The legendary Malayalam filmmaker Padmarajan was one among a rare breed of talented and gutsy auteurs who introduced audiences to a new and unique kind storytelling – one that tread the fine line between commercial and art house cinema. His films deviated from the usual formulae but still managed to engage our attention with their storytelling. They had the ability to stimulate our intellect and strike a chord with us at the same time. I would love to talk about the filmmaker in detail but right now I’ve decided to just stick to a small piece on two of my favourite Padmarajan films – Aparan (1988) and Season (1989), both thrillers.
Aparan (aka The Imposter)(1988)
Padmarajan made this Hitchcockian-style thriller with actor Jayaram (his debut role) playing a young man called Vishwanathan who is tormented by his doppelganger who goes by several names. On more than one occasion, he is mistaken for the mystery man who happens to be a con man and a wanted criminal. Because of this, Vishwanathan is subjected to some unfavourable circumstances: He loses his job, gets accused of crimes he didn’t commit and his sister’s wedding plans are cancelled because someone thought he was a fraudster. When things get terribly unbearable, Vishwanathan decides to go after this criminal himself, by pretending to be him. As this is a suspense film with a gripping storyline and a few delicious twists, I won’t spoil the entire film for you.
The film adopts an eerie tone right from the opening credits and a steadily escalating sense of foreboding permeates throughout, despite the presence of some of the light-hearted moments that come in between. What makes it really chilling is the fact that we never get to see the antagonist despite being told continuously that he looks exactly like Vishwanathan. However, we are still curious and eager to find out the connection between the two and why these things are happening to Vishwanathan. There is not only Hitchcock but also a bit of Kafka thrown in as well. The ambiguous climax is disquieting and will get you thinking long after the film has ended. Just imagine something like this happening to you. Terrifying stuff!
Season saw Padmarajan reuniting with Mohanlal after their biggest success two years earlier – Thoovanathumbikal. Padmarajan worked with Mohanlal on several films and their fruitful collaboration is reminiscent of the friendship between Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Season is a revenge thriller and Padmarajan’s direction is almost on par with some of the best international filmmakers. The film, just like all his other films, was one-of-a-kind and narrates its story in flashbacks. Mohanlal plays an ex-convict who has been falsely accused of killing three people. He is sentenced to 7 years but it gets reduced to 5 owing to good behaviour. We are told that evidence against him were all circumstantial.
The film opens in 1989 with Mohanlal’s character Jeevan, an illegitimate businessman operating out of Kovalam Beach in Kerala, explaining his current situation to us through a voiceover. The film then goes back to 1982 and gradually reveals to us the events that led Jeevan to prison. When Jeevan learns that the actual culprit, a white man named Fabian Ramirez (played by Gavin Pickard), is in the same prison, he is determined to get him out and carry out his revenge. The film is a white-knuckle ride and has all the ingredients that make for a good suspense thriller: drugs deals gone awry, heists, deceit, murder and revenge. The reason why I included this in a double feature along with Aparan is because both films have the same soul with few similarities. However, Season is a much darker film.