We are a day away from the weekend but before that I thought of picking a film to review from the set of recommendations that I got on my Youtube Channel Popcorn Reviewss(please subscribe). The film that was recommended by one of my subscribers Riswan was the Malayalam film Chola which is streaming on Amazon Prime. I had realised that this film was previously lying in my watchlist for a very long time and it had just slipped out of my radar for some reason. Another incentive for me besides this being a Malayalam film was that this film was directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan who had previously directed S Durga, a film that I had really enjoyed due to its edginess. Lastly, Chola had also premiered at the Venice Film Festival thus making me really curious on what to expect. So I finally finished watching the Malayalam film Chola last night and these are my two cents on it.
Story & Screenplay
Chola follows the story of an adolescent girl who takes a trip with her lover to the city without her mother’s knowledge. But a cruel change of fate awaits them. The story is deeply disturbing and eerily dark with several shocking themes on display. The screenplay at just under 2 hours makes for a compelling viewing. And just to add to that, this is vintage Malayalam cinema which has a simple story but a layered screenplay.
The drama opens with a grandmother telling a story of a virgin to her grand daughter. The story is abruptly cut to a beautiful landscape filled with greenery and clouds which also gives you an instantly uncomfortable feel to the drama. There are long drawn shots of a girl traversing through the hills to meet her lover only to find him accompanied by a man whom he refers to as Boss.
The screenplay unfolds in the most leisurely fashion. The writers do not get to the point immediately and instead allow the audience to dwell in the environment. You can almost sense that something is amyss and this makes for an uncomfortable watch. You see the characters enjoying the time in the mall and on the beach while an uneasy undercurrent looms large at any given point of time. The time at the beach only signifies the lull before the storm. The layered screenplay almost shocks you when it actually gets to the point. You kind of sense the inevitable but when it transpires onscreen, it adds to the shock value with a deeply disturbing sequence where you hear wails from the girl. The technique of filmmaking will buildup a lot of tension in your mind making it deeply psychological in nature.
The next two paragraphs will contain spoilers so if you haven’t watched the film then skip to the next section. The final act is fairly predictable but extremely violent. There is a social commentary on the patriarchy which is prevalent in our society. The fact that the young girl was fed with the knowledge that the man who takes your virginity is the one who owns you, began making her lose her mind. So despite being raped and wailing, she was still fighting with her lover. The conflict of her character is completed through the story at the very beginning(the one featuring the grandmother) where she isn’t aware of who owns her after her lover kills his Boss. In a fit of rage she kills her lover too in a terrifying final act.
Also, if you notice she did display her creativity by piling on stones on top of each other. There are two ways to look at it – firstly this was a sign of an undefeated spirit who despite the flow of water continued to stand tall. The other way was to show her innocence as this was the only time she was shown to be alone here. One of the most brilliant pieces of writing which I have witnessed. And it pains me to see such a low imdb rating for the film!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are minimal in nature so much so that even if the film did not carry subtitles you would still get the gist of what was going on(the basic gist and not its layers). The BGM is subtle and blends perfectly with the narrative. The cinematography is beautiful and captures some breathtaking visuals which add to the ambience of the drama. Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan has a filmmaking style of European cinema. So there are wider shots where characters just perform without focusing on what the characters are doing specifically. This is a rare feat in the Indian context and his non hurried narrative style did help in absorbing the characters just so well.
The performances comprise of just 3 characters and all of them are simply outstanding here. Akhil Viswanath as Janaki’s lover(he doesn’t have a name which is deliberately done to not give the film a religious twist) is brilliant as the helpless guy who is witnessing the atrocities on his girlfriend. Joju George as Boss is silently terrifying and almost sends a shiver down your spine every time he is onscreen. He is a brilliant performer who adds a psychological horror element to his character by being poker faced throughout. Nimisha Sajayan as Janaki is absolutely brilliant. You are terrified by her long and helpless wails yet you do sympathize with what her character is going through as well. This was an astonishingly brilliant act by one of the best actors in the country at the moment!
Chola is a deeply disturbing drama laced with several dark themes which makes for a simmering tense watch. Available on Amazon Prime and Highly Recommended.