Filmmaker Vivek proves beyond doubt that he has an eye for visual detail, and even does a brave crossover to a few alien realms, but what he seriously lacks here is a compelling tale that would keep the viewers dangling on the edge. Which is why, despite all the creepy moments, and that final mandatory twist at the end, ‘Athiran’ feels like it actually set out to be so much more than what it actually turned out to be.
Set in a sheltered old mansion, deep in the forests, Vivek’s ‘Athiran’ starts off with the arrival of Dr. M. K Nair at the mental asylum in 1972, on an inspection as per the directives that he has received from Trivandrum Medical College. It doesn’t take him long to discover that all not is well at the place even as the resident doctor Benjamin (Atul Kulkarni) and his assistant Renuka (Lena) assure him that it is, and his search leads him on to an autistic young girl Nithya (Sai Pallavi), left chained in a dark cellar somewhere within.
Dr. Nair decides to get to the bottom of the girl’s tale, and unearths a saga of sibling rivalry that had led to a mass murder five years back. This isn’t an easy job for the doctor, since Benjamin isn’t amused by the unwanted guest at his place digging out long buried skeletons, and sets a man and a few dogs at him to set things straight.
The writing that had so much impressed us in films like ‘Kutty Srank’ or ‘Ee.Ma.Yau’ is far from sight in ‘Athiran’; and while the dramatics that overwhelm the conversations could be attributed to an age that is long past, the question would also remain as to whether the theatricality in the dialogues is deliberate or fortuitous, as purposeful as it might seem to be. The focus is rather on the setting here, and ‘Athiran’ does well in that regard.
There is a sinister conspiracy that Nair intends to unravel in ‘Athiran’, and where the film falters is in this unscrambling that holds no astounding disclosures. Scrape off that flimsy casing of disability and martial arts and all that, and what lies beneath is an age old tale of a scheming man who would go any length to lay his hands on some unexpected wealth that has come his way.
The sinister moments are tailor made, in that the camera follows Nair in and around the mansion, with the ominous background score building in tone and volume, until the man reaches a dead end. It starts all over again, as Nair hurries along wallpaper plastered corridors, the floors of which are tiled in black and white – a setting that has almost become obligatory in films that build on intrigue in cloistered spaces as these.
The asylum has a few other inmates – Kamala Lekshmi (Surabhi), the keeper of secrets, Jeevan (Sudev Nair) a good-natured soul who is overjoyed by Nithya’s company, Hussain Bala (Jayaprakash Kuloor), a painter with an uncanny penchant of painting futuristic scenes, a nun (Leono Lishoy) who seems to be see much beyond the verses in the Bible and a professor (Vijay Menon) who so badly wants to find out what ‘schadenfreude’ truly means.
These are all misty sketches, in that none of them appear to have any real life, and in a way, the climax does justify the mystification that prevails throughout. The brilliant cinematography by Anu Moothedan and the ominous background score by Ghibran, are however exceptions amidst this indistinctness and do manage to keep you transfixed on the screen.
It is customary these days that in all Fahadh Faasil films, the actor pretty much pushes everyone else into the shade, with an exacting performance. ‘Athiran’ is different, in that it is Sai Pallavi who leaves a mark behind, with a highly scrupulous feat that is never for a moment overboard. Fahadh is good without doubt, but this is not a film or a role that would test and challenge the actor in him, while Renji Panicker amazes us in a brief role with a physical agility that is downright notable.
There is also a hazy puzzlement prevalent in the performances of some other seasoned actors – like Lena and Surabhi, or even Atul Kulkarni for instance – a bewilderment that ebbs on from the fragmentary strokes that make up their partially painted pictures. Bereft of reason, they move about in the tiny crowd, uneasily bumping into each other in the narrative and not exactly knowing what else is to be done.
Filmmaker Vivek proves beyond doubt that he has an eye for visual detail and even does a brave crossover to a few alien realms, but what he seriously lacks here is a compelling tale that would keep the viewers dangling on the edge. Which is why, despite all the creepy moments, and that final mandatory twist at the end, ‘Athiran’ feels like it actually set out to be so much more than what it actually turned out to be.