KOCHI: Irul is an apt title for a film that makes the best use of darkness. It has a wonderfully gifted cinematographer, Jomon T John, delivering his most atmospheric work since Ennu Ninte Moideen. The sound design and editing are top-notch, and it has three of contemporary Malayalam cinema’s most outstanding actors sharing the screen throughout. Everything is supposed to turn out great, right? Not quite, unfortunately.
What to say about a film whose trailer promised a dark and sinister mystery but turned out to be an unintentionally comical film?
Irul opens with much promise. A novelist, Alex (Soubin Shahir), and his advocate girlfriend, Archana (Darshana Rajendran), plan a quiet weekend getaway. Alex wants the spot to be a surprise. No phones, no internet. Now, when a character makes that decision, that alone is enough to plant the seeds of anxiety. When they finally reach the place, it’s Alex’s turn to be surprised too.
A mysterious character (Fahadh Faasil) greets them, like Dracula meeting Jonathan Harker for the first time. Fahadh doesn’t have long nails or horns, but his introduction scene is straight out of gothic fiction. A distorted shadow moves like a chilling apparition across the wall. This ability to ‘glide’ from one spot to another in seconds is demonstrated again in a later scene. Just wait for the power cut.
The set-up and subsequent events evoke dread and carry a sense of foreboding. When Fahadh’s character informs Alex that he has read his novel and doesn’t hold it in high regard, the latter is annoyed. To make matters worse, the former entangles Alex and Archana in a debate about crime and punishment, the dos and don’ts of writing a crime novel, and then a puzzling mind game.
Unfortunately, everything becomes undone by miscasting and a disappointing final twist. To begin with, Soubin isn’t convincing at all as the novelist. There is no denying that he is a great actor, but he sounds the same in every film. His fear and frustration are believable, but when Alex sounds like an extension of Shaji from Kumbalangi Nights, it’s so distracting. Whenever Soubin goes for a high-intensity act or dialogue delivery, it got me wondering whether I was watching a dark thriller or a dark comedy.
Granted, Soubin sounds more natural in his own dialect, but it doesn’t gel well with the material that demands a more polished approach. But there are a couple of moments where Soubin’s talent works well, like the ID card joke or his response when one character attempts to slip away unnoticed. His efforts also work well in a tense verbal exchange between him and Fahadh. Their overlapping dialogues combined with Darshana’s repeated demands for answers is a fantastic tension-building exercise.
Irul also suffers from a high dose of predictability. It seems to be banking on the impact created by Fahadh’s characters from, say, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum or Kumbalangi Nights. As much as I liked what Fahadh did in Irul, it’s a performance that doesn’t offer anything new.
The only actor who comes out with flying colours is, undoubtedly, Darshana, who largely contributes to the film’s fear factor. It’s she who prevents Irul from becoming a total time-waster. At least, it serves as a showcase for her incredible range.
No spoilers here, but when the film ended, it reminded me of an old Vadivelu joke. It’s not a good sign. If you are wondering what joke I’m referring to, it’s the one where Vadivelu calls up the owner of a wine shop to ask when it’s going to open.
Director: Nazeef Yusuf Izuddin
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Darshana Rajendran, Soubin Shahir
Streaming on: Netflix