July 11, 2020 5:59:25 pm
Who is Sanal Kumar Sasidharan? If your answer is ‘I don’t know,’ then it is high time you familiarise yourself with his work. He is one of the sharpest voices of independent cinema in India. And he is set to make a mark in mainstream Malayalam cinema soon.
Sanal made his feature film debut in 2014 with Oraalppokkam (which is available on MUBI). The film follows a man’s upward journey through the terrifying terrains and heights of Kedarnath in search of his lost love. And MUBI is also bringing his other noteworthy films including the controversial S Durga to the spotlight this month.
Although you can start with Oraalppokkam, the more advisable beginning is Chola. The film that debuted at the 76th Venice film festival is visually breathtaking and thematically bold and uncompromising. It is not an easy watch, as Sanal explores oppression that is achieved through sheer brute force of self-indulging masculinity. The other way to look at this film is it is also a movie about power, and how it is humanly impossible for a person who is fully consumed by power to resist the urge to impose his will on the weak.
Chola stars well-known faces of mainstream Malayalam cinema. Or the up-and-coming stars of the new wave of Malayalam cinema, if you will. Joju George and Nimisha Sajayan play the lead roles, along with newcomer Akhil Viswanath. The film is practically a three-member chamber play between power and oppression.
Akhil Viswanath plays the nameless character, who simply wants to take his girlfriend Janaki (Nimisha Sajayan) on a dawn-to-dusk date. The plan was to take a trip down the hill, and get a glimpse of all pleasures of metropolis lifestyle and return to their nests by evening. But, the sweet plan takes a wrong turn when the ‘Boss’ (Joju George) of Janaki’s boyfriend offers to give the couple a ride.
The boss is called ‘Asan’, which means ‘master.’ No matter how the dynamic changes between Janaki and her boyfriend, Asan’s position of power remains unmoved.
It is baffling at first how Janaki seems determined to follow her rapist through the circles of hell and ditches her boyfriend. It is not a problematic observation. Sanal just reflects the social conditioning that ties a woman’s self-worth to her virginity. Janaki knows that she will get hurt over and over again if she goes after him, but she still follows him because she is clueless. It is as if she is looking for an answer from her rapist.
After a point, there are hardly any exchanges between the characters. Except for different variations of cries and whimpers for mercy. Composer Basil C J’s background score and Sanal’s sound design of endless sobbing of Janaki adds to the horror. Cameraman Ajith Aacharya’s beautiful frames contradict the unfolding horror amid rain-soaked woods and eye-catching waterfalls.
Chola is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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