One of the more prominent film industries of India is found in the state of Kerala, but during the past two to three years or so, nothing came out of it that wasn’t a heap of disappointment. Most of the releases had similar storylines that either fell into the romance or comedy genres, and they were starting to get very tiresome. I had pretty much completely lost hope in these films, and wasn’t all too thrilled to watch ‘Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum’ before walking into the theater, but soon after its opening scene, I knew that I was in for something special.
The title, roughly translated, is ‘The Exhibits and the Eye Witness’, and it tells the story of a poor couple, eloping from their village, whose lives depend entirely on a necklace adorned by the female counterpart. Unfortunately, during the bus ride away from home, the necklace is stolen. The wife assures everyone on board that the person responsible for the theft is the man seated behind her, who had gulped down the piece of jewelry before anyone else could notice. This causes a lot of bustle, and the man is taken along with the couple into a local police station for questioning, which leads to the events that make up the rest of the film.
Now, Dileesh Pothan, the director, had released another feature starring Fahad Faasil last year, titled ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram’ (Mahesh’s Revenge, 2016) that went on to win several accolades and was both a critical and commercial hit, but I thought it was a confused mess that held a very familiar and cliched story within itself. ‘Thondimuthalum’ is different because here, it works. Before getting into the crux of its artistic excellence, I have to take a moment to praise the title and how it aids the film. Many pivotal scenes that take place are never shown on screen, and these are left to the audience to guess out. We never really ‘witness’ those important moments as they happen, and I find that to be a beautiful little extra touch that allows moviegoers to fully immerse themselves into the experience.
This is where the movie succeeds primarily. The viewers are able to connect with the characters on screen, in such a way that not one actor or an extra goes to waste. The dialogue doesn’t stop happening when one scene cuts to the next. It continues to play in the background with all the naturality and energy that it had back when it was of prominence. Most of it happens within the aforementioned police station, where we become empathetic towards the main persons of the film (being the two lovers, the supposed thief, and the police officers) as they become helpless in their own sorry worlds. I guess because of this reason, the film is more of a dark comedy than anything else, because within each laugh is a hint of pain.
There isn’t a villain in this picture, not really. Fahad Faasil’s character, the man who is accused, is someone for whom we slowly fall for, partly because he’s more naughty than cunning. The fact is that he is very clever, and in each and every move he makes, there is a spark of his intelligence. Other than something we assume to be true regarding his old job which involved making parathas, he never reveals anything of authenticity or relevancy about himself to the other characters. This makes him the victim of several hits and kicks from the officers, which ends up disturbing his accusers, who form a silent bond with him.
‘Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum’ is a film about many things. It’s concerned with love, regret, hatred, forgiveness, and helplessness. The relation each character has with one another is clearly defined to a point that it feels so very real. The screenplay is solid, and probably one of the greatest scripts in Indian film history. Although I’m not a particularly big fan of songs in movies, the ones here are timed just right and help to set the mood really well (although I wouldn’t say the same for the background music). It is filled with moments of tension, and the tight editing brings us closer to the ongoing situations of the film. There’s a sort of hierarchical taunting that takes place throughout the picture, which I thought was a smart way to utilize dialog as a medium of establishing power dynamics.