The boy runs through the muddy, richly green village and the camera runs with him. He jumps, it jumps. The shaky shots at the beginning make you worry about your eyes; will the whole film be like this?
You forget it soon enough though, as the story of a quaint village in Kerala unfolds in front of the camera, left on by the boy. Rahul Riji Nairâs Kalla Nottam (The False Eye), premiering at the New York Indian Film Festival, is one thatâs made with a really novel idea, and unexpectedly well, but crashes towards the end. Itâs a film that you root for, gripped by the unusually good performances of new actors, a film that almost gets it right, but falters in the last few minutes.
Rahulâs first feature film was Ottamuri Velicham, set in a village and taking a strong stance against marital rape. The second, Dakini, turned out to be an endearing tale of four elderly women catching the villain. Novelty is therefore expected of his films and Kalla Nottam certainly has that.
The whole film is made to look like itâs shot with a GoPro-like camera that a person carries in hand or wears on them. Vincent (Vasudev), the boy we saw running in the beginning, has taken it out of the local store, only to âborrowâ it to make a film. Vincent takes it to Kishore (Suryadev), his friend, who insists on being the hero of the film. They get Rosy (Ansu), a girl in the neighbourhood, to be the âheroineâ. The conversations between the children are a treat to watch â the constant bickering between the hero and the heroine, the uncoordinated dance, the boy with the crush, it all comes out adorably well.
Rahulâs got his young actors beautifully trained.
What begins as a harmless telling of a childrenâs story turns worrisome when grownups show up in the frame. The bickering is now between the adults and unlike children, these are not forgettable exchanges but hurtful humiliations.
(*Spoiler ahead). At one point the camera comes into the hands of three men who are specifically âconcernedâ about anti-social elements in the society. What follows is a very realistic and therefore very disturbing portrayal of moral policing. Imagine men who are especially interested in the private goings-on in other peopleâs lives getting a camera. The ugly interest they show, the authority with which they barge into lives, the profanities that flow out of them are all too similar to the real life incidents you read about. You wonder if Rahul â the writer as well director â might have simply put his GoPro on the branches of a random tree and got his scene.
But thatâs when familiar actors emerge on the screen â Vinitha Koshy, who won special mention in the state awards for Ottamuri Velicham â becomes one of the victims of moral policing. Renjith, another familiar face, also comes into the picture. In between all the mayhem, the boy, still in the picture, continuously cries for the camera, not perhaps understanding the ugly fight thatâs going on.
The final scenes are at a police station, again with exemplary performances by novel faces. It is what you will see in a typical police station â questioning of everyone involved, without particular mercy to anyone.
It is however here that everything goes wrong. What could have been a neat little take against moral policing somehow ends up justifying the act while exposing another âevilâ. No doubt both are disturbing practices that target women but when you bring it together into the same frame, one negates the other. Here, it would almost seem like the moral policing men were the lesser evil of the two, and they inadvertently helped uncover a bigger crime. It would appear to justify the act and throw a freebie to the many moral police across the state.
If the last 15 minutes or so of the short-length feature (1 hour 10 minutes) had been different, Kalla Nottam would have been a wonderful little package.
Note: TNM received a screener from the film's team for the review.
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.