Few films proffer an opportunity to the viewer to explore more into them on retrospect, and Madhupal's 'Ozhimuri' is one of them. The fragments of narrative that make up this beautiful tale present an unhurried rumination on the oldest of all battles - the war of the sexes.
A legal combat is on between Meenakshi Amma (Mallika) and her husband Thaanu Pillai (Lal), with the former demanding Ozhumiri - divorce - at the age of fifty five. Thaanu Pillai is seventy one himself, and the young lawyer Bala (Bhavana) is quite amused. On approaching the couple's only son Sarath (Asif Ali) to see if a reconciliation is possible between the two, she throws open the doors to a world, where men and women engage in a vicious struggle to overpower each other.
In this world that existed long ago somewhere along the southern outskirts of Travancore, Nair women ruled over men. Possessors of immense wealth, these women who were called 'Ammachimar' gained ascendancy over their men folk in no time. Kaali Pillai (Swetha Menon) is one of them, who is quick to dismiss a mistake of a marriage with Sivan Pillai Chattambi (Lal). On returning home after a bath one evening, Chattambi finds his betel box on the verandah, suggesting that it's time for him to leave.
Kaali Pillai moves on with her life, meeting hell and fire head on. Her authority and command makes her son Thaanu Pillai resolve that he wouldn't let a woman squander his life away. Kaali advises her daughter in law that a Nair woman should walk like an elephant, stomping down as it passes by, and should have the aptitude and capability to manage things on her own. For her, night and day should just be the same.
Meenakshi, Thaanu Pillai's wife is no Kaali Pillai, and before she knows it, is relegated to a speck of dirt in her husband's world. She is beaten up black and blue, abused and maltreated by a man who seeks revenge for the disappearance of his father through his hapless wife. With every slap that he delivers on her face, Thaanu Pillai affirms that he is not what his father was.
In the process Thaanu Pillai alienates his only son Sarath, who finds it impossible to understand his father's haughtiness and fury. He remembers that the two major events that marked his childhood days was his father leaving for work and arriving back home. His memories unravel Thaanu Pillai as a man, busy proving a point to himself and the world and with each act of his further leaving his distraught family in shambles.
A thunderbolt lies in store when Bala points out that Sarath is a reincarnation of Thaanu Pillai himself. Meenakshi Amma acknowledges the reality with a meek smile that sends Sarath into a state of denial. Eventually though, he realizes that he would without doubt evolve into his father, whom he had despised all his life.
Equally interesting is the way in which women in the film fall into two distinct categories; two different classes altogether that are differentiated from each other by the clout that they possess. There is Kaali Pillai at one end of the spectrum, the highly authoritative woman who doesn't think twice before thrashing a man who has encroached her land, or before reclining royally before the sub-inspector when summoned to the police station. At the other end however is Bala's mother, who gets whacked by her husband, merely because he was insulted back at the office.
The men folk seem to be busy devising plans of their own, and Thaanu Pillai is advised by an uncle to be a mahout to his wife and to wield his ankus right that would make the animal dance to his tunes. Kaali Pillai breaks the ankus into two and throws them away, as Chattambi looks on helplessly. Meenakshi, succumbs before the whip and clutch of the metal hook and resigns herself to a life of agony.
When Bala questions her as to why women always need to be at the receiving end, her grandmother comes up with an analogy of a bitch that gives birth to its puppies and rears them even as her own health wears away. The dog on the other hand never seems to care. It's the way nature works, shrugs the frail old woman, though Bala refuses to be convinced.
'Ozhimuri' could easily boast of one of the best scripts of the year, and Jayamohan induces a smoldering intensity in this multi-textured narrative. The swings across time frames spanning three generations isn't easy to accomplish, but here is a truly enterprising writer who lets us live along with each one of his characters.
'Ozhimuri' belongs to three actors - Lal, Swetha Menon and Mallika - who have contributed immensely in building up this ineradicable ambiance of unease. While Lal excels equally well as the subservient Chattambi and the outwardly conceited Thaanu Pillai, who hides a heart that beats soft for his son, Swetha Menon proves yet again that she has an unsual flair for throwing surprises on the viewers. As the indomitable Kaali Pillai, Swetha is delightfully good. And of course, what a fabulous performance from Mallika, that should be one of the best in her career as yet.
As the infinite tussle between men and women go on and on, role reversals become a part of life and freedom seems a distant dream. The forever shifting views on truth offers a challenging experience, and Madhupal's 'Ozhimuri' is no easy watch. It burns slowly, spurting off those sparks every now and then, and even when the smoke and fire appears to have died out, you sense that crimson embers lie glowing and buried deep inside. In short, it's a film that should in no way be missed.