It is always a difficult task to transform a literary work into a piece of cinema without compromising on the elaborative and imaginary freedom a writer enjoys over a film maker, especially for a post modern story like ‘Leela’, written by Unni R.
‘Leela’ is a daring attempt by acclaimed director Ranjith, to explore a story through the psyche of Kuttiyappan, a carefree Christian man with instinctive and manic desires. But for a viewer who has not read the actual story written by Unni R, there is every chance of leaving the theatre with a load of unanswered questions and might even crib about the lack of clarity.
The opening sequence of the movie cements the character of Kuttiyappan (Biju Menon) who is shown waiting for a sex worker. Instead of satisfying his desires for the night, Kuttiyappan invokes the memories of the sex worker’s father by acting like a dead body and consoles her when she bursts into tears, all this in a comic manner. Yes, a wickedly humorous take on the filthy corners of human mind sets the tone of the movie straight from the opening scene.
The viewer is never let off from the hook of curiosity once Kuttiyappan with his friend ‘Pillechan’(Vijayaraghavan) ventures out to find an elephant and a girl to quench one of his insane cravings, revealed only at the climax.
Unni R, who wrote the screenplay, doesn’t seem comfortable in converting his own story while attempting to find the cinematic scope in it. There is a lack of sharpness in dialogues to evoke the ambiguous nature of the movie, which the script writer did dexterously well in Venu’s ‘Munnarayippu’. The conversations between Kuttiyappan and Dasappan (Indrans), a pimp, has glimpses of subdued dark humour. The excessive use of leftist symbols and images and the inclusion of a delusional angel to add surrealism were distractions while chasing the real Kuttiyappan on screen.
The director has managed to visualise the climax sequences without losing the much-needed severity that the script demanded, over shadowing the limitations he must have faced until then in visualizing the original story. The close up shots of an elephant and Kuttiyappan in the climax reminded of the imposing shots of similar kind from the critically acclaimed French movie ‘Dheepan’ . The climax is one pivotal move that reassures the truth that the power of nature is beyond man’s imagination and even a slight change in its behaviour can ruin all the plans and dreams that men weave, irrespective of their motives.
Renjith has used his actors to full effect especially Biju Menon who handles the main character. Menon looked good inside his comfort zone of light humour and instinctive dialogue delivery. The director explored the versatility of Biju Menon by handing him complex situations that are comparable with Mohanlal’s role in ‘Thoovanathumbikal’. Vijayaraghavan also shines as ‘Pillechan’ with his perfect body language and gestures of an introverted old man while for Jagadeesh, the role of ‘Thankappan’ will be one to be proud of, in his recent career studded with stereotypical buffoon roles.
Indrans, meanwhile has nothing much to prove after his much appraised role in ‘Munroe thuruth’, essaying his role ‘Dasappan’ with ease. Parvathy Nambiar does a decent job as ‘Leela’, considering that she has to maintain a dead face with hopeless eyes throughout her shots.
Overall, ‘Leela’ is one of those inconclusive movies that provoke disturbing questions about the vulnerabilities of man’s natural instincts and is also an attempt to mock the average Malayali’s hypocritical moral values and ethics.
(For viewers outside the Indian subcontinent, the film is available online at a premium rate. Read more here)