Iyobinte Pusthakam Review
The elaborate canvas on which Amal Neerad sets up his period drama 'Iyobinte Pusthakam' is blatantly gory and ravaged by the frenzied cries of the browbeaten. With raw blood splattered all over it, it lays bare a dog eat dog world, where heads are slain, skulls thrashed and guts ripped apart by the thrust of a spear. In this beguiling terrain of degradation and violence, none is what it seems and truth lies veiled behind a haze.
The 70's that saw the emergency being declared in the nation, also had a comrade (T G Ravi) sitting down to pen his book titled 'Iyobinte Pusthakam', wherein he narrates a tale that he had witnessed during his younger days (Sreejith Ravi), when the forests in Munnar had given way to the freshly laid tea plantations. With the freedom struggle on in full swing, 'Iyobinte Pusthakam', a prologue to the ballad of the mountains, talks of a land and its people, both of whom were engaged in a passionate struggle to regain their lost identity.
In the wake of the 1900's when a British tea merchant Harrison makes inroads into Munnar, he spots a native boy named Iyob (Lal) and takes him under his wings. Iyob grows up to be a tough man, marries Annamma (Reenu Mathews) and the couple has three kids. Meanwhile, with his wife abandoning him for greener pastures back home, a distraught Harrison is enamoured by a dusky beauty Kazhali (Lena), who had emigrated to Munnar from the Nilgiris, after having been accused by the villagers of being an evil sorcerer.
Sporting badly smeared lipstick smudges over her lips, Kazhali takes on the role of the foreigner's wife and soon gets pregnant. Harrison who sails to Britain to set a few business deals right passes away on his journey back to India, and a fully pregnant Kazhali is thrown out of the house by Iyob, who then takes over charge of the entire estate. With the attendant having turned assailant, a teary Kazhali makes an exit, but not before uttering an arresting curse on Iyob's family that renders Annamma sleepless.
Iyob's elder sons Dmitri (Vinod Jose) and Ivan (Jinu Joseph) take after their dad, and keep up the vicious family tradition by emerging as juvenile murderers. Their younger sibling Aloysius (Fahad Fazil) is petrified of their deeds and scampers away into the darkness of a misty night. Eventually he joins the British Royal Navy and goes to war, and later gets dismissed from service for partaking in the Naval Mutiny against the Queen. Aloysius returns to his homeland to find that the blood streams had not stopped flowing since he had been away. Instead, the murky currents of hate have only got stronger.
'Iyobinte Pusthakam' is a film that could very well boast of an exhaustive characterization that merits an intense analysis. With none of the blockbuster concerns hovering large over the plot, scenarists Gopan Chidambaram and Syam Pushkaran do a fabulous job of leisurely placing the characters on the board, infusing each of them with enough blood and breath that helps them vigorously spring to life. Shorn of the dramatics, they then lead us on to an immersive tale that grabs us by our throat and throws us right on to the midst of the Dostoyevskyan battleground, reminiscent of the 'The Brothers Karamazov'.
To start with, there is Aloysius himself, the prodigal son who has developed a heart of steel that only melts at the thought of his childhood sweetheart Martha (Isha Sharwani). The man who seldom smiles is torn apart to see his clan being accursed by tormented souls. Never proclaiming himself to be a communist, he holds on to his ideologies that are essentially human, and does not think twice before discarding his family, or what is left of it, for what he deems right.
The sexual offender that Dmitri has evolved into, has transformed him into a sadistic pervert, who unleashes his pent up wrath on his wife Rahael (Padmapriya). His impotence has driven him into a state of psychosis, where the sole purpose of his life is to get things up and running again. His desperate visits to the quack convince him that he is under the spell of witch craft, and is least amused when he sees Aloysius moving closer to Martha.
The brutal heart that Ivan harbours within, is one that matches up with his brooding self. A man who smells of gun powder and who talks with bullets, Ivan's machismo is the kind that breeds dread. With a wicked will that surpasses all sense of logic and reason, Ivan would stop at nothing until he has ascended the power throne.
And there is Iyob himself, who is distraught to see his ruthless sons out for each other's blood, and who finally announces with a sigh that having been raised by his mother has made all the difference in Aloysius. Caught in a web of repentance and sorrow, the old man flees for his life from his elder sons, and seeks refuge with the only man whom he trusts in the world. As the last shot is fired from his gun, and as he lies dying, his life flits by his eyes and Iyob realizes with a wince that Kazhali's curse has finally come true.
The women in the film fall into two categories - the silent ones who have taken it up as their destiny to crouch behind the shadows of the men around, and the gallant ones who bite a chunk off those arms that threaten to defile. There is Annamma who is muted by Iyob time and again, until a bout of malaria hushes her up forever. There is Kazhali too, who nestles herself against a white horse on the grasslands, from where she goes on a rutted voyage along the extreme ups and downs of life.
The white steed appears again, years later, as her stunning daughter Martha discovers Aloysius, love and the sea. Martha is a far cry from her mother, and as she lays down her mother's corpse on the bullock cart without as much as a tear and heads out to bury her with a spade, she flaunts shades of Hardy's Tess. She reminds Aloysius that she shares a strange fate with the black cat and the wild fowl, and yet hopes to start life anew with the man who has offered her a hand.
The edgy mynah that hops around in the golden cage in Rahael's room is pretty much the woman herself. Undoubtedly the most complex persona in 'Iyobinte Pusthakam', Rahael hides a trove of secrets at the corner of her lips. Furtively munching on juicy strawberries when she isn't being tortured by her insane husband, Rahael is the dubious seductress whose smile can send a shiver up your spine. Her stealthy revenge on Dmitri for gifting her a lifetime of misery and her guarded advances on Aloysius, Ivan and later Ankur Rawther (Jayasurya), make her the most impious enchantress of all. The landmine that she is, Rahael lies silently in ambush, with the unruffled lowering of her designed gaze, tolerantly watching her victims blow up one after the other. At the end of it all, even as she splatters her brains all across the wall, Rahael sees to it that her sly smile is right on place.
There are the women who occupy the peripherals of this story as well, who leave pertinent marks. There is Cheeru, who delivers a tight slap across the face of a prospective molester, and who later invites a bullet right into her chest for having vehemently refused to let go of her self respect. There is Rosamma too, who insists with a smirk that that baptism could hardly bring about a change in fortunes for a troubled populace and that instead, unity could.
In a land ruled by anarchy, they say attack is the best defence. And in a land where even the grass blades are believed to have the sharpness of a hatchet, the saying rings true. Aloysius does whisper to a screaming Ganapathi Iyer, before chopping a finger off, to tell anyone who dares ask about the handicap, that it was lost in a bloody handshake. Even more interesting is the narrator's retort to Ankur Rawther, when being approached to finish Iyob off. Without as much as batting an eyelid, the comrade declines the offer, adding that it would be foolhardiness to invite a greater evil to mitigate a lesser one.
The film has an array of bravura performances that range from Fahad Fazil's imposing act as the resolute Aloysius to Lal's striking display of histrionics as Iyob. Jayasurya retains the icy glare in Ankur Rawther's eyes with aplomb. Jinu Joseph and Vinod Jose have been splendidly cast, while Vinayakan wows with a bouncy feat as Chemban.
Perhaps the most meticulous character delivery in the film comes from Padmapriya, who ensures that Rahael remains a buzzing bee that has somehow got into your ears. Lena and Reenu Mathews do justice to their respective roles, while Isha Sharwani brings in a magical charm to Martha, resting her head against the window pane, with her golden tresses fluttering in the wind. There are plenty of other noteworthy acts too, like that of T G Ravi and Sreejith Ravi, Aashiq Abu (who appears in a cameo)and Saritha Kukku. Barring an odd item number by Amala Paul that looks and sounds way too out of place, everything and everyone else falls into place in this remarkable film.
'Iyobinte Pusthakam' is without doubt, one of the most visually outstanding films ever made in Malayalam. Amal Neerad, the incredible cinematographer that he is, vibrantly captures the vast expanses of the yellow sands, the blue seas and the green jungles with such exquisiteness that every frame in the film turns out to be a momentous ocular piece. Equally notable is the scintillating sound design by Tapas Nayak, and the glittering musical score admirably composed by Neha S Nair and Yakzan Gary Pereira. Sameera Saneesh, the costume designer who has wowed us time and again, lends her magical touch to 'Iyobinte Pusthakam' as well.
In 'Iyobinte Pusthakam', Amal Neerad inventively puts together all the elements of a much known tale and recreates it magnificently into a poignant and resounding work. It's a film that takes its time to set itself up and get going, and shot on an epic scale is compellingly appealing and wonderful to behold. At once a contemplative and strapping work of art, 'Iyobinte Pusthakam' is the best Malayalam film as yet, to have hit the screens this year!
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