Caste politics is something that is less discussed in mainstream Malayalam cinema. Even when it gets discussed, there is a tendency to articulate it verbally through dialogues and make it excessively loud. Debutant Ratheena’s Puzhu, starring Mammootty as the central character, is a well-made political film that slightly loses its subtle quality at the very end of the film. With the narration happening from the oppressor’s perspective, Puzhu is definitely an interesting watch.
The movie is built around this upper-class character played by Mammootty. He is a widower who is living along with his son Hrishikesh aka Kichu. He is a police officer by profession with a major interest in real estate. His sister married a Dalit drama artist, and the conservative in him couldn’t come to terms with that. Along with that, he was living with this fear that someone was trying to kill him. The movie talks about a phase in his life where the ideologies he followed became fragile.
There are numerous positives for the movie regarding the politics of the content and its making. Instead of educating people about caste-based discrimination, they are just narrating the story from the perspective of a person who believes there is nothing wrong with that discrimination. The movie is never empathizing with that person. Instead, it exposes how many of the normalized justifications we hear have whitewashed our society’s Dalit and minority phobic mentality.
The discomfort of Mammootty’s character when he is among the people he can’t stand and how his character justifies his toxic parenting strategies somewhere makes the content a lot more relatable than preachy. The only issue I had with the film was the islamophobia track that happens at the tail end of the film. The issue actually does come under the radar, but it stood out like a sore thumb that the subtle quality of the movie got disturbed.
As the central character Kuttan, Mammootty is extremely good. It is a tricky space when you have to make a character unlikeable yet present his perspective in a highly emotional way. Mammootty made the character look like someone who believed thoroughly in his problematic ideology. Parvathy Thiruvothu, as the sister character, doesn’t have too much of a space to perform a diverse range of emotions. But she was believable as an individual who took a bold step and stood by it. Vasudev Sajeesh as Kichu was really good, and his ability to show the relaxed and tense version of Kichu helps the film make us understand his father’s toxic influence. Appunni Sasi as Kuttappan was graceful, and with just a few lines, he was able to make us feel for his troubled past. Nedumudi Venu, Kottayam Ramesh, Kunchan, Indrans, etc., are the other prominent names in the cast.
For almost 90% of the movie, there is that careful and conscious effort to keep Puzhu in that space of a compelling drama where you are also trying to figure out the missing pieces. Written by Harshad along with Sharfu and Suhas, the presentation of the politics in the slow-paced drama is very interesting until they decided to give a reason for something that felt like the leading character’s hallucination. It was almost like the checklist of the writers had numerous issues faced by the minorities and Dalits. While all the other issues managed to smoothly get a space in the story, the islamophobia track got squeezed in forcefully. The cinematography primarily uses static and slow-moving frames to show us the eeriness. The color palette in the home sequences also showed the lack of life in the characters’ lives. The usage of background score was minimal, and Ratheena trusts the writing and performances to create drama rather than a loud background score.
Despite the loudness at the last minute, Puzhu is an otherwise subtle and, to an extent, a thought-provoking political drama that deserves to be watched. The structuring of the story, the multiple layers they have incorporated to make it engaging on many levels, the narrative that looks at the whole picture from the other person’s stance, etc., make it a movie that excites you on a craft level.
Despite the loudness at the last minute, Puzhu is an otherwise subtle and, to an extent, a thought-provoking political drama that deserves to be watched.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended