In his new film 'Tourist Home', Shebi defies expectations and takes you on an elliptical expedition around a few lives that have transiently boarded themselves at a local lodge. Unique and unclassifiable, it is a stimulating piece of experimental film making, the dynamics of which are much more intricate than what its seemingly clear-cut exterior suggests.
The first of the ten rooms in the dilapidated tourist home near the Trivandrum Medical College plays host to a group of men who have arrived to try their luck at a game of cards over drinks. Leading the pack is Chackochan (Idavela Babu) and the money lender with a loud stomach (Kochu Preman). Mammootty (Madhupal), a man in dire straits joins the group, seeking assistance from Chackochan, who also happens to be a politician.
In the adjacent room, Anitha (Sarayu), a fully pregnant woman is nervously counting the hours, as her first delivery seems imminent. Rajeev (Sreejith Ravi) is around, lending her support, and the couple seems to be anxiously trying to tide over the crisis that they are in. Moving on, we get to see Sathyanathan (Maniyanpillai Raju), an astrologer who is confused by the demands of his visitors. Playing diverse tasks that range from enemy slaying to restoration of romance, he struggles to keep his soothsaying skills updated in the era of social networks.
The intermittent burps from a wireless phone emanate from the next room, where a traffic cop (Kalabhavan Mani) listlessly awaits the arrival of a hooker with whom he has stricken up a deal. When she (Archana) finally walks in with her daughter in tow, he is infuriated. The room next houses a grand dad (Nedumudi Venu), who paces the room worriedly, even as his grandson plays around with the TV remote. The man refuses to grand the child's wish of having an ice cream, and remains fidgety throughout.
A woman (Lena) in tears, rises slowly from her bed, laying the rumpled bed sheets right, when a pimp (Chembil Ashokan) walks in to remind her that a customer would soon arrive - the last one - before she leaves the place with her husband who has been hospitalized. Shoving a few currency notes into her hand, he leaves, even as she desperately tries to come to terms with having sold herself at the meat market.
Sajan (Roshan) cannot believe his good fortune, and is stunned that his class mate Reshma (Meera Nandan) has agreed to meet him at the tourist home. He gets busy tidying the room when he hears the much anticipated knock on the door. Two petty thieves (Kalabhavan Nazeer and Ajay Nataraj) in another room discuss their business that has fallen on evil days, while across the walls, a mother (Thesny Khan) gets her teenage daughter ready for a reality show, aided by a dance instructor (Sunil Sukhada).
Jojo (Hemanth Menon) is almost envied by his friend Aloysius (Suvidh Krishna), for the former's good looks as well as his dream job. Promising to introduce him to an acquaintance that should hopefully help him sail through the interview scheduled for the afternoon, Jojo leaves Aloysisus alone in the room, with disastrous consequences. In the very last room, two friends (Rejith Menon and Sreejith Vijay) on their way to a wedding, unwind before the television, eating and generally having a good time.
I was reminded of the anthology film 'Four Rooms' which had four directors - Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - setting their stories on New Year's Eve, in four different rooms of the Hotel Mon Signor in Los Angeles. The backdrop is precisely the same in 'Tourist Home' as well, though the tales that are told are radically dissimilar.
There is this tremendously tranquil tenor that the slow moving camera brings into the film, as it wordlessly shifts from one room to the next, going in rounds and rounds. The stark brutality and pathos that characterizes these individual stories stands out in sharp contrast to the unhurriedness of Firoz Khan's splendid cinematography that unsettles you after a while. Having emotionally latched on to one tale or the other, you start wishing it would move a bit faster to reach the room where your favorite story is being told.
This is a film that deserves to be seen as more than a mere experiment in single shot film making. Helmrich, I'm sure must be one happy man. The life that is induced into each one of these stories is what makes 'Tourist Home' a noteworthy film that needs to be discussed as much for the technicalities that it has put on show, as for the theme that it dwells on, and remarkably so.
The rooms inside the tourist home look as grimy as the streets outside. The creaking table fans, the spluttering televisions that at times refuse to come to life, the slimy posters on the fading walls, the stinking bed sheets, the broken bathroom tiles, empty liquor bottles lying around in the shelves - the air is as real and smelly as it gets.
The writing is top-notch in at least four of these stories, and the one in which a hapless woman comes face to face with her husband after having crossed the limits of self exploitation, penned by Thomas Chacko is simply brilliant. Equally interesting is the way shockers lie in store in two other tales written by Kutti Naduvil and Unnikrishnan SS. The emotional exploration that characterizes Manoj's account is enormously appealing, while all the other stories stay in tune with the narrative tone.
With such a huge cast, it's almost a herculean task to pick out favorites, but Lena makes the job much easier. What an astounding performance from the actor, who brings in the very last bit of vulnerability and defenselessness into her depiction of the distraught wife! Equally impressive are Sarayu and Sreejith Ravi who together manage to keep us focused on their struggle, and Kalabhavan Mani and Archana who draw up fresh lines of intimacy and warmth.
Seasoned actors as Nedumudi Venu, Idavela Babu, Madhupal, Maniyanpillai Raju, Thesny Khan and Kalabhavan Nazeer deliver adequate performances, while the younger breed consisting of actors as Hemanth Menon, Ajay Nataraj, Rejith Menon, Sreejith Vijay, Meera Nandan, Suvidh Krishna, Saiju Kurup and Roshan prove beyond doubt that there is plenty of fresh talent to look out for.
Shebi's 'Tourist Home' slices across the world that we live in with finesse, and in the process presents us with the essence of being human. As you flit from one room in the film to the next, the queries that haunt your mind are many, and you realize that the film maker has gifted you with a vitalizing cinematic experience - one that entangles you on diverse levels.
(3 / 5) : Good