Malayalam Reviews

Padayottam Review: A Gangster Drama With A Fine Sense Of Humour

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Director: Rafeek Ibrahim

Cast: Biju Menon, Dileesh Pothan, Basil Joseph

Composer: Prashanth Pillai

Cinematography: Satheesh Kurup

In Rafeek Ibrahim’s Padayottam, four not-so-wise men travel the length of Kerala, from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod, a region they have never set foot in before, in search of a mysterious young man who roughed up their friend. They are determined to find the guy, drag him to their town, and make him apologise. However, one goof-up after another, the gang lands in hot water.

Ibrahim, in his maiden venture, cooks up quite a storm.

This gangster-comedy (‘Padayottam’ loosely translates to a series of assaults) unfolds like a road trip, stopping every now and then to introduce a new character who blends into the film’s turbulent waters in no time. None of these sub-characters – goons and mafia lords – are without an identity. They are not treated as a generic collective, but as individuals who have the capacity to save or jeopardize the situation the protagonists are stuck in.

The style is reminiscent of low-budget comedy-dramas that populated Kollywood a couple of years ago, spear-headed by the likes of Nalan Kumarasamy. It uses deadpan humour, slapstick and madcap situations, and has characters who wear their quirks on their sleeves. All elements – music, cinematography, and especially the performances – are in sync. And the film culminates on a terrific note, something you could carry back home and laugh over inside your head. The aftertaste is great.

Not all is well in the narration part. Around half way, the film meanders, as though a few pages of the screenplay were lost during the shoot. Characters begin to wander, beating around the bush without a sense of direction. A pointless new character, played by a now-popular comedian, is introduced, probably to add more shine to the cast. The screenplay struggles to connect the dots and bring everything to a finale.

*****

The film, though set in a similar terrain, is not another Angamaly Diaries. While Lijo Jose Pallissery’s slice-of-life drama imagined the life of young men in the small-town of Angamaly to be boisterous, and most of all, as something exotic, Padayottam unhurriedly paces through the ordinary lives of dangerous men who crowd the backgrounds of usual crime/gangster dramas. It shows them in their most uneventful moments, stripping them off their exotic aura.

The film begins even before the first visual appears on screen. As the opening titles fall, we listen to a conversation between two small-time goons. The first one is looking for an iron rod in a garage to beat up a local guy. The other one, the owner of the garage, refuses because earlier, he had a hard time cleaning up the blood and the mess. Their exchange – so organic and hilariously casual – sets up the mood. This is the tale of unsophisticated small-time goons for whom chalking out an itinerary is harder than hunting down a target.

We learn that Raghu suffers from travel sickness which explains his refusal to travel on a bus to Kasaragod. Raghu’s first act of valour that we witness doesn’t involve gore or a punch dialogue. When their car gets stuck in a traffic jam, he gets out of the vehicle, and takes it upon himself to clear the traffic. He is a devoted son to his mother, and is a staunch devotee of the goddess of Attukal. In the world of short-tempered gangsters who take pride in their lack of civil sense, Raghu stands out. He has an ethical and moral filter. His stock-in-trade is not sickles, daggers or guns, but an absurd sense of ‘come-what-may’.

Raghu’s entry scene is filmed like an everyday mass moment. He rides a bike into the frame in slow-motion. It is interspersed with close-up shots of on-lookers on either side of the street gaping at him. There is a halo of smoke around Raghu, lending a mystical air to him. It is a middle-class residential colony, not the kind of place where you expect to find a gangster. On the handle of his bike, hangs a Milma milk packet. The film doesn’t try to break into a loud comic moment here. The humor is subtly designed to bring Raghu closer to the audience. This ordinariness is his selling point.

This is true about every character in the film. Senan (Dileesh Pothan) is a body-builder who worships Hanuman. Like his deity, he is a bachelor, and is devoted to his master or rather, idol – Raghu. The naive demeanor comes naturally to Pothan. In an interesting single-shot song sequence that comes later in the film, we see him following a beautiful woman as though in a trance. It is a little thread that unfolds in the backdrop of the song, inserted carefully so that it doesn’t jut out of the narrative. It is in such background details that the film weaves in humour.

And there is Britto (Lijo Jose Pallissery), a gangster who sits in an office that is straight out of a conventional gangster flick – a room in a dilapidated building, adorned with red lights. But the door of a cupboard bears a random ‘anti-suicide’ motivational quote. We learn that this guy –  pleasant and affable – suffers from suicidal tendencies, the details of which unfold in a hilarious scene.

Padayottam easily joins the small but formidable bunch of ‘termite art’ works in Malayalam commercial cinema space which is otherwise dominated by big budget star-vehicles or unimaginative films. In spite of a partially incoherent story-line, the film is delectably restrained in its making. The cast, led by a terrific Biju Menon, is incredibly good. The film possesses a fine sense of humour that is rare to find. Most of all, it doesn’t discount the power of good writing. The screenplay doesn’t just create characters to take the story ahead, but tosses in enough details to flesh out memorable arcs.

*****

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