bringing a dark sense of humour to the proceedings. There is a detailed discussion on the setup used for the final act, including a demonstration of how it is done – it may have been funny if not for the cruel irony behind it. Recollect the scenes where the cops talk about the quality of rope used for hanging and mentions that it is supplied by a Government company now unlike earlier (nationalisation of the Rope of Death!) or when he says that the lever for hanging needs further oiling to facilitate the hanging smoothly or the police superintendent’s suggestion to take bath in hot water on the day before the hanging because it’s cold early in the morning.

During his last days, the warders ask him to exercise so that he can be in proper shape before the hanging, the jail barber tends to his needs and he is offered proper food and Sathyan remarks how a goat is fattened before it is finally executed. Thankfully, it shies away from creating any unnecessary villainous characters in the jail but we are privy to their state of mind as they ponder on the eventual fate that awaits Sathyan on the fateful day. The prisoner scenes with TG Ravi and Sreenivasan tend to border on a sense of pushing the audience towards empathy but that’s just a minor blip.

On another level, the movie also raises questions on the appropriateness of capital punishment and also asks if there is a better way to carry it out (however academic this thought maybe). Waiting everyday with the sword of Damocles hanging around one's neck is a painful way to live. It is quite apt in a country like ours where Governments and courts sit for years on judgements and increase the agony of everyone involved in the case.

Sibi Malayil made a name for himself as a director primarily in combination with scenarist A K Lohithadas but Sadayam is penned by MT Vasudevan Nair, who won the National Award for Best Screenplay in 1993 for the movie. It’s a pity that the two worked together only once just as MT and Bharathan had come together for the magnificent Thazhvaram. MTs script is a disturbing exploration of human angst which we experience along with Sathyan and he is ably supported by Johnson’s edgy background music but what elevates the movie to a higher cinematic experience is Mohan Lal's magnificent emotionally charged intense performance.

For the first few minutes of the movie, he speaks very little but the eyes and body language speak a thousand words. Does his smile capture the quiet delight of a man who has committed such a heinous act or is there a repentance of having committed a crime? He largely stays stoic to the events around him and smiles away all attempts by Murali to save him but gradually, there is a desire to live and the first time he betrays his expression is when he breaks down crying hearing of a stay order against his execution.

The anger and frustration that he experiences as he realizes the fate of the girls erupts itself in a horrifying multiple murder scene. It is a 10 minute sequence and it showcases a man whose mental faculties have broken down and is in a sense of insane outrage. As the stabs pierce through the children, there is a wry smile followed by an intense laughter at having saved the kids. He repaints his canvas with the knife smeared with their blood and achieves his redemption – was it for his inability to stop the inevitability or against the society for allowing it to happen? It is a performance that has a stomach churning effect which leaves you shell-shocked and disturbingly accept that this was the only way out….

Sadayam isn’t a movie that you can forget quickly. It has a haunting and almost depressing quality that keeps coming back at you again and again…

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Ee Adutha Kaalathu

Arun Kumar Aravind was successful in remaking Pierce Brosnan starrer Butterfly on a Wheel into a stimulating Cocktail but it carried the tag of an ‘inspired’ uncredited movie. Murali Gopy, journalist and thespian Bharath Gopi’s son who was last seen in Bharamaram, had earlier penned Dileep’s Rasikan but there are not too many people who can recall the movie. In a sort of redemption movie, the two come together in Ee Adutha Kaalathu, a movie that gives Trivandrum an identity beyond its lingua franca, made infamous by Suraj Venjaramoodu.

Ee Adutha Kaalathu does not make Trivandrum a full-fledged character in itself like Kahaani or Shor in the City but it gives the city its due by imparting its precincts with a life of its own, whether it is the wastage grounds of Thopilashala where protestors demand a stop to the dumping of garbage (but ironically dump their waste in the same pandal), the town side where people survive doing odd jobs or the urban centres where marital discords and sensational stories are not easily hidden from the eyes of yellow journalistic papers like Thee. It starts with the wastage of Thopilashala and eventually comes to a close at the same place (You were made from the dust and into the dust, you shall return).

Ee Adutha Kaalathu (EAK henceforth) is a fascinating hyperlink movie (movie with multiple narratives and storylines) brought together by an extremely clever screenplay and engaging set of characters which keeps you to the edge of your seat till the very end. It is not a conventional thriller – a major crime goes on at the background with very little notice while a minor crime sets off a wild chain of events that changes the lives of the people involved. It is almost impossible to discuss this movie without spending a lot of the time talking how the script evolves.

In most hyperlink movies, there are a set of characters who go about their lives till one incident brings all of them together but in EAK, there is no one major point of inflexion. There is a reason for the scenes to exist in a manner that they come across and eventually, each of them has a link to a larger context in the movie. Murali Gopy’s script is the hero of the story and I have not come across a more seamless and effortless flow of scenes and characters in a Malayalam movie in recent times.

In the heart of the city, Ajay and Madhuri Kurien (Murali Gopy and Tanushree Ghosh) are in a marriage that is under siege due to Ajay’s weird and abusive behaviour and the only saving grace is the presence of their cricket-crazed son Ayush. At the other end, in an Agraharam, are Vishnu and Ramani (Indrajith and Mythili) who are deep in debt but survive on the odd jobs that they manage to find in the city. Ramani is a rag picker wile Vishnu creates objects from the waste (the one who does the actual job of recycling here as the voiceover says) and sells them to make a living.

Tom Cherian (Anoop Menon) is an IPS police officer who has returned from a brief training at Scotland Yard but is clearly out of depth in the hard-nosed job of police investigation and is looking for short cuts to achieve success on his job. Roopa Vasudevan (Lena), Madhuri’s friend, is an investigative journalist and feminist who eventually falls for Tom, in a convenient law-meets-media marriage. Rustam (Nishan) is a North Indian construction worker who makes money by making porn videos and is out to entice an extremely frustrated Madhuri. Somewhere in the background, there also lurks a serial killer who hacks old people to death and flees with their valuables and cash. An attempted heist goes wrong one day and then….

There are no black-and-white characters (even the city is tarnished by its overflowing garbage dumping ground) and each has a background that lowers their sheen. Ajay Kurien’s past holds a key to his absurd sexual behaviour now, Madhuri has had a not so memorable life behind the arc lights, Tom Cherian’s training at Scotland Yard makes him a butt of jokes, Roopa Vasudevan’s promiscuous and ‘liberal’ views serve as a mask for her insecurity that Thee paper exposes and even Vishnu has a past filled with misadventures and failed attempts to make a secure life for himself in the city.

Life is full of surprises that cannot be explained but care has been taken to get the script to go beyond these co-incidences and crank visuals into the plot that explain a lot of what happens in the future – it’s almost like there is no co-incidence and every scene exists for some specific reason. Even before the Laughing Buddha creates havoc, we get a glimpse of it standing unsteadily on top of the shelf. We see the broken kitchen handle in an earlier scene to justify the house break-in, Vishnu’s arrival in Doctor’s Colony is preceded by his role as a sub-broker for a house deal there, Ajay’s aversion towards Hindi and his long sight by itself is trivial but they have a relevance towards the end of the movie when Ajay almost discovers Madhuri’s secret.

In terms of its form, EAK uses visual echoes to set the mood and tone of the movie at regular intervals. The reading on the parish wall, the presence of the Lord and the Father and even the RSS fleetingly suggests a helping hand from the top (literally you’d realize when you watch the movie), life’s complexities (and maybe the director’s!) as symbolized by the Rubik’s cube which Ayush finally solves at the end, the car accident that begins and closes the movie, the mirror which hides more than it reveals is used many times and the hacking of the neck finds its resonance on more than one occasion (including Vishnu’s name as Vettu ‘Vishnu’).

EAK starts on a bit of a sluggish note with and takes quite some time to establish the basic fault lines in the plot. It finally takes off with full ignition almost 90 mins into the 1st half when Vishnu realises that something needs to be done fast to get his life back on track. On a minor quibbling note, the scriptwriter Murali Gopy does not full justice to his own story. He is sexually frustrated due to some untoward incidents in his life and takes it out on his wife but when Bonakkad Ramachandran (Jagathy) threatens to expose him and is warned by Roopa, he makes a retreat. But does it affect his relationship with his wife? Wonder why this side of the story was not taken to a more logical conclusion.

It also makes an attempt to stay away from stereotypes and so there are no permanent heroes and villains in the piece. The only person who ends with a more redeemed character at the end is the man with the lowest moral angle in the beginning. Roopa and Madhuri share a close friendship but even when Madhuri says she knows that Roopa will die but not reveal her secret, there is a veiled threat behind it or when Madhuri talks about her disastrous fling, the first thing that Roopa asks is Did you have sex?

As the title suggests, EAK is a very contemporary movie peppered with a lot of references to real life incidents but except for a couple of instances, the rest of them form a part of the narrative. So, you have Padmanabha Swamy Temple's overwhelming presence at the background, problems with the Nano car’s performance, concerns on the rising North Indian population among workers, sanitation problems in the city, changing attitudes to sex, yellow gossip journalism and tax raids on the two superstars (the only reference that is at once forced into the narrative).

Indrajith plays with aplomb the central role linking most of the narratives and his choice of characters have ensured that he always has a few interesting movies up his sleeve. Anoop Menon is a personal favourite now (had a hearty laugh when he says I suspect a terror link at the scene of the murder or gives a detailed ppt sketch of the suspected killer) while Jagathy continues to make cameos count big with his stellar show (it's a tragedy that we may not see him for quite some time now; hope he bounces back after his accident). Tanushree Ghosh as Madhuri suffers a wee bit with the dubbing at times but makes her presence felt otherwise. But the biggest stars  in the movie have to be Murali Gopy, Arun and Gopi Sundar in their roles as the scenarist, editor and music director.

All so casually, many of us talk about fantastic scripts but you must watch EAK to understand how the writing literally drives the plot. Every small bend or curve is negotiated with finesse and is well-oiled; the dialogues are smart and funny and for most part, fit in with the natural scheme of things without forced humour (witness the police questioning when they stop Madhuri’s car or Duckworth-Lewis method in Ayush’s match or Tom’s serious observations on the crime). It is easy to get carried away by the premise of talking of too many things at the same time or going too glitzy and snappy while executing the movie (the Kaminey types) but EAK does not get carried away.

With a movie that works like a Rubik’s cube, the editor has a critical role in playing it just at the right pace so that all the clues and links fit in smoothly, without any hurdles and the editor-director translates the directorial vision into clear cinematic space. Gopi Sundar’s brilliant BGM acts as a glue in fusing all these aspects together (of course, I was told later that the main theme music is rip-off from the soundtrack of a 1998 English movie Next StopWonderland) and you have a winner in your hands.

Multi-starrers remind me of a strategy that Brad Pitt explains in Moneyball – if you can’t replace a top player with another with the resources in one’s hand, get an equivalent number of players who can create the same impact. It makes imminent sense in Malayalam where resources are scarce but expectations continue to be high (see how we react every time the National Awards are announced). I’d like to think that the success of Traffic has put the spotlight on low and mid-budget movies, starring multiple actors ‘decent’ screenplays and innovative trailers and EAK is an off-spring of this new development…

P.S Wonder why this movie has not been released outside Kerala? EAK has completed more than a 30 day run in Palakkad, so should be considered as doing pretty well but very few people I know seem to have seen it...Surprisingly!!!

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -