Venu declares himself as an outstanding, unique and challenging voice in Malayalam cinema, with his second directorial venture 'Munnariyippu', a revelatory drama that throws together an emphatic, no-nonsense narrative with a couple of out-of-the-world performances. Incredibly scripted by Unni R, 'Munnariyippu' is engrossing stuff that gradually puts together the pieces of a jigsaw, proffering one revelation after the other with each move.
Anjali Arackal (Aparna Gopinath) agrees to do some ghost writing for the Jail Superintendent Moorthy (Nedumudi Venu) and a chance encounter with an inmate Raghavan (Mammootty) alters her life forever. Having served twenty years for committing a double homicide, Raghavan furtively whispers to Anjali that he has murdered none. When Anjali does an article on him that turns him into an overnight sensation, he is bemused and reluctantly agrees to tell her his real story.
Thus Venu's 'Munnariyippu' is an intimate mood piece that viscerally explores a psychological tussle between a man and a woman, as she frantically tries to lay him stripped before a prying world even as he determinedly refuses to let go of the shroud of secrecy that he has wrapped himself in.
For Anjali, Raghavan's endless languishing in a claustrophobic space makes no sense, and when she insists that he take a step out into a life beyond the prison, the man is perhaps momentarily swayed by the prospects of a sunlight that had been blocked by the jail walls. Travelling to his new abode, he murmurs that much has changed since he had been away, and looks on with a constrained inquisitiveness at the skyscrapers that have cropped up all over, and the serpentine roads that wind up and down over a torn landscape.
I couldn't help being intrigued by the two faces in black and white that carry the entire narrative of 'Munnariyippu' forward. Remani and Pooja Patel, the two women whom Raghavan had allegedly murdered, stare back at us from their blemished photographs, with a diminutive smile on their lips, almost inciting us to unearth their tales from a past that had long been buried and gone.
The corporatization of media is an issue of grave concern that finds expression through the struggling journalist in 'Munnariyippu' who pounces on the one whopper offer that comes her way, and soon realizes that things aren't as uncomplicated as they seem to be. With the target nowhere in sight, Anjali unintentionally transforms into a loutish taskmaster from the positive and poised person that she had originally come across as.
The sound of a deadline that could often leave all creative spurts dead in a second is the death knell for Anjali as well, and with a non-existent story that is expected to secure her life, panic sets in with a vengeance. Anjali's collapse is unhurried and absolutely effectual thanks to the jagged manner in which her character has been conceptualized by the writer.
The philosophical undertone that is retained throughout is courtesy the haphazard and yet stimulating thought stream that glibly ebbs out of Raghavan's mind. His sharp questions leave Anjali and her colleagues confounded and the journo finds herself striving hard to find the answers. As Raghavan deliberates on freedom, Anjali ironically liberates him into a new world ridden with shackles.
The final five minutes of 'Munnariyippu' are bound to leave your head reeling in astonishment. The climax is what elevates the film into an altogether higher pedestal, and which prompts a post-show reflection that has become a tad too uncommon these days. It is even possible to revisit several of those events that had been stashed away in the initial couple of hours in your mind and rework on them, to view them in a new perspective and to see how a tale looks radically different from the inside and the outside.
Venu's 'Munnariyippu' marks the reinvention of an actor whom we simply adore, and lays forth a hundred reasons as to why we have been in awe of him for so long. After a fairly drawn out detour into commercial cinema, Mammootty is back where he truly belongs, and affirms yet again that all he needs is some tremendously inventive writing and an enthused filmmaker with him, to put up a magical feat before us that would leave us open mouthed. Armed with a wry smile and a defenselessness that evokes compassion, Mammootty becomes one with Raghavan in no time, with a blistering intensity that enthralls.
Aparna Gopinath matches up to Mammootty's first-rate performance with an incredible show that outclasses any other performance by a female actor in recent times. The complexities that are interwoven into her character are infused into her stellar performance with a striking ease, that should bring many a laurel her way.
The supporting cast that comprises of Renji Panicker, Joy Mathew, Minon and Saiju Kurup come up with significant contributions as well. Exemplary are the minimalistic frames that have been captured by the director himself, and the melancholic background score by Bijibal.
There is a deconstruction of sorts that occurs in Venu's 'Munnariyippu', as conventionalities are discarded without a second thought. Taut, irrefutable and sardonically clever, it is an aggressively demanding film that rouses us to contemplate on it, long after the curtains have come down.
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