Varathan (2018) Malayalam Movie Review – Veeyen


Amal Neerad’s uncompromising portrait of disillusionment and of a paradise lost and forcefully regained is a searing piece that simply slices right through you. ‘Varathan’ is a slow burning tour-de-force that is dark and disturbing by turns and a foreboding cinematic experience that is impossible to shake away, let alone forget.


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There is a creepiness – the most unsettling sort – that worms its way ahead slowly under your skin, as the young couple in Amal Neerad’s ‘Varathan’ drives into a dusty old mansion in a plantation town in Kerala,  all set for a life that they hope to start anew. For, lurking behind the rustling cardamom leaves all around are prying eyes that seep straight in, unleashing an air of disquiet that gently starts blowing across the screens.

Not a long time ago, back in the Middle East, Abin (Fahadh Faasil) has had a real bad day at work, and heads back straight home, where his wife Priya (Aishwarya Lekshmi) awaits with further bad news. Taking it all in their stride, they cheerfully head out for dinner and while at it, decide that perhaps it’s time to bid adieu to the studded Dubai nightscape that resplendently lies beyond.

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Abin makes plans of launching a start up and Priya chooses to work from home for a while, and they land at 18th Mile, a sleepy old settlement in Kerala, where Priya had spent the better part of her childhood. It all seems the perfect getaway until they realize that their being there is perceived as unwelcome, and that there is much more happening around than what meets the eye.

‘Varathan’ is very obviously inspired by the Hollywood thriller ‘Straw Dogs’ (Sam Peckinpah, 1971) which was even followed by a jaded remake in 2011. However, Neerad’s film, unlike the uninspiring Rod Lurie remake, is tension-fraught, and remarkably implants the tale in a social milieu where pacifism is often mistaken for a failing, and aggression is frequently identified as an indicator of mettle.

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It’s a quaint setting that Neerad goes for, and the rambling old mansion that Abin and Priya move into holds a stark silence along its faintly lit corridors, and the verandas that light up albeit a bit briefly, when the sunlight chooses to streak in through the lush foliage around. The tranquillity is at times shattered by the loud dongs of the door bell that sound almost sinful, and in the dead of the night a mighty swarm of lovelorn cicadas come buzzing, obstinately yearning to find a mate.

‘Varathan’ scissors through the social fabric of the state, and lays out in bits and pieces an antique censure that has currently acquired new shapes and forms and which comes draped under the garb of moralism. It also starts fiercely scrubbing away,  scouring back and forth over the sheath of civilization, or rather what appears like it, and peels off layers and layers of resentment, envy and bitterness that has amassed all over it.

There are quite a few knuckle-whitening moments in ‘Varathan’, but which have been nimbly incorporated into the plot. The unease is continually built up with an indistinct face that appears beside the bedroom window, by the shrill mock singing that streams in from the hill above or the mobile phone that is found strategically placed beside the bathroom ventilator sill. The palpable malevolence hangs about in the air, and you distraughtly wait for the moment when the trepidation will turn real; when all hell will finally break loose.

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‘Varathan’ is not a suspense thriller by any measure; it is instead a ticking time bomb of a movie that has got almost all its squirm factors right. Writers Suhas and Sharfu progressively work on the swelling conflict and ensure that the edginess resonates throughout, with immensely credible characters, plausible actions and unrestrained dialogues.

There is indeed a startling, almost irreversible alteration that occurs to Abin’s effete personality that would probably drive quite a few eye brows into a frown, but which does indeed have a sturdy rationale. Abin walks out into the courtyard with the deadweight of a bruising revelation bogging him down and starts sobbing, the very last bits of his passiveness washed down his cheeks.  The language of truce goes for a toss, when you find yourself strangled by the neck, and the only choice that you are left with, is to give it back, in all possible ways that you could.

Priya goes through an appallingly similar state as well, when after an untoward incident that leaves her severely battered, she walks into the washroom as if in a trance and tears away the newspaper that they had stuck up over the glass panes above to keep the lascivious stares away. Panting heavily, she starts splashing water over her face, agitatedly staring back at her frayed self in the mirror.

Aishwarya  Lekshmi is pitch perfect as the traumatized Priya, who goes through unspeakable horrors and is even more horrified at her husband’s passivity. Her commanding screen presence makes Aishwarya a mind-blowing performer, and she fantastically holds her ground, despite being pitched opposite one of the greatest actors that we have at the moment. None of the troubled woman’s agony is lost on us, as Aishwarya dexterously unspools the frustrations that Priya harbours, and confidently establishes herself as a major performer to reckon with.

varathan-malayalam-movie-review-veeyen

And of course, there is Fahadh himself, who takes it real slow, all the while grabbing hold of the movie and never letting go. He vehemently explores a personality that is so complex – conciliatory and assuaging to the core before being crushed to the ground. He then follows it up with a display of an impressive tonal range when Abin pluckily decides to confront the impostors who have barged in. It is an astounding juggle between the placid and sly selves of the protagonist that Fahadh indulges in through his insightful portrayal of Abin, and he floods the screen with a passion that this movie truly deserves.

There is also a jaw dropper of a performance from Sharafudeen that should have you gaping at the actor in astonishment. Much of the eeriness of the film is courtesy Little Swayamp and his sinister cinematography, with the snooping camera sneaking up behind shadowy corners, stealthily slithering across floors and craftily clambering up the high walls. Sushin Shyam comes up with an intimidating background score that lets the restlessness steadily mount.

Amal Neerad’s uncompromising portrait of disillusionment and of a paradise lost and forcefully regained is a searing piece that simply slices right through you. ‘Varathan’ is a slow burning tour-de-force that is dark and disturbing by turns and a foreboding cinematic experience that is impossible to shake away, let alone forget.


Verdict: Good


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