After the success of Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic, there have been a host of movies that have tried to replicate the success of multiple narratives but very few have been able to strike a proper balance, an exception like Ee Adutha Kaalathu notwithstanding. So, it is with discernible apprehension that I approached debutante director Sunil Ibrahim’s Chapters only to be surprised by a taut well-structured movie that holds your attention.
The film is structured in the form of four chapters telling different stories but interlinked through a few characters. The narrative is spread over a period of two days and a night when these multiple characters cross each other’s paths, in seemingly unrelated ways. While these are stories that intersect at different points in the movie, it does not entirely follow the standard patterns of hyperlink cinema like going back and forth in time or jumping between the beginning and end. To a certain extent, there is a linear progression in the story, so it is devoid of many standard gimmicks (or techniques whichever way you see them) that you see in these movies.
The first chapter talks about four unemployed friends, Krishna Kumar (Nivin Pauly), Anwar (Hemanth Menon), Joby (Vijeesh) and Kannan (Dhananjay), who are struggling to get a decent break in life. There is anxiety in Krishna Kumar’s family where the son is unemployed, daughter is unmarried and the father (Sadiq) is a Gulf-returnee who has not been able to save enough with his overseas job. None of the friends are in a position to help and are just as desperate. Frustration is in the air and quick money is the need.
Finally, they arrive at an exotic plan to make money for Krishna Kumar’s sister’s wedding and it goes along smoothly till the very end when the plan goes all awry. It is an air tight plan; everything is checked and finalized but the man who holds the key to its execution, Chandrappan (Pattambi Manikandan) disappears at the critical moment leaving them high and dry. The promised dream evaporates in thin air and there are left holding only lost aspirations that count for nothing and as if that was not good enough, it ends in an O Henry-like finale which defeats the entire purpose of the plan. It must have been a better idea if the group were hunting for something less exotic than a Naga-Manikyam to make the entire search more believable. The very mention of such a stone and it being located so easily makes you believe that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Chapter Two shifts to Sethu (Sreenivasan), an employee at a travel agency, who is waiting for the last bus to town. Clearly, not in the best of spirits, he is joined by an old lady (KPAC Lalitha) and they strike up a conversation during the journey. Both are
beseeched besieged (as pointed out by Anu in the comments) by parental woes – she
reveals that she is headed to the town to meet her son who is in jail while he
is carrying cash to go to the hospital, where his son awaits a surgery.
There is a palpable sense of suspicion in their minds and you are not entirely sure as to whether they are both telling the truth. Neither seems entirely convincing and the camera and quiet BGM adds to the suspicion. Sethu’s face darkens when he sees a set of cops enter the bus but he meekly explains it as a fear of them questioning about his money. Along with the late night crowd, there are also a couple of mysterious characters whose body language suggests that there is something amiss. This is the most ambiguous section in the movie and it plays on in our mind with our attention wavering on the various characters who board the bus. The quieter narrative also keeps you wondering if there is something that will spring into the frame from somewhere.
Chapter Three focuses on six youngsters – Arun (Vineeth Kumar), Vinod (Shine), Kaanu (Aju Varghese), Jincy (Riya Saira), Shyam (Rejith Menon) and Priya (Gauthami Nair). They are headed to a hill station to register the marriage of Shyam and Priya, who have eloped. Vinod is Arun’s friend and is rechristened by Arun as Choonda and introduced to the group as a criminal in parole. His looks and criminal past is meant to ensure that the plan goes smoothly without any hindrance.
Choonda’s rugged and uncouth looks ensures that he plays his part well in taking care of the obstacles that they face during the journey. In the midst of all the reverie surrounding the trip, they take a break to catch fresh air, only to return and find a body in the car. In the ensuing melee surrounding the attempts to dispose the body, the group is separated.
In the fourth and final chapter, we see an anxious Annie (Lena) by her son’s bedside in the hospital awaiting her husband’s (Sreenivasan) arrival. Their marriage is an inter-religious one and the couple is struggling with his meager income and no family support, while trying to handle their son’s illness. She is surprised when he arrives with the money needed for the surgery but convinces her husband that the money that he has brought is best returned.
As the final chapter comes to a close, the truth is revealed. Nothing very dramatic has happened and things, to an extent, return to a sense of status quo as at the beginning of the movie. But in the interim two hours, their lives have all changed profoundly in some way or the other. Families have re-united and friendship remains intact while a couple starts a new journey.
Multiple narratives face the challenge of dealing with a large number of characters across myriad locations and these need to be connected some way or the other. Sometimes, the stories are far too many to give it a proper coherent workable structure, like Lijin Jose’s Friday. Or the script is unable to do justice to a stellar star cast and gets bogged down by its needs like in Salam Bappu’s Red Wine.
‘Chapters’ succeeds primarily because three stories (not four) come together seamlessly, without any forced attempts to join them. The structure of the plot is interesting – chapters 1 and 3 are deeply intertwined at one end and 2 and 4 at the other end. These two main plots are intermittently linked by a couple of characters and small devices in the plot – like when Jincy says that she’s booked rooms for the trip, a little later Sethu mentions four rooms being booked. Or KPAC walks out of the bus and hands over a bagful of money to the people in the same car that had come to meet the boys in the first chapter.
It may be a multi-linear narrative but each of the chapters can stand independently except to a certain extent the last one which primarily serves to join the dots. While all the principal characters are actively involved in the drama, KPAC’s character who has a pivotal role in the second story stands out as an odd presence as she does not figure in the overall scheme of things. There are also a couple of scenes which do not totally jell in the script like when there is an apparent attempt to mislead the audience in thinking that the parents are embarrassed by their son’s actions at the end of the first story or when the group of youngsters get into a tussle with another group and Choonda comes to the rescue, as if to explicitly explain to us why he was needed in the story.
While there is no over-riding theme that connects the stories, there is an underlying presence of parental trepidation that comes across in all the stories. A father who hopes that his son will take up responsibilities in life, a mother who yearns to meet her son and give him a life, parental shock at seeing one of their children eloping quietly and another frantically trying to raise money for their son’s treatment (after in turn marrying against parental wishes).
What stands out other than the obvious screenplay of Sunil Ibrahim that serves to link these four episodes is the music by Mejo Joseph. It has a quiet moving effect and brings a certain leisurely pace to the screen, especially in the second story featuring Sethu and the old lady. The 2 songs could have been avoided and add no value to the movie, though.
It is nice to see a set of young men and women come together and put up such a convincing show. This isn’t restricted to the acting department alone and the entire conceptualization was brought about by a young team. Chapters has been produced by Shafeer Sait in conjunction with CampusOaks which is an entertainment company, driven by students of the 1995 batch of NSS Engineering College, Palakkad. Watch out for Sunil Ibrahim and Campus Oaks’ ventures in future – there is another talent in the horizon….
Originally published in MadAboutMoviez: http://www.madaboutmoviez.com/2013/05/chapters-movie-review/