Director Shambu Purushothaman keeps it short and makes sure every element in the story has a purpose.

Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte review Vinay Forrts satire is fun but lacks depth
Flix Review Saturday, February 22, 2020 - 18:31

A woman sitting quietly by herself, enjoying her food at an engagement ceremony, watches two other women walk in. She smiles to herself. It is a scene in the middle of Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte, and you think it doesn’t really have any purpose. This is a woman who has not been introduced, who looks like a random character on screen. But in the next scene, she has a dialogue that brings in one of the many twists in a story that began in a pretty straightforward manner. 

Director Shambu Purushothaman must believe in Chekhov’s gun, an interesting principle that says every element in a story must have a purpose. So, everyone from the unidentified woman who is there to overhear conversations to the main characters trying to put together an engagement ceremony, has a role to play.

The script, also written by Purushothaman, is theoretically sound that way. It's a very interesting satire, one that makes the title very, very apt. Only, it lacks a certain quality that could have made it a great film.

The first scene, as we said, looks like a straightforward marriage arrangement. Two families are talking marriage and money. Brothers and brother-in-law (Tini Tom) of the groom-to-be Rohan (Arun Kurian), with his mother are speaking to the parents of the bride-to-be. When the woman’s mother offers her daughter’s phone number to Rohan, his brother Roy (Vinay Forrt) refuses. So far, everything looks about right – this is mostly how conventional marriages are still arranged. No one ever feels a need to introduce the two people getting married, forget exchanging phone numbers and giving them a chance to know each other.

Only in the next scene, when Roy sees the guests leave, and rushes into the house to open the briefcase of cash that they left behind as part of the dowry, does the situation stop being typical. The family is cash-strapped and a lot depends on this wedding. The betrothal has to happen very soon. That’s when the earlier scene makes sense – Roy doesn’t want Rohan to start talking to his fiancée and risk the wedding getting cancelled, in case the two don’t get along.

But it isn’t just that, you will see. Santhy Balachandran plays the to-be-married Linda, entering the picture through a song, wearing pretty robes, walking past artificially created settings on the beach with Rohan. The pre-wedding shoot, a trend in Kerala these days. Purushothaman in this way also takes a dig at many contemporary practices, just as he takes potshots at dowry and the conventions and hypocrisies of people who go looking for other people's faults. He uses the character of Linda to expose the last-said.  

Linda, when she comes for the engagement, behaves like a younger version of the woman in the pre-wedding video – insisting on eating chips before getting out of the car, announcing in the middle of the photo-shoots that she is hungry and that she can’t wait for the guests to finish, dancing solo to the music being played, and telling the priest who asks her to be a submissive partner to Rohan that she would be his partner but not a submissive one. All of these, of course, are very sensible things to do - eat when you are hungry, dance on your big day, and tell off patriarchy. But Linda’s childish behaviour – and Santhy does this beautifully -- makes it appear too crazy, and people notice.

By then however, the occasion has become a centre for many, many revelations. There’s an issue behind every pleasant face and two unpleasant ones – extramarital affairs, lost love, debts, and so on. The only sad looking guys are Madhupal, playing the elder son in Rohan’s family, who's always in a room with his ganja and western music, and Anil Nedumangad playing a man still grieving a 12-year-old break-up. Someone calls him Venu Nagavally, a reference Malayalam film lovers of the '80s would get, for the late actor had played a lot of such characters, looking sad and lost. Anil’s sad character is ironically the comic relief, for he has on a wig and looks perpetually gloomy even as he serves rice.

Vinay Forrt and Tini Tom make a lovely combo, the two brothers-in-law, hand in hand with the financial troubles of the home. Srindaa plays Vinay’s wife and pulls off her possessive character with ease. Anumol, another daughter in the family, also has a backstory. Alencier, who shows up at the function, too is introduced in a comical situation, but that would explain his character later described in the film. Even the mother’s character (Ambily) has more to do that just being the mother and blissfully unaware of all that’s going wrong.

Purushothaman has taken efforts to make sure that no single scene is wasted. Everyone is accounted for. Only, even as he keeps it short, the film fails to touch a chord. The scattered stories remain distant, without any effect on the viewer, either to make one laugh or feel for a character or more. But you can’t miss the thought given to every character. It is one of those films you appreciate but cannot feel for too deeply.  

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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.

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