At a certain point in Kalla Nottam (The False Eye), three kids argue in the middle of filming a movie on their GoPro camera. One of them is the director, and the other two — one male, one female — are the actors. The ‘hero’ has problems with the ‘heroine’ (named Rosy, a possible nod to Malayalam’s first actress). As the ‘director’ has a soft corner for Rosy, he can’t stand his ‘hero’ badmouthing her.
This is the sort of drama that the kids are trying so hard to capture in their film. I don’t know if Rahul Riji Nair, the director of Kalla Nottam, had experienced something similar in his career so far, but I get the feeling that he got some kick out of asking these kids to act like tantrum-throwing stars.
There are multiple conflicts in Kalla Nottam. The first one comes from the knowledge that the ‘director’ stole the GoPro camera from a provisions store. The second one occurs when the kids decide to return the camera to its rightful owner after their argument disrupts their filming. But things don’t go as planned when the ‘director’ is confronted by a local gang, who repeatedly harass him when they learn the camera is not his. Now, most kids would find the thought of being labelled a thief quite devastating.
But he gets more than he bargained for when the same gang forces him to take part in a moral policing situation. The kid doesn’t want to be there, but he is forced to see it all. More chaos ensues when another gang enters the picture and starts a nasty fight. (This fight is raw and more of the Angamaly Diaries variety. I was told the actors got hurt for real and took some days to recuperate after the shoot completion.) Voyeurism makes its presence felt in most places in the film. In one scene, the store owner tells a cop he bought the GoPro camera for surveillance purposes.
The cop wonders if he had voyeuristic intentions. We never know. In another amusing scene, the ‘director’ is watching a bum being beaten up by some guys. One of them is filming the whole thing on his smartphone, and we are watching all this through the kid’s camera. Voyeurism is also a crucial element in the film’s big final twist. There are newcomers and experienced actors in the film, and we can’t tell who is new and who is not.
The kids are new, but they perform with the confidence of veterans. Rahul’s frequent collaborators Vinitha Koshy and Renjit Shekar Nair (both from Ottamuri Velicham) appear in the film’s pivotal final moments. These actors, through their convincing body language and speech patterns, convey their fear and confusion effectively. To lend a sense of verisimilitude, Rahul shot the 72-minute film with a GoPro camera, with less obtrusive cuts (by editor Appu Bhattathiri). What’s even more impressive is the fact that the film was shot within a week.
Kalla Nottam is that rare coming-of-age drama which proves aesthetics don’t matter much when the content is strong. I initially expected it to be something innocent and light-hearted, but I found the slightly dark direction it took later so refreshing. I didn’t see some of the surprises coming. This is one of the best Malayalam films of this year. Kalla Nottam is streaming on Moviesaints as part of the New York Indian Film Festival which has been extended till August 9.
Film: Kalla Nottam
Director: Rahul Riji Nair
Cast: Vasudev Sajeesh Marar, Suryadev Sajeesh Marar, Ansu Maria Thomas