Director: Mahesh Narayanan
Cast: Kunchacko Boban
Rating: 4 / 5
The third directorial feature from Mahesh Narayanan Ariyippu, his second stint with Kunchako Boban in the lead, has been grabbing some major awards, acclaim and screenings at prestigious film festivals like Locarno and International Film Festival of Kerala. Ariyippu ( Declaration ), deals with the gritty underpinnings of honour and morality and its dichotomy of impact, for the people occupying the lower fringes of the system.
Ariyippu shares the documentary aesthetics of the director’s earlier work, as in dealing with a story that revolves around a minor scuffle in familiar relationships, rapidly deteriorating to expose the uncanny immoral impulses that sometimes drive people’s actions. As a staple in his films by now, we get the emotionally volatile breakdown of the transactional nature of truth and individualistic dignity, and Mahesh pays his dues to his filmmaking hero Asgar Farhadi in the film’s characteristic mood and narrative concerns. (more on that later)
How it all got started
The film is mostly brief in its setup, about a Malayali couple Hareesh ( Kunchako Boban) and Rashmi ( Divya Prabha), working in a small time glove manufacturing plant in Noida, in their transit period, waiting for their much cherished foreign visa to be processed for their dream jobs. We get a sense of some resentment in their work and poor living conditions, further fueled by fluctuating work shifts that ensure they rarely get time with each other in their rundown, cranky one-room apartment.
Filmmaking influences and plot revelations
The earlier mentioned Farhadi-shque elements, manifest in the self-contained staging of sequences, mostly in lensing choices used in capturing the suffocating interiors; where the marriage nosedives into a complicated mess after a scandalous video, involving the wife, that kickstarts the film, a Plot into the ignition. We also get the central plot mystery ( who made the video?) that is used as a device of innate suspense ( like in most Farhadi outings) that leads to mind-numbing turmoil and gradual loss of a sense of trust between the characters and their surroundings. This thread is stretched across the whole running time, with no release for the emotional dilemma that these people are going through, with no redemption near sight. We also get a flabby B plot ( involving an in-house scam that has been brought to light in the factory) that is rather smartly strung into, subside with the central plot.
Writing scores high but not without minor hiccups
In one of the best-written scenes in the movie, a disgruntled and humiliated Hareesh comes home to his wife, after failing to identify the sender of the hoax s*x video, that has ruined their relationship. The scene packs a lot of subtextual weight to the fragile, embarrassed ego of the husband, who tries to win over his own, twisted sense of manliness by forcing himself on his wife just to prove his masculine dominance and momentary triumph and the camera never lingers.
However, the film slowly loses its steam towards the dramatic resolution, when Mahesh goes on to introduce an ancillary character and subverts the twisty ending. His earlier film C U Soon too had such a narrative contrivance of being outwardly posturing for a cause that feels too jarring a plot point to throw at haste, with forced exposition.
Kunchacko Boban is very effective in a demanding part, which warrants an immense range in underplaying volatility. The performance captures the helpless impulses that drive some questionable jumps in his character arc, and his stardom perfectly backtracks to lend heed to the central conflict. Divya Prabha’s uncanny eye for behaviour and line readings, elevate the innate realism of the story world and lend credibility to a one-note naive wife, who learns to stand up for her beliefs towards the end, not heeding the potential disruption of her already sinking marriage.
The final take
There are great narrative touches and visual motifs throughout, like the ending scenes where the current state of their plummeting moral position in the marriage, is signed off by a beautifully foreshadowed image that defines the kind of people that they are. The final few images add multitudes of the meaning of inference, and Sanu John Varghese’s deceptively charming visual palate and Sushin Shyam’s minimalistic score leave a feeling of residuals from a cold, detached exercise exploring human frailties and moral standings.
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