‘Aabhaasam’ is a scathing lampoon on the disgruntlement – social, political, religious and sexual – that underlies a literate society, and is a daring overnight drive to where we stand today. It holds fast to none of the conventionalities that one would expect of a commercial pot-boiler and truly living up to its title tosses cinematic decorum right into the drains.
An anxious looking chef (Mamukkoya) at a restaurant in Bangalore, rings up his boss (Anil Nedumangad) who’s on his way to Kerala from the Garden City, and asks if they should reconsider having beef dishes on their menu, given the current scenario in the country. The owner, a self-proclaimed communist, seems unfazed, but agrees that they could rename the dish into something not that obvious, and after a brief consideration and a glance thrown at the film playing on the bus television screen, comes up with an inventive name for beef fry – Mayamohini.
Jubith Namradath’s social and political satire ‘Aabhaasam’ that hit the screens this week, has a whole lot of on-the-face sardonic moments as these, and brings in an interstate bus named Gandhi, owned by Democracy Travels, as a mobile stage for action. A cross section of the contemporary society boards the bus as passengers, and they settle down on their seats as the bus steers its way out of Bangalore and into the long night that lies ahead.
This tiny populace that gets set for the journey has been handpicked specifically for a predetermined purpose, and as such has representatives from all religious sects – a Hindu man on his pilgrimage to Sabarimala, a Muslim couple who are on a fast prior to Ramadan and a Christian couple wading their way through the evangelical stream – in attendance.
It isn’t easy travelling alone at night, as the lone women travellers on board Gandhi are quick to discover. A fashion designer (Rima Kallingal) isn’t amused at the advances that the bus driver’s aide (Suraj Venjarammoodu) who pretends to be a humanitarian has been making at her, and a woman professional (Gilu Joseph) who has been asked to urgently come home to facilitate a marriage proposal that has come her worried parents’ way, realizes that some stares could be disturbingly penetrating.
There is a trans-woman (Sheethal Shyam), who in her own words, ‘sells dreams’, an ailing old man (Indrans) with an unrelenting cough, a lecherous drunkard (Nirmal Palazhi) with more than two eyes for all the enticing sights and sounds around him, a pawing gay man who surprises the unsuspecting passenger sitting next to him, a foreigner from Ireland on his way to Palakkad who is baffled by the myth surrounding Lord Ayyappan’s birth, and a few others who complete the picture.
There is an impish spirit that is let out in ‘Aabhaasam’ that soon gets busy making the statements that it so badly wants to make, most of which hit the bull’s eye. There are also however a few others that bounce off the creel and make their way headlong into a gushing river of vagrant thoughts, that very soon engulfs them within its mystifying currents.
In a spectacular scene, the chef makes his appearance once again and tells us that most of us lead a life that is starkly akin to that of onions, where we follow laid out paths, from the sack to the basket, and from the basket straight onto the curry pot. Some of us make an effort to be dissimilar to the ones around us, and fall off the basket, and briskly roll off onto the road, only to be trampled under the cramming wheels of a police jeep that hurries by.
In another one, the costume designer who has been leafing through the pages of a book, raises her head suddenly realizing that it’s all a trap – the bus, the book and everything around her. She shifts her gaze and sees a man from across the seat lasciviously salivating at her and wonders what it is that brings about a frustration this extreme in some men. In a stunning visual that follows, a determined leech latches on to her ankle and sneakily starts making its way up, even as the austere green environs around her stand witness.
Equally fascinating is the back-story of the ailing man in the bus, who requests the passengers sitting in front of him to close the windows, to stop the cold night air from gushing in. When they refuse to relent, the considerate boy sitting next to him leans over and snaps the window shut. He then asks the older man what he has been doing in Bangalore, and the man meekly replies that he has been working as a painter. What follows is a dramatic frame where he hangs suspended midway along the walls of a skyscraper, painting the walls a shade of yellow, smoothly rolling his sodden brush up and down.
Not all characters or their tales for that matter flourish into such completeness, and some of them appear partly fulfilling. Like the drunkard’s wife who complains of his assistant over the phone, a hesitant lover who calls up his colleague on the bus to make an admission, or the one-legged man who from the waiting station boards another bus, leaving a butterfly fluttering around in someone else’s heart.
‘Aabhaasam’ isn’t the kind of film that has a story to work on; rather it’s a series of events that occur in quick succession that hold a mirror to the kind of people that we have evolved into. It does try to be politically balanced, without appearing a bit too prejudiced, and does pretty good at what it sets out to achieve.
There are also the extreme points to which it drives itself – like the naming of the buses for instance, that sound nothing more than a blatant endeavour to brandish an ideology – which it could probably have done without. There is a beauty to subtlety which works exceptionally well in films as these, which ‘Aabhaasam’ at times, fails to realize.
Performances are top-notch, and leading the pack are Rima and Suraj, aided brilliantly by an array of actors as Indrans, Nirmal Palazhi, Alencier, Nassar, Gilu Joseph, Kannan Nayar, Abhija and a whole lot of others. Prasanna S Kumar’s frames have a lyrical beauty to them that is astonishing and the musical score by Ooorali and Dev in-keeping with the mood of the film.
‘Aabhaasam’ is a scathing lampoon on the disgruntlement – social, political, religious and sexual – that underlies a literate society, and is a daring overnight drive to where we stand today. It holds fast to none of the conventionalities that one would expect of a commercial pot-boiler and truly living up to its title tosses cinematic decorum straight into the drains.
Verdict: Laudable Endeavour