Ottal Malayalam Movie ReviewFeature Film
Jayaraj's miraculous directorial strokes in 'Ottaal' admirably transports the grief stricken nine-year old Vanka Zhukov from the cobbler's den in Moscow on to the rain sodden farmlands of Kuttanadu, that lie sopping wet, the harvest done. Anton Chekov's celebrated short tale 'Vanka' finds a striking and heart-rending expression in 'Ottaal' that does full justice to its distressing theme.
Eight year old Kuttappayi (Ashanth K Shah) having lost both his parents accompanies his grand dad (Kumarakom Vasudevan) to the water filled farms where they plan to spend the post-harvest season rearing ducks. Canoeing about in the muddy waters with the ducks quacking away to glory, the duo hold on to each other, despite one having reached the horizon of his life and the other having just about commenced on his journey.
When Valiyappachayi realizes that his days have been counted, he starts worrying about what would happen to the boy, when he isn't around anymore. Acting upon the assurances of Mesthiri (Shine Tom Chacko), he decides to send Kuttappayi to work at a cracker factory, and coaxes the boy to agree with him, by lying to him that he is being sent to a school.
'Ottaal' effortlessly recreates the Russian tale on an alien soil, since the story that it portrays is one that transcends place and time. It talks of the million of unfortunate young souls across the world, who are destined to spend their lives in slavery, powerlessly watching what is left of their childhood ebb away into oblivion.
This is why 'Ottaal' strikes us as at once personal and universal, and draws us into the exquisite innocence of childhood, where Kuttappayi roams around, plucking water lilies and fishing from the ponds, with a nameless dog and a young boy whom he befriends - Tinku - for company. The underlying unruliness that permeates his life is one that is ironically blissful, and shorn of it, Kuttappayi finds himself on a no-man's land.
Yet, there is the stray of trust that is incorporated deep within the clay model that he sculpts for Tinku, which later on bags an honour in the competition. Hanging on fervently to this isolated optimistic thought, Kuttappaayi lights a candle and starts writing a letter to his grand dad, hoping against hope that salvation is not far.
I have often been astonished by Jayaraj making actors out of non-actors, and in 'Ottaal' he repeats the fete yet again, by drawing out a compelling performance from Kuamarakom Vasudevan, who gets it just right. The expressions are minimal, but the impact as required. And there is also a charming act by the child actor Ashanth, who succeeds in bringing in the vulnerability that makes Kuttappayi's account one that tugs at your heart.
Somehow it seems like 'Ottaal' has compromised a bit on the production values, and the frames at times look darker than is usual. And yet if the film stuns you on account of the visual imagery that it lays down before us, it is thanks to the gorgeous cinematography by M J Radhakrishnan, that has lapped up the stunning Kuttanad landscape in all its glory.
'Ottaal' is refreshingly grounded in humanism, and serves as a pointer to a world where things have gone astray. Which is why, even after the ducks have gone and the last of the migratory birds flapped its wings and flown away, the ripples set off by Kuttappayi's tiny feet in the waters will remain.