Review Malayalam

Bhayanakam review: Poetic piece on a postman and the horrors of war

Release Date: 22 Nov 2018 / 02hr 07min

Cinestaan Rating

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Suparna Thombare

Set during World War II, director Jayaraj's film juxtaposes the beauty of Kerala's Kuttanad region with the horrors of a war being waged miles away from the homeland.

Jayaraj's National award-winning Malayalam film Bhayanakam juxtaposes the beauty of Kerala's backwaters with the horrors of war with such finesse that you are left awestruck. 

Jayaraj takes the character of the postman from novelist Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's, Kayar, and weaves a poetic and poignant tale around him. As a note in the end reads, around 650 soldiers out of 87,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War II belonged to the Kuttanad region. 

Bhayanakam follows a postman (Renji Panicker), an army veteran from World War I, as he ferries around in his boat and walks laboriously using his crutches (on account of his injury during war) across the fields to deliver letters and cash to families from their sons in the army.

Initially, he is greeted with love and respect as he is viewed as the bringer of good news by the poor families who had no choice but to send away their sons to war, largely unaware of why it's being fought in the first place. 

Meanwhile, the second world war begins and recuritment at Kuttanad continues. But as the war intensifies, the same postman has to deliver telegrams carrying the tragic news of their sons' deaths on the front. 

The colourful lens of the cameraman turns into grey tones once war errupts in some far away land. An interesting story-telling device portraying that dark times have fallen upon the land. 

The postman must also deliver the tragic news to someone he has become extremely close to (Asha Sharath). As days pass, he gets more and more weighed down by the tragedy all around him, and people begin to dread even the sight of him. 

The camera caresses the landscape with leisurely charm. The pathos of how the effects of war destroy, not just the soldiers on the battle field, but also their families miles away, is conveyed with minimal dialogue and maximum impact. 

The director also mulls over the futility of war through the eyes of his protagonist as the postman attempts but fails to explain to the kids of the village the meaning of the war and who is fighting and benefitting from it. 

Every frame is poetic, and the marriage of Nikhil S Praveen's cinematography and Jayaraj's screenplay form one of the most poetic and personal pieces on the horrors and futility of war.

Bhayanakam was screened at the 49th International Film Festival of India on 22 November in Goa.

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