Shakespeare's star-crossed couple Romeo and Juliet have been killed a thousand times since they died together - in the hands of earnest filmmakers and novelists wanting to "modernise" the play.
It seems absurd that a British Elizabethan era play can get adapted for a film set in Kannur in the 21st century but that's the reason Shakespeare still resonates with his readers - the human emotions he captured are eternal. People have been falling in love forever and those around them have been opposing it forever. It's the same love story - it's how it gets told that matters. And B Ajithkumar does a stellar job of it.
Let's start with the title - Eeda. It just means 'here'. Here, is the land where the villain in the love story isn't the usual bogey of caste or class but the party flag your family salutes. Here, is the land where love blooms because of a bandh. Here, is the land where childhood involves watching a teacher killed right before your eyes.
Beyond signifying place, 'here' also suggests immediacy. Living in the moment, not knowing what will happen next. It pretty much describes life in politically turbulent Kannur. Even the film's title cards appear as blood smears.
The KJP and the KPM (no marks for guessing which political parties these refer to) are the warring Montagues and Capulets. Though the filmmaker has slightly changed the names of the parties, the narrative doesn't shy away from taking jibes - in one scene, a comrade (an excellent Sujith) justifies violence against the opposition by saying, "There's no point in reciting the vedas to a wild pig that wants to kill you - and this is a pig that has learnt the vedas." A comrade might decry fascism but still disapprove of his fiance√©‚Äôs clothes with a single glance. And lust can also be someone asking his lady if she needs help with linking her Aadhar with her mobile.
Anand (Shane Nigam) and Aishwarya (Nimisha Sajayan), who belong to rival political families, meet and fall in love. Their love grows through Facebook and WhatsApp messages, each day beginning and ending with the phone. These sequences set in Mysuru are a world away from Kannur where even what plays on the TV is dictated by politics - at Aishwarya's home it's endless panel discussions, in Anand's home it is endless religious ones (in a hilarious throwaway line, he asks a relative how he hopes to get married if he advises people to use cow urine as a facial on Facebook).
The Mysuru portions have a sense of freedom infused in them. Aishwarya wears western clothes, her hairstyle is more modern, the couple go out freely on dates. In Kannur, there's always a bit of tension built into the script. It's not always as obvious as a fight - it's there in suddenly revealing to the audience that a man has a missing hand or a scar, a reminder that bloodshed is not new to this soil.
Aishwarya and Anand may seem like very different people but what unites them is a dislike for the violence they've grown up knowing intimately. Ajithkumar doesn't make his lovers spout lengthy monologues to tell his audience this - it's in the way their eyes go glassy when they listen (separately) to exhausting speeches and political discussions. It's in how they react to bloodshed - going weak in the knees when it happens, almost mirroring each other.
The film is faithful to the Shakespearean play. The twists and turns, the upheavals come as they do in Romeo and Juliet - there's even a balcony scene that's worked into the script. But the storytelling is so powerful, so fresh, that there's absolutely no sense of deja vu.
The lead actors, Nimisha and Shane, are terrific. Their crop of pimples remind us of how young they actually are (as were Romeo and Juliet), how passionate love can be at that age. When they lock their eyes, him blushing, unable to stop smiling, her gaze blazing and full of adoration, they look so ordinary and yet here they are, caught in a romance of epic proportions (though they didn't ask for it).
The music in the film (John P Varkey, Chandran Veyatummal) blends in beautifully with the script. Usually, films with a heavy dose of violence leave me with a headache, thanks to the thumping background score. But Eeda isn't interested in glorifying violence, it wants us to understand, even question it. The frames (cinematography - Pappu) allow you to absorb what's happening and think about it - many of the fight sequences, for instance, also focus on the face of someone who's watching what's happening. It's not just a tangle of limbs, what does this do to the fabric around it?
Eeda ends where it begins, with a bandh. Ajithkumar gives us an Inception-kind of last scene that had me at the edge of my seat. There's hope, there's suspense, there's dread. Maybe for some love stories, not knowing what happens next is the happy ending we can hope for.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.