Paappan misses the mark by a wide margin

Regrettably, the storyteller’s chosen tone becomes increasingly scattered, digressive and  misleading. In episode after episode, new characters bringing in unscheduled dimensions to the plot, are thrown into the sizzling cauldron.

Subhash K Jha September 16, 2022 13:51:21 IST
Paappan misses the mark by a wide margin

Paappan

The Malayalam blockbuster Paappan, which opened to packed houses in Kerala on July 29, is now available on Zee5. I must confess that after hearing really good things about this police procedural whodunit (what’s with the obsession with this genre in Malayalam cinema?), I came away hugely disappointed .

Paappan in one word, is a mess. A giant, intriguing cauldron cooking up a queerly constructed conundrum that really doesn’t add up. There are mindboggling twists and turns in radio jockey Shaan’s writing. The script adopts the lowest form of murder-mystery  guidelines : it  simply complicates the plot progressively, digressing so far away from its original intent that it almost feels like a journey where the traveler switches the train midway.

Paappan starts excellently. A Malayalam superstar’s murdered body is found hanging from a  tree. The procedural starts immediately when cop Vincy Abraham (Neeta Pillai) arrives with her force. She seems to have zero tolerance for nonsense. When one of her subordinates  refers to the slain superstar as ‘Raviji’, she brusquely reminds him, “Don’t forget, you are a police officer.”

Regrettably, the storyteller’s chosen tone becomes increasingly scattered, digressive and  misleading. In episode after episode, new characters bringing in unscheduled dimensions to the plot, are thrown into the sizzling cauldron. It makes you question the very motive for setting up this murder mystery.

Is Paappan given a clickbait construction to keep audiences hanging on without respite? If that is the underlying gambit, I am afraid it doesn’t work. By the end of the investigation, I was exasperated, exhausted and indifferent to the hurt, pain and anger that the characters  express through their morbid acts of violence.

Besides being a whodunit, Paappan is also the story of an estranged father and daughter. Cop Vincy’s dad Abraham Mathew, a.k.a Pappan (veteran actor Suresh Gopi) is the anti-establishment troublemaker with intuitive powers that his colleagues just can’t do without.

Pappan’s disgruntled daughter Vincy dislikes her daddy for bringing home a new mother after the original one was murdered. There are faint echoes of the Tamil gem  Saani Kaayidham in Vincy’s uneasy, hostile relationship with her stepbrother. Sadly, none of  the potentially interesting relationships are allowed to grow organically in the plot. It’s all  wound up into a ball of tangled tensions to proceed to the identity of the killer on the loose, who turns out to be a completely unexpected character positioned in an awkwardly formed caste-related situation.

Paappan was expected to be engrossing for its suspense as well as for the leading man. Veteran Suresh Gopi, in his new aging but agile and athletic avatar, is not the light-and-soul  of the proceedings that he was meant to be. Partly it is because the writers are constantly groping in dark to resurrect their own shaky faith in the material they have generated.

There are too many loose ends in the plot, too much unsaid and unexplained about the  characters. The basis for the brutal killings is at best serviceable. Beyond a point, one cannot take the proceedings as seriously as the characters. Before we come to the killer’s identity, Paappan suffers an acute identity crisis. Does it want to be a tangled suspense thriller? Or a vehicle to spotlight its much venerated leading man?

Suresh Gopi struggles to remain on top of a dangerously shaky plot. The collapse, I am afraid, is unavoidable. The climax, with a  full-on hand-to-hand combat between the hero and the killer, solves nothing of the problem that the film purports to solve. It is like sitting down to watch Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and winding up with Knives Out.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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