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Review Malayalam

Aarkkariyam review: Promising, slow-burning drama undone by often confusing, uneventful writing

Release Date: 01 Apr 2021


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Suyog Zore

Cinematographer-turned-director Sanu John Varughese's film has some interesting ideas but fails to weave them into a gripping narrative.

Cinematographer Sanu John Varughese makes his directorial debut with Aarkkariyam, a slow-burning drama set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in India in 2020.

The film begins with Shirley (Parvathy Thiruvothu) and Roy (Sharaf U Dheen), a couple in Mumbai, preparing to visit Shirley's widowed father in Kerala. The pandemic is yet to rear its ugly head, but its effects are already showing. Roy is also having some financial problems owing to his dealing with a close friend (Saiju Kurup in a guest appearance).

In Kerala, Shirley’s father Ittyavira (Biju Menon) is preparing for the family’s arrival. Ittyavira is a retired mathematics teacher and a devout Christian. He owns several acres of land. Unlike Shirley and Roy, Ittyavira leads a simple, stress-free life.

The film spends most of the first half getting the viewer acquainted with the dynamics of the family and the effect of the countrywide lockdown on people. The unhurried, easy-going pace of the screenplay by Varughese, Arun Janardhanan and Rajesh Ravi creates a false sense of security, until a shocking revelation by Ittyavira threatens to end everyone's peaceful life.

The film keeps our interest afloat till the interval despite nothing much happening by way of the plot. The forced interruption in the busy lives of the protagonists in the form of the lockdown acts as a catalyst to bring the family closer.

The big revelation just before the interval leads the viewer to believe that things might become more dramatic, but the plot continues to move forward at a snail's pace without any major issue. Even the shocking revelation is dropped in such an unassuming manner that it hardly has any effect. This uneventfulness in the second half is what undoes this carefully crafted drama.

There is also a subplot about Shirley's daughter who lives in a hostel, but it seems like an afterthought by the writers, just to give some emotional heft to Parvathy's character. The mother-daughter relationship remains unexplored. It could have been an interesting counterpoint to the newly formed relationship between Roy and Ittyavira.

The film also offers some philosophical ideas, but they are not realized to their full extent, making Aarkkariyam feel like a pretentious attempt to create something out-of-the-box for the sake of it. The film talks about how certain things are beyond our control and we should just let god handle them, but this message could have been delivered more subtly.

Biju Menon is excellent in the role of the tired yet determined father. The 50-year-old actor captures well the nuances of a septuagenarian's behaviour such as the body language and hand gestures. Never once do you get the feeling that you are watching a younger man pretending to be old.

Parvathy is also good at whatever little she has to do in the film. After the first half, her character is pushed into the background and the film focuses more on the developing relationship between Ittyavira and Roy.

Sharaf U Dheen also delivers an excellent performance as a man caught in a moral dilemma. The film is told from his perspective and it was important for the viewer to connect with his indecisiveness, otherwise the film would have fallen flat in the first half itself.

Aarkkariyam has excellent production design by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval. G Srinivas Reddy's camerawork is neither too intrusive nor too indifferent. The cinematography gives you a good sense of the geography of the location.

Overall, Aarkkariyam is an honest attempt by a talented team that is let down by uneventful and often confusing writing.

Aarkkariyam is now available on Amazon Prime Video, FilMe, First Shows, Neestream, Roots Video and Cave.

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