Rorschach Is A Focused, Compelling Genre-bender That Is Rewarding In Spite of Issues
Director: Nisam Basheer
Writer: Sameer Abdul
Stars: Mammootty, Grace Antony, Sharafudheen
Mammootty, after Puzhu from earlier this year, is assuredly back with another character who invites strong contempt from the viewer. Luke Antony is a man engulfed by the idea of vengeance. He’ll go to unimaginable, twisted lengths to fulfill his idea of avenging his wife’s murder. This might sound like a simple revenge story, but Nisam Basheer’s film is a genre-shifting, layered, and technically ambitious attempt at the same. It has obvious nudges towards being a psychological study, veers into supernatural territory, and also has good reasons to identify as a family drama.
Luke Antony is a complex human, but a one-note protagonist. It’s his arrival to a new place that affects those around him, and not the other way round. It’s the classic story of an outsider wreaking havoc on a tranquil place. He is on a self-anointed mission to bring a man down, and he won’t stop until he achieves it. There’s no change waiting to happen in him, no catharsis that he finds. But the film peels into him gradually. Whenever it delves into his past, it only gives us flashes. He has received white room torture. He was framed and maybe a fugitive. He might have driven all the way from Dubai to Kerala. All these pieces of information don’t get dumped on us in one large chunk of flashback, but are rather sprinkled through the narrative. This lends a level of complexity to the character that might not actually be in the writing.
If there’s one thing that comes across prominently, it’s the makers’ aesthetic sensibilities. All of Midhun Mukundan’s alluringly gloomy tracks have English lyrics. The editing feels composed. The cinematography is a lot about style but it never gets in the way of the storytelling. I particularly love the way they indicate the arrival of a ghost. It’s a familiar situation but is made out to be visually appealing, with the delicate change in colour grade and swift camera work. Even the choice of colours and props makes for a very memorable visual experience, one that is minimal and tastefully stylised. The grey car, the unfinished grey house, and the pronounced costumes, are solid contributions on this front. One element that is a mismatch from this sensibility is Luke’s dead wife, whose presence I found to be a tad bit melodramatic and slightly dumbed-down in tone, in an otherwise realistic film.
We start the film with Luke’s perspective, and the structure then begins to adopt the perspectives of the villagers with their voiceovers. This behaviour isn’t consistent throughout the film, and I wish a couple of characters would’ve gotten more weightage for their narration. After the whole deal about Luke’s motives is revealed at the interval, where the film announces that it is functioning in a supernatural space, the thread starts to get stagnant. There’s no substantial progress in Luke’s attempts at taunting Dileep. Even the bits of action, though unique, get tedious because of how absorbing the psychological exploration has been until then.
But post such instances, there are other threads that begin to shine. The drama between the characters surrounding Luke take the lead and are far more compelling than the primary tale of revenge. The corrupt cop, the local guy who runs on instinct, the guilty brother-in-law, they’re all etched with enough heft. But it’s the women who stand out distinctly in the latter half of the film. Bindu Panicker’s Seetha is a well-conceived character. We see her going from an archetypal mother to a lethal parent who has sculpted both her sons to her worldview. It’s a powerful role filled with surprises, delivered in an impressively engaging manner by the actor.
Grace Antony’s Sujatha is also notable for her refusal to accommodate or take things lightly in spite of conforming to certain proposals that will get her what she wants. The actor is amazing in conveying decisions economically. Sujatha, who is a widower trying to hold together her late husband’s dwindling factory, faces a moment where she’s looked down upon by her mother-in-law for even considering the idea of a second marriage. A realisation hits her that she’s going to receive absolutely no validation from her in-laws for taking care of their son’s legacy. In that moment, she’s slightly bewildered due to being under the impression that she doesn’t owe them anything. On sensing that they’re feeling entitled to her actions and decisions, something snaps in her. In the next scene, we see her married - An almost repulsive decision, considering the man she is marrying has made her physically uncomfortable on multiple occasions. Though this can be seen coming, all this decision-making is held together in that single shot of Grace Antony overhearing her mother-in-law’s rant. It’s a terrific performance, to say the least.
Mammootty pitches Luke on a casual note, without any idiosyncrasies. He’s essaying a character with a god complex, for how Luke thinks he deserves his own judgement even after god has, very apparently, delivered his. But he sells the character’s unhinged nature with an unceremonious and remarkably controlled demeanour. It’s also not a very surprising performance coming after the slightly more complex Puzhu, where an inhuman Kuttan operates far closer to reality.
The final moment that the film ends with, is a classic winking-at-the-audience situation where the story reveals that it might not be over yet, and that the events we just followed to an end, have the potential to continue. Whenever a film does this, I’ve always considered it to be an unwarranted cheap thrill, and it isn’t any different in this film. In the penultimate scene, Sharafudeen’s character addresses a certain ambiguity about Luke’s actions in a voiceover, and this feels like a stronger moment to end on, as opposed to the attempt at a cliffhanger.
The idea of the film, about how obsession can consume a human, comes across effectively. The story justifies the title, with Luke’s entry to the village resulting in a lot being revealed about its people than the actual case he is supposedly there for – a missing wife, to be read as a Rorschach inkblot test to the villagers. This is a convincing genre-bender that has issues, but it’s a film that is ultimately rewarding for its unwavering focus and sincerity in presenting an uncommon aesthetic.