Pulimada’s opening scenes recall the Sibi Malayil classic Thaniyavarthanam (1987), which discussed how unscientific beliefs on mental illness ruin a sane person’s life. In Pulimada, Vincent is a similar victim, who painfully remembers his mother as a chained patient. There’s a general perception around him that mental illness runs in his family, which stains all his marriage proposals. It reaches a point where Vincent himself starts fearing that he might fall prey to psychological issues. But with the support of his counsellor, Vincent starts dreaming of his wedding and a new family life.
The narrative is set in a hilly village in Wayanad, with Vincent’s house in a remote area surrounded by forest. Veteran cinematographer Venu beautifully captures the geography to suggest how the family has been ostracized. Shaped by his upbringing, Vincent is firm in certain beliefs he imbibed from his late father. Like, not having a bathroom in his house just because his father didn’t like it. A product of patriarchy, he is unconcerned about his partner’s wishes, which include her desire to work after marriage. AK Saajan builds a strong foundation for a gripping character study, and Joju, as always, is effortlessly convincing.
However, things go spiral for Vincent—and the film—when the wedding gets called off. Joju is at his best in portraying Vincent’s uncontrollable rage and the humiliation underneath. Though he gets himself heavily intoxicated, he is still unable to overcome the feeling of not being able to find a woman for himself. A chance encounter with a strange woman (Aishwarya Rajesh) on the road makes way for a series of strange events, which eventually culminate in an equally strange climax and an even stranger tail end.
The tonal shift in the final act is both bizarre and problematic, given the issue dealt with is extremely serious. AK Saajan’s penchant for last-minute twists backfires this time, and ends up leaving a bad aftertaste. It’s hard to digest how the film treats the sexual assault angle with the survivor narrating it like some funny prank episode. And it only gets worse with the supposedly funny background score. Anil Johnson’s score is needlessly loud at several crucial moments in the film.
Parallel to Vincent’s story is a tiger hunt. The tiger is perhaps a metaphor. The title Pulimada (tiger’s den) actually refers to Vincent’s territory. Vincent, like the tiger, is ferocious and intimidating. Vincent, like the tiger that attacks and kills a woman, is waiting to pounce on another. However, the film doesn’t go deep in exploring these layers. Instead, it focuses on Vincent and his myriad of emotions, thereby offering plenty of moments for Joju to showcase his potential. Though the actor excels throughout, it’s hard not to get reminded of his previous performances in Joseph, Nayattu and Iratta.
It has also got to do with the fact that all these films are set against the same hilly backdrop, and have him as a disturbed, drunkard cop. But sadly, Pulimada doesn’t achieve the cinematic excellence of either of these films.