Director: Nipin Narayanan

Cast: Arun Punaloor, Navajith Narayanan, Chathuri Chandrageetha

It’s always interesting to watch student films. Especially the ones that get their basics right. When the craft is assured, you can afford to look into the mentality of the images. You tend to see a little more “cinema” – unfiltered, in search of identity and voice – in such work, given the impressionable minds behind it. There is a little more stay time on the shots, and a little more thought into why and where they exist.

The Malayalam short Ethiru (The Opposite) is an example of a filmmaker at a stage where he is still intrigued by the culture of storytelling.

The music isn’t jarring, the emotions not amplified, the cuts are expressive and some shots are symbolic in tone. For example, a minute after establishing the isolated life of a young woman living in a jungle, the film cuts to two opposite-minded thieves hiding near a stream after a failed robbery. One of them, the cynical experienced man, has a bleeding ankle. The other, an idealistic greenhorn, is famished.

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In a way, you can sense this younger chap is a version of the director himself – still trusting, yet to be tarnished, and optimistic about human nature (later, he trusts the lady who gives them shelter, unlike his veteran partner). This scene opens with a shot of a rock breaking the flow of the stream’s cascading water. It looks uncannily like a chunk of beef being fried in bubbling oil. When you realize that the younger thief is hungry and cranky, the brief illusion makes sense – perhaps this is just a subconscious frame, but it reveals much about how the maker thinks in context of his characters’ motivations.

Towards the end of the film, when the two men get into an argument at the woman’s house, the culmination of their drama is followed by the shot of a spider caught in its own web. At first this may just look like an aesthetic transition leading to the climax, but the fate of the thieves – of them getting consumed by their own ecosystem – is reflected in this image.

I like how director Nipin Narayanan uses the environment to reveal deeper truths about its occupants. He has a visual mind; he even ends the short definitively, with a final shot that would be funny if not for how morbid it looks. Ethiru, in his case, is the kind of short we might look back on in the future, perhaps to explore the origins of recurring themes in his feature-length career. This is where it all begins.

Rating:   star
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