Review: With its stimulating storytelling and strong cast, 'Angamaly Diaries' is an exciting watch

Violence is a way of life in the film, and thankfully it doesn’t try to wrench out tears and a karmic resolution at the end.
Review: With its stimulating storytelling and strong cast, 'Angamaly Diaries' is an exciting watch
Review: With its stimulating storytelling and strong cast, 'Angamaly Diaries' is an exciting watch
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Angamaly Diaries is a film with a huge appetite: for food and violence in equal parts. It's the kind of film that requires a second viewing because there's so much going on within its taut screenplay that you're sure to have missed a line here, a look or a throwaway pop culture reference there.

It's also the kind of film that's rooted strongly in place and time, refreshingly different from generic templates that churn out characters who could be from anywhere and bear no influence at all of the culture that created them.

In that sense, Angamaly Diaries reminded me of what RK Narayan did with Malgudi. Of course, Angamaly and its unruly denizens are so different from the gently inquisitive inhabitants of the fictional small town, that they might have given the late author a heart-attack if he had ever run into them.

Directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery and written by Chemban Vinod Jose (who makes a cameo appearance), the film's story arc follows the life of Vincent Pepe (a charming Antony Varghese) and his friends.

Just as in Kammatipaadam, violence is a way of life for the young boys who grow up watching gang wars and for whom the idols worth emulation are men who hit first and think later.

The thriving pork business in Angamaly is at the heart of the conflicts that break out every now and then. The pigs make frequent appearances in the narrative – squealing, protesting, twisting and struggling to get away as they are led to slaughter. Very similar to how the humans behave, trying to escape violence but never quite getting away.

You have to work to keep up with the screenplay as affiliations are formed, tremulous peace accords are broken, and all too quickly conversation turns to chaos.

At first glance, Vincent Pepe's descent to violence might look very different from what happens to a responsible Sethu Madhavan in Kireedam. But when you really think about it, you wonder if his choices were already made for him and if his only real option was to do nothing but go with the flow.

Though the film explodes with violence every now and then, it does not in any way glorify it. Instead, you are reminded again and again of the senselessness and futility of these actions.

Vincent is not the all-conquering hero - he is likeable but is presented as a flawed being. He gets beaten up, he pretends to be in love with a girl whose father works in Germany only to improve his prospects, and later he tries to tell her how she should dress and so on.

And though the film has its share of characters who mouth misogynistic lines (which will pass as "boy banter"), the narrative does not really condone it. To offset this further, the female characters in the film emerge as spirited and realistic women.

Where Angamaly Diaries differs from Kireedam and other such films is in its moral compass. The film makes no judgment on its characters who live life by the knife and it therefore doesn't attempt to milk tears from the audience. Rather, it keeps things real by not forcing a karmic resolution to all that has happened.

Prashant Pillai's music deserves special mention. It drives the film forward, setting up the mood but never sensationalising it, or taking over the narrative. It allows the audience to think for itself about the situation on screen. So much so that the fight sequence towards the end, which would have been full of "punch" sounds and unbearably loud background music in an ordinary film, is permitted to unravel with the noises and sounds of the festival scene where it's all happening.

Girish Gangadharan's camera seamlessly shifts from close-up shots of delicious beef curry to the heady mix of limbs as the gangs take on each other, elevating the film to another plane.

With its stimulating storytelling and strong cast, Angamaly Diaries is an exciting watch. Warning: your mind might feel fulfilled at the end of it, but your stomach is likely to be left growling.

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