Director: Diman Dennis
Cast: Shane Nigam, Himika Bose
Valiyaperunnal tries to cram three layers in one ambitious film — a sociopolitical docudrama set in the tenements of Mattancherry, a gangster story in which cops are the bad guys, and a love story between Akkar (Shane Nigam) and Pooja (Himika Bose). The docudrama layer introduces us a host of quirky characters — a character planning a con involving the smuggling of star turtles, and while that is still underway, wondering if he should learn to play marbles competitively to earn some pocket money; a self-proclaimed don with relevant experience in the Bombay underworld; a character anxious to get his friends to believe that he’s in a relationship with two foreign women; twins comically named Ummaachan and Paapaachan; and Akkar, whose twin passions are dancing and his girlfriend Pooja. In this docudrama layer, he has little to do except exude coolth, and demonstrate his slick dancing skills, especially in a cleverly-staged sequence that blends a fight and a dance practice session in the span of a song (music by Rex Vijayan).
We also learn of real estate moguls trying to evict those living in the tenements, and about how the Government hasn’t released reparations for those who died working in the harbour. Fighting such forces is a Louis Philippe-clad don who spouts gritty dialogues about the gangsters of Kochi, and participates in his daughter’s mehendi celebrations. Up until the interval, the film lovingly details even a few more characters, setting up an expectation that all this detailing is going to pay off.
The payoff doesn’t come. In the gangster layer of the film, all characters promptly collapse to a single dimension: Akkar’s loyal satellites. Akkar and his friends commit a robbery (along with an unintended crime), which they hope is one-off. But, thanks to a narcissistic cop who steals from the thieves themselves, they are forced to commit crimes to save themselves from that first one. As proof that they are indeed gangsters now and not the idlers that they were before, the film restricts itself to showing them chasing various targets, or by having elders lecture them about the long-term ramifications of gangsterism. Given all the detailing about their socioeconomic situation in the first part of the film, one would expect the newly-minted gangsters to be self-aware, to acknowledge, if not understand, their existential crisis. But Akkar and his men show no desperation or helplessness when pushed to become criminals; they all continue to speak and behave the same way.
The love story layer of the film, between Akkar and Pooja, is mature and organically developed. But, neither Akkar’s passion for dance nor love for Pooja influences anything he does in the film. Pooja’s presence in the later parts of the film, when it has switched completely to gangster mode, only serves to heighten the tedium.
The film relies heavily on twists, but, in most cases, these seem to be gimmicks of editing, rather than genuine twists written into the script. As we move through the film, we lose a clear sense of what Akkar is trying to accomplish. He starts off becoming a don to deal with the fallout of his first crime, but soon begins to crave revenge against the corrupt cop who framed him. It is as if his character arc was based on a tarot reading in Celtic Cross formation, revealing new, arbitrary dimensions to his mind as the cards are opened.
An ambitious vision is palpable in Valiyaperunnal, especially in the early parts of the film, before it turns into a gangster film. But it is an ambition in vision that does not come through in the execution.