Even a layperson who wouldn't normally notice the surroundings of where a story takes place, can’t help but gaze at the beautiful hills of Idukki around which Rajisha Vijayan cycles. Sudeep Elamon’s camera makes sure of that. Finals keeps expanding its focus like that. From one woman to the place where she grows up, to the people around her, to the larger issues that sports people in the state go through. Lack of attention to their concerns, an indifference shown by the administration, the many genuine complaints that go unnoticed. Debut director PR Arun has a clear focus of the picture he wants to present, and takes the viewer along with him by telling the story of a few people who’ve devoted their lives to sports.
Sports movies are rare in Malayalam. Even when there is sports, it often gets shoved to a side story. Arun’s story, however, never lets you think of anything but the Olympics medal that old coach Varghese (Suraj Venjaramood) is hoping his cyclist daughter Alice (Rajisha) would bring. It’s not just a racetrack story either. It takes sports out of the tracks and to the homes of the people who perform: the cyclists, the sprinters, the coaches who try to do something for a new generation. Where sports stories fail to connect, people stories do. Alice doesn’t seem too dejected about having to sacrifice the little joys of life to keep her focus on the sport. She is happy to come back to all of them on a later date, including the young man next door she grew up loving. Manuel (Niranjan Raju) is thankfully not the jealous, egoistic guy who can’t stand the victories of a girl he grew up with. Neither is he her diehard fan. He joins her cycling bouts patiently and makes his interest pretty obvious.
Arun has written both of his young characters with a lot of care. Both get their screen space and neither tries to take the attention off the other. When it is her time on the screen, it is all about her. Her easy relationship with him, her understanding of her dad’s dreams, her own focus, her secret glances at Manuel when he is not looking. When it is him, there are no big declarations of love but the affection is so matter-of-fact, you end up loving his simplicity. Love for him is patience. The actors also make it easy to like Alice and Manuel. Rajisha’s strong point is the casualness she brings to the screen. Her dialogues are touching – the way she goes to her school for a reception and casually talks about the parents there, none of whom may possess a car or a bike. Her dad too doesn't have either, he’d rather spend that money on her cycling. Niranjan is all subtlety. He does not have an emotional scene per se, but his actions still bring emotion to the screen.
The director’s best casting is however Suraj Venjaramood, the father and coach, who has faced many a beating without falling and without fighting back. He doesn’t emote much but with something as simple as a nod when his daughter is ready to race, he makes you catch your breath. Suraj is known for a certain knack in portraying serious characters, and you can see the effortlessness with which he grips a viewer from that very first nod.
Villains play their part to highlight the larger issue faced by the sports community. For a change, the media is not shown as a pain in the neck (well, not all the time). Muthumani plays Warda - her religion can be easily identified but there's no mention of it just to prove a point. She plays the efficient journalist who is more interested in helping a family out, rather than being the first to run a story.
None of the characters make a big scene about winning or losing. It is through the guitar riffs played when Alice climbs an uphill or Varghese master opens the gate of a long-shut school that you get your highs (music by Kailas Menon). It is through a tear falling in silence and an untouched plate of rice that you are to feel your lows.
There is also no overnight success, no quick paybacks or recoveries. It is the small victories, delayed victories that are celebrated.
The script only falters when it slows down a little, especially at the beginning of the second half. A tragedy is dragged on a little too much, through a song and many sequences, and at a point you think they are stuck, not knowing what more to do with the story. Tighten a few scenes like that, bring down the runtime by 15-20 minutes and the film would have soared ahead on the race track even more.