Arun Kumar Aravind was successful in remaking Pierce Brosnan starrer Butterfly on a Wheel into a lush Cocktail but it carried the tag of an ‘inspired’ uncredited movie. Murali Gopy, journalist and thespian Bharath Gopi’s son who was last seen in Bharamaram, had earlier penned Dilip’s Rasikan but there are not too many people who can recall the movie. In a sort of redemption movie, these two come together in Ee Adutha Kaalathu , a movie that gives Trivandrum an identity beyond its lingua franca, made infamous by Suraj Venjaramoodu.
Ee Adutha Kaalathu does not make Trivandrum a full-fledged character in itself like Kahaani or Shor in the City but it gives the city its due by imparting its precincts with a life of its own, whether it is the wastage grounds of Thopilashala where protestors demand a stop to the dumping of garbage (but ironically dump their waste in the same pandal), the town side where people survive doing odd jobs or the urban centres where marital discords and sensational stories are not easily hidden from the eyes of yellow journalistic papers like Thee. It starts with the wastage of Thopilashala and eventually comes to a close at the same place (You were made from the dust and into the dust, you shall return).
Ee Adutha Kaalathu (EAK henceforth) is a fascinating hyperlink movie (movie with multiple narratives and storylines) brought together by an extremely clever screenplay and engaging set of characters which keeps you to the edge of your seat till the very end. It is not a conventional thriller – a major crime goes on at the background with very little notice while a minor crime sets off a wild chain of events that changes the lives of the people involved. It is almost impossible to discuss this movie without spending a lot of the time talking how the script evolves.
In most hyperlink movies, there are a set of characters who go about their lives till one incident brings all of them together but in EAK, there is no one major point of inflexion. There is a reason for the scenes to exist in a manner that they come across and eventually, each of them has a link to a larger context in the movie. Murali Gopy’s script is the hero of the story and I have not come across a more seamless and effortless flow of scenes and characters in a Malayalam movie in recent times.
In the heart of the city, Ajay and Madhuri Kurien (Murali Gopy and Tanushree Ghosh) are in a marriage that is under siege due to Ajay’s weird and abusive behaviour and the only saving grace is the presence of their cricket-crazed son Ayush. At the other end, in an Agraharam, are Vishnu and Ramani (Indrajith and Mythili) who are deep in debt but survive on the odd jobs that they manage to find in the city. Ramani is a rag picker wile Vishnu creates objects from the waste (the one who does the actual job of recycling here as the voiceover says) and sells them to make a living.
Tom Cherian (Anoop Menon) is an IPS police officer who has returned from a brief training at Scotland Yard but is clearly out of depth in the hard-nosed job of police investigation and is looking for short cuts to achieve success on his job. Roopa Vasudevan (Lena), Madhuri’s friend, is an investigative journalist and feminist who eventually falls for Tom, in a convenient law-meets-media marriage. Rustam (Nishan) is a North Indian construction worker who makes money by making porn videos and is out to entice an extremely frustrated Madhuri. Somewhere in the background, there also lurks a serial killer who hacks old people to death and flees with their valuables and cash. An attempted heist goes wrong one day and then….
There are no black-and-white characters (even the city is tarnished by its overflowing garbage dumping ground) and each has a background that lowers their sheen. Ajay Kurien’s past holds a key to his absurd sexual behaviour now, Madhuri has had a not so memorable life behind the arc lights, Tom Cherian’s training at Scotland Yard makes him a butt of jokes, Roopa Vasudevan’s promiscuous and ‘liberal’ views serve as a mask for her insecurity that Thee paper exposes and even Vishnu has a past filled with misadventures and failed attempts to make a secure life for himself in the city.
Life is full of surprises that cannot be explained but care has been taken to get the script to go beyond these co-incidences and crank visuals into the plot that explain a lot of what happens in the future – it’s almost like there is no co-incidence and nothing exists for no reason. Even before the Laughing Buddha creates havoc, we get a glimpse of it standing unsteadily on top of the shelf. We see the broken kitchen handle in an earlier scene to justify the house break-in, Vishnu’s arrival in Doctor’s Colony is preceded by his role as a sub-broker for a house deal there, Ajay’s aversion towards Hindi and his long sight by itself is trivial but they have a relevance towards the end of the movie when Ajay almost discovers Madhuri’s secret.
In terms of its form, EAK uses visual echoes to set the mood and tone of the movie at regular intervals. The reading on the parish wall, the presence of the Lord and the Father and even the RSS fleetingly suggests a helping hand from the top (literally you’d realize when you watch the movie), life’s complexities (and maybe the director’s!) as symbolized by the Rubik’s cube which Ayush finally solves at the end, the car accident that begins and closes the movie, the mirror which hides more than it reveals is used many times and the hacking of the neck finds its resonance on more than one occasion (including Vishnu’s name as Vettu ‘Vishnu’).
EAK starts on a bit of a sluggish note with and takes quite some time to establish the basic fault lines in the plot. It finally takes off with full ignition almost 90 mins into the 1st half when Vishnu realises that something needs to be done fast to get his life back on track. On a minor quibbling note, the scriptwriter Murali Gopy does not full justice to his own story. He is sexually frustrated due to some untoward incidents in his life and takes it out on his wife but when Bonakkad Ramachandran (Jagathy) threatens to expose him and is warned by Roopa, he makes a retreat. But does it affect his relationship with his wife? Wonder why this side of the story was not taken to a more logical conclusion.
It also makes an attempt to stay away from stereotypes and so there are no permanent heroes and villains in the piece. The only person who ends with a more redeemed character at the end is the man with the lowest moral angle in the beginning. Roopa and Madhuri share a close friendship but even when Madhuri says she knows that Roopa will die but not reveal her secret, there is a veiled threat behind it or when Madhuri talks about her disastrous fling, the first thing that Roopa asks is Did you have sex?
As the title suggests, EAK is a very contemporary movie peppered with a lot of references to real life incidents but except for a couple of instances, the rest of them form a part of the narrative. So, you have Padmanabha Swamy Temple overwhelming presence at the background, problems with the Nano car’s performance, concerns on the rising North Indian population among workers, sanitation problems in the city, changing attitudes to sex, yellow gossip journalism and tax raids on the two superstars (the only reference that is at once forced into the narrative).
Indrajith plays with aplomb the central role linking most of the narratives and his choice of characters have ensured that he always has a few interesting movies up his sleeve. Anoop Menon is a personal favourite now (had a hearty laugh when he says I suspect a terror link at the scene of the murder or gives a detailed ppt sketch of the suspected killer) while Jagathy continues to make cameos count big with his stellar show (Hope he bounces back after his accident). Tanushree Ghosh as Madhuri suffers a wee bit with the dubbing at times but makes her presence felt otherwise. But the biggest stars in the movie have to be Murali Gopy, Arun and Gopi Sundar in their roles as the scenarist, editor and music director.
All so casually, many of us talk about fantastic scripts but you must watch EAK to understand how the writing literally drives the plot. Every small bend or curve is negotiated with finesse and is well-oiled; the dialogues are smart and funny and for most part, fit in with the natural scheme of things without forced humour (witness the police questioning when they stop Madhuri’s car or Duckworth-Lewis method in Ayush’s match or Tom’s serious observations on the crime). It is easy to get carried away by the premise of talking of too many things at the same time or going too glitzy and snappy while executing the movie (the Kaminey types) but EAK does not get carried away.
With a movie that works like a Rubik’s cube, the editor has a critical role in playing it just at the right pace so that all the clues and links fit in smoothly, without any hurdles and the editor-director translates the directorial vision into clear cinematic space. Gopi Sundar’s brilliant BGM acts as a glue in fusing all these aspects together (of course, I was told later that the main theme music is rip-off from the soundtrack of a 1998 English movie Next Stop Wonderland) and you have a winner in your hands.
Multi-starrers remind me of a strategy that Brad Pitt explains in Moneyball – if you can’t replace a top player with another with the resources in one’s hand, get an equivalent number of players who can create the same impact. It makes imminent sense in Malayalam where resources are scarce but expectations continue to be high (see how we react every time the National Awards are announced). I’d like to think that the success of Traffic has put the spotlight on low and mid-budget movies, starring multiple actors and atleast a ‘decent’ screenplay and EAK is an off-spring of this new development…