More than 18 years after it was released, director Blessy’s debut film continues to evoke a roller-coaster of emotions.

Mammootty carrying child actor Yash Gawli in a scene from KaazhchaSaina Music
Flix Flix Flashback Sunday, November 27, 2022 - 13:56

Kaazhcha (2004) will always remain Blessy’s most seminal work. Inspired by an Iranian film, he weaves a compelling story of humanity and compassion in the backdrop of the charming backwaters of Kerala. A little boy from Gujarat gets orphaned in an earthquake and gets lost in a small town in Kerala. His chance meeting with a kind stranger leads us to a narrative that reaffirms our belief in humanity.

The boy is homeless, grubby, hungry, and gabbles in an unfamiliar language. Initially, you see him in the company of street urchins who teach him to beg. At night when he snuggles inside open cylindrical tanks along with other children, they try to protect him from a predatory cop. But in a sheer stroke of luck, he bumps into Madhavan, a kind villager who tours the countryside with a 16 mm projector and screens films at local festivals.

Blessy’s debut film, loosely adapted from the Iranian film, Bashu, The Little Stranger, revolves around two strangers who don’t understand a word of each other. But destiny has thrown them together. Madhavan is initially wary of ‘this little dirty urchin’ who keeps following him around, grovelling in a language he finds difficult to grasp. He tries to shoo him away, but the boy keeps coming back to him. Perhaps his innocent unworldly eyes were able to gauge compassion more than adults.

Blessy who has also written the film, carefully lays the foundation for the union and reunion of the boy and Madhavan. It’s strung together so organically that one is left with no doubt about the element of serendipity in how they met. It’s there when Madhavan takes the boy’s side when he is accused of theft inside a boat. It’s there when Madhavan scoops the injured boy from the road while others bicker among themselves. And it seems just right that Madhavan should eventually take him home with him.

It's almost impossible not to adore Pavan aka Kochundappri, with his thick mop of hair, smile, and twinkling eyes. Even drenched in grimy clothes, you feel instinctively protective of him. He experiences post-traumatic disorder and screams when he sees buildings collapsing on Madhavan’s projector and wails as he watches children bonding with their mothers. The only remnant of his past he carries with him is a broken Shaktimaan toy.

Blessy captures Madhavan’s village and its people set in the backdrop of backwaters with a nuanced eye, including their naivety and routine. There is a lot one can relate to. So you have Madhavan’s parents who aren’t the stereotypical dependent, dejected lot we are used to seeing on celluloid. They are shown to socialise and have a life of their own. There is a panchayat president who likes to make use of every opportunity to draw attention to himself, the priest who also doubles up as a doctor, and the friendly boatman, and villagers who all seem to know each other.

But the most heartwarming sight in Kaazhcha is the compassion that runs deep. At times it almost seems like a fairytale. Madhavan’s adolescent daughter, Ambili, hardly takes a minute to warm up to the little boy and cries when he goes missing for a few hours. Madhavan’s gracious and kind wife Lakshmy welcomes the boy warmly. But when the boy plays a role in rescuing Ambili from drowning, Lakshmy’s first instinct is to make sure her daughter is safe. It is Madhavan who eventually calms the gasping boy.

Madhavan is almost portrayed as a blemishless man. Except for the fact that his household is taken care of by Lakshmy since he is always touring for work, Madhavan is a quintessential hero – who embodies kindness and purity. He doesn’t have an unkind bone in his body and is able to practise altruistic love. There is a sanctity in the bond between Madhavan and the little boy that goes beyond compassion. After a point, Madhavan feels responsible for him and because the character is so well-etched we end up empathising with his empathy.

Mammootty plays Madhavan with restraint – the naivety never seems cultivated. From the first scene where he is introduced to watching a film in awe to the last, the actor lives as Madhavan. When he expresses his inability to converse in any other language than Malayalam, Mammootty lets you buy it. There is a scene where he listens to his daughter talk to her mother about cows and Madhavan has a conversation with his wife about it – the actor’s body language is so exquisitely awkward and timid, like how a villager would be around his wife. His scenes with Pavan play out smoothly as butter, the evolution so persuasively underlined by the performances of both actors. And the child actor, Yash Gawli, is so natural! Unless your heart is made of stone, there is no way you can’t feel an overwhelming surge of love and compassion for this kid. Sanusha as Ambili is another cute sight on the screen. Padmapriya makes an assured debut as Lakshmy, though her role is that of the traditional caregiver in the family.

Except for the fact that the songs were a bit haphazardly placed, Kaazhcha evokes the same roller-coaster of emotions even during revisits. But having said that, revisits also prompt you to go for the fast-forward button in the climax scenes because they leave you with a lump in your throat. At times, one wishes the movie had a different culmination though. There was a poetic injustice in that closure.

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with Silverscreen.in. She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to Fullpicture.in and thenewsminute.com. She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.

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