Thottappan Movie Review: A Great Setting, A Few Great Moments And A Missed Opportunity

The film is poignant in the way it deals with the idea of ownership. A thief, by definition, takes things that do not belong to him. So is Sara any less of a daughter to Ithack just because she is not his bloodline?

Language: Malayalam

Cast: Vinayakan, Priya, Roshan Mathew

Director: Shanavas  K Bavakutty

Spoilers ahead

Two desperately-in-love septuagenarians who are separated by society. A blind shopkeeper married to a woman much younger than him. A group of clam-fishing gossip mongers who’re also the best of friends. A priest who turns a blind eye to the sins of his village. A husband who hires a thief to steal from his own wife. A dissatisfied wife who waits for her husband to go on ‘night duty’ so she can call her lover home. Populated by dozens of characters that deserve their own movies, Shanavas K. Bavakutty’s (the director of Kismath) Thottappan is more about the people than its plot. Set among Kochi’s tiny islands, the film also speaks the story of a thief named Ithack and his god daughter Sara. Ithack and Sara’s father are as thick as, well, thieves and the latter names Ithack his daughter’s godfather (thottappan). And when Sara’s father disappears a day before her baptism, Ithack, a lonely man with no family, assumes the duties of her father.

From picking her up from school to taking her to movies starring female action icons, Ithack grows up along with Sara. Sara (Priya) herself grows up to become an independent individual albeit with the disadvantages of being looked at as a thief’s daughter. Her day begins with clam fishing, cooking mid-day meals in school and on to working as domestic help. Call it the aftereffect of the way she was brought up but she’s just as confident picking fights on the road with men as she is barging into a tea shop and eating her meals there even when there’s not another woman in sight.

Ithack too is a lot more sober thanks to her. Though he hasn’t given up his dharmic duties of stealing idols from temples and churches, he plans on retiring the moment she gets married; his own married life is something he sacrificed to bring her up. Which is why the film is so poignant in the way it deals with the idea of ownership. A thief, by definition, takes things that do not belong to him. So is Sara any less of a daughter to Ithack just because she is not his bloodline? Does Ithack cease to become Sara’s father even when there’s a chance of her real father returning one day? As the aforementioned priest answers one of Ithack’s queries, “what is the harm in theft when everything belongs to God?,”. Ithack even gets himself blessed each time he plans a loot.

But things get a lot more complicated when it’s time for Sara to find a suitor. Ismu (Roshan Mathew) enters her life because he is important to Ithack. But when things get messy between the both of them, where should Sara stand in the matter? Can Ithack afford to make a mistake when it comes to finding his goddaughter a husband?

Headlined by Vinayakan’s wonderful performance, Thottappan is a film that comes together better in the head than it does on screen. Is there another actor who can do ‘drunk’ as well as Vinayakan? You should see him in the scene where he’s accused of stealing during a wedding party. Even so, one wishes the film had supported him as well as he has supported the film. The main problem with Thottappan is that it has too many strands to keep track of, never doing justice to any one of them. Entire sub-plots, like the one involving Ithack punishing a rapist, happen so suddenly that its difficult to understand where it all fits in. Even Ismu’s characterisation is confusing at best. Entire strands like the blind shopkeeper and the 70-year-old lovers never gets their arcs completed. Which is why we don’t really feel the impact as we move towards the climax.

Why isn’t the idea of a daughter avenging her father as great as it sounds? It’s a film that suffers due to excessive detailing and there are far too many characters to keep track of. This inconsistency is evident even when it comes to the performances. Manoj K Jayan’s usual louder style of acting just doesn’t fit into a film like this. Even the dialogues, when it comes to a couple of characters is really difficult to understand. In the film’s effort to lend it a novel-like quality it tries too hard, achieving only a portion of what it sets out to. It still has a few wonderful moments but it clearly could have been so much more.

"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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