An old woman shuts the wardrobe in her room and says she is afraid when the clock strikes 9 in the morning. At her door is the next door neighbour, a young nurse ready with a syringe. “You have given birth to five children and are still afraid of an injection,” she says, before rubbing the other woman’s hands mechanically to do the daily deed. In those few moments, the two women, separated by age and a few fences, exchange the most casual words, intimate pleas. When the older woman says your dad doesn’t want you to go to Canada, the nurse has a bored expression before she answers and then rushes out.
Those minute expressions flickering on her face when she does the nurse’s job and talks at the same time, make Anna Ben a wonderful actor to watch out for. She is not entirely new, there was the beautiful debut in Kumbalangi Nights. There, she was one among the many wonders. In Helen, it is mostly her, and the director you don’t see but wholeheartedly appreciate – Mathukutty Xavier. The film is a happy mix of enjoyable everyday life and gripping, panicky moments. Technically, a thriller, and a really good one.
Helen – Anna Ben – is written as the regular struggler out to make some money. She’s learnt nursing and is doing a part-time job as a waitress at a mall restaurant while training to get a job in Canada. Hence the neighbour’s plea to not go away and leave her poor dad (Lal) alone. There are the typicalities of a 25-year-old in Kochi – a boyfriend to have tiffs with (Noble Babu Thomas), a few friends, colleagues and a bad boss. But Helen is not much of the hanging-out-and-having-fun type of a young woman. She takes responsibility very seriously. She wants to go to Canada to make money to repay her dad’s debts. She does the part-time job to have some income. She nags her easy-going boyfriend for not taking his job hunt seriously. She is not grumpy either; she has a smile – a really pretty one – for everyone she meets.
It is a buildup of course, and the characteristics – that you so enjoyed – make sense. Helen has to be the responsible bold woman for the latter, really arresting half of the movie to work.
A lot of effort has obviously gone into the script. You can just imagine how many times the lines must have been written and rewritten, and the scenes reshot to get that perfect momentum - the timing of the reactions, the words that come out quite in the flow of things. The only disturbing aspect in all these marvellously made scenes is the background music that just won't stop. It is not loud, but it stands out like a sore thumb. Cutesy music coming along like an unwanted companion. It, of course, works in the latter half of the film when the tone changes, panic sets in and you need to anchor yourself to the score. Shaan Rahman’s music - background score and songs - makes one heave long sighs in one moment and hold the breath at another.
And yes, somehow or the other, a team comes along with Shaan. Vineeth Sreenivasan, his eternal partner, is the producer of the film. Aju Varghese, another member of this party, plays a bad, bad cop – a world away from the ‘mandan' guy roles he does – and he plays it really, really well.
Lal's performance should've ideally been mentioned much earlier, the film being about Helen and her father mostly. But then, it isn’t a surprise that Lal could pull off a loving dad all too well; he’s been proving himself for 20 odd years now. Anna and Lal look so comfortable with each other, it is difficult to imagine them as mere co-actors and not dad and daughter off screen as well. There are no emotional, outraged arguments or back stories which are thrown at each other – the casual “Mr Paul, what are you doing, giving appeals in the neighbour’s home to stop my Canada trip” or the selfie when one is cross with the other on the steps of a terrace, is enough.
Mathukutty alone didn’t write these lines. Noble Babu Thomas and Alfred Kurian Joseph have co-written the film along with him. Noble went a step further and has played Helen’s boyfriend in the movie.
There are minute flaws when you might think, ‘was that needed’ or ‘come on, don’t waste time’. But, you forget those flaws as soon as the last scene is over, the end credits roll and all you are left with is the song Shaan Rahman places there, to hum along as you walk your way out. Feelingly.
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.