Director: Sanu John Varughese
Could we really know someone? Not Biju Menon’s Chaachan in Aarkkariyam, which is a slow burn meditation on what it really means to believe in life (or God). Sherley (Parvathy Thiruvothu) and Roy (Sharafudheen) are stuck during the lockdown at her father’s home. It looks like Chaachan is far more sinister than he seems, especially for Roy. He’s not the person Sherley had portrayed him as. From this perspective, Aarkkariyam is a drama around a confession: what if Georgekutty from Drishyam told his unsuspecting younger daughter everything about the coverup? One could get away with murder, but how to explain it to one’s family?
Aarkkariyam is also a bit like you walked into a whodunnit after it had been solved and forgotten about. In a thriller, Chaachan’s big reveal to Roy (about his Munnariyippu-like moment) wouldn’t have been so muted, as if they were just talking about the cricket score. Here, the drama refuses to become a thriller. The film focuses not on the criminal nature of Chaachan’s act, but rather on the impact of the revelation on Roy. The pleasant-sounding guitar score continues as if everything we have known about Chaachan hasn’t just changed totally. The film takes a detached attitude to it’s characters. It doesn’t judge, and gives detailed and close-up pictures of the small world of Sherley, Chaachan, and Roy.
Space and sound are used to further immerse us in the characters’ world. For example, at the beginning, Sherley and Roy are in closed spaces (rooms or cars); they’re occupied by domestic and financial problems. As their problems are solved by Chaachan, we see Roy outdoors, exploring. You hear sounds you would only if you were standing very close to the characters. In a scene, Chaachan is speaking on the phone and the birds around him are as loud as him. It’s as if nothing is edited or stylized. You’re led to believe you’re looking at raw footage. A sense of real-ness is built up. So, even when nothing really is happening in the film in terms of plot, you are engrossed by the daily (often mundane) conversations and activities of the three characters.
We get used to their mannerisms: like, say, the way Parvathy’s Sherley says ‘no’ as if it were a dismissal. So, it’s difficult to think objectively about them. It’s like you can’t be indifferent about a person sitting next to you in a bus after speaking to them for ten minutes. But after putting a magnifying glass over Sherley, Roy, and Chaachan, the film rarely knows what to do with that. Given that the film’s attitude to deeper questions about life is that they might never be resolved at all, Aarkkariyam finally ends but never really resolves.
Aarkkariyam shows how the lockdown threw three lives into chaos and it also asks heavy-duty philosophical questions: how do we know that something is true? Are memories even real? If events are made inevitable by god or destiny, wouldn’t everything become meaningless? But the film keeps the investigations light. For example, it hints at contradictions around how you can can do something evil and still believe that it was preordained by god, but it never explores them. It doesn’t even try. Because, you know: Aarkkariyam (Who knows)?