Kotthu, the new Malayalam film by Sibi Malayil, jumps straight to the point with its opening scene. A man is chased and stabbed to death by four others. His body is laid at the Communist party office, and a photo hung with a red garland over it. He has turned into a martyr, taking the hit for the party. The intro becomes a preview of what the film is going to be about: the party workers of the lower rung, who turn into murderers and martyrs, not the leaders. It does not use ‘star’ moments or mass dialogues, in trying to stick with the common man’s tale. Only, in telling a political story, it lacks originality and has little new to offer from what Malayalam movies have presented decade after decade. It casts a critical look at the way politics work in the state, falling back to the place where most political stories are set in: Kannur.
All the main actors flow into the screen without drama, without even a proper close-up. Asif Ali and Roshan Mathew are just faces outside a window, when the dead man is brought to the party office. Director-turned-actor Ranjith is inside, in tears, playing the middle-aged mentor to a group of young party workers. Hemanth Kumar’s script is long, trying to merge the personal lives of the young men with their political aspirations. Asif, playing Shanu, has a past that is so interlinked with communism that he nods to everything the leader tells him. Roshan, as Sumesh, is the happy-go-lucky one among the lot, with a soft heart. Vijilesh Karayad, the actor noted for his role in Varathan, plays another worker, picking fights with his overly devotional dad (an interesting character played by Sivakumar, son of late actor Krishnankutty).
Shanu’s life suddenly gets a makeover when he begins a relationship with Hisana (Nikhila Vimal), who escapes from a marriage she doesn’t wish for. For someone whose new marriage is falling into pieces in a matter of minutes, Hisana seems absolutely cool and in good humour. The film often surprises you with the reactions of its characters towards life-changing situations. A day after being involved in a crime, Shanu, presented as a nice guy, is joking with Hisana over the phone about her ‘psycho’ bridegroom. Nothing seems to shock anyone. As if to explain it, the script repeats that the people of Kannur are used to murder and crime and losing dear ones.
Watch: Trailer of the film
It is good to see Sreelekshmi, a talented actor who is often reduced to mother characters, having a consequential role to play. She is Amminiyechi, who takes all the bad news that comes her way with a stoic face. The fates of the other main characters are almost too predictable, all the signs diligently followed. For instance, the next man to fall laughs the most at his home, a sure sign of the tragedy to come. After that the script is almost a textbook example of political fiction in movies, taking liberties with facts.
The ‘other side’ is only presented as the opposing party, fighting and killing, but their planning or plotting is not shown. They wear all the obvious marks, including the saffron threads on the wrists, but the party remains unnamed. The exchanges between the men on both sides offer no excitement. But the actors give a fine performance. Asif Ali and Roshan are both endearing to watch. Asif’s enactment of losing it all when Amminiyechi turns her back on him is finely done. Vijilesh has another heartwarming scene when he cries over the death of a close one. There are traces of the cosiness that a Sibi Malayil film used to bring. But in telling this tale, yet another film stereotypes Kannur as a killing field, a label that helps right-wing propaganda in no small measure.
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