While it is a personal battle for Koshy, for Ayyappan, his episode with Koshy also becomes a class struggle.

Ayyappanum Koshiyum A powerful film that goes beyond the clash of male egos
Flix Film Commentary Thursday, April 02, 2020 - 12:48

 

 

*Spoilers ahead

Like its name suggests, director Sachy’s 2020 release Ayyapanum Koshiyum is a movie about two men. The title characters -- Ayyappan Nair (Biju Menon) and Koshy Kurien (Prithviraj) -- are men who belong to entirely different backgrounds, have different life experiences and lead non-identical lives. But what brings these two men together in a nearly three-hour long movie is their ego and their inconsolable need to establish their superiority over the other.

The film - that is now being remade in Tamil and Telugu - and is streaming on Amazon Prime, is one that can be described easily as a clash of two men’s egos, a battle that is probably as old as time itself. Ayyappan is a middle-aged sub-inspector (SI) of police posted in Attappady. When Ayyappan changes out of his khakhi uniform into a dull check shirt and white mundu, he is someone you would see as an ordinary man. He is married to a tribal woman activist, Kannamma, and lives with their baby in a house built in a small plot of land that his wife received from the government.

Koshy’s character is the exact opposite of what you see in Ayyappan: Koshy is the only son of Kurien John, an aging patriarch in Kattappana, who has considerable clout and influence. An ex-army man, he is entitled and the entitlement is generously encouraged by his father, played brilliantly by Renjith. Koshy and his father Kurien John are leaves from the same tree, except, the film is about Koshy and his ego battle with Ayyappan, as Koshy himself points out halfway into the film in an attempt to keep his controlling father out of it.

Beginning of revenge saga

This testosterone-filled film is one in which the viewer desperately wishes for a plot twist, but the only progress that happens is yet another ‘challenge’ for the two men to prove that they cannot be defeated.

The story begins when Koshy is accosted by a police team led by Ayyappan, for carrying liquor in an alcohol-free zone. Koshy is arrested and pressed with a slew of charges. But the policemen are taken aback when they find out that Koshy has connections with influential people. Fearing pressure from higher-ups, Appayyan is asked to ‘make Koshy comfortable’ in the station and calmly explain the gravity of the charges against him.

After Koshy is released from prison, he uses a video he recorded of Ayyappan’s ‘malpractice’ to derail his career. Ayyappan loses his job, and taking revenge on Koshy becomes his sole priority in life. The rest of the film is about the tit-for-tat game between the duo.

While it is a personal battle for Koshy, for Ayyappan, his episode with Koshy also becomes a class struggle. In a powerful scene, Appappan says that low rank police officers constantly live in fear of being reprimanded for taking legal action against people with political influence.

“Koshy is not the only one who is guilty. We policemen were forced to be lax with him, fearing the powerful people he is on good terms with. They are equally guilty,” Ayyappan says.

Kannamma’s (Gowri Nandha) introductory scene, also the one in which she first meets Koshy, establishes the tone of her character in the film. Hearing Ayyapan call Koshy ‘sir’, Kannamma quickly retorts: “Isn’t he a criminal? Why are you then calling this bourgeois, sir?”

Another scene that lays bare the caste and class differences of the two men comes at the beginning of the film, when Ayyappan reveals that his mother gave him his last name because it's the caste of the man who fathered him - a Nair man. He tells Koshy that giving him that name was his mother’s way of marking her protest against the caste system prevailing in society at the time, which saw a section of the people as owners and the others as labourers. It's a reference to the sexual exploitation of women from marginalised castes by upper caste men. Mainstream Malayalam cinema has often represented children born out of wedlock or from sexual crimes as people who should shoulder the burden of being 'fatherless,' sometimes the idea of paternity being the most dominant element of the character. Ayyappan's defiance is thus refreshing and a move away from such representations.

The scene just before the interval is one that divides Ayyappan’s character into two phases: one of a dutiful policeman, and the other of a person whose only purpose is to take revenge. Similar to the scene in which Koshy takes a jibe at Ayyappan saying that the latter is not “an original Nair,” in this particular scene, Koshy uses the term “son of a Nair” to attack him.

In a scene at the center of the Koshy-Ayyappan battle, Koshy’s father even tries to get Kannamma arrested for her affiliation with an alleged pro-Maoist group. Despite having all the privileges and connections himself, there are also times when Koshy realises the support that Ayyappan has from the common people around him: the owner of the lodge, for instance. Or the scene in which local residents gather outside the police station to show support for Ayyappan. The scene with CPO Sujith explaining his support for Ayyappan to his superior officer CI Satheesh is an important one. Saying that he has many a time been arrested for taking part in student strikes, he says, “This is also a form of protest, I am with Ayyappan sir.” This scene is one that puts the Ayyappan-Koshy rivalry in perspective, the moral right against the wrong.

In a scene at the center of the Koshy-Ayyappan battle, Koshy is forced to walk several kilometres to his lodge, through a narrow, empty road. Ayyappan, who then meets Koshy on the way, declares that the road is frequented by elephants and is therefore, not entirely safe to walk alone. He offers to help Koshy, if only the latter asks for it. A visibly shaken Koshy takes the offer. These traits are probably what make Ayyappan and Koshy relatable to the audience, humanising them despite their off screen personas, even when they resort to typical hero-like actions on screen.

The women characters 

Constable Jency, played by Dhanya Ananya delivers an engaging performance in the film. Unfortunately, we do not get to see much of her in the later parts of the film. 

Ayyappan’s wife Kannamma is a strong woman, who takes in all the turn of events with a passive, yet mature acceptance. The role of Koshy’s wife Ruby (Anna Rajan) seems to have been written solely to show a contrast in the lives of Koshy and Ayyappan and to further highlight the patriarchal mood of the Koshy household.

Masculinity not unchallenged

For ex-goonda Kurien Jose, revenge is a tool to prove one’s manliness. “When you are a man, you’ll have to kill and maybe get killed too,” he proclaims to Koshy, demanding that his son avenge his honour. This, not before he reprimands ‘havildar’ Koshy for leading a retired, peaceful life. The two men’s need to prove their masculinity does not go unchallenged by the other characters in the film.

In a powerful monologue, Ayyappan’s wife Kannamma tries to show Koshy his place by calling out his need to stay unchallenged. In this scene, Koshy does not retaliate, but is in fact taken aback by the bold comment on his motivations. This encounter, however, does not stop him from continuing his revenge against Ayyappan.

In another instance, Koshy’s friend tries to instill sense in him and pleads with him to not pursue his anger at Ayyappan. When Koshy’s father becomes more indulgent, this character says, “The world has progressed, when will you father-son duo see sense?”

The first time Koshy and Ayyappan meet on screen, the latter slaps Koshy right across his face for attacking his fellow officers, thus beginning their rivalry. The film ends with the duo shaking hands with each other, in a way that tells the audience that their rivalry may not really be resolved.

 

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