Malayalam film industry has, of late, found some wonderful scripts and casting that go beyond the conventions it used to keep and follow. This change has a lot to do with the unorthodox performances of the newcomers in the industry and the comeback of talented film makers and serious scripts. Munnariyippu is one such film. The film announces the return of director Venu and Mammootty, and the presence of the relatively new Aparna Gopinath.
While most films tell the whole story on the screen, a few films leave a lot for an afterthought. I tend to like films of the second category, and that increases my likeness to Munnariyippu. The story is about a dynamic young journalist Anjali Arakkal who happens to ghost-write the autobiography of a jailer who is about to retire. She receives pity and scorn from some colleagues, but appears poised in her work as long as it brings her money although without fame or recognition. In one such assignment, she takes up the task of doing the said ghost writing and happens to meet Raghavan, an accused murderer who has spent two decades in jail for killing his wife and his lady boss. Raghavan denies the crimes he is accused of, but has not made any serious attempts to prove his innocence during prosecution or thereafter. This makes it a curious case for Anjali. Raghavan’s journals speak about his world view of freedom, revolution, and the obstacles to freedom. As she talks more and more with Raghavan, his sensible philosophical thoughts prod her to reveal the hidden Socrates in him whom she labels as Brain Behind Bars, in an article she writes in a magazine. Though the jailer is wary of Anjali losing focus in the committed task, the article becomes an instant hit making her and her protagonist popular among the public.
She soon gets an offer to publish the story of Raghavan as a book. The book shall be based on the real life story of Raghavan, and not his intellectual thoughts. While Raghavan does not share much personal information with others, Anjali and her publisher decide that they want Raghavan himself to write his story which Anjali can translate into English. She gets Raghavan released from the jail and moves him to a private place where others cannot spot him easily. Meanwhile, Raghavan is chased by other publishers as well for a similar book. Anjali patiently persuades Raghavan initially, but as the deadline approaches, she becomes more adamant and insistent. All this while, Raghavan is buried in thoughts and does not appear to make any serious attempt to write anything. As others started identifying his hideout, Anjali moves him to a secluded place and demands him to complete the story at the earliest.
Spoiler warning: The following paragraph may contain elements that reveal the story.
Anjali is unable to make Raghavan write his story, which makes her certain that she will have to face legal actions from the publisher. At this time, she gets a wedding proposal from an NRI (Prithviraj). The person encourages Anjali to give up what pressurises her and concentrate on other things that make her happy. Inspired by this positive feeling, she decides to give up the book effort and goes to meet Raghavan. She asks where Raghavan wants to be dropped, and in response Raghavan hands her a bunch of handwritten papers which tell his story. An astonished Anjali reads through the papers quickly but nervously, while Raghavan is seen packing his stuff to leave the place. As she completes reading the papers, frightened and frozen, Raghavan mysteriously smiles, expresses his wish to go back to jail, and removes the latest obstacle in his freedom – Anjali.
The movie shows the innate nature of a man who wants nothing but absolute freedom – from the women who ruled him. The intellectual in him is developed from the deliberation that he does not want to be controlled by women. The definition of freedom is difficult to understand, but it seems he is quite content to be in his jail cell, away from the women who posed a threat to his freedom. The director gives ample clues to identify the true self of the man, but most of us fail to bite them. But when one rewinds to those early scenes, one must appreciate the skill of the director and the script writer. In the first few scenes itself, Raghavan wonders if the audio recording device used by Anjali could capture the thoughts of a man. The bar scene reveals more and his thoughts and definition of freedom and revolution even further. It is heightened by his mannerisms when he is alone, and the disgust in seeing an old couple, presumably the parents or in-laws of his slain lady boss.
As I wrote in the beginning, the movie brings back the actor in Mammootty who underplayed the role very well. Mammootty has always performed really well as a convict, and this one is different from the rest. There are a lot of dimensions to his role, some displayed on the screen, and some visualised by the viewer. Aparna Gopinath delivers the performance of her short career so far, as the lady journalist who wants money and fame. The supporting cast of Nedumudi Venu, Kochu Preman, Joy Mathew, Renji Panicker, and the hotel boy also did very well in their roles. The film does not have any songs thankfully, and the background score by Bijibal adds to the mystery and tone of the film. Munnariyippu progresses at a slow pace, and the story does not move much from the initial few scenes leading to the interval and even beyond, but there never was a dull moment in it, thanks to the brilliance in story telling.
Munnariyippu is easily one of the best psychological thrillers in Malayalam. It is a double-homicide-convict’s life story, which is not shown on the screen, but still conveyed to the audience. It definitely pushes you to go back in time, connect the dots, and find elements that help identify the real story. And I guess, that is exactly what a good psychological thriller should want the audience to do. Rating 8/10.
Photo: Theatrical poster, courtesy of Play House Release Official’s Facebook page.