Debutante filmmaker Ratheena’s debut venture, the Malayalam film Puzhu that is currently streaming on SonyLiv, is an unsettling examination of how easily the desire to control the lives of others can lead to tyranny and destruction. While having its moments of originality and backed by a strong performance by its star, Mammootty, the lack of a cohesive narrative drive ultimately lets the film down.
Puzhu (The Worm) revolves around a high-ranking egoistic police officer, Kuttan (Mammootty), who lives life on his own terms. A single father, he brings up his teenage son, Kichu (Master Vasudev), in an extremely strict and regimented manner. Kichu follows the orders of his father more out of fear rather than respect. Kuttan, belonging to an upper caste, is unsympathetic towards people belonging to lower castes and other communities. His sister, Bharathi (Parvathy), has been excommunicated for marrying a theater actor and lower caste man, Kuttappan (Appuni Sasi). The situation takes a dramatic turn when Bharathi and Kuttapan come to live temporarily in the same residential society where Kuttan lives. Meanwhile, there are some deadly attacks being made on Kuttan’s live…
The title of the film, Puzhu or ‘The Worm’, works as a metaphor through the film, signifying the indignation and disregard that Kuttan harbors towards others. The film begins with a play where the mythological character of a king takes shelter in a forest to ward off a curse. He takes every measure to protect himself but forgets to account for the presence of worms that become the cause for his death. Similarly, at the climax of the film, Kuttan faces a similar situation where danger lurks from a totally unexpected corner, one he had not considered.
Kuttan lives a highly sheltered life, mostly within the confinement of his home and his vehicle. This further signifies just how much he is trapped within the bible of his own belief systems. Psychologically, the film shows how significantly one is shaped by one’s environment. Without exposure to alternative ideas, we could be taught to believe anything. While Ratheena gets some of the aesthetics spot-on to address issues of patriarchy and caste, the script flounders, leaving the cast lost at a crossroad, wondering which road to take.
The events in Puzhu are much too loosely connected to engage us. This makes it extremely difficult for the viewer to empathize with the characters and their situations. There is a lack of congruity in the way the events unfold during the film’s nearly two-hour running time. The manner in which Kuttan proceeds with his daily life without a care to conformity is not convincing enough to believe that he has been in the police force for years. The key emotional moments in the film, when they do come up – such as Kichu expressing his anger towards his father or Bharathi visiting her bed-ridden mother after a long time – required a proper build-up and more screen time to credibly deliver the required impact. Moreover, the last part of the film, including the climax, seem to be arbitrarily constructed and do not fit organically with the overall structure of the film.
Mammoothy lifts the film a notch as he skillfully sinks into the shoes of a toxic, masculine persona that is both morbidly fascinating yet surprising in a starkly disturbing way. His encounter with an aging suspect, the brutal scene with the stray dog, and his heinous act of cruelty at the climax make us abhor his character. At the same time, there are also lighter and even touching shades to him when he takes a spoon full of food left behind by Bharathi; or when he informs Kuchi why he behaves so strictly with him. Mammootty balances the dual aspects of Kuttan with seasoned aplomb, proving yet again what a brilliant actor he is. Master Vasudev sensitively portrays the role of Kichu, a traumatized child in an adult world that is devoid of love and understanding. Appuni Sasi, as Kuttappan, depicts a wide range of emotions as an individual who has to periodically face humiliation owing to his caste and average features. However, Parvathy delivers a unidimensional performance as Bharathi. It is not really her fault for her character lacks depth and complexity. The film needed to offer an actress of her caliber much more to play with.
The cinematography by Theni Eswar is a tad disappointing. It could have captured the moods and shades of the story better. Deepu Joseph’s editing is not entirely successfull to overcome the lack of lucidness within the narrative. While he tries gamely to keep up the tempo, he cannot prevent the pace from slackening at times, thereby affecting the overall rhythm of the film. However, the production design by Manu Jagadh brings finesse in creating Puzhu‘s universe with fine attention to detail while the background score by Jakes Bejoy evokes the brooding and emotional content of the film with suitable fervor.
Overall, Puzhu gets quite a few things right, but the the scrambled nature of the script hampers the film from providing us a wholesome viewing experience. It tries to make its point but just does not come together despite the soaring central performance by Mammoothy.
Malayalam, Drama, Color