Simply put, Ee. Ma. Yau is a tale about a burial. The burial of a nobody in a fishing village in Kochi. But the movie doesn’t stop at telling a story about burial, rather it takes you to places that most movies dare not traverse. Places that invoke unsettling questions about life, and places where you seek answers to these questions in contemplative silence.
Fresh from winning Kerala state film award for the best director, Lijo pulls it all off without frills of a commercial movie, and without losing sight of its goal to entertain. However, the movie is not overly concerned with entertaining; it is more concerned with making you think. Hence, it is not about how much the movie offers, rather, it is about how little it offers.
Movie starts with a funeral procession along the beach, a rather bleak imagery that wouldn’t look out of place in your favorite Stanly Kubrick movie. It was almost like viewers were supposed to take cues and be in look out for obscure symbols and metaphor that awaited them. Camera shifts attention to Vavachan mesthri, a haggard old man, who, in his drunken stupor, is taking a stroll down the memory lane. He waxes lyrical about the pomp and grandeur of his father’s funeral to Eeshi, his only son, played by Chemban Vinod Jose.
One thing leads to another, Eeshi promises to conduct his father’s burial with the same pomp, and Vavachan draws his last breath. The story then follows Eeshi’s struggles to keep his word. For the most part Eeshi plays the grieving son who holds his nerve with stoic composure as he watches fate run its course. The last quarter of the movie sees Chemban Vinod Jose coming into his own in what is clearly his best performance to date.
Among certain Christian communities it’s obligatory to invite someone in the top rung of the clerical ladder, preferably a Bishop, to deliver deathbed eulogy to the departed. Apparently, the higher up the ladder the priest is, the greater the remission of sins. It’s like a classic Catholic example of killing two birds with a single stone. Though the possibility of finding Bishop is pretty slim, Eeshi will stop at nothing to find one, and other fancy items. Assisting him all along tirelessly is Ayappan, played by Vinaayakan who is in his element yet again.
Dileesh Pothan dons Father Zacharia, a detective fiction buff who, less than convinced by the cause of Vaavachan’s death, proceeds to the scene with dogged determination akin to that of Franciscan friar in ‘The Name of the Rose’. Lijo clearly does not want to let the coldness of death pervade the narrative flow as he intelligently intersperses the scenes with grim humor. In an interview given to a famous news channel, Lijo was seen talking about how of all places, he could find humor in the house of the deceased. Perhaps that explains why he would temper the grimness of death with some light-hearted humor.
Maybe, there is a method to his creative madness after all.
In a movie that attempts to tap into the visceral senses of viewers, one would expect to see music play its role. But there is no catharsis to be found in the score. For me the Catharsis, though short-lived, came in the form of individual performances by the characters. What were also just as, if not more, cathartic was the shots where the turbulent incidents at the burial scene get punctuated by thunderous sea waves as though to symbolize their eventual fate in the lapse of Sea.
I will not spoil the climax which clearly adds to the rich tapestry of the story. It’s also the scene that indulges the viewer in a bit of homespun local philosophy. One may even try to watch it again to see if something you missed in the first viewing could help you connect the dots.
Though largely touted as yet another addition to his experimental movie making with a satirical bend, Ee. Ma. Yau is as gritty a movie as anything I’ve seen in recent times. The only difference is that the grittiness of some scenes will loom large in your mind long after seeing the film. As the story of Eeshi reaches its climax, your mind is full of varying thoughts, emotions of which fill up the crevices of your heart with alternating layers of awe and sorrow.
Movie is laden with scores of existential and after-life motifs. But it is film’s seemingly lack of pretensions to any such labels that could place it among the most talked about movies in many years to come.