Exiled Malayali director Sanal Sasidharan’s swan song plays a tune and operates at a pitch we’ve never seen before except perhaps in Sasidharan’s ireful S.Durga in 2014. In that film Sasidharan was not afraid to plunge into the abyss of the unknown as he explored the sexual dynamics of caste , gender and religious discrimination on a scarily dark desolate stretch of a road less travelled.

In some unexpected way, the highway in S. Durga became a metaphor for the socio-cultural imbalances in our society where the bullies often posing as custodians of the country’s moral values take over the destiny of ordinary citizens.And so it happened with the couple Durga(Rajshree Despande) and Kabeer(Kannan Nayar) who are on the run.The girl is Hindu and North Indian. And the boy is a Muslim from Kerala. Yup, this is the forbidden frightening world of ‘love jihad’ as seen through the eyes of a director who suffers with the couple and is able to transmute their feeling of growing dread to the audience . As the couple hitches a ride with four sinister ‘strangers’ (billed simply as ‘strangers’) the intuitively improvised narrative gathers its cumulative strength by letting the couple’s destiny hang in abeyance.

Now in Vazhakku it is a lawyer on the brink of a divorce who travels the road less travelled,in more ways than one. While Siddharthan(Tovino Thomas) drives through the foliage and wilderness, he grapples with an ugly breakup with a voice on the phone.

The forestry is an apt metaphor for his state of mind, and the unpredictability of his journey.After a fiery fifteen-minute conversation with his wife(during which she calls him every name possible from a whore to a pervert, and he probably is most if not all of these) Siddharthan runs into a frail ailing swooning woman Saathi(the unfailingly brilliant Kani Kusruti) and her daughter (Thanmaya Sol) in the solitude.

It is remarkable how Sasidharan frames the woman and the child walking on the narrow path cut through the trees, like two lost travellers in the jungle with nowhere to go. The forest , a vessel of untold secrets , has never seemed more predatory. Sanal Sasidharan’s cinematographer Chandru Selvaraj camera prowls through the grim greenery like a wild beast.

There is a mounting feeling of fear and foreboding in the narrative. What starts off as a self-introspective journey of a man who is on the verge of losing his family due to his own errors of judgement(elements of autobiography here, Tovino even resembles Sasidharan in places) grows into a tale of domestic abuse and grisly violence.

By the time Vazhakku ends, two people are dead.In a clumsy getaway, our protagonist Siddharthan is on the road again, with nowhere to go,just like Saathi.

The end-game has a seriously homicidal antagonist (Sudev Nair)unleashing a reign of terror that is disturbing and unexpected. But that’s Sasidharan for you. His mode of narration is often impenetrable. We know as little about how his mind works as his characters: they seem as clueless as to where they are going as the audience.

“All these conversations are a farce,” a characters comments at one point.

Perhaps that line is the key to Sasidharan’s static world of travelling nomads who have nowhere to go but to their doom and would rather be left to their wretched destiny than talk about it.

Just as in S. Durga, the first fifteen minutes of Vazhakku are totally unrelated to the film. Should we trust a director who does what he wants to .Since he doesn’t seem to care about his character, why should we?

Tovino’s Siddharthan seems too selfabsorbed to actually care about the victim of domestic abuse Saathi. But there he is ,giving her a shoulder , even coming close to kissing her at one point. Is he just horny? Or does he really care?

Tovino plays the impalpable character with a refreshing vigour. This is his best performance to date, and the only one he plays without his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek. The rest of the cast is immeasurably invested in a film that must be seen, if only to appreciate how the mind of an incurable non-conformist works on screen.