Director: Tinu Pappachan
Cast: Antony Varghese, Arjun Asokan, Jaffer Idukki, Chemban Vinod Jose, Kichu Tellus, Lukman Lukku, Vineeth Vishwam
Director Spielberg is known for using and reusing familial discord as a recurring theme in his films, just like Anurag Kashyap keeps returning to his masochists and Priyadarshan, to his confusions. If one were to add Tinu Pappachan to this list, they can argue that his pet theme is perhaps the idea of escape. His first film Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil was a straightforward prison-break thriller, filled with a set of quirky characters and strange subplots.
One can see a lot of that make its way into Ajagajantharam too, even though the new film is richer with a lot more flavour and even more chaos. It’s only fair to look at this film as a sort of celebration of chaos because it’s not even interested in telling a story. Set across two days during the peak of a temple festival, the film gives us characters, a general idea of the kind of place this is and then lets Murphy’s Law do the rest.
And that’s because everything that can go wrong, does go wrong at this festival. The theatre troupe that was supposed to perform on the opening night reaches six hours after their show was set to begin. A couple decides to elope during the festival but they too get stuck. A small argument between the insiders and outsiders goes out of control with the ferociousness of a forest fire.
This group of outsiders are led by Lali (Antony Varghese aka Pepe), a reckless drunk who brings an elephant to the festival. He’s the kind of guy who runs towards trouble rather than away from it and all of this makes for a fun first hour. Designed around three or four major action blocks, Ajagantharam spends a lot of time building-up to the next big time, often filling the flightless portions with long single takes and quick inserts to set the mood.
There’s a lot of mood to be created too because Jinto George’s camera and Justin Varghese’s music is able to make us feel like we’re right in the middle of the festival. We feel at least a dozen people breathing right down our necks at all points in time and Justin’s music repurposes sounds of temple instruments to make this feeling as aural as it is visual. Even when the film takes its time to give us a better idea of who all these people are and what’s actually happening, we get a set of ridiculous characters saying the funniest of things to overlook the hollow proceedings.
But there’s only so much one can do with mood. Even as the film tries to raise the stakes from one fight to the next, these characters don’t matter to us and we’re not able to fully immerse ourselves into the tense atmosphere the film tries to create. The stakes do get raised when the third act takes the form of an escape, but the film has fully lost the soaked-in-Red Bull momentum by then.
And this is a shame because it really is a film that relies on rhythm to hold it together. The film has moments of solid fun that keep surprising, but by then it has already forgotten strands like that of the eloping couple, a gangster who was meant to help Lali and a set of newlyweds. By the end of it, the film feels like the extrapolation of the first bar fight in Angamaly Diaries, except that the Christian gods are replaced by Hindu ones here. Although enjoyable for the fights alone and the high energy it sustains through the first hour, Ajagajantharam reduces itself to a two-hour sausage fest with not a minute spared for a single female character. The Angamaly Diaries Alumni Association deserved a better reunion.