Sometimes the unexpected can really turn out to be a pleasant surprise. I have always believed in the same and keep experiencing something like this once in a while purely by default. One such experience was when I watched Paleri Manikyam- Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha ( Paleri Manikyam- A Midnight Murder Story, from hereon referred to as PM ) for the first time when it released. PM is a deeply moving story of someone in search of truth. One night in a village called Paleri in North Kerala (Malabar region) in the year 1957 certain incidents shattered the peace of the village and forever changed the lives of so many people living there.
That night saw the murder/death of two people- Manikyam and Bhramadattan. Manikyam was recently married to Pokkan, a dumb witted son of Cheeru- the village prostitute and Bhramadattan was a young namboothiri. Different theories abound for the deaths/murders and the police are called in to investigate. That was also the time when the 1st Communist Government in Kerala was to assume charge. So the local Communist Party members also were keenly following the case proceedings. It was being mentioned that the party helped in ensuring support to certain people suspected of foul play, the prime person being Ahmed Haji. So the investigation comes to an end after a few people are arrested and later let off due to lack of evidence.
On the same night when Paleri was shaken up by these events, a boy was born in the same village. The boy grew up listening to the tales of that shocking night and about Manikyam in particular. That boy is now Haridas, a private detective and he along with Sarayu, a criminologist are now in Paleri as Haridas is now on a mission to finally put the stories to rest and find out the truth behind the events of that fateful night. With most of the people connected with the events being dead one is not clear as to the actual intentions of Haridas, but that gets cleared as the story progresses.
I go back to the first line of this post as I had mentioned the unexpected can turn out to be a pleasant surprise sometimes. To start with the movie is based on a novel of the same name by T.P Rajeevan and I have never read the same till now. I was aware that the novel and the film dealt with the first ever registered case of sexual harassment in the state. But beyond that I did not really know what to expect and thus imposing faith in Mammootty and Ranjith the director, I set forth to watch the movie and experience the magic in motion for myself.
This is probably one of the best personal movies that one can see. By calling it a personal movie I’m referring to the way the director enables us to move along with Haridas and experience the proceedings for ourselves. While Mammootty as Ahmed Haji is the one who will probably gain the maximum accolades (well deserved too), Mammootty as Haridas is very much essential to the plot as well as he plays the narrator for most part of the movie very effectively. Manoj Pillai’s camera lights up the natural locations so admirably that one cannot but help being wonder struck.
Many a times in the initial part of the movie while Haridas is taking us through Paleri and introducing characters and events to us I could distinctively feel that I was watching a play on stage. This was something I found to be very different and refreshing. For me the best part of the movie was the sequence where Haridas is narrating and you see him in the middle of the scene while to both his left and right you find a traditional boat laden with people (in the river ). But there’s a difference between both the boats, while one shows Manikyam coming home with Pokkan after the wedding, the other shows the dead body of Manikyam being taken for post mortem by the police.
Such a brilliant encapsulation of time and moments in a single frame has to be seen to be actually believed. Sharreth and Bijibal also deserve mention for their musical score which is very apt for the movie. The movie has very few well known actors (mainly Mammootty, Shweta Menon, Sreenivasan and Siddique) and most of the other actors are drawn from T.V and theatre. What is commendable is that Renjith had actually organized a talent hunt camp for the same which had more than 500 participants. It was this camp which helped Renjith choose people like Musthafa (younger Keshavan), Sreejith (Pokkan), Vijayan Nair (Velayudhan) etc who are all very effective. Both Srinivasan and Siddique as true veterans lend justice to their roles.
Shweta Menon as Cheeru balances oomph and helplessness effectively and Gowri Munjal is decent as Sarayu. As the central pivot ( Manikyam ) the debutant Mythili couldn’t have asked for a better start to her career. How do I write about this film without saying anything about Mammootty? Well after starting the year 2009 disastrously with duds like Love in Singapore, Ee Pattanathil Bootham and Daddy Cool, he bounced back tremendously with Loud Speaker,Pazhassi Raja, Kerala Cafe ( Puram Kazhchakal ) and now PM. Whether its as Ahmed Haji,Haridas or Khalid Ahmed,Mammootty is simply superb.In fact while watching him as Ahmed Haji the cruel landlord with a weakness for women I couldn’t but help thinking of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Vidheyan where Mammootty was wonderfully effective as Bhaskara Pattelar, an exploitative landlord.
Those who would watch the movie expecting it to be a racy murder mystery would be disappointed. This is something much more than that. It stands tall as a social commentary. Even as you have certain doubts as to the way Haridas and Sarayu are shown sharing an infidel bond and also the way they are shown with their mannerisms (Haridas is mostly seen with his Jim Beam and Sarayu is forever smoking) as the story progresses one even is able to get the connection to all this with the main plot.Saying anything more would only spoil the experience while watching the movie and hence I wouldn’t want to elaborate further.
A story that is very much relevant even today, this is what Malayalam Cinema needs and I hope we get to see many more movies such as this one in the coming years. While most of what I’ve written is based on the experience of watching it for the 1st time, I must admit that this is a film which captivates me even now when I watch it. It’s sad to see a fine actor like Mammooty struggling of late with a spate of duds after his last wonderful film Pranchiyettan and the Saint came out nearly 2 years ago which incidentally was also made by Ranjith.
Note- This was originally written in the end of 2009 after the release of Paleri Manikyam and the post has now been re-written to re-look at Mammootty’s golden days considering that of late he’s been having a spate of duds.