Ayyappanum Koshiyum

Ayyappanum Koshiyum

The opening credits play to the “Kalakkatha” folk number (and deserved applause in the theater), as a private car carrying contraband passes through a jungle in the middle of the night. We are warned about the presence of wild elephants through sign boards of the forest department. But this warning stays as a red-herring through the film, and we never get to actually see these animals in all their glory. We get Ayyappan and Koshi instead. The ego clash between these two men brews move-by-move, counter-by-counter, leading to a point where they are the legitimate rampaging, wild animals of the story. It is fitting that the voice of a singer (60-year-old Nanjamma) who was probably only heard in the surroundings of the real wild elephants of Attapady, is used as a background score for these beastly men and their waxing hostility.

Writer-director Sachy goes all the way with his wild elephant parallel. He stages explosive set-pieces where Ayyappan and Koshi literally bull doze through buildings, jump on vehicles, and go berserk in a market area. But beneath all the brawns, there’s an egoistical conflict with impenetrable emotional logic. Ayyappan is the white, and Koshi the black, in what seems like a very simple good-vs-evil setup. But there’s darkness in Ayyappan, and a clear view of the light inside Koshi. Add to it, the layer of politics. Ayyappan – the deprived, is talking about survival, while Koshi – the privileged, talks about killing. It’s a story of the former asking for fairness while holding the latter by the collar. Throw in a mix of the insane heights of male ego and toxic masculinity into this, we get women becoming collateral damage, as expected. But Kannamma and Ruby aren’t relegated to being passive players, they have been written with care, they get their own redeeming moments that make a difference in the journeys of their men.

If the various classes in our society have to reach some sort of equilibrium, it can happen only and only if the privileged decide to come down their pedestal at some point. This is illustrated in Koshi’s arc, one that Prithviraj plays to perfection. He wins at selling his character’s vulnerability while not being dramatic about it. Koshi for the most part, is at harsh receiving ends from many quarters, but has to keep himself together. He is torn between developing a conscience and feeding his ego – the jumps are sudden from a character development point of view, but Prithviraj owns it whenever he lets the ego win. The actor tops his own performance from last year’s “Driving License” which was another well-done, albeit cuter tale of ego-rivalry. Biju Menon as Ayyappan is another class act, and becomes the mass hero equivalent in this narrative with the morals majorly on his side. He gets lesser screentime compared to Prithvi, but that’s barely noticed with how he memorably sells the getting-high-on-ego facet of his character while maintaining a stone-cold bitch-face. These two actors generate power through sheer grit and character, aided by some crazy dialogue-writing. It’s also amazing how some stars can generate the “mass” feeling organically inside a film, exclusive of the default amount of “awe-inspiring” they come with. This might be because the writing strips them off that persona in a convincing manner – Prithviraj is introduced in an awkward closeup, where he’s seen half-asleep and drunk in the backseat of his car.

The only bit that isn’t sitting well here is the epilogue scene, because the film’s biggest punches have already been delivered and this is also sort of a scene that belongs to an older sensibility, or any film other than this one. Three full hours of this story feels like binging a consistently terrific, raw action series set in Wayanad. The tension of a potential physical duel is palpable, and the experience of sitting through this long, carefully pieced buildup is why we go to the cinemas. I am in awe of how Sachy has woven in morality, law, and politics into a story that could have worked simply as an exploration of the male ego. This layering in the screenplay is what brings this closer to looking like a mythical epic. This is the film to beat in 2020.


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