The mourners are carrying the coffin outside when it suddenly knocks into something and the dead body falls off from the box, followed by absolute mayhem. It’s dark humour at its best but it’s also oddly reminiscent of that scene from the director’s previous work, Angamaly Diaries, where they break a dead body’s hands and legs to accommodate it into the coffin.
Ee.Ma.Yau also underlines Lijo Jose Pellissery’s almost surreal fascination with death and its impact on human lives. The film begins with a shot of two men, metaphorically Satan and God playing cards, nonchalantly awaiting news of any death. The backdrop is rife with dark clouds and windy storms, signaling impending gloom.
Set in a fishing village, the film really kicks off with the death of Vavachan Mestri and how a funeral slowly unravels itself to reveal various characters and their quirky, complex emotional upheavals in the scheme of things.
Lijo, along with PF Mathews, invests in building the characters, keeping them as raw and real as they are, furnishing them with minute details and lending mirth in just the right measure. There is a finicky balance and focus in the screenplay, with no loose ends and not one inoperable frame.
There is Pennamma, Vavachan’s wife, a loud nag whose grumbles are lovingly brushed aside by him. It’s such a fantastically original character and Pauly Valsan brilliantly keeps us hooked on her – her untiring effort to keep at her high-pitched, rhythmic wailing, the almost hilarious dialogues that she slips in between that howling and yet poignantly succeeds in conveying her grief.
Every single character has a purpose and leaves an indelible mark. The sly villager, who is the unlikely soothradharan in shaping the events that follow. Eeshi, Vavachan’s son (Chemban Vinod), who sets out to hold a memorable funeral as he promised. His friend Ayyappan, the lone sane and reasonable voice. There is a beautiful scene where the strain gets to him and he has a breakdown but it’s such an unexpected moment that we are as stunned as the onlookers. Vinayakan is brilliant here.
The priest (a terrific Dileesh Pothan) is another interesting characterisation. He is given the dubious mantle of a detective who has no qualms in using his powers to arm-twist people.
There are characters that make you wonder whether Lijo found them during the making and added them on the spot. Like this no-nonsense nurse who rides a bullet, shuts up Pennamma with a sharp rebuke and talks about foul play.
It’s also interesting how an otherwise melodramatic face-off between the other woman and her children is turned into an incredible scene of satire. Filthy words are exchanged yet no one plays a judge.
Look out for those dazzling little pieces of unplanned humour that are slipped in between – when the daughter-in-law trades a gold chain with a neighbour just so that her parents and visitors won’t ask uncomfortable questions. Or when the daughter’s lover utilises her grief to give into his moment of lust. That scene of bargaining at the coffin shop is another one. It’s humour at its darkest when the neighbour, who comes to serve tea to the wife and daughters, wonders critically who made the duck curry or when alcohol and snacks are shared at the graveyard, even as the man is digging a hole to lodge the coffin.
Lijo cannily lets the film simmer with levity, peaking at the right time with a profundity that leaves us in rapture at the end.
Shyju Khalid’s frames are equally brilliant – the night shots especially, where darkness is often lit up by the faint glimmer of a torch or a lit beedi. The sea and its waves are captured with longing, reflecting the mood of the frames. Khalid even lends a poignancy to the rains with the colouring and textures, while Ranganathan Ravi diligently seizes the sound of rain, the ascent and descent, with such detailing.
Shot to pick? That one where he blurs the image of Eeshi taking his father’s white-clothed body through the window of their home, amidst the cries of the mother and daughters.
Ee Ma Yau is a stunning satire on death and how it affects human lives. It makes us laugh, cry and most importantly question the inexplicable, complex and at times morbid sense of humour of the human mind.