I believed Saudi Vellakka a glancing, loving depiction of the judicial system as a pageantry filled with entertainers attempting to do right by everyone, do everything by the book, and failing in spite of their finest efforts, observes Sreehari Nair.
At the heart of Tharun Moorthy’s Saudi Vellakka is a long-running court case, and it is set off by an improperly timed cricket shot.
Nine-year-old Abhilash Sashidharan is an open-mouthed kid, maturing in a bad metropolitan location of Kochi, a ghetto that other Kochi-ites refer to as ‘Saudi’.
Unlike the houses you’ll discover somewhere else in over the top Kerala, the houses in Saudi are Kleenex boxes with cubbyholes, modest yards, and boundaries in perpetual dispute.
this eventful day in 2005, Abhilash encounters among the very first dissatisfactions of early adolescence: He fails to extract a milk tooth that holds on to its socket by the last of its ligaments.
By the end of the day, nevertheless, he gathers around with his friends, on the terrace of his tuition centre, for a round of subtle cricket, with a coconut leaf for a bat and a vellakka (child coconut) for a ball. Which’s when it happens.
Abhilash’s on-drive flies over the balcony and strikes 71-year-old Ayesha Rawther on the side of her head. The old hag, driven to a bout of brief insanity, comes after the kids, who, like those breakaway Communists, wind up exposing one of their own.
Rawther initially wants to thwack the little kid with the leaf at hand, however chooses the all-purpose slap … and out comes the dangling tooth followed by a rivulet of blood and spit.
We catch the old hag turning into a mother hen nearly instantly, however that’s little compensation, and the bleeding kid’s moms and dads file against Rawther a case of ‘violence against a minor’.
Jailed that really night and launched on bail, the doddering assailant invests the next 14 years making journeys to one court house after another– even as her small family melts away, magistrates alter, and witnesses either conk off or take to their death beds or lose their memory.
Saudi Vellakka starts in 2019 with the now 23-year-old Abhilash Sashidharan (Lukman Avaran, displaying a complete set of excellent teeth that he grinds judiciously when mad) attempting to provide the old lady a reprieve toward completion of her life.
While this could extremely well have been among those fundamental grace-and-redemption stories, it’s a step of Tharun Moorthy’s creative stability and his humanity that he doesn’t soften the product. The characters in this movie do some terrible things, but their misdemeanours are charged with everyday confusions and small inflammations.
Moorthy is more than simply a wonderful director of faces; he is also a naturally talented portraitist, a specialist in the production of speedy gargoyles.
Ayesha Rawther’s abrasive neighbour, who prods the kid’s moms and dads into trapping the old lady, is a skunk by his actions; but the skunk has a pencil-thin moustache à la Clark Gable, and talk with himself like a man who requires some convincing.
The legal representative who attempts to defraud the old woman of her savings blinks between sentences, as if he is hesitating a little.
Abhilash’s sulphur-spewing mom has a gummy mouth which when challenged freezes up and goes sullen, like that of the dead fish she cleans up in her backyard.
When we meet these individuals, they are caught up in the whirlpool of life.
They are stunning and full of vitality.
And after that we see them age, become infirm, shed their beauty, have their dreams noiselessly drained out of them. We understand then that we can not pay for to assess them in easy ethical terms.
The real fecundity of Tharun Moorthy’s mind displays in the method he has prepared for most of the standard crucial responses to his film, and provided us a work of art that expands on such hollow pronouncements as ‘Saudi Vellakka is a stirring indictment of the Indian judicial system.’
An intense court scene from the Mohanlal-starrer Narasimham plays on the bus that carries a worrying Abhilash Sasidharan from Bangalore to Kochi, after he is summoned by the cops in the 14-year-old case.
14 years earlier, the old lady’s googly-eyed child Sathaar had actually stressed likewise when a group of police personnel had actually visited his home in the dead of the night to take his mother away.
Sujith Shanker’s Sathaar is a sweet-souled male, who can not withstand the rhetorical put-downs of his partner Naseema, not to mention withstand the law and its pointed concerns. So he reserves his plate of hot porridge, scrambles into a t-shirt, and toddles off on nervous legs to his best friend Britto Vincent (Binu Pappu), a regional party worker who markets his conscience in the white attire he always uses in public.
Part of the movie’s comedy stems from how it equaliSes the common man responding with trepidation to sees from the police officers and notices from the courts and the law-keepers who are themselves attempting to hold on to their peace of mind.
‘You are ended up, brother. You do not understand Kerala cops. They are hawks; they will catch you,’ states Abhilash’s friend, who selects him up at Kochi.
Such reactions may be substantiated of the growling, snarling image of the authorities painted in movies like Narasimham, but they do not correspond with the khaki-clad men and women we satisfy in Saudi Vellakka.
For instance, the sub inspector who detains the old lady has no hawkish impulses whatsoever. His stiff upper body and his professional smile, which he alternates with shows of anxiety, give upon him the poise of a CEO operating in the greater reaches of hell.
Then there are those magistrates, every single one of whom sits easy while projecting a sagely, sculptural existence.
Moorthy has drawn up his magistrates with such skill that it may scare you to believe that there are perhaps as numerous classifications of them as there are legal issues.
There’s a wife-fleeing magistrate who puts on his black coat at midnight and checks out in a murmuring tone the details of the FIR; a sultry woman magistrate experiencing a cold that makes her appear dewy-eyed and psychological; a magistrate who can smell phony bail witnesses from his chair; a magistrate who doesn’t take too kindly to musical reverse equipments.
A few of these magistrates sketch, some read out verdicts like doctors do prescriptions, some are unsuccessful poets, and some speak like their favourite mass heroes.
An indictment of the Indian judicial system?
Quite the contrary.
I believed this a glancing, loving representation of the judicial system as a pageantry filled with performers attempting to do right by everyone, do everything by the book, and stopping working in spite of their best attempts.
And it’s when we read the plot of Saudi Vellakka in tandem with its precise sense of proportion in individuals that we arrive at its tragicomic essence.
This is not a film interested in rewording grand oppressions. This is a film intent on reminding us that it’s those random events in life that leave behind the deepest wounds.
Cinematographer Sharan Velayudhan shoots the narrow lanes of Saudi as if each belonged to a constant history, places where intimations become specific, where curses come true, where today’s gossips are destined become tomorrow’s inescapable truths. And as we see the characters walking these lanes at different points in their lives, we discover our understandings of them being honed.
Binu Pappu’s Britto Vincent takes his whites pretty seriously, because he is a bit too tidy. And when his political profession does not fly, we intuitively comprehend the reason: Britto has too much heart to be a successful politician.
On the night of the old lady’s arrest, we are introduced to a character with comic overtones, a senior lawyer (played by Sidhartha Siva) who sleeps en path to the magistrate’s workplace with his tummy hanging over his thighs and with yawns loud enough to silence the katydids.
Much later in the narrative, we are led to the sluggish lawyer’s house, where we discover that he now exists as a garlanded photograph beaming from the wall.
‘We utilized to make fun of him, however I suppose he was seriously ill,’ says the legal representative’s widow, and it feels as though she is apologising for the callousness of everyone in the audience.
The old woman’s daughter-in-law Naseema is more than just a repository of repeated questions; she is a lavish slinger of concerns that cancel each other out.
Naseema can, in the same breath, poke at her mother-in-law’s guts and take the air out of her hubby’s manhood.
She taunts the old woman for being too confrontational, and her hubby for not being confrontational enough.
She’s an excellent example of somebody who does not have a strategy, yet wishes frantically to be in the thick of the action; somebody who comes alive when alone by the clothesline, where she takes a whiff of a sari and exclaims, ‘Boy, this truly stinks!’
The disaster of Ayesha Rawther, the story’s central figure, is not an advertising-level tragedy of a paavam old lady. It’s the catastrophe of somebody with immense pride in her abilities, losing some of that pride and with it, her life force.
Theatre veteran Devi Varma plays Rawther as a lady who is driven by the belief that she can handle things on her own– which is the belief that she has to control in the wake of the police case.
Her threatening nose and pinched lips become a growing number of popular as she develops into a non-verbal spectator inside the numerous courtrooms she attends.
It’s almost like observing a lioness with claws gradually change into a sparrow up on a branch, a sparrow that scans whatever thoroughly however never attempts to chirp.
For the most part, Rawther is not photographed for our compassion.
You get no close-ups of her old and wrinkly hands or swollen ankles but she ages with complete believability (everybody in this film does, with exceptional sunken jaws and brilliant balding heads) and towards the climax sequences she even acquires Scorsese-grade caterpillar eyebrows that stick out on her profile.
In her private minutes, you get a sense of her history, and those passing bits of her attempting to smell lemons may remind you of Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries attempting to recapture his youth by a lake.
There are mirrors and layers in the tale he is narrating, but Tharun Moorthy does not require those upon us; he wants us to read them for ourselves.
A few scenes, however, have tonal issues, where the sluggish movement and the background score stress too difficult to tug at our heartstrings.
Likewise, in the opening and closing passages, the staging may appear a little bit close-fisted; specifically, Abhilash Sasidharan’s phone conversation with his manager, which comes off as too hurried and jokey, something a ‘content gamer’ might put out.
These are not compromises but blemishes in storytelling, and they suggest last-minute edits and modifications.
Most significantly, the blemishes do not matter when weighed against Moorthy’s kindness for his characters.
2 of the most significant Malayalam hits of 2022, Jaya Hey and Nna Thaan Case Kodu, were established on tricks, talking heads and simpleminded ironies.
However in Tharun Moorthy’s second function, there’s a sure touch, similar to Jean Renoir.
And when his characters make proclamations such as ‘I can not lie’ or ‘I am a decent person!’ the young film-maker isn’t setting us up for a minute of cynical reflection later– he truly wishes to examine how far even the vain ones can go without betraying their image of themselves.
The love you establish for the characters in Saudi Vellakka has its source in an aesthetic that is epic in its scope.
This is a rare film in which each efficiency feels as luminescent as the next one; which’s because, Moorthy’s individuals, despite whether they carry out kind deeds or bad, no matter whether they behave well or dishonourably, are all lit from the inside.
Saudi Vellakka streams on SonyLIV.
Saudi Vellakka Evaluation Rediff Ranking: