Suresh Unnithan's 'Ayaal' has the fragrance of wet mud, damp and moist after the first downpour of the year. They say the heady scent drives serpents into a delirium, as they slither around in an orgasmic frenzy, searching for a mate. Steeped in mystery and intrigue, here is a film that combines a baffling narrative with visual splendor, rendering it one of the better movies of the year.
Kotharan (Lal), as he is affectionately called by all and sundry, is a Pulluvan, whom they believe has a way with God. Unable to rein down his insatiable lust, Kotharan has a child with his sister-in-law Chakkara (Iniya), even as his hapless wife Janaki (Lekshmi Sharma) struggles to keep her status in his life intact. The sisters however have to deal with the ultimate challenge, when Kotharan falls for the Thampuratti (Lena), and she reciprocates his adoration with equal fervor.
'Ayaal' is thus a brutal tale that rips apart conventions and throws them to the winds. The primal desire that is very much existent within each one of us, but which is quenched by societal coercions, find an expression through the extremely virulent Kotharan, as he rampages across his land, devouring women in all forms.
The isolation that Kotharan eventually finds himself surrounded with is at once overwhelming and devastating. And yet , refusing to let himself be bogged down by regrets galore, he waits on an islet for the tides to turn once again. The implications of having led a life sans compromises are laid out plain and clear, and yet it's all green around. Life promises to sprout again.
It is this unconcern for rigorously segmented rights and wrongs that is also characteristic of his muse, the thampuratti, and she looks him straight in his eyes, before asserting that she has committed no mistake. These subtle surprises that the dense script penned by K Ampady offers throughout, put forward a question as to what are the sacrifices that one would be willing to make to furtively lead a life that one can positively call one's own.
It cannot however be ignored that the compactness that jolts you in the initial hour of the film gradually gives way in the latter half. The questions pile up further, just as you think an answer might be in sight, it takes you off on another tangent, leading to a few contrivances popping up in quick succession, not all of which are convincing.
Phew! Lal, the actor, is back with a bang, and how! There aren't any antics that are way over the top, and for once, the dubbing is almost perfect. It's after a very long time that we get to see Lekshmi Sharma in a role of substance, and 'Ayaal' does full justice to the actress in her. Iniya plays the seductress to perfection, and brings in the right amount of oomph that Chakkara demands of her. But it's Lena who doles out a whopper performance yet again, with her portrayal of Thampuratti.
It has been quite some time since a film came along, that has captured Kerala in all its glory. Sujith Vasudev leaves no stones unturned and sees to it, that the exquisite transfer back to the land of coconut palms is complete. The music by Mohan Sithara, Somasekharan and M G Anil, is nothing short of divine, and the songs soul stirring ones.
Despite the meandering towards the final point, skilful direction and state-of-the-art technicalities assure that 'Ayaal' remains engaging from start to finish. A striking feat, no doubt, 'Ayaal' has a slow burning intensity that sets it a class apart.