Tovino Thomas in 'Adrishya Jalakangal'.
Tovino Thomas in 'Adrishya Jalakangal'.

'Adrishya Jalakangal' film review: Earnest performances, dull storytelling

Land encroachment, displacement, life-threatening factories, war, a woman’s agency and her rights, exploitation, oppression, and fascism are some of the topics the film touches upon.

Since there has been a small degree of curiosity with regard to Tovino Thomas’ tanned makeover in Adrishya Jalakangal, let me get that out of the way first. Does the makeover work? Does he give us a performance worth talking about? To both, yes, but there is a slight complication, which I’ll get to in a while. Of course, Tovino is unrecognizable as the unnamed marginalized protagonist who is one day deemed mentally unfit. But is he, really? He doesn’t seem so to us, unlike the other vagrants apprehended by authorities who get the same treatment. 

One can’t deny that the actor, aided by false teeth and a disheveled appearance, successfully keeps his real-life personality at bay. A certain level of quirkiness in the body language that involves jaw movements and walking and running patterns also helps achieve this transformation. It brings to mind what Mammootty did with his appearance in films such as Ponthan Mada and Boothakannadi—the first comparison in terms of makeover, the second in terms of the protagonist’s way with electronic equipment and, of course, his constant use of a telephoto lens. 

Okay, that’s all good, but what good is an earnest performance in a film that fails in terms of overall engagement and storytelling? Dr Biju’s new film Adrishya Jalakangal is a play stretched to a two-hour feature. The more I got into the film, the more my mind kept saying, “This should’ve been a play.” The filmmaker, known for addressing some of the ills plaguing humanity and the world in general, makes an attempt to do that in Adrishya Jalakangal too. Land encroachment, displacement, life-threatening factories, war, a woman’s agency and her rights, exploitation, oppression, and fascism are some of the topics the film touches upon. 

But the entire film behaves as though it was built around a checklist—to make it appealing to film festival juries, perhaps? One can throw around words like ‘surreal’ and ‘magical realism’ to justify the narrative approach taken here, but aren’t stories of such nature supposed to evoke a sense of amusement, wonder, and uncanniness—if not emotional resonance? Adrishya Jalakangal has none of these qualities. The only time I got slightly curious was with regard to a situation involving the convincing use of front projection and, of course, Yedhu Radhakrishnan’s painterly frames.

I also liked the warmth and ferocity that Nimisha Sajayan brought to her character. She begins her interactions with Tovino’s character on the wrong foot but eventually finds common ground with him to bond over. But again, as with Tovino’s contributions, hers too are wasted in a storytelling approach that comes across as pretentious—that abrupt finale only makes matters worse—and fails to do justice to these actors. 

One of the film’s most awkwardly funny moments has a band member collapsing of a heart attack after his concert, with cringe-inducingly unremarkable music and performance, gets disrupted by cops. There are also episodes of Tovino conversing with dead people. But none of these interactions fail to create an emotional impact owing to their theatrical staging. 

There’s nothing wrong with making political statements through cinema—in fact, it should be encouraged —but given that we have filmmakers like Mari Selvaraj or Vetrimaran who have managed to do the same with far more innovative and cinematic approaches, even with minimal budgets, efforts like Adrishya Jalakangal pale in comparison.

Film: Adrishya Jalakangal
Director: Dr Biju
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Nimisha Sajayan, Indrans, Bijibal
Rating : 2/5

The New Indian Express