Malayalam Reviews

Puthiya Niyamam Review: Cold And Aloof Revenge Drama

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Puthiya Niyamam (‘New Testament’) begins on an enigmatic note. A brooding Kathakali artiste is married to the love of her life. She has an eight-year-old daughter. In a voice-over, the child wonders what caused her mother, once a happy person, to become so morose and paranoid. The next few sequences justify this observation. The woman is neither interested in her art, nor household chores. Instead, she picks fights with strangers, for ostensibly silly reasons. She refuses to sleep in the same room as her husband, and starts being over-protective of her daughter. Is this a case of marital discord? Or perhaps there’s a secret lover? The film juggles these possibilities in a long-winded first half. After enough tension has been built, the mysterious reason behind her gloom is unfurled.

*****

The storyline is reminiscent of Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam. A horrendous crime shatters a peaceful family, and the protagonists decide to take on the criminals. Like the recent Amar Akbar Anthony, Puthiya Niyamam celebrates vigilantism, and cites the example of Govinda Chamy to say that the legal mechanism in the country is largely impotent. For director AK Sajan, this theme isn’t new. The 1992 film Dhruvam, in which he worked as a story and dialogue writer, and the 2006 film Chinthamani Kola Case, for which he penned the script, had protagonists (Mammootty and Suresh Gopi respectively) who challenged the judicial system and took the law into their own hands.

In Drishyam, the audience could seamlessly relate to the tension and suffering of Georgekutty’s family. From the dialogues, to Georgekutty’s house, everything seemed authentic. The film spent enough time establishing the characters. It also portrayed the bond between the family members through a number of sequences.

In contrast, Puthiya Niyamam looks exotic, unreal, and one-dimensional. Vasuki Iyer (Nayanthara) takes up most of the screen time. There are a number of close-ups and mid-shots which show her lost in thought, in the kitchen, living room and balcony garden of her plush apartment. Although in distress, her hair and face are well made-up. There is no sign of depression in her outward appearance. Except for her kajol-laden eyes, which well up occasionally.

The sexual assault scene in the movie is lengthy, and shot like a choreographed dance. Slow-motion shots of a red saree flying in the air, faces with Kathakali make-up, close-up shots of doves, flowers, and the cloudy sky. Vasuki’s hair, her saree and the vermilion on her forehead carefully messed-up.

Exoticised and unreal.

*****

Vasuki’s husband, Louise Pothen (Mammootty), is a popular divorce lawyer with a gift for rhetoric. A number of actors, including Aju Varghese, Kottayam Pradeep, and Ponnamma Babu, appear in insignificant roles as his clients. Pothen accepts cases with great reluctance, offers his clients funny (and weird) relationship advice, and eventually forces them to withdraw their case, and return to married life.

Perhaps because Pothen is played by a star of Mammootty’s stature, the film expands an otherwise second-fiddle role. Thus, Pothen is no ordinary advocate. He is an amateur clay-artiste, and a popular movie critic on a private television channel. Although these traits contribute nothing to the main story, many lengthy sequences are devoted to Pothen presenting his show in his distinct style. The scenes ridicule new-generation Malayalam film-makers, and Mammooty handles his parts with ease. While his vibrant screen-presence lifts the film’s spirits, the scenes have little relevance to the plot and stick out glaringly.

Gopi Sunder’s background score manages to be similarly loud, overbearing and tiring. It plays without respite, and seems uncaring and oblivious to whatever is happening on screen.

*****

Puthiya Niyamam deals with an important subject, but in a tortuous, non-engaging way. It tries to break new ground, especially in the climax. It fails.

*****

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