It is remarkable that Mammootty, after four decades of headlining an industry, still has no qualms in turning into the hateful, despicable character and doing it really well.
Minutes pass before you begin to wonder why everything seems so creepy. It is only a dad and his little son on the screen, living their remarkably boring life. Dad is annoyingly disciplined, and the boy is rightly panicky. By now you are used to the concept of men with OCD, wanting the shoe at the right place in the rack, wanting no bit of cloth outside a hamper. But the creepiness comes from the extraordinary performances of the two persons on the screen — Mammootty proving by the slightest of gestures and movements how under-utilized he most often is, and the young Vasudev Sajeesh Marar, an immensely talented child. puzhu is going to be a treat, you know from those very early introductions. Ratheena, the director, could not have made a better debut.
The movie was keenly anticipated by followers of Malayalam cinema as it brought together Mammootty and Parvathy Thiruvothu for the first time. Parvathy has fewer scenes, that she handles subtly well, not calling for attention, while most of the film is dominated by Kuttan, Mammootty’s very eerie character. He seems to be a mix of the calmly creepy Fahadh Faasil in Kumbalangi Nights and the mysteriously silent Mammootty in Munnariyippu. It was written, you imagine, with a lot of cutting and crossing and rewriting, until it shaped to be this man who can evoke fear simply by being there. Harshad, Sharfu and Suhas, the writers, are all known for creating some wonderful screenplays. Unda was written by Harshad while the Virus team has Sharfu and Suhas. The film appears to have gone out of its way to bring some of the best players together — newcomers and veterans. Appunni Sasi is another talented performer on board.
While Ratheena seems to rely on realistic portrayals that independent films are known for, she does not spare certain sure-shot techniques that could create effect. Like music, she presented alongside Kuttan’s hard-to-ignore demeanour, aiding him gently on. Jakes Bejoy, since Dhruvangal Pathinaaru, has been expertly offering soulful ambience to oddballs on the screen. He does it again in puzhu.
Watch: Trailer of puzhu
Storytelling happens while we discover the characters, without extensive flashbacks or narrations. Theater becomes an integral medium, conveying quite loudly where the movie stands on the subject it has chosen to tell: caste. It begins as soon as Parvathy’s character steps into the street accompanied by Kuttappan (Appunni) in search of a house to live in. A landlord takes one look at the duo, his face reduces to an ugly scowl before he chides the broker and rides away. It is only at a second scenario, at a registrar’s office, that the context becomes clear. Unfortunately, none of it is unfamiliar. Those are the same scowls, the same scorns, the same sarcasms withered around by men, officers and the so-called progressive lot, unwilling to move away from a centuries-old system that thrived on oppressing fellow human beings.
He has done it before, but it is really remarkable that Mammootty, after four decades of headlining an industry, still has no qualms in turning into the hateful, despicable character and doing it really well. If he didn’t make it so convincing, you might have been reminded of this being a horrible character he is doing, having nothing to do with the actor. It is not a delayed step he has taken once he got comfortable as a leading star. He has done it in his early days, his heydays and continues to do it, even when much younger stars seem uncomfortable taking that plunge.
In puzhu, you don’t take time to put him into a certain category, as you throw around terms like OCD and paranoia. The film, going with a smooth pace, unafraid to repeat sequences to set the tone, accelerates messily in the last few minutes. It had already thrown in a few nasty surprises by then, unexpected, and unfitting in the real world that was created for you. It turns cinematic in those few moments, the music toned up, the calmness broken so harshly that you imagine it is all going to be Kuttan’s mega hallucination. The guy’s losing it, you think, waiting for someone to tell him that.
Another plot device that seems to distract you from the otherwise captivating script is the overuse of theatre. Drama trying to be too dramatic, years after theater found new pathways. But puzhu is still going to disturb you, a lot, as it is supposed to.
puzhu is streaming on SonyLIV.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organization may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.