Monday, 16 June 2008

Pakal: Appreciation

I was looking through this collection of Malayalam CDs at this local store the other day. As much as the news of rental libraries back in the old country had shocked me, the cheap prices of the new originals and their ready availability did bring a smile to my face. And anyways, I ran across these few movies that I never knew existed, and quite recent ones at that. One among them was Pakal, released towards the end of 2006, and starring Prithviraj as a central character.

The movie is directed and penned by M.A. Nishad, of whom I'd never heard either, which is not surprising considering this was his first attempt at movie making. As the initial scenes would immediately make aware, the film rolls around Panakkaamkudi, an agricultural village in Wayanad, Kerala. A village where continuous crop failure, low demand, debts and 'political politics' have pushed the life of the, mostly immigrant, farmers, to the edge. Nandakumar(Prithviraj) and Abu(Sudheesh) are reporter and cameraman, respectively, of Kerala Today TV channel. After their report on a recent suicide involving the family of a Panakkaamkudi farmer, they are sent to the village to produce a detailed coverage of the plight. They come across various characters, Kunjappan(Thilakan) with his ongoing strike of 14 years against Governmental injustice his family had to suffer, Thenginthottathil Joseph(T.G. Ravi) who along with his 4 daughters, see death rather a saviour as they try to push their lives forward. Among the suffering villagers, is Ummachan(Jagadhish), a local loan shark, who himself is a cause of unrest for many indebted farmers and the females in their family, if you can catch the drift.

The film thus tries to touch upon a very sensitive subject, which is daring, and as such commendable, coming from a debutante. Nishad does cover a good bit of points throughout the story and does offer some reasonable and some rather ambitious solutions. In doing so, the movie almost tread into documentary territory, read preachy on the boring side, as well as produce some stereotypical scenes of unity and ambition, without properly documenting the changes and sudden developments. One example would be the sudden change of heart of the previously anti-social minded youngsters. They were a problem until Thenginthottathil Joseph's daughter Celine(Jyothirmayi) marches off the church meeting, when they all join her, and suddenly they are all good hearted. But it can also be noted that such downs are not found often and the director does a good job into shedding light onto a number of problems, without being biased, in a touching and understandable way, which is no normal feat. Examples for these would be the unsympathetic helplesness shown by the bank manager or the approach of the Collector(Swetha Menon) during her meeting with Nandakumar and Abu.

Prithviraj is among the best of the younger generation of Malayali(note how I spelled the whole word, patrons of the term 'Mallu' especially) actors. Him choosing similar roles is commendable and him being able to bring the characters to life, in a seemingly effortless manner is testimony to his talent. Jyothirmayi does her role convincingly and so does Thilakan as the mentally scarred old man, Sudheesh with his subtle funny moments etc. T.G. Ravi is in a class of his own, as the veteran actor does live the plight of a farmer on the edge who wants to end it all, if not for his daughters. Also notable is Jagadhish, who otherwise has been annoying in his roles as of late, with his over the top mannerisms and post-expiry date jokes. But here he transforms himself into a menacing and perverted villain and does make a viewer hate him with a passion. Jagathy makes an unnecessary cameo just to add a number onto his film resume. There are a couple songs penned by Girish Puthenchery and composed by M.G Radhakrishnan, which though not magnificent, does not really interfere with the affairs and are rather good in a simple way. Technically this is not the best films we've seen, but coming from a young and fresh crew and considering the theme and effort, there are only forgivable mistakes which can be neglected/overlooked given the fact that there is lot on the good side. Overall Im easily happy I found it.

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