Cinematographer Sanu John Varughese’s directorial debut, Aarkkariyam (Who knows?) is a slow paced, quiet thriller. Set in the early pandemic days when masks, social distancing and sanitizers were just becoming the norm, the movie starts with patchy suggestions of a family drama unfolding. Roy, the hero is shown awake in the night perturbed over the repayment of a heavy loan temporarily given by his close friend while his wife is deep asleep unaffected by it all. How many of us would have picked up any cue from that about what is in store in the story?
He and his wife Shirley are preparing for a long journey from Mumbai to her father’s house in Kerala. Their daughter is expected to join them there. Preparations for the journey are done quietly, but
elaborately, attending to even minute details like emptying and cleaning the fridge, including those for tackling the pandemic-imposed demands, amidst the looming worry over solving the financial problem. We are witnessing the new normal of living with the virus in these first few scenes, perhaps, for the first time in a movie, and it cannot be more realistically depicted.
Ittiyavira, Shirley’s father is a widower, who manages a home quite ably and meticulously like a lady would be expected to do in traditional families. The new breed of directors in Malayalam seems to be silently establishing the new normal in sharing the household work by all members of the family. In this movie, one may easily notice men not just sharing the work, but doing everything as part of their routine work in an unassuming manner, while the movie primarily focusses on its business, whatever that be. The happiness of a family union is rather demonstrated through this sharing and caring for one another.
The joyful union of the threesome is dampened a little by the sudden declaration of the national lockdown. Shirley’s daughter is stuck in a neighboring state with her caretaker and Shirley’s plans to bring her back gets delayed. Roy seems to be more concerned about the financial crisis he is in. Not much about the family is revealed until this point, forcing us to decipher it all from the casual conversations of the members and the other characters. As they cook, clean, wash, process the jackfruit (which is a collective effort indeed), eat, crack jokes and pray together, the information can be somewhat pieced together, yet, incompletely. Ittiyavira and Shirley are pious Christians. The old man frequently alludes his trust in ‘His wish’ and advises others to leave everything to the invisible’s design.
Just after a very normal looking moment when we wonder where the story is heading, you are sucked into the abyss of a whirlpool involving a family secret, revealed in as few words as possible by the most unsuspected person.
The blanks suddenly get filled, but the movie rises to a new high now. From that point onwards you expect more to happen matching up to the explosive revelation of the best kept secret. But the pace doesn’t increase a bit, though events designed by the invisible plays out where even the inconveniences of the lockdown and Ittiyavira’s fall, and his subsequent ill-health are destined to happen to complete the story.
The actors do their part well. Parvathy’s Shirley is as natural as it can be, but the character is not allowed to bloom to its full potential, maybe because the storyline demands so. Biju Menon as Ittiyavira has lent excellent body language to the 73-year-old man. Sharafudheen‘s Roy, who is struck by the financial crisis, and later by the weight of the family secret, is convincing too. All other actors blend well in the scenes and support the lead actors with equal ease.
This is one story which could have ended in different ways after the heavy moments at the midpoint, going by our preconceived notions about thriller movies. There is a striking, but fleeting resemblance to Drishyam in the way the twist is inserted in the plot. It is engaging in the sense of many predictions the writer wants you to make while the course of actions is already planned by the almighty. Are we satisfied with the matter-of-fact explanations given at the end, in minimal conversations between the lead pair? Can we generalize on the theory put forward, which is rather a wishful thinking than a logical conclusion? The film has certainly taken some liberties on this account. While the ingenuity of filling every possible loop-holes was the highlight of the movie – Drishyam, this one takes a different point of view. Interestingly, for the likes of Drishyam fans, there is ample scope for a sequel!
The film’s subtle tone, music on acoustic guitar and the down to earth delivery of dialogues in the right dialects are highly relatable. It gives a sense of having lived there in those idyllic surroundings.
(AARKKARIYAM, Malayalam, 2021)
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