There are 18 moves in kalaripayattu. And if all these fail, there is the 19th–Puzhikkadakan. This is a deceptive move in which the fighter obscures the opponent’s vision and disarms or kills the enemy. The term puzhikkadakan or its more popular alternative ‘avasanathe adavu’, or last resort, is used to denote that one is at his/her wit’s end and will attempt the riskiest move in a do or die attempt.
Puzhikkadakan is the story of a soldier Havildar Samuel/Sam (Chemban Vinod), who faces a tragedy back home. And having tried everything to get justice, he is forced to engage in a gambit that could very well end his life.
Sam’s arrival at his village in Idukki on leave is quite dramatic. His neighbour and friend Koshy (Alencier) in a drunken haze mistakenly interprets a late-night phone call to be that of Sam’s death. A surprised Sam is welcomed by a host of bewildered villagers drinking hot black tea outside his home early morning. There is a reason for stretching out the opening scene. That’s how the 120-minute film feels like, a stretch.
Coming back to the story, Sam’s wife Anna (Dhanya Balakrishnan), son Esco, mother and sister are all happy with him being home. The quaint village is in the midst of local elections and the sorry state of the roads is one of the main political issues. Life goes on as usual with sporadic incidents that shake Sam, who keeps a low profile. But a tragic accident rocks his world. His pleas to get justice falls on deaf ears and that forces him to take drastic steps, forcing those in power to react.
Puzhikkadakan is another case of lost opportunities. There is nothing unique about the plot. It is a man’s struggle to hold the authorities accountable for the casualties caused by their corruption and disdain towards common people. That being said, this is a pertinent subject that will make a significant impact when done right.
Gireesh Nair, the director and co-writer, fails to do it right. He had good actors to work with, a beautiful location, and going by the post interval scenes, has a good rapport with major TV news channels too. But everything fails when the writing is shoddy. The writing team, which includes editor Unni Malayail, could have just emulated the template of man-on-the-edge films, and there are so many to choose from.
The film just meanders all through the first half. The accident scene gave hope that the film would pick up from there. It never did. The whole movie felt like a fifteen-minute short film being stretched to 120 minutes. The lack of imagination is evident when shots of people watching a live stream are used repeatedly during the run-up to the climax.
Chemban Vinod is a capable actor with enough cred to play the lead. But here, he mostly sleep-walks through scenes, even in the highly emotional ones. Alencier reprises his trademark oddball character. Dhanya has a good screen presence and does justice to her role. She had a good chemistry going with Vinod. Sudhi Kopa, Biju Sopanam, Gokulan and a few others were there for comic relief. Their scenes stand alone. The talented Biju was under-utilised and, among the lot, only Gokulan gets some decent laughs. In hindsight, the local body election tussle could have been developed into a social satire.
The director was able to rope in Jayasurya for an extended cameo as an IAS officer. It was ironically a last-ditch effort that failed to create the desired effect. There were cameos by actual TV news presenters in real studios covering the incidents in the finale. But the attempts at authenticity turned hilarious when the news tickers of all these channels showed the same news with the same language and that too, of a story that happened a couple of weeks ago in the film’s timeline. On the technical side, the makers failed to capture the beauty of the location. And it felt like watching a TV serial throughout.
I braved rains and almost fell off my scooter in my attempt to catch the second show of this film. And if you have read this far, you will be able to understand my feelings. Puzhikkadakan could have been a decent watch, if only the writers had a bit more imagination.