Aattam review: Debutant Anand Ekarshi’s film is a gripping take on human hypocrisies
Aattam (Malayalam)(3.5 / 5)
A setting that should be mundane – singular spaces where conversations flow between members of a large group – somehow keeps you on tenterhooks. Early sequences with snarky exchanges build the tension, letting every shot appear like one that is about to wreck the calmness before the storm. Aattam succeeds in retaining that sense of foreboding even after what was feared has happened. The film, the debut of director Anand Ekarshi, wonderfully captures the prejudices and hypocrisies of people, squeezing in a few situations to expose what’s within.
Anjali (Zarin Shihab) being the only female in a theatre group – not an uncommon occurrence – is the premise the film begins with, allowing your curiosity to slowly rouse. She is young and chummy with everyone and has been with the group for a long time. Everyone else in the group - males of varying ages – seems to be fond of her, even as a few cast disapproving looks at her choice of clothing or drinking habit. She is easily the most noticeable among them, even as the detailing of the others comes out in stages.
The first stage, like a pun, appears set at a resort in Kochi, where the group spends a night after a highly appreciated stage performance. Amid the partying, equations between the characters are revealed. Vinay (Vinay Forrt) is not happy with Hari (Kalabhavan Shajohn), a film actor who joined the group a few months ago, getting the lead role that he used to play. Not just him, most others in the group appear to dislike Hari, tolerating him only because his popularity brings them more stages. Hari’s character is perhaps the most interestingly written of the lot. He is at first there for you to see and make your own judgment – loud, bashful, partying, and singing, but harmless. Later, his character is scrutinised in his absence, and you are left to form newer impressions.
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No one in the group is left unattended, as it might happen with a big cast. A situation brings many of them together in one of their houses (the second stage) and as discussions begin, every character gets to speak their mind. It is clear that even as they express their different opinions, they care about what it would look like from the outside. Anand Ekarshi might as well have been putting out a display of the human psyche, with a few snapshots of ‘changing’ attitudes and behaviours in the course of a two-hour film.
One person automatically assumes leadership, another seniority, a third is rebellious, and a fourth is quiet. When an issue of sexual harassment is raised, we hear all the familiar arguments in support of the survivor and the accused in an informal setting, that takes on the character of a court. Some wonderful editing and minimal music smoothly shift the focus from one character to another. Ekarshi’s script breaks down the images as smoothly as they were built, as nearly every character so organically appears to have a change of heart in the face of a new development.
The earlier staunch views crumble and it is all too relatable to watch the excuses they build for themselves to defend the change. Some lovely performances make a few characters more memorable – the actor who plays a temple priest, the “villain” Shajohn, but most of all Zarin’s Anjali. Her outbursts could have easily gone wrong, her drunkenness overstepped, but Zarin holds the reins, letting her vulnerabilities reach out to you as much as her later apathy towards the others.
Not every scene is memorable, not all the characters are convincing. The film is not devoid of quick fixes. But whatever limitations the production has had, the script makes for a gripping artful film. It is not often that a director pulls off the combo.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.