Certain films create a landmark in the history of storytelling and this Kerala State award winner from Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is one such work with an unconventional form and universal appeal, posing serious questions over social hierarchy and exposing grave flaws in an assumedly perfect democratic system.
New-age writer Unni R’s acclaimed short story when transformed into the larger space of cinema gained more freedom under masterful director Sanal, who opted for a realistic approach to tell the story. The plot is simple with dark undertones, cunning characters and dialogues that are natural with depth and a disturbing climax that leaves a long-lasting impression on viewers.
‘Ozhivudivasathe Kali’ meaning an ‘Off-day game’ narrates the story of five friends, who on an election day in Kerala escape their usual routine for a fun and frolic day inside the security of a forest. Dharman (Nishthar Sait), Dasan (Baiju Netto), Vinayan (Pradeep Kumar), Thirumeni (Girish Nair) and Ashokan (Arun Nair), all with their own characteristic traits, engage in an excessive booze session on their off-day, visualised in utmost reality. Even though the five friends seemingly share a bond of long-lasting friendship, their difference in attitude and views are distinctly evident thoughout the movie, until the climax sequence where the most powerless gets isolated, fatally.
Dharman, a rich arrogant man who enjoys respect and dignity among his friends uses his dexterity to acquire power even among his friend circle while Thirumeni, a Brahmin, naturally attains dignity and recognition. Vinayan, is shown as democratic and progressive in his views and even fights with Dharman over his arrogance and ego during their booze session, while Dasan shows proletarian shades and Ashokan with traits of a hypocritical mindset. The day progresses with the five friends drenched in alcohol with each person slowly losing their inhibitions one by one over drinks and revealing their true colours over the course of the day.
The only female character in the movie Geetha (Abhija Sivakala) who is absent in the latter part of the movie, represents the struggles faced by women in a system made and run by dominating men. A single dialogue where Geetha says ‘what politics for us, it’s a man’s game’ underline the dreadfulness of a system that totally discards the issues of women and their world, irrespective of political diversities. Depicting a underprivileged woman, Geetha , a cook in the forest resort, is a strong character who resists the sexual intentions shown by the five friends and as if smelling the danger amidst a group of men completely under the influence of alcohol leaves the scene halfway, which can be interpreted as the helplessness of women in this world. The last scene before Geetha disappears from the movie, where she slashes a sickle on the ground with brute power to let out her anger, epitomises the indignation of women towards this patriarchal world.
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The movie towards its end surfaces harsh political realities when Ashokan suggests a seemingly harmless game to change the restless mood of five friends who are on the verge of a complete blackout owing to a day submerged in alcohol. This child’s game escalates quickly in the most disturbing fashion where even Vinayan, the humanist in the group, enjoys the cruel game and plays his role well in maintaining the order of power politics. The climax sequence is undoubtedly one of the most politically motivated visualisation of a wretched system that determines who needs to be eliminated from the social hierarchy and what qualifies the decision makers in every system, be it in Kerala, India or the whole world. It also exposes the authoritarian nexus that might be on conflict within themselves on periphery but holds a common bond, that is power, and knows the importance of annihilating voices of dissent and the marginalised. The last shot of the movie will leave the viewers in tatters as the silence from wild, shouts raging questions about casteism and social hierarchy prevailing in the country.
Filmmaker Sanal deserves full credit to give his actors complete freedom to be comfortable with their respective characters as no distinct script was used, other than Unni R’s story. Most scenes were improvised during the course of the making that paved the film for realistic viewing and the whole cast amazes us with their natural behaviour and gestures throughout the movie. Shots of rain forest and it’s wilderness that were blended after intense sequences provides ample room for thinking. Basil Joseph’s background score was integral to the movie as he instilled the dark and wild undertones of human mind that poised well with the insidious sounds of forest.
Credits should be given to Ashik Abu, who dared to take up the distribution of this independent movie and reaching out to more people which would have been otherwise confined to film festivals and laptop screens.
Ozhivudivasathe Kali is a must-watch film that can acquire different meanings from every viewer and might displace you off your comfort zone.
(Views expressed by the author are personal.)