What’s special about ‘Vaarikkuzhiyile kolapathakam’ is the writer’s detailed treatment of its central characters. Director Rejishh Midhila invites you to rustic island Arayamthuruth where Vincent Kombala, a Parish priest, is the self-appointed guardian, law enforcer and peacemaker of the villagers. He is to Arayamthuruth what Batman is to Gotham city. He’s done everything to earn the title, from roughing up the troublemakers on the pretext of conducting confession, serving as straitlaced marriage counselor to lovebirds to ending the schemes of loan sharks and cockblocking lechers at night. The story chronicles the biggest test of father’s religious and personal life when he becomes witness to a murder, and the culprit confesses the crime to him.
Film was thematically inspired by Hitchcock’s I Confess (1951). While Hitchcock’s movie explores the internal conflicts of its protagonist, ‘Vaarikkuzhiyile kolapathakam’s writer takes a more nuanced approach by adding elements of mystery to its narrative. What distinguishes the film from Hitchcock’s thriller is former’s inextinguishable energy to entertain the audience. Such is the clever editing, pacing and entertainment value the film presents, it succeeded in keeping me engaged for three fourths of the fare. Once the central conflict is resolved, film shows brief signs of plodding as if in a gasp for new ideas. Although the questionable pacing of climatic sequences left a lot to be desired, the film tried to make up for it by ending the proceedings on an ambiguous note.
The film doesn’t delve into a moral examination of Seal of confession, nor does it go into details about its implications on the priest’s psyche. What it does do is create a palpable suspense on screen. There was something inherently compelling about the playful manner in which the film was able to combine the serious with the absurd. Uncouth dialect and crude humor of its characters at times gave me the impression of watching some scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie Amen. The film derives its authenticity not just from its experimental theme, but from its careful exposition of interrelationships.
Vincent Kombala (Amith Chakalakkal) displays an explosive aggression that may first seem to be at variance with his devotional vocation. But soon we learn how his social justice bent might have been shaped as strongly by his police service background as by religious beliefs. The script is never in a hurry to present its chief conflict. It swimmingly drifts about registering the quirks and foibles of its characters. It’s worth noting that director found the most fitting actors to play these characters, who despite their short screen time, are there to add an arresting depth to the rich tapestry of its narrative. Among the famous faces playing key roles are Nedumudi Venu, Dileesh Pothan, and Lena.
Becoming a priest clearly wasn’t an overnight decision he took in the wake of some personal disappointments. If the priest didn’t go through a serious conversion, then he would have had no difficulty in revealing the confession secrets to the public. So it stands to reason that he is indeed a man of strong religious conviction. Noticeably, the film spent very little to no time exploring the faithful in the priest. Instead we are given a vivid account of his penchant for flamboyance and swashbuckling antics. Maybe the director felt that leaving traces of ambiguity over priest’s religiosity will give his character some unpredictability. Any way this narrative technique does manage to keep you guessing for a bit.
Amid all the fast-paced chaotic proceedings, director cleverly gives us moments of unsettling quietness as the protagonist is forced to dig into his personal self for answers. Although the background music plays spoil sport every now then, the director gives us insights into priest’s spiritual dilemma with close up shots and well-paced editing. Much to his credit, for the most part director manages to transfer the guilt-ridden suspense from characters to characters and then from the screen to viewers. What’s also worthy of praise is the cinematography which, with its aerial shots, panned to the most verdant details of the island.
Purpose of commercial movie is by and large to entertain. And in doing so if it can so much as provoke an original thought or even make you interested in its mystery, then I consider it a massive achievement.