Sunny, On Amazon Prime Video, Is A Cathartic Reflection On The Seven Stages Of Grief

Held together by Jayasurya’s vulnerability, Sunny puts its protagonist in a spot where inner demons have to be dealt with, one way or the other

Director: Ranjith Sankar
Cast: Jayasurya, Mamta Mohandas, Aju Varghese, Vijay Babu
Language: Malayalam

Among the several lasting visuals that make up Ranjith Sankar’s eighth film with Jayasurya is that of his character Sunny burning his passport. He has just returned from Dubai and the passport is a duplicate, the kind the embassy issues when the original is either missing or stolen. A scene later, we see him arrive at a swanky five-star hotel, the place he has chosen to spend his mandatory seven-day quarantine. But when he gets there, he walks straight in, forgetting to collect his luggage (or should one call it baggage?). He’s carrying lots of cash too but he handles these notes like they are meaningless pieces of paper. It’s as though Sunny is slowly letting go of things that make him who he is. Or at least, who he was. There’s a finality to his actions, a blankness you only see in people who just don’t seem to care anymore.

This attitude spills over even in the way he starts drinking once he checks into his suite (‘the one AR Rahman once stayed in’). He finishes two liquor bottles like there’s no tomorrow. The drowning continues and it’s not limited to the metaphorical kind either. Because we know so little about him, he first comes across as a privileged fool wallowing in self pity. But there’s more to Sunny. From the initial distance you keep from him, we learn more with each phone call and each passing day. Without the luxury of being able to numb himself with alcohol, he has to open his eyes to his many truths and secrets. And because he doesn’t have the option to escape the four walls of this ‘paradise’ either, Sunny’s inner demons make a visit to keep him company.

In Sunny’s words, he does not need “courage” to kill himself, although he tries many times. It’s just that he has “lost all will to live”. And you get why he’s like this because he has several issues he wants to escape from. His business is failing, he’s fighting a criminal case against his best friend and his marriage is on the rocks. Even moving to Dubai years ago was him trying to escape his reality. But when he’s locked into a closed space, he’s also opening himself up to the remote corners of his mind.

This process can be really painful and you witness it through Sunny. His counsellor describes the pain as withdrawal from the alcohol, but it’s also a withdrawal from the comfort of feeling sorry for oneself. What this period also does is get Sunny to finally grieve. Sunny must never have had the time, or taken the effort, to think about the death of his father. He must have never realised that his wife Nimmi isn’t the same naive girl he married or that he isn’t any good at business. In what’s been a life of rewind and fast forward, this is the first time he gets to hit the pause button.

This makes for a suffocating trip into his state of mind. Sunny’s is the only full face we see through the film’s 90-minute runtime. More than see, we listen to a set of characters over the phone and it is this device that is used to reveal more about Sunny’s past. In another nice visual touch, we see Sunny’s fluctuating priorities as he fumbles through a list of contacts on his phone. Although it is only one face we see, Madhu Neelakandan uses a series of mirror/glass shots, partial framing and disorienting angles to get us to see where Sunny’s at mentally. So, when he saves his close ups and front angles for the film’s most dramatic sequences, we feel it in our skins.

What this strategy also helps with is to remove any fatigue we may have felt with a one-room, one-actor setting. And as Sunny begins to experience more clarity with each stage of grief, we get a film that gives us the feeling of watching clouds clearing up.

But this process of healing does appear a tad simplistic at times. The minimalist approach to access his past through phone calls does wonders with certain strands. But with others, we know too little about the issue and the people involved. In a couple of cases, the resolutions happen so abruptly and so easily that you think it’s the writer wrapping up an issue before he runs out of time. A major financial burden is lifted with incredible smoothness and an old creative flame is reignited just as easily. And without faces or footage to take up deeper into these problems, it all depends on the power of dialogue for us to take it seriously or not.

It’s these niggles that give us the feeling that we’re watching something pleasant, but also uneventful. We get Sankar Sharma’s soothing songs (one that sounds a lot like AR Rahman’s ‘Theera Ulaa’) that further add to the feeling of clouds moving away and equally lovely touches from Jayasurya, the actor, who victoriously switches between broken, indifferent and even flirtatious within seconds. With lovely little voice performances from some of our senior-most actors, Sunny is a character study that works even better as an ode to second chances. It is highly ambitious with its optimism, but it also shows us how comforting it is to witness a person heal.  

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"Vishal Menon: Vishal dropped out of law school to focus on his fondness for film, particularly mainstream Indian cinema. He is a film critic, previously with The Hindu after a stint at Deccan Chronicle and Reuters News. If you thought the book was better than the movie, don’t tell Vishal.."
  
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