I’m not spoiling anything by saying that there is an exam hall sequence towards the end of this film that produced in me a sense of nostalgia and excitement that very few films have managed to do in the past.
Though it doesn’t aim for the ambitions or filmmaking finesse of a Cinema Paradiso or a 96, there are several lovingly shot—and possibly personal —sequences in writer-director Shanker Ramakrishnan’s maiden feature that brought back vivid memories of my own school days in the same way those films did.
Right from its title font to the storyline, the film has ‘epic’ written all over it. The experience is akin to reading a thick, richly detailed novel.
A tranquil opening sequence has an educationist Ashwin (Prithviraj) spouting a philosophical monologue in front of a journalist.
Ashwin’s words have a poetic quality to them—a feature which was also visible in Shanker’s 10-year-old short film, Island Express (part of the anthology Kerala Cafe).
We learn that Ashwin was not always like this. He was once a rebellious student who was constantly at loggerheads with a rival from another school.
That man is Ayyappan (Arya), now an army man. It’s a Magneto-Professor X relationship, but going in reverse.
How did these foes turn into friends? What were the tormenting events that shaped their formative years? Who were their influential figures? This is what the film is all about.
When the white kurta-clad, Gandhian-looking Ashwin starts recollecting his high school days, the film takes on a different energy.
The tranquil opening makes way for a fast-moving flashback sequence that introduces the main players one by one, in a format that makes it resemble more a gangster film than a high school drama—well, this is basically a gangster film that’s not about gangsters.
The ‘gangsters’ are 17-year-olds belonging to two rival schools—one government and the other private—for whom Thiruvananthapuram city serves as the arena for their ugly gang wars.
One brilliantly choreographed fight scene involves a moving double-decker bus. Akshay Radhakrishnan and Ashwin Gopinath (playing the younger selves of Ayyappan and Ashwin respectively), along with a bunch of other memorable newcomers, display the sort of scene-stealing confidence usually seen in seasoned actors. We get to witness two different worlds in the film.
The world of the government school boys is replete with the iconography and slogans of socialism whereas the world of their rivals is characterised by wine glasses, Shakespeare plays, and The Beatles.
Mammootty makes a cheer-worthy cameo as John Abraham Palakkal, a charismatic and influential Stanford professor who is related to one of the film’s pivotal characters, Joy (an exuberant Chandunadh).
There are two reasons why Mammootty’s brief presence is necessary for this film, and they’re both valid when seen through the prism of mainstream filmmaking.
Pathinettam Padi is not, however, an entirely flawless film. A couple of forcefully incorporated songs and the artificial quality of some dialogues (not necessarily Mammootty’s) serve as mood killers.
This was also one of the drawbacks of Shanker’s screenplay of Urumi. And the odd placement of a cheesy Saniya Iyappan song sticks out like a sore thumb.
And she is nowhere to be seen after that. Having this song appear out of nowhere made no sense at all.
But in spite of all this, it can’t be denied that the film possesses that rare electrifying energy last seen in films like Angamaly Diaries or Swathandryam Ardharathriyil. Sudeep Elamon’s camera work, Bhuvan Srinivasan’s editing, and A.H Kaashif’s music work in perfect unison to deliver a largely satisfying experience that we don’t get very often these days. I’m very much looking forward to what Shanker does next, and I hope he doesn’t take too long to make it.
|Film: Pathinettam Padi
Director: Shanker Ramakrishnan
Cast: Mammootty, Prithviraj, Akshay Radhakrishnan, Ashwin Gopinath