When Malayalam superstars play characters with negative shades, more often than not, one can expect things to take a turn towards the climax, revealing the saint who had hidden in plain sight, in wolf’s clothing. This has been the case except for a few remarkable films over the past few decades, so much so that superstars playing negative characters can give away the plot twist early on.
However, in Ratheena’s debut film Puzhu, there is no quick whitewash job at the end, nor is there any redeeming quality thrust upon the character played by Mammootty. For much of the film, we experience the same feelings that his young school-going son experiences in his presence. No, it is not affection or respect, but a strong sense of fear mixed with revulsion.
It is not easy to put a finger on what really makes the character behave in such a way, especially since the script by Harshad, Sharfu and Suhas, reveals only the bare bits and pieces of his background or past until the very last moment, when we get an overflow of information. The casteist hatred that he displays towards his sister (Parvathy)’s husband Kuttappan (Appuni Sasi) is easier to understand, but not so the attitude towards his son (Master Vasudev) nor his constant fear of someone being out there to endanger his life.
Director: Ratheena PT
Cast: Mammootty, Parvathy
The oppressive father has built a rather sickening routine with his son, which involves recounting the minute details of the boy’s day and them watching together an old home video, which he pauses right at the point where he stops the boy’s now-deceased mother from picking the toddler up when he falls on the ground. He comes across as someone who strongly believes that he means well with each of his toxic or repulsive actions, be it towards his son or his sister. One can almost hear him utter, “This is for your own good,” after one of his terrorising acts against his son or the sister.
The whole film is built around this character with a very hazy past, that in some of the passages where nothing substantial happens, one wonders whether the makers too were groping in the dark as we were. Even a hint about his past job, which has an important part to play in the whole story, is brought in out of nowhere at the climax that it does not leave us with the intended effect. In fact, the whole climax passage almost seems disconnected from the rest of the narrative, which slowly but successfully builds the anticipation. The parts where the protagonist and another set of characters talk about a deal gone wrong and hold conciliatory talks only serve as digressions.
Having said that, Puzhu marks an important debut from someone who is clearly not ready to walk the beaten path. Ratheena’s filmmaking is marked by its economy and quiet control, which adds to the horror of some of the father-son sequences. One only wished for the script to be not so intentionally hazy at some points, even though it does not hold anything back in aiming barbs at casteists.
But, Puzhu in the end belongs to Mammootty, whose menacing screen presence and earnest performance holds together the film even in its weakest points. It is always a joy to see superstars breaking out of the tiresome mould that they have been caught in for years, and rediscovering their sparkling abilities which endeared them to the audience in the first place.
Puzhu is currently streaming on SonyLIV