Cast: Tovino Thomas, Nimisha Sajayan, Anu Sithara, Nedumudi Venu
Madhupal's third film is about a murder and the subsequent trial. But Oru Kuprasidha Payyan is more interested in making a statement than revealing the culprit, which is a welcome change. I'm not going to tell you whether the film reveals the culprit or not: that is left to the audience. This is a solid and well-directed procedural that is driven by a superb performance from Tovino Thomas. The film implores you to get your facts right before labelling someone a culprit in the court of public opinion.
The 'someone' is Ajayan (Tovino Thomas) who is accused of murdering his surrogate mother Chembammal (Saranya Ponvannan). Through several flashbacks, we get a good idea of their personalities and the bond the two had shared. Ajayan is an introverted loner who is terrified of leading a life alone. He is shy and walks with his head down most of the time. And Chembammal is a strong but cynical woman with an intriguing backstory of her own. Whether Ajayan's background plays a part in her story or vice versa -- it's the outcome of this mystery that the entire film hinges on.
When Ajayan pursues a local girl, he is humiliated by everyone including the girl. It's an intensely moving performance that nearly brought tears to my eyes. In a scene that invokes Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Named Desire, he tells Jalaja (Anu Sithara), "I'm afraid of spending my life alone. A man with no family is a bum." The reason why I brought up this Brando performance -- and I don't think this comparison is stretching it -- is the similarity in the characters. These are men who, in spite of being humiliated and battered by their circumstances, still manage to stand up. We saw Sylvester Stallone do something like this in the Rocky films too.
Ajayan is a physically strong man with a quiet and shy disposition. In the film's opening scene, he overpowers a buffalo, but not before getting thrown in the air a couple of times. I found this to be an efficient and economical character development. He is a harmless guy but at the same time, he is capable of going after a buffalo. And later in the film, there is a finely choreographed prison fight sequence which wouldn't have been that convincing had we not seen this buffalo sequence first.
Though the overall investigation is not particularly groundbreaking, it is mostly riveting and the credit goes to all the actors, especially Nimisha Sajayan (as Hannah Elizabeth, Ajayan's lawyer) and Nedumudi Venu (as Santosh Narayanan, the prosecutor) who shine in the courtroom sequences which mostly make up the second half. The tricky dynamic between Hannah and Santosh is interesting to watch, as the latter used to be the former's mentor. Being someone new to all this, Hannah is constantly struggling with anxiety. In one scene, she experiences a palpable nervous breakdown and you start wondering whether she'll be able to make it to court the next day. Moments like these create the necessary amount of nail-biting tension to get us nervous, while a helpless Ajayan ponders his fate in the prison cell.
Despite the dark subject matter, this is not really a depressing film. The predominant emotion is that of anger, at those who are in a hurry to put an innocent man in jail just because they are under a deadline. Maheshinte Prathikaram-fame Sujith Shankar appears in the role of a determined Crime Branch officer willing to go to any extent to put Ajayan behind bars. He doesn't give two hoots about logic or sentiment. He is essentially a robot in policeman's clothes. This comment is not a reflection on Sujith's acting skills; in fact, I mean it as a compliment, even though he plays a stock character we have seen often in many other investigation thrillers. Sujith imbues his character with enough menace to make us worry about Ajayan's fate. Dileesh Pothan makes a cameo in a crucial moment as a chemistry expert.