Registering an emotional connection with any characters in "Theerrppu" is a difficult task. I don't necessarily mean this in a negative way. I imagine this was precisely the intention of Murali Gopy's script. Yes, it presents a wronged character for whom another seeks justice, but he isn't painted with an entirely sympathetic brush either. His wife calls him a coward for doing something rash. We see the ill effects of the shortcomings -- his excessive pride, his patriarchal conditioning, the comfort he found in inherited privileges, and his failure to recognise that secularism goes down the drain when personal interests are involved. Ill effects that he could've overcome had he tried. It's with this character that the events in "Theerrppu" originate.
"Theerrppu" is a fiercely political film, but what it's trying to say goes beyond political parties and ideologies. It's an exploration of human nature itself. It alternates between tragedy and farce. The former occurs in 1993, in the aftermath of the Bombay riots, the impact of which only amplifies the hostility between Muslims and an affluent Muslim family to which Abdulla Marakkar (Prithviraj) belongs -- the family that falls prey to the treacherous machinations of a Hindu man and his lawyer friend.
The farcical elements show up in the present when Abdulla returns for payback, which he hopes to execute in the very place that traumatised him -- now converted to a luxury resort belonging to the seemingly wealthy NRI Ramkumar (Vijay Babu, currently under investigation for sexual assault). The film then takes on the nature of a chamber drama, with the resort, whose interiors resemble that of a museum, eventually turning into a 'court' for Abdulla to pronounce judgement. The museum eventually becomes a 'house of horrors' of sorts.
You might ask if "Theerrppu" is a thriller. I would say it isn't because I responded to it the way I would to a farce. It's a cold film which is more invested in throwing around allegorical references than character development or ingenious plotting. It seems more interested in being an intellectual exercise, with most characters talking as though they badly want to belong in a Hollywood movie. Yes, the performances are off-putting, but then these are vapid, morality-deficient characters who have only one thing on their mind: their own survival. Well, except for one individual with self-destructive tendencies. So, when Ramkumar breaks into tears, even the film shows us that he is not being serious. It's hard to believe a man who sees every man and woman as a commodity, including his friend's wife Prabha (Hannah Reji Koshy). "There's no free lunch," he tells the same friend, Parameswaran Potty (Saiju Kurup).
Everyone displays a sense of self-awareness, most notably Ramkumar's wife, Mythili (Isha Talwar), who is perfectly cognisant of her hubby's transgressions. It's a classic marriage of convenience -- "a working arrangement", as she puts it. But she has a history, too. As I said, nobody is perfect in the world of "Theerrppu".
Indrajith Sukumaran, who played a cop in another Murali Gopy script, "Left Right Left", shows up in khaki again, but his character doesn't make the same impact as Vattu Jayan. He does, however, have a sense of humour.
I mentioned earlier that "Theerppu" is, to me, a farce. I was amused particularly by the picturisation of a right-wing party celebration song -- the lead singer, dressed in Elvis get-up, is surrounded by Marathi women attired in Nauvari sarees -- juxtaposed with the sequence of one character wreaking havoc in Ramukar's resort. A strong follower of the party works as the house help of Ramkumar and Mythili. In another scene, two characters dressed as Hitler and Mussolini dispose of a body. Meanwhile, another character becomes 'empowered' enough to take control of his own life while wrongly misspelling the word floccinaucinihilipilification which attained popularity after Shashi Tharoor used it in a tweet. The same character mentions, at one point, how an event in Theerrppu resembles a plot point in Rajinikanth's Muthu.
I'm sure that "Theerrppu" makes its point with much clarity, but I find it sorely lacking as a piece of entertainment. Unlike Murali's other works like "Left Right Left", "Ee Aduthu Kalathu", or even
"Lucifer", "Theerrppu" is deficient in characters with standout qualities. It's one of those films you find hard to recollect merely a couple of hours after seeing it. The overall effect is of attending a history lecture, not a movie.
Director: Rathish Ambat
Cast: Prithviraj, Indrajith, Vijay Babu, Isha Talwar, Hannah Reji Koshy
(This story originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)