The movie starts with the line – “This film is imaginary. If you think it is real, then you are imagining things”- a line which is seen even in the beginning of movies like Pokiri Raja. This strikes as odd in a movie like Thalapavu since everyone knows that it is based on the life of Naxal Varghese who brutally killed people based on his judgment and was brutally killed in return. Few years back the policeman who shot Varghese confessed and that forms the basis of this movie. When the movie faithfully follows what we have read in the newspapers, maybe the reason for adding this warning was to prevent some legal action.
That said, the movie starts off with the murder of Naxal Varghese (Prithviraj). Constable Ramachandra Pillai was forced by his superiors to shoot the tortured prisoner . Thus within 10 minutes, you know what you need to know that Varghese was a Naxal and he was not killed in an encounter, but intentionally shot dead. So where is the movie heading now?
The movie is a biopic of Ramachandra Pillai, who has a troubled life. His life is a mess. He drinks. He has extra-marital relationships. He is unmoved by the plight of his wife and kids. Now script writer Babu Janardanan after presenting this side, presents the other side as well. He explains why a man who never drank, starts drinking. Explains the ‘other woman’ and nature of their relation. But unfortunately, the melodrama of this is wrapped in an Inception like flashback within a flashback making it utterly boring. Even the personality of Ramachadra Pillai is boring. In the entire movie he seems to be a man resigned to his fate, barely raising his finger to change things and accepting everything as it happens. Maybe the real man was like that, but that does not make for good fiction.
It is during his initial posting in Wynad that he meets Naxal Varghese who is played by Prithviraj in an as-wooden-as-you-can get mode. He only has a few scenes with dialogue, but except for a few like the one in the bus with the conductor, everything looks preachy. Now Naxals are supposed to preach ideology, but when your personal conversations with others too appear with similar tone, then it is boring. This does not end when he is alive. Once he is dead, he appears often and preaches.
When you see a well made movie, the director does not stand out. The movie just flows and at the end you get that “wow” feeling. But when you see a Mani Ratnam movie, you can see the director hard at work trying to craft each scene. You can see that in first time director Madhupal’s work. He tries all sorts of tricks and the one which was a put off was pulling off to a long shot during a conversation scene. There is a scene where the constable and the naxal are talking in a forest. It is a brief line out of the blue without an establishing shot or framing shot to see the characters. But the worst comes towards the last when Pillai goes to meet his dead wife. His brother-in-law (Maniyanpilla Raju) physically assaults him and as the emotional intensity increases, the camera pulls away to show the scenery. This is one scene where you want to frame tightly. Again when Varghese is about to be killed, various 80s style trolley shots are tried. These irritating gimmics take out the emotinal intensity of the scene.
Now contrast it with the movie Social Network which is purely dialogue based. But once the movie starts, you are sitting with rapt attention till the end. In that movie too the script moves between flashback and present, but they all gel very well. At no point in time do you see the director or DOP trying to make a point.
Now the sad part is this. The Naxal movement and the tactics used by the state are an important part of our history. No one can forget what happened to Rajan during Emergency. This story could have been done much better than Thalapavu. Also since Babu Janardanan took an early bail by claiming this is fiction, he could have at least revealed the politicians behind the murder and their justification for this action. He could have shown the side of the state as well. From the way Thalapavu was presented, it resembled a docu-drama.
Coming back to the point about newbie directors, there is a similar movie on Naxals which did not get much attention. Gulmohar by director Jayaraj with super-writer Ranjith playing the title role and it was mostly gripping. You could empathize with the man and his inner troubles. With Ramachandra Pillai, you are just confused.
With another director and better script, this would have been a better movie.