On the first sitting, it may be challenging to take seriously a story that on the one hand revolves around a lively ghost, and on the other hand captures the pain of separation. This ghost is only visible to Joshua. But that doesn’t mean that the ghost is just a figment of his imagination. The ghost is as real as the pain Joshua feels.
Koode arouses a sense of curiosity, melancholy and meditation. It doesn’t rush you into the meat of the plot from the word go; rather it trusts you to patiently watch the stories of characters unfold at their own pace. It’s also about what it’s like to find you in others’ memories, and rediscovering the feeling of belonging. Koode works because Anjali Menon succeeds yet again in taking us into the psyche of intricately developed characters. What distinguishes Koode from her first two movies is its unrushed pacing that welcomes you to get close to these characters, and meditate on their pain points. But the clockwork, if not dull, developments of the main characters will no doubt test the average moviegoer’s patience.
Joshua (Prithviraj) is depressingly forlorn when we first see him. We get slow close-up shots revealing the contours of Joshua’s worn-out face. He is seen slogging away at a manual job in Dubai when he gets a call from his father. Later we see him joining his family at his sister’s funeral. With his worryingly laconic behavior and monotone voice Joshua cuts a stark contrast to a house full of mourners. With an ailing sister in need of lifelong medical treatment, and a financially struggling family, Joshua is thrust into the world of responsibilities at the tender age of 15. Leading a life so unloved, and uncared for has left him incapable of remembering what it is like to do something purely out of love.
He is not regretful. But his face shows the resigned trappings of a man who could never choose between what he wanted and what circumstances dictated. There’s a sea of resentment simmering underneath every word he utters. It’s into this arid atmosphere that Jenny arrives like a spring of joy. Jenny returns from death not just to bid Joshua goodbye, but to serve as the magical portal through which Joshua can discover the true meaning of relationships that was snatched away from him by fate. She is not the transparent ghost that floats weightlessly. On the contrary, she is her bodily manifestation but is only visible to Joshua and Brownie the dog. They drive around in a van, learning more about each other, singing, eating and eating more.
Joshua’s new life begins when he realizes his sister’s boundless love for him. You can almost see Joshua trying to put the whole baggage of nothingness behind him. He is open to having conversations with his father. He goes out in search for his football coach. Soon he is seen engaging in banters, making funny faces, taking nostalgic stroll down the memory lane and eventually attempting to reconnect with his crush from school days. She is Sophia (Parvathy) a divorcee, who is reaching a boiling point with her relatives over a failed marriage, and her bid to keep her job as a school teacher. Parvathy is convincing as Sophia, and is all the more admirable because we are not told much about her character except that she’s in distress, and wants to break free from the overbearing clutches of her relatives.
During their trip, almost unbeknownst to us, the easy-going conversation of the siblings gives way to solemn discussions about love and obligation. To me this dramatic shift in atmosphere was the highlight of the movie. As Jenny’s questions flare emotions, we fleetingly see Joshua alternating between sadness and catharsis. It’s very delicate but powerfully effective. At different stages in the second half, movie veers off its course, meandering and lingering too long in scenes of little import. The brother sister bonding is heartwarming but it isn’t quite helped by the cyclically repetitive nature of second-half sequences. Nuanced as each character was, I got so accustomed to their details in the span of two and half our running time that they eventually became a bit too close for comfort.
Anjali Menon is a pretty good storyteller known for her knack of developing character driven plots. Her movies are populated by characters that have their own layered stories to tell. With Koode she manages turn every character into a storyteller; even the volkswagen van has a solid story behind it. By the way, I haven’t seen the original Marathi movie, Happy Journey.
For the most part movie makes slow progress. But I didn’t seem to grow impatient, mainly because there wasn’t much of a plot to talk of. It was mostly about revealing more details of the main characters as opposed to surprising you with an unexpected twist in their fate. For some time the story strikes you as unrushed, making you kind of curious about the course of the siblings’ next conversation. Every time the movie appeared to slide into spell of languor, Jenny’s vivacity brought it back to life.
Koode is a bittersweet tale of relationship that is deeply meditative but frustratingly long at times. It’s not the perfect movie but it’s a perfect example of an unconventional storytelling with an eye for expressing the warmest details in relationships.
Director : Anjali Menon
Scriptwriter : Anjali Menon
Based on: Happy Journey
Cinematographer: Littil Swayamp
Music: Raghu Dixit