AT the Mumbai screening of Angamaly Diaries, as part of the Indian Express Film Club, on June 27, Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta called it a work that needs to travel. Interestingly, the key strength of this indie Malayalam film, directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, is its ability to transport the viewers to Angamaly. The movie takes them on a journey of this small town in Kerala that forms its backdrop, to watch its people as they go about their everyday lives.
The film, which follows the protagonist Vincent Pepe, a resident of Angamaly where most of its people are god-fearing Church-goers. He aspires to lead a gang and, maybe some day, escape this life for a better one in a foreign land, with help from some girl settled abroad who he can marry. Between his aspiration and the dream, his everyday life involves drinking with friends, attempting various businesses — from cable television subscriptions to a pork meat shop — and, of course, brawling.
The critical acclaim that the film has received so far ensured that the Tuesday screening at G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, located in the Laxmi Mills Compound, Mahalaxmi, was a packed house in spite of the rain and the resulting traffic jam.
The film, which played without an intermission, sustained the attention of the audience. After the screening, the audience discussed with Gupta the ability of the director to tell a rather violent story of two rival gangs from Angamaly without making the film a lesson in morality. “Also, Lijo handles the violence in a way it doesn’t feel gory, as it did in Gangs of Wasseypur, which also tells the story of two rival gangs,” added a viewer.
Gupta also pointed out that the entire cast of the film, 87 actors, were making their debut in the film. “But not one seemed conscious of the camera. The film played out as if the camera doesn’t exist,” she said.
The audience also discussed at length whether the film needed the ending sequence where Vincent Pepe is shown having migrated to Dubai, or should it have ended with the second accidental death at his hands.
Some felt it would have left the viewers with a sense of intrigue while others believed the director perhaps intended to show that in a country like India, a man can escape law.
There was a consensus that the film works because it is hyperlocal, recreating the fabric of the place for its viewers. “It’s not so much about how conflict happens but about how conflict is resolved. That says so much about the place and the people in the film,” said Gupta.