There are scenes in Ela Veezha Poonchira review (EVP) where the barometer of dread reads a number so high that I was unsure about handling it. It’s impressive how Shahi Kabir achieves so much with so little in his directorial debut. Working with a script penned by fellow policemen Nidhish G and Shaji Maraad, Shahi Kabir brings to EVP the same degree of impressive minimalism that characterised his own screenplays, Joseph and Nayattu. EVP curiously feels like the third part of a trilogy that comprises the abovementioned films, despite Shahi not being involved with the script. Also impressive is how the film feels oppressively heavy despite revolving around only a few characters.
Given that the opening scene of EVP presents a chilling discovery, I find it best not to mention it or any of the other crucial revelatory portions in the film. Some of these are chilling because of the matter-of-factly manner in which they show up, meaning no anxiety-inducing score to inform us that we are about to see something horrifying. Imagine the opposite of the head-in-the-box ending of Se7en. I like it when filmmakers don’t rely on any particular gimmick, sound effects, or jump scares to register the intended effect. Sometimes it’s better to show it in the simplest way possible. But there are also scenes where Anil Johnson’s tension-heavy score works wonders, especially in one of the final scenes where a character plunges into an overwhelmingly nasty predicament. EVP is one of those films which is sensible about where a loud score is necessary and where it isn’t.
It would be wise then to describe the atmosphere and what actors such as Soubin Shahir and Sudhi Koppa bring to the table. EVP shares one amusing commonality with Lijo Jose Pellissery’s last film Churuli in that both films are set in a remote setting far and above the rest of the world. In fact, after the spoilerish prologue, EVP introduces its protagonist Madhu (Soubin Shahir) the same way Churuli introduced its two main characters—on a bus en route to alien territory, in this case, an actual location whose name holds a mythical significance. When one character mentions how the place got the name ‘Ela Veezha Poonchira’, it’s a detail whose relevance becomes apparent to us much later.
In fact, the film introduces numerous details, including subtle nuances, in its early portions, which might seem insignificant upon initial glance but begin to make much sense when all is said and done, and the final revelations hit us in the gut like a sledgehammer or an axe (pun intended). By the time information about a gruesome (possible) murder is dropped midway through the film, the guessing game has already begun when Madhu comes across a few people and a potential murder weapon. But since we already know of Shahi Kabir’s merits as a storyteller and how he operates, it becomes soon evident that he would have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Without giving anything away, one could say that EVP has a few themes in common with Joseph and an integral supporting actor in common with Nayattu. Shahi, his writers, cinematographer Manesh Madhavan, and sound designer Ajayan Adat take sufficient time to establish the place. A vast share of the pre-interval portions exist for a sole purpose: to give us a sense of how terrifying the weather in this place is, how the characters react and adapt to their new surroundings, subtle hints of their quirks and personalities, background, and so on. This approach effectively conveys the alienation and mounting dread that living in such a location would engender. One recurring theme is the aversion to non-vegetarian food and how it manifests in different ways throughout a film about the pursuit of a murderer who has scattered a woman’s body parts in multiple spots in Ela Veezha Poonchira.
As for the actors, what I liked most in EVP is we get to see the restrained version of Soubin we loved seeing a few years back, even when his character is going through a lot. EVP reminds us that the actor in him hasn’t gone anywhere. And Sudhi Koppa keeps surprising us in every new film. You might ask if the film has no place for humour. It does, in two notable scenes, where I laughed out loud. I was also impressed by how one of these moments, in which a character’s personal life gets a mention in passing, becomes significant to the film’s closing moments.
Film: Ela Veezha Poonchira
Director: Shahi Kabir
Cast: Soubin Shahir, Sudhi Koppa, Jude Anthany