A recurring gag in Hasyam (English: Humour) involves a family waiting eagerly for their patriarch to pass. It was only recently that we saw a similar situation in the Sunny Wayne-starrer Appan. The only difference here is it’s neither a matter of inheritance nor salvation from the taunts of a despicable man. It’s simply a matter of selling his body, after his demise, to the medical college and getting a decent sum for it. The man doing the selling is his grandson, ‘Japan’ (Harishree Ashokan), a cadaver agent.
Now, I always approach any film revolving around death with slight trepidation. And when one remembers that this is not the first time writer-director Jayaraj is exploring a grim territory, one tends to think twice. But Jayaraj is a filmmaker who, despite a few misses, can come up with something interesting even when it doesn’t always work. Never mind the lack of attendance for these ‘award’ films, as they call them. The man hasn’t yet lost his mojo, and Hasyam is the latest testament to his ability to throw surprises now and then. It’s this very reason that drove my compulsion to check out Hasyam. It is, I must say, his best work since Bhayanakam —a thought-provoking work that never once made me feel depressed, owing to Jayaraj’s unique treatment.
Yes, people die, and their bodies get collected without hesitation in Hasyam, but the film thrives on pitch-black irony. Some places make you laugh out loud, and those where you process the whole thing with much amusement. It also makes you reflect on your own mortality while doing so. Japan is a man constantly looking for cadavers wherever he can find them. His is a business that involves a fair amount of shadiness. But can we really judge him when we look at his situation—and his network, which comprises a senior doctor, a hospital attendant, an ambulance driver, and at one point, a Christian priest? Medical students are badly in need of bodies to study. There is mention of a strike. Naturally, everyone is desperate. Japan is under so much pressure to deliver. The thought of giving back the advance amount in case he fails bothers him. In one scene, he and his ambulance driver friend pick up an unclaimed body recently knocked out by a rash driver.
But Hasyam is not an exploration of a squalid lifestyle either. Yes, Japan and his family inhabit a modest home but are in a position to afford three meals and a decent education for their children. At one point, when he hits the jackpot with one of his deals, Japan buys a big KFC meal for his family and, in another instance, a hearty Chinese meal. And Japan happens to be a man with a sense of humour. You rarely see him get upset; even when the occasional rough patch hits him, it doesn’t last very long; he somehow manages to find a way out of it. Harishree Ashokan is very effective in a role tailor-made for him. Sabitha Jayaraj neatly complements his performance as his oft-supportive better half.
Although Jayaraj asks us to accompany his characters to hospitals or ride with them in ambulances, he constantly maintains a light touch. The humour originates chiefly from Japan’s conversations with the other characters, namely the ambulance driver and, at times, with the attendant; at others, it’s the abovementioned gag where the grandfather ‘dying’ always turns out to be a false alarm or the attendant at a massage parlour lying to Japan that he is in the church. On one occasion, the priest suggests hiring a female home nurse to resolve a particularly dicey situation.
Jayaraj’s light touch also extends to the tragic ending when a feeling of triumph immediately accompanies it—for some of its characters, that is—at the same time. The film offers some interesting visual possibilities considering the placement of Japan’s home next to railway tracks. Jayaraj captures, with cinematographer Vinod Illampally, some striking juxtapositions in the opening and closing images to signify the arrival and departure of one life. Hasyam is the eighth in Jayaraj’s ‘navarasa’ series, and I hope we wouldn’t have to wait long for the ninth one.
Film: Hasyam | Director: Jayaraj
Cast: Harishree Ashokan, Sabitha Jayaraj, Ullas Pandalam