I had pictured Thottappan as a slow and artsy film before I went to see it but came out with an entirely new image so powerful and hard to shake off. It comes armed with such raw and riveting content that I forgot that it was a 140-min film.
Thottappan is that rare Malayalam film which appears out of the blue and completely takes you by surprise. Though its main focus is a man named Itthak a.k.a Thottappan (Vinayakan), his stepdaughter Sarah (Priyamvada), and her lover Ismu (Roshan Mathew), it’s also about the numerous characters that populate the background. It’s about family, brotherhood, parenthood, loyalty, and betrayal.
There is a story behind how Itthak, a thief and a thug, came to be the godfather of Sarah (Priyamvada Krishnan). He is compelled to take care of the child after her father Jonappan (Dileesh Pothan) is killed by a rival who vanishes into thin air. The child grows up to be as ferocious as her step-father—she doesn’t think twice before beating the hell out of any man who dares to misbehave with her. And she has also inherited from Itthak the tendency to steal. Now the two are looking forward to exact vengeance on the man who had killed Jonappan.
Meanwhile, life goes on. While the life depicted in the film isn’t exactly pretty, director Shanavas introduces us to a rustic setting that we are not familiar with.It reminded of that time when I saw Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya for the first time—it gave me a glimpse of a time and place alien to me but also beautiful in its authenticity. It’s a world of unapologetic men and women. The men are willing to do anything to survive and the women don’t mind cheating on their husbands—and neither the cops nor the local priest gives two hoots about all this.
Though Itthak occasionally breaks into people’s homes, he holds a respectable position in his neighbourhood. It’s an odd position for a character to be in, but very fascinating from a cinematic point of view. At one point, he is approached by a helpless man to deliver justice to a pervert who raped his daughter. It’s a moment straight out of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. In another scene, Itthak asks the priest (played by Manoj K Jayan) why he doesn’t mind his behaviour, and he is told, “No matter what people take from others, everything eventually belongs to the almighty.”
In some instances, Itthak’s late-night assignments come from some of the local cops. But the film’s primary conflict comes through Ismu. Though he seems like a good addition to Itthak’s tiny family, a shocking revelation brings the world crashing down. The film begins to exhibit a Shakespearean mood after that.
Being the passionate lover of cinema that he is, Shanavas infuses every frame with his cinematic influences. One standout scene involves a fight scene inside a movie theatre screening Mohanlal’s Spadikam.
This sequence would make most film lovers shriek in delight, especially if they’re able to recall that in Spadikam, Mohanlal beat up a corrupt police officer inside a theatre screening Rajnikanth’s Thalapathy. We get to see three movie screenings in the film, each one serving as a prelude to a tense situation—the calm before the storm, so to speak.
We also get some quiet but powerfully stirring moments courtesy of a few background characters. There’s one involving a blind grocery store owner (played by Raghunath Paleri) who is extremely possessive of his wife.
And there is an old couple who could’ve ended up with each other had fate not played a cruel game. The film also examines the nature of the qualities inherited by individuals from their parents or step-parents. Are some character traits formed through a process of observing or are they already in the blood?
The three actors—Vinayakan, Priyamvada, and Roshan—are in top form.
Vinayakan, needless to say, delivers a flawless performance. Not every actor in the world can convey a myriad of emotions with a singular deadpan expression. The film’s end portions, despite being a tad predictable, leaves a strong, lasting impression.
Cast: Vinayakan, Priyamvada, Roshan Mathew, Manoj K Jayan
Rating: 3.5/5 stars