Anwar Hussain (Kunchacko Boban, efficient as always) is preparing for his PhD in criminology, so he goes to a prison and interviews an inmate called “Ripper” Ravi. He wants to know everything about the man, a serial killer. But “Ripper” Ravi isn’t someone whose psyche can be unravelled to yield “reasons” and “answers”. He tells Anwar — with a satisfactory amount of glee — that he simply likes the sound of skulls being smashed. He simply likes the wails of victims. He searches for a word to describe the feeling that coursed through him during each of the 14 murders he committed, and he finally gets it: “ecstasy”. This is the scene that opens Anjaam Pathiraa, from writer-director Midhun Manuel Thomas, and it made me sit up.
The very basis of a serial-killer thriller — a well-established genre by now — is a series of well-established screenplay knots. We typically begin with the killings. A pattern emerges — a sign of a fetish, or a gruesome signature. (Here, the heart and eyes of the victims are torn out.) Clues are unearthed. (Unnimaya Prasad plays the DCP, forever three steps behind.) And finally, we discover the identity of the perpetrator (the who) and the reason for his or her actions (the why). This is how most films of this genre — with exceptions like Mysskin‘s recently released Psycho, which traverses the killer’s character trajectory, thus giving away the who right up front — work. And this is exactly how Anjaam Pathiraa works.
It isn’t bad. But is it a failing if a genre film merely fulfills the expectations we have from the genre? Yes, and no. For one, I expected the “Ripper” Ravi prologue to set the tone for a more intriguing narrative. What if there’s no why? What if there’s no childhood trauma, no scarred psyche? What if the why is simply… “ecstasy”? And thus, what if there’s no signature in the MO? If a man kills simply because he likes to kill, how much tougher is it going to be to track him down? That’s where I thought this film would be headed. (Be headed? Get it? Okay, sorry!) I thought it was going to be about pure evil, as opposed to “psychologically reasoned-out” evil.
Alas! Anjaam Pathiraa, which offers minor genre pleasures, is ultra-safe and ultra-predictable — so much so that, with the second-half flashback that explains everything, it practically becomes a Shankar Movie™. The one thing this film did is to make me re-evaluate a Shankar Movie™. We think of the director’s films as vigilante thrillers — but then, what is a vigilante if not someone with a reason, someone with a childhood trauma or a scarred psyche? In other words, Shankar has been kinda-sorta making serial-killer movies all along, under our very noses. Hah!
Anjaam Pathiraa keeps throwing hifalutin things at us. Take the scene where a beggar approaches Anwar and gives him the “beware the Ides of March” line. It’s meant to be a portent of Shakespearean proportions. But it adds up to nothing. It just sounds clever — like the “Da Vinci code” clue, or like the animal mask the killer uses. After a while, you can literally sense the screenplay panicking to keep our interest alive. By the time we see the killer casually drop in on a sculptor, I gave up. In the end, Anjaam Pathiraa turns out to be one of those films that takes a hot-button issue and expects us to care simply because it takes that issue up. The drama is undernourished, the thrills are feeble. Unlike “Ripper” Ravi, I felt very little ecstasy.