Director: Rathish Ambat
Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Murali Gopy, Indrajith Sukumaran, Isha Talwar, Saiju Kurup
Writer: Murali Gopy
It might seem rather hypocritical for a film that begins by thanking the brand Porsche to lash out at the bourgeoisie over the rest of its running time.
This practice of acknowledging and appreciating those who closely or remotely helped make the movie, came to be a standard in the Malayalam film industry long ago. But in Theerppu, directed by Rathish Ambat and written by Murali Gopy, the folly of this exercise appears pronounced. It is a film that reduces society into a pool of labels and signs, with a screenplay scooped out of newspaper headlines and opinion pieces, where characters are little more than what their names and surnames represent. A husband and a wife are named Ram and Mythili. A character robbed of his ancestral assets and rightful position is named Abdullah Marakkar. The kitchen, where a marriage's bitter secrets come undone, has a large portrait of Princess Diana. Gandhi and Che Guevara smile from the wall behind the couch from where the film's avenger pronounces his judgements. Was one of the characters named Kalyan as a nod to the textile-jewellery brand Prithviraj endorses? Likely.
One could draw a straight line from Theerppu to films such as Kuruthi and Tiyaan, just as the film draws lines from Vatakara, a little coastal town in Kerala, to major centres of political unrest. The women of a collapsed Muslim family wind up in Syria and the pulling down of the ancestral house resembles the breaking of Babri Masjid. In a state where politics is mired in countless homegrown issues, Theerppu presents a replica of the north Indian Hindu nationalist party, the loudness of whose identity would make it a fringe element in Kerala, as the evil one must immediately tackle.
Murali Gopy's writing offers no room for thinking ﹣the characters come in blacks and whites, in perfect packages on which the labels say in bold letters "Bad Guy", "Shrewd Guy", "The Emasculated" and "The Opportunist". Had these roles been played by clothes hung on a clothesline, it would not have made much of a difference. Rathish Ambat's filmmaking completes the flatness of the screenplay. The scenes are conceived with an absolute lack of humour. Consider this part where a wide-eyed Brahmin man, earnestly played by Saiju Kurup, watches in horror his wife being lured by his bosom friend and an accomplished womaniser Ram Nair (Vijay Babu). There is no build-up of sexual tension or an acknowledgement of mutual attraction but loud and graceless hints, like her saree that offers a good view of her waist.
The film's primary setting is a five-star hotel, repeatedly described by its owner as the finest in the world. It is a claustrophobia-inducing, gaudily designed space where grotesque art and obviously cheap replicas of famous archaeological artifacts are randomly arranged, which would have the youngest of the guests wailing for home as soon as they arrive. When an uninvited guest vandalises the interiors ﹣he has his reasons ﹣the viewer can only cheer and egg him on. This fatal combination of wealth and tastelessness deserves to be razed.
Throughout the film, the camera is a listless onlooker that captures the virtuous, the corrupt, the victim and the dubious in the same light. If Isha Talwar's manicured face and expressions do not impress you, it is not on the actress but the filmmaker who cannot recognise the faculties she brings aboard. In the scene after a beloved family man (Siddique) kills himself, Ambatt goes for a master shot that accidentally exposes the poor acting chops of the child performers. When the wife (Srilakshmi) screams "You, coward!", one cannot help but cringe because the scene, thanks to its clumsy presentation, resembles the stage. In cinema, sound, image, and of course, the montage should create the world; Ambatt places the burden on the actors.
Prithviraj Sukumaran is Abdullah, a man on the brink of doom who disrupts Ram Nair's pleasant evening and unleashes terror. It does not take much to make out their relationship ﹣their past, present and future. Sukumaran does not, by any means, look like someone who has seen hell. It is not that he is a bad actor, but he seems to be determined that, at any cost, he will not bend or twist his body to cast out the powerful star that he is in real life and internalise the character. In Sukumaran's hands, Abdullah does not call for sympathy from the viewers but indifference. He waltzes through the movie oozing conceit.
In the dreary finale, the usurpers, who have all the power in the world and no moral compass, fall because they could not care to hire enough loyal servants. Optimistic but outrightly silly. If only society was a set of simplistic deductions designed for a community that takes their lessons from WhatsApp forwards. Theerppu attempts to explain to its audience the murky Indian politics but ends up being an illustrated dictionary for children.