Director: Bibin Paul Samuel
Cast: Indrajith Sukumaran, Ashwin Kumar, Manoj K Jayan, Santhy Balachandran, Shiva Raaj, Sidhartha Siva, Amith Chakalakkal, Akhil Manoj
One of the strands that come together to form Indrajith’s Aaha is about an immigrant labourer named Binayak. We first see him dancing all night to Malayalam songs at a party and your first instinct is to assume that this film too would use him for laughs that come at his expense. But pretty soon, you realise why he was introduced to us in a dancing scene. Beyond the amusement, we see Kochu (an earnest Indrajith) noticing Binayak for his stamina and you also see how that fits into the needs of their tug-of-war team. After a set of trials, Binayak inches his way into the team and, by extension, into the heart of a mainstream Malayalam movie. From an outsider, how lovely is it for a Malayalam movie to finally embrace a character like his as though he’s one of us.
He is one of many teammates in Aaha, an amateur tug-of-war team, that has scores to settle and personal demons to exorcise. Most of its members get their own subplots which are then tied together by the history of the club itself. Like any sports movie, the coach is first reluctant to train them until he isn’t anymore. And like any sports movie, they lose all their games until they don’t lose anymore.
The issue with Aaha isn’t really its reliance on tired sports film clichés but just how they appear at exactly the point you expect them to. So when multiple characters go on and on about the team’s unending 56-game winning streak, you know what’s going to happen next. Just like how you double-guess the need for a devious character who’s there only for another cliché—that of drug abuse among sportspersons.
Even when characters have to deal with serious issues like caste and domestic abuse, they don’t get enough screen time or the writing to make us care for them. Instead, we run through each of them and their stories in haste with the convenience of ticking off a grocery list. Which is perhaps why we feel a distance even when we return to the more intense subplots. Important characters are introduced every 15 minutes and there’s an ease with which even major conflicts are resolved. An old enemy turns into a new friend without a believable reason, just like how a love angle gets forced into the screenplay because that’s what’ll move a subplot forward. With writing so basic, there’s not much you can do within the limitations of a sports film.