Director: Shaji Padoor
Cast: Mammootty, Anson Paul, Kaniha, Kalabhavan Shajon
What’s it with movie psychopaths and black raincoats? Is it a uniform? If someone rebelled and wore bottle green or pink, would he instantly be shunned by his axe-wielding brethren? And why is it always pouring when he sets out with his weapon of choice? Shaji Padoor’s Abrahaminte Santhathikal (Abraham’s Descendants), starring Mammootty as ASP Derick, tells us that the noise covers the victims’ screams, plus the downpour washes away the killer’s tracks. But isn’t there a killer who remembers what his mommy in the basement used to say, that stepping out in the rain means he’ll catch his death? And why does it always have to be at night? For a change, couldn’t we have a killer who is a morning person, who likes to get in early, fresh from a few cups of coffee, and finish off his work before rush hour? After all, he is in the business of making worm food. Being an early bird must help.
You don’t crack jokes when this genre is handled well, like in the last episode of Mindhunter — you are too busy holding your breath. But in Indian cinema, you rarely find that kind of screenplay, that quality of direction. Abrahaminte Santhathikal is written by Haneef Adeni, who directed the similarly themed The Great Father, also starring Mammootty. He hasn’t met a cliché he doesn’t like. The gruesome killings are followed by clues written in blood. The killer’s motives are Biblical, as in Se7en. Only, you’d call this Ten. That’s the number of incidents the killer has promised. He uses a hammer — but he could just as easily have used Gopi Sundar’s blunt instrument of a background score, which seems determined to bludgeon us into submission. The music is so busy screaming, the cries of victims seem beside the point.
But about a half-hour in, the narrative takes a turn in a genuinely unexpected direction, and we cut to… three years later. It’s not just the timeline that’s changed — the tone has changed, too. Earlier, Derick (Mammootty, in a role he can sleepwalk through, and which he mostly does, mostly in slo-mo), was neck-deep in the serial-killer investigation. Now, that angle disappears, and he faces his sibling, Philip (Anson Paul), who’s in jail and blames Derick for his plight. The editor is Mahesh Narayan, and he cuts to flashbacks without the usual warning signs (say, a dissolve) — the effect is of an interlocked past and present. With the introduction of Philip, the investigative overtones (Derick is looking for evidence to free Philip) begin to overlap with emotional drama. It’s still about blood, but the kind that’s thicker than water.
Would a cop be assigned to a case that involves a relative? I don’t know, but the one time I truly felt for Derick was when he asks a subordinate if they can bury the evidence against Philip. This upright cop’s willingness to slide into corruption in order to save his brother gives him a refreshingly human dimension. Philip gets his moment when he says he did not want to meet Derick for a long time so that he could build up the courage to hate the older brother who raised him. And Kanika makes a short appearance as Diana, someone from Derick’s past. She has married and moved on, but there’s still seething resentment for Derick. I kept thinking that if Diana and Philip teamed up, that would have been the end of Derick.
The name in the title comes from Derick’s father, but also the father from the Bible who was asked by God to sacrifice his son. Abrahaminte Santhathikal is filled with symbols of the cross, and you can see vague mythical parallels: in the fact that Derick decides to “sacrifice” Philip, or in the Cain/Abel shades in the brothers’ relationship. (Philip tells Derick that God will decide which one of them is stronger.) But these touches come and go. The screenplay is like a distracted puppy — every few minutes, it finds something new to play with, like a kidnapping, or a badly staged pre-interval confession, or some ill-conceived and tonally off comedy, or mood-killing songs. The filmmaking isn’t much to talk about, but these out-of-nowhere changes in direction are murder in a genre that needs razor-sharp focus.
And then, we get the twist, also out of nowhere. I didn’t buy a second of it. In a well-written film, you look back and think, “Of course! How could I have not seen this coming!” Here, I thought, “Really?” The red herrings are insulting, and the narrative is further compromised by the necessities of showcasing the star. Here’s Mammootty’s introduction scene: he gets out of a car feet first. Then, we get the hands, the back, finally the face. Like a lot of Abrahaminte Santhathikal, this scene looks like it was shot less with a camera than a selfie stick. We’ve seen this a thousand times before, but some sections of the audience did not care. They cheered anyway. In an action scene late in the movie, when Derick shows up to save a kidnapped kid, the latter forgets that he’s tied to a post, that he’s been kept captive, that he’s scared and misses his parents – he opens his eyes wide as though Superman had landed in front of him, and exclaims, “WOW!” His own existence is forgotten the instant he sights the star. This isn’t exactly a meta movie, but this scene may be the closest to a fan experience we’ve gotten on screen.