What do you do on a holiday especially when there’s nothing really to be done at home? What if you had the company of friends who suggest that you join them on an outing, just to chill and unwind over drinks? And imagine that either your people at home are not around or they are totally fine with you going out and having a good time with your friends? Added to it being the fact that these are friends with whom you really connect a lot, with whom anything under the sun can be discussed. Most of us I’m sure would be happy to go along, in the process getting nostalgic at times and discussing things of the past. At times discussing even things totally irrelevant as well, not that you mind anything after all you are in the company of people you are comfortable with, right?
Now imagine a film which just revolves around one such group of friends who decide to go out on an election holiday and freak out by themselves. What if I would tell you that the film would only feature this get together and nothing else? To add to it let me also tell you that the tale would only revolve around this group of 5 friends and 2 more characters whom they meet at the location they land up at. It wouldn’t surprise me if you think I’m crazy or if you think that a film like this in reality would at best be nothing more than unwanted drunken revelry. Well then let me tell you that you need to watch Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off-Day Game) to understand how one can actually make a film with a topic like this and still manage to come up with a deeply impactful film which shakes you up completely.
Based on noted writer Unni.R’s short story of the same name (but suitably adapted by Unni.R himself), Ozhivudivasathe Kali has been doing the festival rounds, winning two Kerala State Awards as well before finally reaching theatres in Kerala this week thanks to filmmaker Aashiq Abu’s initiative. I had seen the film in a screening as part of the Mumbai Film Festival last year, but even after so many months I keep revisiting the film again and again in my mind, that’s how powerful the film is. There’s not much of a plot per se, very similar to the fact that Sanal Kumar Sasidharan actually shot the film without even a proper screenplay in hand (apparently just a few sheets of paper which had scenes and dialogues written in flow). If that is not enough to tell you that it is a truly indie film in every sense then also keep in mind that except for Abhija Sivakala the film doesn’t boast of a single experienced film actor in the team. Ok more on the way the film was made and other associated stuff later.
It’s an election holiday and a few friends, Dharman (Nisthar Sait), Dasan (Baiju Netto), Vinayan (Pradeep Nair), Thirumeni (Girish Nair) and Ashokan (Arun Nair) decide to set off to a secluded old guest house to sit down and enjoy the day boozing. Of course they start with a halt on the way near a stream where they start their initial round of drinks and start discussing a variety of topics, including the local election that is happening. Once they land at the guest house they come across the caretaker Narayanan (Reju Pillai) and the cook Geetha (Abhija Sivakala). Their revelry continues and so does their discussion. After quite a bit of fun and frolic which includes a couple of people trying to get a little too cosy with Geetha without any success, things take an unexpected turn initiated by what appears to be a harmless game. So what is it that brings a sudden change of tempo? What is the game all about and what happens eventually as the day comes to an end? We find out all these and more as the tale unfolds.
First off all I really appreciate Sanal for having chosen a subject like this which might sound simple but in reality is quite complicated and multi layered. A word of caution to anyone who might go on to watch the film, you need to be a little patient with the narrative. Especially during the start when the friends are just standing and having their drinks near a stream before they head to the guest house, it tends to be quite a long winded conversation and looks pretty realistic. For a while I was actually wondering what is actually happening but then if your patient enough you will soon realize that there’s a wonderful story that will unfold in front of you, you just need to give it some time to grow on you. As already mentioned except Abhija Sivakala there is no other known face in the film, but let that not be a put off as everyone fits their role perfectly. And I’m amazed that the film was actually shot without even a proper screenplay at hand, this shows the capability of the director as well as the adaptability of the actors too.
As their conversation proceeds through the rest of the day and as their supply of liquor is slowly exhausted, there is a variety of subjects that they go on to discuss. Politics does figure prominently in their discussion and why not as it is election period and even the Television news is all about the same. But then the talks go on to get personal, managing to even cross the boundary eventually bringing a momentary halt to the revelry. As all this happens there’s also a clear but informal class division that seems to be visible among the friends which comes out into the open as the discussion takes a serious turn. And without directly referring to the caste or class differences that exist between them, Sanal manages to bring it out into the open and that in a way shows his stamp of brilliance as a filmmaker. You could probably anticipate something out of the blue to happen but when it really happens it would certainly take you by shock. But then the film doesn’t actually ride on the shock value as such and that is no mean feat actually.
In terms of the technical aspects I must add that the whole team has rallied around Sanal and ensured that the film has the best output possible despite the budget limitations. How they managed that is perhaps best left to Sanal himself to explain, but the viewing experience is certainly not compromised for sure. Indrajith’s cinematography is pretty good and he has effectively managed the entire shoot with very minimum number of shots, with the camera remaining static at various places. We also get to appreciate the visual beauty of the location and that happens without letting the visuals overpower the narrative. At a run time of around 106 minutes the film is of the right length, editor Appu N.Bhattathiri’s work complimenting that of the director. When it comes to performances it’s important to note that the 5 men playing the friends are all extremely convincing, despite this being their first film. Abhija Sivakala of course is a natural and fits in very well with her character.
With Ozhivudivasathe Kali Sanal Kumar Sasidharan has achieved various distinctions, to ensure a fantastic literary work is adapted suitably for the big screen, to make it under a single quick schedule (the shooting was over in just 10 days) and with very limited resources and yet to come up with an output like this is extremely commendable. Eventually the film has enough merit on its own to make you keen enough to watch it. Without resorting to preaching and staying well in control the film manages to come across as a powerful social commentary of sorts. Watch Ozhivudivasathe Kali, there aren’t too many such brave films being made in the Country right now. Filmmakers like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan can benefit with all the encouragement that we the discerning audience can provide.