Cast: Anaswara Rajan, Joju George, Anjali Nair, Sirajudeen Nazir
Director: Shanil Muhammed
Shanil Muhammed's new film may have been a good candidate to call itself "Boyhood" instead of the generic "Aviyal". Like Linklater's classic Boyhood, this too is said to be shot with long breaks in between the four chapters to capture the essence of a boy growing up to become a man. It's another one of those coming-of-age stories with each chapter being bookended by a woman the protagonist Krishnan (Sirajudeen) falls in love with at each point in time. But unlike Premam, the first film that comes to mind, it's more Autograph in its shooting philosophy. Aviyal too has been shot by multiple cinematographers (Ravi K Chandran, Sudeep Elamon, Jimshi Khalid and Gikku Jacob Peter), with each shooting a period from Krishnan's life. There's going to be a lot of fun to be had when the film's out on OTT to guess which DOP shot which portions, especially because there's a lot of real-world charm when Aviyal starts off in rural Kannur.
Told entirely in flashbacks with a father (Joju George) narrating his troubled life to his daughter (Anaswara) after her first heartbreak, there's genuine honesty in the conversation without masks or secrets. And this is an important aspect the film needs to prime us for early because there's quite a lot happening in Krishan's life in his journey towards adulthood. In the first of these, Aviyal follows the pattern of many films that use nostalgia as their biggest USP. We see the same tired jokes set within the same old classrooms but the setting adds an element we don't see often. The music too is a constant marker of each period, but the song set in this period, to the voice of Unni Menon and KS Chitra, adds another something special to this otherwise flat phase of teenage love and heartbreak. The acting reflects the innocence and so do the little moments of friendship between Krishnan and his father and you feel yourself slowly gravitating towards this boy before the world begins to kill his innocence.
A shade of the same innocence reflects in the next phase too when he's around 22. This time, the Kannur family home has shrunk to become a tiny apartment in what looks like the officer's quarters allotted for government staff. The team is yet again successful in creating the dynamics of this confined living space, especially when the characters are unfairly subjected to gossip and hearsay. This is also the chapter that deals with the most intense situation and this has to do with Krishnan and his feelings for an older woman. The writing makes this period intense and stressful with the feeling that a lot can go wrong at any time. And it does. Even the inherent sexual tension between the two feels very internal, even without the obvious scenes or shots you'd expect to convey the feeling. All of this makes Aviyal a coming of age story worth investing in because there's always something to hold on to because it appears to be recreations of very specific memories.
Yet it is this same authenticity and the lived-in feel that goes completely missing when the film shifts to Goa for Krishnan's "sex, drugs and rock and roll" phase. The film loses its clarity and it plummets headfirst into a series of clichés that cannot escape the Arjun Reddy imagery. The film, with its trippy visuals and rock band setting, also feels a lot more pretentious, especially when concepts like "one night stands" and "friends with benefits" are inserted in a very artificial manner. All of these stick out in what was until then a very grounded and real film.
Aviyal never really recovers from this hangover and the only thing we have to hold on to is Sirajuddin's performance through the treacherous trials and tribulations his character is put through as things go from bad to worse. Yet it all feels too hurried and too orchestrated to matter anymore. Without the time to invest and build new characters, certain events feel simply like items on a checklist. They don't create the impact of even smaller events at the start of the film. And when these scenes bring with the overwhelming feeling of déjà vu, there's not much to keep us hooked to Aviyal.