The early stretches of Paltu Janwar show much promise. The livestock inspector, Prasoon (Basil Joseph), lands in a job and place that doesn’t suit the youngster with a passion for animation. The animation venture proved a failure, leading to a fair degree of embarrassment and self-loathing, as evidenced by Prasoon’s interactions with his elder sister (Unnimaya Prasad).
If you ever ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time, more than once, until you finally found the right place and crowd, you will find Prasoon an extremely relatable figure. And casting Basil makes much sense when you remember that he last toyed with disenchantment, albeit of a different variety, in his last film, Jan-e-Man. One of the most striking images is the opening scene: a bunch of bovine friends block his vehicle en route to his new posting. It stands out because they become the primary cause of his redemption in the film’s closing moments.
Another key figure bolsters the pre-interval portions, a veterinarian played by Shammi Thilakan, who later reveals a side hustle that eventually proves to be a chink in his armour. And what a delight it is to see Shammi come up with unique quirks and mannerisms that strongly evoke his father — the legendary thespian Thilakan but whose trademark belongs to Shammi alone. One speech scene, where the unhinged side of Shammi is on full display, instantly recalls his father’s iconic scene from Mookkilla Rajyathu, despite both situations differing in terms of context and implications. Some comic relief also comes courtesy of Indrans’ absent-minded, excessively sweet-mouthed Panchayat member with a propensity for moonshine.
But none of them become what you call ideal mentor figures for Prasoon, who learns a shocking truth: they are as clueless about their jobs as he is. The only difference is that it has only been a day since he commenced office, while the others have been on the field for decades. He is learning on the go. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, whose assuring voice often alleviates his work-related torments to a great extent, of his tendency to adapt wherever he goes. But the situation here is different. The small fish taken out of the water finds bigger fishes in the same predicament.
Between these early pages, the script finds some chuckle-worthy moments which I wish were laugh-out-loud. That brings me to the main issue with Palthu Janwar: it’s a script that seems content with playing it safe with its storytelling. Perhaps my experience also has to do with the existence of a much superior work exploring similar terrain, the Hindi web series Panchayat, in which the protagonist’s awkwardness and dilemmas were more fleshed out. The film also suffers from the absence of Shammi in the post-interval portions. (It’s not a spoiler.) I felt the subsequent stretches of the film could’ve benefitted from the crackling dynamic established between Basil and Shammi earlier.
In Paltu Janwar, Prasoon encounters a fairly career-threatening episode just minutes before the intermission card appears, but you don’t really get the sense that it shook him up much. And this is not a criticism of Basil’s performance. I wish we saw more moments where the film stayed with Prasoon a little longer instead of hastily moving to the succeeding situation. It also takes some uninteresting detours that, while having the intention of setting up the payoff, become quite an endurance test. For a film hailing from the Bhavana Studios label, one expects something with more meat on its bones. Palthu Janwar is not Kumbalangi Nights or Joji and it’s not trying to be but having loved everything that Bhavana made until now, I can’t say the same for Paltu Janwar.
Film: Paltu Janwar
Director: Sangeeth P Rajan
Cast: Basil Joseph, Shammi Thilakan, Indrans