Director: Ashraf Hamsa
Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Chemban Vinod Jose, Jinu George
Among the few remarkable aspects about Ashraf Hamsa's Bheemante Vazhi (Bheeman's Path) is the way Chemban Vinod Jose (also writer of Angamaly Diaries) writes the film's women. Not only do they have the agency to move their lives and the screenplay forward, but they also get to do the little things that are usually reserved only for men. At the outset, this includes the not-very-common trait of them appearing in positions of power, such as the local councillor (her rival complains of women's reservation), the lawyer and the matriarch. This is true even of the smaller roles with characters either running a tea stall (a men-only spot in such films), taking judo lessons or working as a nurse.
Even rarer is how it doesn't make a big deal of showing women drink. In the usual setup of a village drinking scene, we see Bheeman (Kunchacko Boban) joining three of his friends for a few laughs over a bottle. But Chemban subverts this cliche by getting a female character to ask Bheeman if he'd spared some booze for her too. So when we see another woman (a romantic interest, if you will) asking Bheeman if he knows a bar they can go to, it's a bit of a revolution for the non-urban Malayali movie and the women inhabiting them.
There's an inner life to the women and this is evident even in the throwaway scenes. One on end, we see women glued to their television serials but in the next, the councillor refuses to meet the local rich dude because, "he doesn't stop staring at my chest". And when the film uses wide shots during the meet-cute between Bheeman and the new railway engineer, it's also normalising the hero (or THE romantic hero in this case) falling for a woman taller (and more qualified) than he is. Which is why it works so well when it is she who proposes getting married to Bheeman. If this isn't revolutionary for the genre, then what is?
But one wishes the same thoughts had gone into all aspects of the film. The central plot revolves around constructing a road through a row of houses inhabited by a set of quirky characters, each weirder than the last. This includes a man who has a chicken living on his nest-like hair, a boy who appears only in superhero costumes and a dog named Jack that gets its own character arc. Although funny individually, we catch the director struggling to integrate them into the larger issues in the film.
It was always going to be a challenge because the film assembles too many characters, each with their own unique equation with the new road. If Bheeman needs the road to increase his value in the dowry market, others need the access for when ambulances can make their way in. As for Bheeman, the new road is also metaphoric in the way it changes the way he thinks about work, family and women.
All this juggling creates a sense of confusion because we fail to understand the motivations of others. For instance, the film's biggest roadblock appears in the form of a character played by Jinu George. Apart from a line where he declares his opposition, we never fully understand why he's against the new road, except because he's the villain. A love story builds and fades abruptly, a major cameo doesn't leave the impact that was intended and we never know who Chemban is in the film. Part adviser, part stoner, part observer, he appears in all the important scenes but it doesn't contribute beyond positioning the film as being part biographic (the film is based on true events). Although redeemed by an excellent climax, Bheemante Vazhi remains watchable all throughout but not much more.