How often have our supposed war films truly captured the experiences of ordinary people, who ultimately bear the brunt of such violent battles? Beyond expressing love and admiration for defence forces and worshipping military personnel, our films seldom delve into the realities of societies hit by war or those living under the looming threat of an imminent battle.
Dr Biju’s Adrishya Jalakangal, starring Tovino Thomas and Nimisha Sajayan in the lead roles, tells the story of a group of people devoid of any privileges and powers in the society, even as the government and its machinery prepare for a potential war.
The movie opens with an overhead shot of a police bus pulling up to an empty street, the object is placed smack-bang in the middle indicating the significance of both the force and the bus during the depicted era. Upon its arrival, a group of police officers quickly disembarks, proceeding to round up homeless people sleeping by the roadside. After herding them onto the bus, the cops transport them to a psychiatric hospital which looks more like a detention centre than a hospital.
Through the conversations between the police in charge and the hospital authorities, it becomes apparent that admission to the institution is a common occurrence, lacking any specific criteria for admission. “People with no identity are the biggest threat to our nation,” the cop tells the authorities, clearly encapsulating what the film is trying to address. Essentially, anyone perceived as a “threat” to the government can find themselves confined to this institution under the pretext of having mental health disorders. Does this scenario sound familiar?
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Similar to many of Dr Biju’s films, the characters in Adrishya Jalakangal also lack names, or rather, they are people whose names are inconsequential, let alone their identities. Among those admitted to the institution is a man, likely in his 30s (Tovino Thomas), who was picked up and placed there while casually walking down the road. He resides in an old train bogie abandoned at a site that was once a railway station, now under the ownership of a government-assisted factory. In the six months of his absence, a woman (Nimisha Sajayan) moved into another nearby train coach. Earning a living as a sex worker, she seemingly chose this location anticipating a lucrative business, given the presence of many sex-starved men employed at the factory. Like the others, she too lacks a name, as do three other characters who constitute this small world of the marginalised.
With incisive dialogue and an even more perceptive visual language, Biju sheds light on how the news of an imminent war disrupts the lives of ordinary people, particularly those from oppressed communities, plunging them into a constant state of fear. Throughout the movie, the persistent sound of the factory’s chopper is audible in the background and it is also occasionally revealed as a dominating force that monitors and surveils everything, akin to Big Brother in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The movie diverges from Biju’s usual style as it incorporates magical realism. Given that the film’s setting and era are inconsequential to its universal theme, which resonates globally, the use of magical realism enhances its aesthetic appeal significantly.
After undergoing repeated shock treatments in the institution, Tovino’s character starts seeing the deceased, who share their stories with him. Uncertain whether it’s a dream, reality or an aftermath of the shocks, he finds their information to be accurate, despite being unaware of it until that point.
Among the deceased persons he encounters, some were victims of the state machinery/henchmen, while others perished in a mishap at the factory. The deceased workers recount to Tovino how they died due to a leak in the chemical weapon plant, warning of an imminent catastrophe. They implore him to find a way to prevent it. While the powerful and privileged remain unbothered, the powerless man becomes the sole advocate for a solution, emphasising how the common, ordinary people ultimately stand for each other, while those at the top pursue their self-serving agendas.
A technically proficient film with a compelling narrative, Adrishya Jalakangal seamlessly incorporates various themes, directly or subtly addressing the multiple facets of living as a marginalised person in an ultra-savarna society. Every moment in the film reflects precision and sharpness, skillfully maintained by Dr Biju to ensure the film stays true to its essence. Thanks to his vision and Yedhu Radhakrishnan’s exceptional cinematography, each frame in Adrishya Jalakangal is impeccably crafted, resembling paintings, that are even screenshot-worthy. Biju’s adept use of music and silence enhances the overall experience, creating a unique cinematic journey. He also skillfully ensures that everything presented in the film appears believable, using minimal graphics yet achieving a visually rich result.
Tovino Thomas delivers an outstanding performance in a role that diverges from his previous works, showcasing excellence in body language and a keen focus on the character’s nuances. Nimisha Sajayan, once again, demonstrates her prowess, shining in an unconventional character (not in terms of profession). The kids in the film’s world, Govardhan BK and Ishitha Sudheesh, too deliver superb performances, and Indrans excels once more, hitting the mark with his portrayal.
One of the most notable features of Adrishya Jalakangal is its impressive sound design by Ajayan Adat, which consistently ensures that viewers perceive every detail in the cinematic world with utmost precision. Pramod Thomas’ skilful sound mixing further contributes to the film’s allure. Ricky Kej’s music also enhances the film’s communication, adding a beautiful and precise dimension. Dileep Daz’s production design captures the essence of the film, while Pattanam Shah’s makeup and KR Aravind’s costumes also contribute to its charm.
In short, Adrishya Jalakangal can surely be dubbed as a movie that we did not know we needed.
Adrishya Jalakangal cast: Tovino Thomas, Nimisha Sajayan, Indrans, Bijibal
Adrishya Jalakangal director: Dr Biju
Adrishya Jalakangal rating: 4 stars