When Dileesh Pothan made his earth-shattering debut with Maheshinte Prathikaram last year, the reactions from everyone were unanimously positive; in addition to that, the film went on to win several awards, including a couple of National Awards. It’s hard to come across at least one person who did not have anything nice to say about the film. Even though I came across a few who found it a bit flawed, they couldn’t deny that it was an impressive debut despite its minor flaws, and we all came to the conclusion that Pothan was an immensely talented and promising filmmaker. It was my most favorite film of last year.
Now Pothan is back with his second film Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, and everyone, including me, has been waiting with bated breath to see if he has repeated his “Pothettan brilliance”. I’m very happy to tell you that he has. This brilliance shines twice as bright this time around. Thondimuthalum is an infinitely better film than Maheshinte, and tells you that Pothan has improved a lot both as a storyteller and a filmmaker. He has gone to great lengths to ensure that he does not make the same film again, and it really shows, in spades. The film’s ingenious marketing strategy made it quite difficult for us to surmise from the teasers and songs as to what exactly the film is about, other than the very vague idea we got from its title.
When discussing a Dileesh Pothan film, it’s better to avoid the question: What’s the story? Pothan is one of those filmmakers who is more interested in making plot-driven films, and, as with his first film, he has followed the same approach here as well. From the film’s title, which translates as The Exhibits and the Eyewitness, one thing was apparent: it has something to do with a theft, and that is exactly what the film is about. A gold necklace belonging to the film’s heroine Sreeja (debutant Nimisha Sajayan) gets stolen during a long bus ride and the number one suspect is none other than a drifter named Prasad (Fahadh Faasil). Interestingly, the thief shares his name with Sreeja’s husband (Suraj Venjaramoodu).
The film’s central plot unfolds over several days – a week, I’m guessing – in a police station. But before that, Pothan sets up the story of Sreeja and Prasad (the good one), their romance, subsequent marriage (against their parents’ wishes), and their poor financial status. The couple has made up their minds to live as far as possible from their parents, and earn their livelihood from a small business which they plan to set up soon. This is why the necklace is so crucial – they had planned to sell it until the thief came out of nowhere and ruined everything. The police suggest that they wait until the thief, who had apparently swallowed the necklace, voids it on his own sweet time. Now, both the Prasads are stuck with each other while Sreeja waits anxiously for the good (or bad) news.
Will the couple get back the necklace or not? Will the thief attempt anything smart? These two questions primarily drive the rest of the film. One might ask if truly excruciating suspense can be mined out of a small and seemingly insignificant situation like this. Well, if you have a director like Pothan, along with his writers Sajeev Pazhoor, Syam Pushkaran (who wrote Maheshinte as well), ace cinematographer Rajeev Ravi (Gangs of Wasseypur), and an exceptionally talented supporting cast handling it, then yes, you can. The best thing about the film is its extremely naturalistic performances from every single actor. I must say that the supporting cast, for once, has managed to overshadow the leads. This is something that happens very rarely.
Now, speaking of the leads, Fahadh’s character is nothing like his character in Maheshinte, with his henna-dyed hair and shabby appearance; and given the fact that the thief looks like Fahad Faasil and not like the kind of thief you normally see in other films, makes things much more interesting. There is a certain charm to him – which he expertly delivers with his expressive eyes and sparkling smiles – despite the ambiguity surrounding him, that makes you wonder if he is actually a good man driven to commit such shameful deeds due to extreme circumstances. He remains a mystery throughout and his true nature is revealed only at the very end. Suraj’s serious and understated performance reminded me of the stunningly brilliant work he did in 2015’s Action Hero Biju. Nimisha makes a solid impact.
Even though he is just one film old, Pothan’s attention to details has now become something of a legend. He pays equal attention to what goes on in the background as well as the foreground. Some of us have asked, when Maheshinte came out, why certain details in the film, which on first glance seemed unnecessary, were included. Questions of this sort did not come up this time. This time it’s very obvious why certain things had to be inside the frame; there is a perfectly good reason why Pothan included them, and I don’t think one has to watch the film a second time to understand why. Each frame, each mannerism, and each camera movement tell you something and it was so much fun luxuriating in all the “Pothettan brilliance”. I left the theater a contented man. The first truly great Malayalam film of 2017 is here.