Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Churuli had its premiere at the IFFK on Thursday.
When common elements appear in successive works of a filmmaker, one can assume it to be a case of either the person having arrived at a distinctive style or a hangover of the previous film. In Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Churuli, which had its premiere at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) on Thursday, there is a little of both.
As we journey up the green, misty high ranges again, one gets a sense that Jallikkattu is beginning all over again, with all the sense of the timelessness of being caught inside the untamed wild, of entering a world where the laws of the land do not matter. Here, Pellissery sets the tone of a folk tale initially with an animation intro.
Drawing on the short story Kaligeminaarile Kuttavaalikal by Vinoy Thomas, one of the most exciting young writers in Malayalam, the film is almost its faithful adaptation for most parts, except for the phases where it slips into fantasy. Antony (Chemban Vinod Jose) and Shajeevan (Vinay Forrt), two police officers, are travelling in disguise to a remote village in the hills, to nab an accused in a long-pending case. But once they cross a broken bridge, which is almost like a portal to this secret space, things do not turn out the way they intend to.
Air of foreboding
Everything, from the behaviour and language of the seemingly gentle people seen outside the village to the geography, transforms once they cross this last connection to the outside world. Much of the action here is around a toddy shop, which also transforms into a makeshift church and into the centrepiece of a village fair. The adapted screenplay by S. Hareesh keeps things taut in the initial parts, maintaining the element of mystery and an air of foreboding.
The visual and sound design come together to evoke a sense of disorientation, which the character Shajeevan puts into words as “it seems I have been living here forever”, just a day after arriving there. It goes well with the basic idea of the film, of history repeating itself in cycles. But there are points at which this attempt at disorientation goes a little overboard, which could invite accusations of being pretentious.
The pace and mood of the film are frenetic and raucous, with ribaldry being commonplace. But in creating this lawless land, one could also see the film’s viewpoint as the ‘civilised’ outsider’s judgemental eyes falling on this wild people, something that was there in Jallikattu too. The women here too are mostly side characters, except in a couple of scenes where they stand up to the men.
Churuli is a roller-coaster ride down a never-ending spiral, a ride that is exciting in parts and confounding in others.