Cast: Biju Menon, Dileesh Pothan, Saiju Kurup, Basil Joseph, Sudhi Koppa
Director: Rafeek Ibrahim
Rating: 4/5 stars
On first glance, Padayottam's central hero, Chengal Raghu, fits the description of a typical macho Malayali hero. He has the look and demeanour of someone who belongs in a 'mass' action movie. But when you see a scene where he vomits after a bus trip, and, with a worried look, asks his friends to take him to a hospital, you know this is not a movie that is interested in glorifying its main man. He doesn't get a grand entry scene.
Dileesh Pothan, Saiju Kurup, Basil Joseph, and Sudhi Koppa play tight buddies from Thiruvananthapuram who spend time at their gym exchanging stories of their love failures when not getting involved in petty fights. When Basil's character, Pinky, is injured after a severe thrashing by an unknown assailant (which we don't see), the others decide to find the guy responsible and make him pay. But once they learn that he lives in Kasargod, they start seeking additional help.
This is where Chengal Raghu comes in. Though he is known as a 'mass' goonda, they don't quite feel it. But, as Sudhi's character puts it, "He is not mass; he is class" — a description that feels apt after doing a basic assessment of Raghu's personality. Given his sympathy for aged mothers and women in general, the guys concoct a fake melodramatic story — presented as a stage play in a separate scene — to convince Raghu to join them on a road trip to Kasargod.
But this ride won't be a smooth one as there will be a lot of unseen bumps along the way. These unexpected detours and confrontations they get mixed up in will test their patience, especially Raghu's. But, thankfully, not ours.
Padayottam is one of the finest gangster-comedies I've seen. From start to finish, it's a non-stop laugh riot that ends with an unexpectedly hilarious twist that you never see coming. A playful tone is set right in its opening scene, where someone participating in a wedding ceremony is interrupted by his friend calling him to save him from thugs who are waiting, in front of him, to finish that call. Its characters are overly enthusiastic buffoons driven by emotions rather than logic. They have the habit of jumping into something without doing a thorough background check. Everyone wants to prove something to someone. In fact, one of them sets out on this trip to impress a girl.
Here Biju Menon possesses a sort of comic timing that, upon reflection, would seem impossible for any other actor to accomplish. Not everyone can make people laugh without trying to be funny. It is Raghu's nature, which suggests several amusing backstories, that mostly gets the laughs: his reaction to a given situation is hard to predict. The film turns the 'mass' hero concept on its head.
Padayottam puts its characters above everything else. The plot serves the character and not the other way around. Each character has a distinct quality and a specific role to play, and it is easy to recall which character did what and what happened to each.
Director Lijo Jose Pellissery appears in the role of a Thrissur gangster who harbours suicidal thoughts and casually discusses them with Raghu and gang. One of the film's high points is a masterfully staged single-take wedding song which is the first of the plot's few pivotal moments. The trailers give you only a small glimpse of the overall picture. It is a lot bigger and better than it appears to be in them. It is a film devoid of dark moments, despite having characters who are gangsters and killers. That takes a lot of skill and caution.