Thrissur Pooram movie review: Jayasurya expends his talent on grimacing through brutal, generic gang wars
The story of Thrissur Pooram is hard to recall because there is so little of it.
castJayasurya, Swathi Reddy, Mallika Sukumaran, Vijay Babu, Sudev Nair, Manikuttan, Sreejith Ravi, T.g. Ravi
Rating: 0.75 out of 5 stars
A discussion on Thrissur Pooram is not possible without referring to other Malayalam films of this genre that were released in 2019: the Tovino Thomas starrer Kalki, Mikhael with Nivin Pauly and Under World starring Asif Ali. Thrissur Pooram is more Under World than the other two in the sense of how generic and boring it is. In terms of violence, its brutality is closer to Kalki than the rest although the bloodletting in this new film is not as unrelenting as it was in that one. And unlike Kalki, Thrissur Pooram is not viscerally misogynistic – it simply relegates women to the sidelines.
Director Rajesh Mohanan’s film places the spotlight on an aspect of Thrissur far removed from the temple festival the city is known for. In fact, at its core, sadly enough, lies a rather nice message that is completely lost: that once you enter the world of crime, you may choose to leave that life but that life is unlikely to leave you. Equally sadly, one of contemporary Malayalam cinema’s finest, most versatile actors has lent his name to Thrissur Pooram. Is it a measure of the limited choices available to him that just a year after his soul-searching performances in Njan Marykutty and Captain, Jayasurya has opted to under-act in this tedious, sometimes nauseatingly bloody enterprise?
The story of Thrissur Pooram is hard to recall because there is so little of it. Once you wade past the deafening background score, the posing around, the slow motion shots and the overall over-indulgence, what you get is a cycle of violence unleashed by a single incident at a coffee shop.
Gangster Pullu Giri (Jayasurya) has given up crime and has confined himself to mundane domesticity with his wife (Swathi Reddy) and daughter when circumstances not of his making destroy his peace. One spark sets off a full-blown inferno, and the result is an all-out war between his until-now-virtually-defunct gang and another. Giri has always had the unflinching support of a respected senior lawyer played by Mallika Sukumaran. Hovering in the background is an old roadside tea stall owner (Indrans) whose son was once mowed down by an unidentified luxury car.
Not one of these men and women is built up as a flesh and blood creature with thoughts and feelings. Ratheesh Vega’s screenplay feels like a patchwork quilt of post-it notes bearing basic descriptors such as “Jayasuryachettan’s character, known as Giriyettan to everyone”, “Giriyettan’s lawyer played by Mallika Ma’am”, “Giriyettan’s wife played by whoever we can get” and so on. Giri’s entire relationship with the latter is recounted through one song featuring the two of them with a couple of lines of conversation thrown in – that most clichéd of devices used by commercial Indian filmmakers who want to give their action heroes a woman to fall in love with and possibly protect, but don’t want to waste time on her characterisation.
The writing of the rival gang is even more skeletal. Of Giri’s enemies, only one is identifiable and distinguishable from the rest: a young criminal played by Sudev Nair whose greatest fear is not being killed but being deemed incompetent by his elder brother, the gang’s kingpin. Now there is an interesting chap, there is someone with whom the storyline could have gone somewhere, but nothing happens. Him apart, the rest are just blurry blobs who I am already struggling to recall.
The camerawork in Thrissur Pooram is pathetic. Poorly constructed frames are set up to magnify personalities but fail miserably not just because heroes captured in repeated low-angle shots and groups of people turning corners in slow motion are done to death, but because DoP R.D. Rajasekar cannot even get his angles right. In one scene, as a man gazes down from an under-construction high-rise building at a body on the ground way below, far from seeming gigantic or intimidating, he looks comical and oddly stunted.
Just as I was consoling myself with the thought that at least the depiction of violence here is not as voyeuristic and horrifying as in Kalki, there comes a murder in Thrissur Pooram that will remain forever embedded in my mind. In a scene towards the end, a man drives a knife into another’s abdomen and the camera actually zooms in on the wound as blood gradually spreads across the victim’s shirt and the killer keeps rotating the weapon to destroy the dying man’s insides.
The cast does full justice to this vacuous script by delivering vacuous performances. Jayasurya gives himself a choice between precisely two expressions throughout: deadpan or mild grimace. Ms Sukumaran looks suitably grim. Ms Reddy looks nothing. Even Indrans, who has in the past extracted a moment or two of quality from the worst of scripts, over-acts in a couple of scenes.
2019 has largely been a great year for the Malayalam film industry a.k.a. Mollywood. Every few months though, just as we are celebrating the lyricism of a Kumbalangi Nights, the poignance of an Uyare or the audaciousness of a Jallikattu, along comes a Thrissur Pooram to remind us of how bad bad can be. The tragedy is that the year has seen even worse.
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