Starring Prithvi Raj, Biju Menon
Written & Directed by Sachy
Rating: **** (4 stars)
This startling product of the fecund Malayam film industry must not be missed for many reasons. Where do I begin? The incredibly agile screenplay which pitches a righteous, fearless cop Ayyappan (Biju Menon, a discovery for me) against a privileged, arrogant, feudal ex-soldier Koshy (Prithvi Raj, brilliant as ever) in a battle to a bloodied sweaty finish.
It is very difficult to categorize Ayyappanum Koshiyum. It denies us the luxury of simple definitions, by creating a language of cinematic expression that is at once rugged and ruminative. As the two heroes and unlikely adversaries fight it out for over three hours, the atmosphere crackles with an inward tension. It’s like when you draw your breath in on seeing someone somersault in the air, and forget to exhale.
This is a very masculine film, and I don’t mean that in any toxic ‘Arjun Reddy’ way. It explores the male ego and punctures it so effectively that we feel the full weight of what writer-director Sachy (his earlier debut film Anarkali is also worth checking out) is doing here. He takes the traditional hero-giri of the Southern cinema where, say, Rajinikanth fights it out with Kamal Haasan, and turns the in-your-face machismo on its head.
Ayyappanum Koshiyum is a celebration of blood-thirsty brotherhood. The two actors are so inured to their characters that we feel their mutual tension even when they are not around. The other characters are not sidelined either. Not at all! Koshy’s father played with toxic fervour by Ranjith, fills the screen with a vibrant venom while Ramesh Kottayam as Koshy’s driver and father-figure serves up a masterclass in muted unobtrusive wisdom. He is the kind of guy you can rely on when all hell breaks loose, as it often does in this film.
But make no mistake, this is a film devoted to bringing out the best in its two male leads, Prithvi Raj and Biju Menon who are incredibly in-character as two class-challenged adversaries pitched against each other in a battle that won’t die down under pressure. Menon is a special revelation to me. He plays a force of Nature that can only be stopped from going amok while doing the right thing when put in the khaki uniform.
There are three female characters, of Koshy’s wife Ruby (played by Anna Rajan), Ayyappan’s wife Kannamma (Gowri Nandha) and a sweet-tempered kind cop Jessie (Dhanya Ananya) who at one point confesses she feels human only when she wears her khaki uniform. None of the ladies have much to say. But when Kannamma finally flares up at Koshy I wished I was in a theatre to hear the deafening applause.
I loved Ayyappanum Koshiyum for many reasons, its fierce originality, its uncompromising take on the compromises that fate forces on the unsuspecting. But above all, I loved the way this film humanizes the police force like never before. Every cop in the police chowki is seen as an individual bound by a sense of duty, none more so than our hero Sub-Inspector Aayyappan Nair.
By the end of the film, I felt a renewed respect for the police force. This is a film that has so much to say about class differences in a power-drunk society where the meek shall never inherit anything but the dirt. Any shortcoming in this startling drama of a wordy, bloodied dual under the sun? Yes, the length. Watching Ayyappanum Koshiyum exhausted me. But in a good therapeutic kind of way. It is the exhaustion of swimming against the tide and emerging a winner.