I don’t usually review non-English language films on this blog, and I have many reasons for it, one of the biggest ones being the smaller audience for these films. Writing a review is a pretty time-consuming task, and with my readership being as low as it is already, writing one for a non-universal language just doesn’t seem worth it. (The few Indian language films I have reviewed are also the result of requests by my friends.) But last night, I saw a film called Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum – in my own native language of Malayalam – which changed my previously held opinion and reminded me of why I started doing this in the first place. This film, the title of which roughly translates to ‘Evidence and the Eyewitness’, is one which deserves to be seen by a larger audience: and that is the purpose of this review. With excellent cinematography by Rajeev Ravi, and featuring Fahadh Faasil, Suraj Venjaramoodu, and Nimisha Sajayan in lead roles, this Dileesh Pothan film is a real-life masterpiece in its truest sense.
A middle-aged man comes into a village police station with a complaint against a young poet who he claims to have beaten him in public. When questioned by the inspector, the poet reveals his justification for the incident. Apparently, a phone company had come to him with an offer to install a network tower on his land, which the complainant warned against, citing radiation as the reason. The very next week the complainant – also the neighbor of the accused – took up the same offer and moved to another house, leaving all the ‘radiation harm’ to the accused poet, while the complainant reaps the benefits. This is the kind of case the police at this station deal with on a daily basis, most of which end in compromise. It is also this station that Prasad (Suraj Venjaramoodu) and Sreeja (Nimisha Sajayan) walks into, along with all the passengers of a bus, dragging along the person (Fahadh Faasil) who they believe to have swiped Sreeja’s necklace. Having met each other through an embarrassing misunderstanding, Prasad and Sreeja have their own problems to deal with back home, and such a dance with the police and a thief is the last thing they want.
The very first thing you will notice about the film is the striking familiarity with real life: there is not a single moment or dialogue that feels larger than life or scripted. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is easily the most realistic cinema I have ever seen, and represents the epitome of a genre that can feel slow or boring if not handled well. And handle it well is an understatement for what the powerhouse combo of Dileesh Pothan, Rajeev Ravi and Sajeev Pazhoor do, as they together fine-tune the atmosphere, cinematography and writing of the film to perfectly fit the quirky realism of the film. Every line feels like something a common person would say, every look what they would express, and every action what they would do; given the circumstances. Making it impossible for you to take your eyes off the screen is Ravi’s flawless cinematography, which takes its time with each shot, allowing each moment to sink in and sit with the audience. Perhaps the most unrealistic moment in the film is a single shot where the village is shown at nighttime, and then a single firecracker bursts into the sky – and with it the night turns to day. But even that is simply too genius to take the audience out of the experience; it simply gives them another moment to go ‘wow’.
There is a literary term, popularized by Japanese manga and anime, called ‘slice of life’, meaning a series of realistic experiences of various moods in the characters’ lives which have no obvious greater meaning or profound ending. When one usually talks about Indian films, it is hard to pin most of them down to a single genre as it combines various elements, but this work is what ‘slice of life’ is intended to be. Comedy, suspense, romance, sorrow, thrills are all packed into this film, but without the intention to simply get an audience reaction: they all come and go as they would in real life. No matter how good the creative forces behind the camera and script are, the audience is human, and therefore need a face to follow through the events of the film. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is blessed with the face of Fahadh Faasil, an actor who bleeds realism in almost every role he takes on. This is an actor who expresses the emotions of his character without resorting to contorting his facial muscles to extremes, but through subtleties, most of which are in his eyes. There is perhaps no better director for him to work his wonder than Potha – having already established their masterful teamwork in last year’s Maheshinte Prathikaram (Mahesh’s Revenge) – and he delivers a performance that is even more of a revelation than any of his previous works.
None of the praise for Fahadh’s performance is to discredit those of Suraj Venjaramoodu or Alancier who plays the cop on the verge of retirement, as both of them are at the top of their game in portraying strikingly real people we either have met, or are bound to meet someday. Even Nimisha Sajayan is quite good here, regardless of it being her debut film. I am caught at odds here, between my self-imposed limit of 1000 words for each review, and the amount I want to discuss every shot and incident in this film, each deceivingly simple yet pregnant with meaning. The task that Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum takes on is what many books fail in doing: to explore in depth more than just the leads, but several characters who come into each other’s story. It is a task that Pothan’s film flawlessly accomplishes, as while walking out of the theatre, I felt as if I was walking into someone else’s story, and that the life I had left behind on the screen was the real one.