I always approach films about sexual violence with a measure of caution. There is either a worry about filmmakers treating the subject exploitatively or depicting the crime in an extremely disturbing manner. I went into Vivek’s second feature, Teacher, not knowing what to expect and found, to my relief, that the film aligns with my philosophy of less is more. Of course, not all filmmakers —including women—would subscribe to this, but I believe that you don’t need to show all the triggering details to convey something. With Teacher, Vivek opts for minimalism, a strong feature of the Amala Paul-starrer, a rape-revenge drama with an immensely satisfying payoff. This minimalism is also a notable feature of Amala’s performance, especially when she gets suddenly hit with the shocking realisation of what really happened to her. It’s all about the bare essentials.
Interestingly, despite the upsetting nature of the central crime, the behaviour of Devika’s (Amala) husband, Sujith (Hakkim Shahjahan), and his colleagues in the incident’s aftermath proves more disturbing. Shahjahan’s casting is apt as one of the most annoying husbands in movie history. He gets all the misguided pearls of wisdom from a married colleague who represents the typical Malayali male sexist with his own twisted ideas about what being a “real man” means.
Unsurprisingly, his bad ideas land Sujith and himself in trouble. The film opens in medias res and takes a while before telling us it’s been a month after the incident. The couple has been awaiting the arrival of a third member in the family for a long time. Things go south upon the discovery that Devika is pregnant. The blows to Sujith’s manhood don’t stop there, further compounding the deterioration of their bond.
Teacher is a contained story limiting its focus only to a few characters, doing things quietly instead of waking up the whole neighbourhood—except for, maybe, a shady motel’s inhabitants. There are clever storytelling choices that keep the police and media from getting involved. Devika ponders filing a police complaint at one point, but this is a film with other ideas.
One of the standout actors is Manju Pillai as Patton Kalyani, a firebrand revolutionary with a dark past and Devika’s mother-in-law. She becomes her strong pillar of support during her most trying times. The film gets an extra dose of energy when Chemban Vinod Jose shows up as another character with a dark past (and present). It’s a brief role crucial to how things pan out in the third act.
However, the film suffers from tonal inconsistency in several places. Manju Pillai makes some goosebump-inducing statements, but her inclusion doesn’t feel organic. Other fiery moments, such as the revelation of Devika possessing some abilities, feel too sudden. The novelty factor is missing given the memory of a similar development in a recent Malayalam film.
Occasionally, the mechanical quality of the actors’ performances can be bothersome. I wished for a more layered approach. The former quality is particularly noticeable in a cameo from Nikhil Renji Panicker, but in this character’s case, it makes some sense owing to the air of mystery around his background.
minimalistic approach I mentioned earlier also extends to Anu Moothedath’s photography, which doesn’t call attention to itself, and is largely mood-based. The ever-reliable Dawn Vincent’s dread-inducing background score also helps build the atmosphere.
Reflecting on the film’s totality, I remember the individual scenes making more impact than everything else. When one considers the better-written and staged, albeit more violent, examples of films in the same genre in international cinema, one is bound to find the writing in the Teacher slightly lacking.
Cast: Amala Paul, Hakkim Shahjahan, Manju Pillai, Chemban Vinod Jose
Rating: 3/5 stars