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Experimental Road trip movies seems to be coming of age in Malayalam cinema, especially since the launch of Samir Thahir’s “Neelakasham Pachakkadal Chuvanna Bhoomi”. Tahir’s was a strange, self indulgent and polarizing film with echoes of that classic, 60’s Jack Nicholson starrer “Easy Rider”. Fellow members in mouthshut - @earnesTaster and @Jmathur - have been urging me to write reviews on Malayalam cinema and I, for a long time, kept quiet because honestly I haven’t seen a film that was worth “celebrating” like those great yesteryear classics from the likes of Bharathan and Padmarajan in a period - 80’s and 90’s - which was considered as the Golden age of Malayalam Cinema.(This doesn’t mean that we haven’t produced any good movie since then)
But I’m glad to report that “North 24 Kaatham”, the latest travelogue offering from debutante director Anil Radhakrishnan, goes a long way in achieving the so-called blend of “art house entertainment” with a remarkable sense of competent story, film aesthetics & character arts. It is an experience(insurmountable) comparable to few other films I’ve seen recently and is a travelogue that is beautifully filmed, exquisitely rendered and acted and directed with such maturity & composure. The film features a simple road trip, involving 3 strangers, covering 24 kathams or 380 ode kilometers, on a marooned Harthal day and explains how that trip changes the 3 character’s lives forever and ever – leaving couple of them to never ending ecstasy & enlightenment while the other is left with a mournful, heartbreaking tragedy.
Fahad Fazil plays, Harikrishnan, an obnoxious, workaholic, IT expert who is working obsessively in a leading multinational company developing softwares and stuffs. The film opens on a hilarious note, with Hari doing an early morning laughter therapy exercise which is part and parcel of his daily, military-like Regime. Hari is depressed & angry with his life and gets agitated with people around him every now and then – isolating himself in the process from his colleagues and his family simultaneously by striking as an “Intellectual Nerd”. First 30 minutes or so in the film portrays the mundane corporate lives of Hari and his occasional outburst with his fellow office members.
Hari plans to quit the Job when he gets so frustrated with his life but when he comes to know the fact that his colleagues are ecstatic with his decision of leaving the Job, he decides not to. On a particular occasion, the company asks Hari to go to Trivandrum to do a presentation on a software which was founded and developed by Himself. On this journey he meets two strangers - an Ex-Marxist “Gopalan” played by Nedumudi Venu and a Social worker “Narayani” played by Subramanyapuram fame Swati Reddy. Gopalan and Narayani were able to influence Hari’s life in such a big way during the trip, may be because they’re the only few people the poor guy actually got along with - at least to a certain degree. As the journey kicks starts, the trio gets along pretty well and not only finds out a route map to reach home safely but also shares their candid, personal experiences that occurred on various faces of their lives.
Apart from the terrific understated performances from its three leads – Fahad Fazil, Nedumudi Venu and Swati Reddy; the real strength of this comes from the technical crafts team. Govind menon’s soothing music; Jayesh Nair’s gorgeous cinematography, the pitch perfect editing cum sound mixing from Dileep Dennies & co and the absolute conviction of Mr. Radhakrishnan’s himself - Its exquisite direction. This guy comes as a matured director from a Royal fraternity that is brimming with incredible filming Aesthetics and is definitely a notch above the contemporary new generation directors especially in terms of sheer technical craft.
There are numerous scenes in this film which proves this debutante’s vast talents and my favorite is that remarkable ending sequence where Nedumudi Venu’s character gets all wound up with tension & anxiety, as the trio gets closer and closer to his home. Gopalan is trying to explain, nostalgically about his past life with his wife and the remarkable yesteryear's they spent together in a somewhat inconsequential high school. As the trio reaches home, the neighbors shroud the Ex-Marxist one by one, indicating a seemingly dangerous tragedy in his life, something which he once denoted as The Inevitable.
There’s no suspense generating tool used here – No cheap shots, no stucco, No gung-ho spoilers - and the remarkable thing about that scene is nothing but the fact that it comes at us on a frightening pace without ever really calling our attention to it. The whole sequence left me spellbound and the composition and emotion are such as they summarized the movie up until then; my eyes was going left and right and left and right - kind of mirroring Gopalan’s confusion and the strange predicament he’s left with.
So that’s 4.5 out of 5 and two thumbs up for the brilliant, beautifully rendered “North Katham”. This is a stunning work of art and one that reminds me of that classic Bill Murray starrer “Lost in Translation” directed melancholically by Sofia Coppola, the daughter of the Legendary Francis Ford Coppola, in an Oscar Winning turn.! Don’t miss it.!
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