Director: Basil Alchalakkal
Writer: Raj B Shetty
Cast: Raj B Shetty, Snigdha R Shetty, Chaithra J Achar, Samyukta Hornad, Gopalkrishna Deshpande, Raj Deepak Shetty, Bharath GB
Duration: 155 minutes
Available in: Theatres
All these years, Raj Shetty has insisted he’s a writer first, director next and then actor. With Toby, directed by his long-time associate Basil Alchalakkal, Raj proves he’s right up there as a performer. It’s difficult to shake off what he pulled off as Shiva in Garuda Gamana Vrushaba Vahana (2021), but as Toby, Raj convinces you to buy into the character of a boy rendered mute, who grows up with brute power, and who is reduced to tenderness by the women around him. He stands tall and, at the same time, is reduced to a puddle when the enormity of some things hit him. Raj is also one of those rare actors who does not shy away from the camera when it captures him unflatteringly, because that is Toby.
Toby is difficult to slot into any genre — it’s not an action film, it’s not a mystery, it’s not a family drama, it’s not mythology, but it’s an amalgamation of all, all layering a foundation that begins with an act of love. Is Toby, the devil, as the priest says? Or, is he an angel to some, and the devil to others, depending on who meets him?
Toby is that child in the juvenile home who rages against authority, and sexual advances, but melts when a priest embraces him with nothing but affection. Protecting Father Iglesies is his duty now. That scene which sees him returning the hug, sting the eyes with tears.
So, why is Jenny (Chaithra) screaming for Toby, the only father-figure she knows, and why is Toby going all out for Jenny, the mother-figure in his life? In between all this is Savithri, the sex worker, whom Toby takes a shine to. That scene where a mute Toby grins wide and chortles thinking of Savithri, much to Jenny’s irritation, is lit.
Jenny is the wise one — teaching her father to count, to not go near Savithri’s house when there’s an additional pair of slippers outside — she renders him human and teaches him the ways of the world.
The direction of some people’s lives are nudged by those in power, and like Shalini akka says, when the good wolves join hands to chase the bad wolf from the forest, they become bad themselves, many people’s lives change.
Toby is a murderer on hire, a man with an intimate relationship with blood — he’s an assistant in the mortuary, raises a child there, and courts Savithri with the mortuary van in the backdrop. Some of these details add up in seminal scenes later, and you have a gold coin moment when you make the connection.
Anand anna (a majestic Raj Deepak Shetty) is an unlikely villain. You’d expect someone who’s been harassed to be otherwise, but he becomes what he wants vanquished, he’s the kind of man who keeps count of every coin flung on him, and extracts brutal revenge.
Toby has unusual friends — Damodhara, played by the ever-dependable Gopalkrishna Deshpande, who teaches him to fish, and the priest played by Yogi Bankeshwar who shows him that he can be loved too — two people who understand the speech behind his silence.
Quite like GGVV, the film moves to a police station shortly after the titles roll, and to a young officer Sampath (a brilliant Bharath GB with quivering voice, shaking hands and a racing heart) who is afraid to use his official weapon and asks his deputy on day one if there might arise a chance to open fire in this police station limit. Toby depicts vulnerability that is not derided, but makes you empathise.
The film sparkles with superb performances, and the women shine: especially the two Jennys — Snigha R Shetty and Chaithra J Achar — Samyuktha Horanadu as Savithri and Sandhya Arekere as Shalini akka, whose seemingly expressionless face is the result of seeing life at close quarters.
The technical team is superb — cinematographer Praveen Shriyan captures the beauty of a village bathed in rain, the brutality of human nature and the life happening with the same love. There are picture postcards that are intended, others happen — when Toby is out to murder someone — the auto shakes, and a water bird takes off flight, creating ripples.
What does one say about composer Midhun Mukundan, but that he knows the fine art of using melody in the most unusual places and can convey ache like no one else. If there’s a ball of dread in the pit of your stomach in some scenes, all credit to him. The two songs will become earworms.
Nithin Shetty is the editor, and he cuts beautifully, and gifts some scenes all the oxygen they need to breathe in this film running to about two-and-a-half hours. Art director Jithu’s work is fabulous, with every space looking beautifully lived-in.
Raj Shetty has been the face of the film during the promotions — he’s written the screenplay, based on a story by TK Dayanand. So, how does one judge Basil’s work as director? I’d look at performances other than Raj’s and moments that don’t feature Toby — Basil does leave his stamp.
But, yes, Toby bears the voice and look of films that Raj and his team have created so far — deeply intimate yet vast, showcasing flawed human nature, the largesse of hearts, and humour that shines through in the darkest of moments.