When was the last time you watched a film with no hero, no heroine, no villain and walked away feeling completely entertained? This is the biggest victory of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, the fact that it has people and not stars filling slots.
If at all there must be a hero, it is Sajeev Pazhoor's fantastic script which accommodates such a wealth of insight into human behaviour.
Like director Dileesh Pothan's first film, the delightful Maheshinte Prathikaram, Thondimuthalum is also set in a small town. In fact, most of it is set in a small police station where our characters tangle and tango with each other, caught in a perplexing and absurd situation - what do you do with a thief who has swallowed a gold chain and manages to retain it inside his body despite eating a tonne of bananas?
What I loved best about the film was the willingness of its cast to share the screen. Fahadh is the biggest name in the cast, but he doesn't get a heroine, a duet, a superhuman fight sequence, or anything at all that marks him out as special. That's the beauty of Thondimuthalum, everyone sheds who they are as stars and comes to the screen as the people they play - my five year old daughter who watched the film with me kept asking "Who is the hero? Who is the villain?" I couldn't give her an answer and I was jubilant that I wasn't able to.
Is the hero Prasad (Suraj Venjaramoodu) who falls in love with the spirited Sreeja (Nimisha Sajayan - brilliant debut) but has his share of insecurities? Is it the nameless Fahadh who is a thief with his own philosophy? Is it Chandran Sir (Alencier) who is struggling to resolve this case while trying to move past the death of his son? And if you ignore the gender of the word "hero", it could be Sreeja who obstinately fights to get her chain back, even as she witnesses the police beat up a hapless thief. It could be all of these people and they could easily be considered villainous, too.
Thondimuthalum should become something of a textbook in how to write characters - there are so many in the film but each emerges so naturally and believably that the craft took my breath away.
For instance, we're shown so many cops in the station and yet, each of them emerges distinctly. There's one who is the solid voice of reason and gives his superior ideas about how best to deal with the case, there's one who flies off the handle and must be restrained, there's the superior who is nervous about what the CI will have to say about the case, there's the CI who has to manage the incompetence of those below him while planning his own escape route, there's the woman cop who smiles reassuringly when those waiting at the station can hear other cops beating the suspect to pulp. They're not caricatures in khaki or background fillers. Each is a person and is given the dignity of being one.
Even the minor characters who have only a scene or two are memorable - take the Ithatha on the bus who slaps the thief. We don't even see her face because she's in a purdah but all she needs is a line like "Illa, just miss aayi" (No, I just missed it) when asked if she witnessed the crime, to establish her character. Or Sudhakaran, the alcoholic wife-beater who declares that his mother and wife who've ganged up against him are "feminists".
As for the nameless Fahadh, we only get a hint of his past when he tells the policemen who're laughing at a young boy wolfing down food that at that age, hunger is huge and he knows it. It's only a small moment but it's enough.
Thondimuthalum is a film with mind, heart, and soul. It manages realism without using regressive morality as an excuse to depict realism. So, when Prasad spots Sreeja buying a pregnancy kit at a medical shop and passes a quick, judgmental look, it's followed by a discussion he has with a "karnavar" type on whether or not her parents should be informed - is this a social problem or a personal one? The way in which the "debate" is written and staged captures the hypocrisy of the characters without castigating them for it. This is a humane story, a humane script where people are allowed to have flaws - nobody celebrates them or needs to forgive them for it. It's also where it draws its humour from. Nothing is funnier than reality.
I walked away from the theatre with the satisfaction of having read a 400 page novel where everyone gets the compassion of time to have their say. To achieve this in a film under three hours is stupendous. Take a bow, everyone involved with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum.