The film directed by Anjali Menon also stars Nazriya Nazim and Parvathy Thiruvothu
Last Updated: 06.09 AM, Oct 06, 2022
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When Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days was released in 2014, not only did it become a financial success in Kerala, but it also managed to earn a massive non-Malayali following. And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that for many non-Keralites Bangalore Days is the entry point to Malayalam cinema. One may attribute its popularity to the charming ensemble cast and a slice-of-life story set in a metropolitan city like Bengaluru. But what makes the film special is its relatable but flawed characters. Dulquer Salmaan’s Aju hasn’t had a happy childhood but is determined to make a name for himself without anyone’s help. Nazriya Nazim is the cheerful Kunju who ends up marrying a man she hardly knows while Nivin Pauly plays Kuttan, a simpleton. Rounding up the cast is Fahadh Faasil who plays Das, a man who struggles to leave behind his past, and Parvathy Thiruvothu who plays Sarah, a paraplegic radio jockey. These characters and their respective stories struck a chord with the young and old alike.
This kind of character development is not just seen in Bangalore Days but in all of Menon’s works, including Ustad Hotel, for which she wrote the screenplay. But one of her most underrated films (perhaps her best work) is the 2018 film Koode starring Prithviraj Sukumaran, Nazriya Nazim, and Parvathy Thiruvothu. The film may not enjoy the same level of popularity as Bangalore Days or Ustad Hotel, but it is certainly more poignant and heart-wrenching than the aforementioned titles. In Koode, Menon created one of the most sensitive, fragile, and wounded male characters ever written in Malayalam cinema.
When we first see Joshua (Prithviraj Sukumaran), he is working at an industrial plant in the Middle East. Soon, he gets a call from his father (Renjith) but Joshua doesn't utter a word nor do we notice any change in his expression. He reaches his hometown, and that’s when we learn that his 20-year-old sister Jenny (Nazriya Nazim) has passed away. Yet, there is no visible reaction from Joshua, as if Jenny was a complete stranger to him. The film then takes a flashback to the time when Joshua was a 15-year-old student and a doting brother to little Jenny. But the family’s circumstance change when Jenny is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. In order to bring money to the table and pay for Jenny’s medical expenditures, Joshua is sent off to the Gulf along with his uncle.
The film then transitions back to the present. By now it’s obvious that Joshua has been resenting his family for sending him abroad and making him the breadwinner when he was still a teenager. But things change when Jenny comes back into Joshua’s life. Only he can see Jenny who, for the large part of the film, stays inside an old van that was used as her ambulance in case of emergencies. From here on, the narrative focuses on how Jenny helps Joshua reconnect with her, his parents, his childhood crush Sophie (Parvathy Thiruvothu), and, above all, with himself.
Not many would be aware of the fact that Koode is based on Sachin Kundalkar’s Marathi film Happy Journey starring Atul Kulkarni, who essays a prominent role in the remake as well. Menon has certainly borrowed the basic story from Kulkarni but has made a far superior movie in terms of storytelling and character development. As the viewers, we connect with these characters at an emotional level and empathise with them, thanks to the fully fleshed-out character arcs.
There is a direct contrast between the mannerisms and personalities of the adult Joshua and the teenage Joshua (played superbly by Zubin N). Fifteen-year-old Joshua loves to play football and adores his family, especially his baby sister. There is a constant grin on his face. But he feels betrayed when his youth is snatched away from him, and gradually detaches himself from his family. We can only imagine what he might have endured in the Gulf while trying to keep his family afloat. One particular scene hints at sexual abuse as well. So, when he returns as a grown-up man after many years, he feels emotionally distant from those around him. In a scene, when his mother asks him to get married, he says, “At least once in a while you should consider my likes as well, mom.”
Every time Prithviraj played a layered, vulnerable, or emotionally damaged character, he just hit it out of the park. Koode is not an exception. He effortlessly slips into the skin of the character, so much so that it is hard to imagine any other actor playing the role of Joshua.
Nazriya brings much-needed comic relief to the film. In fact, in one scene, she even says, “If even I don’t talk, this will become some kind of an award film.” It’s very evident that Jenny has always longed for the love and affection of her older brother who came to visit her every four or five years. Parvathy’s Sophie is a fighter. The marks on her neck are indicative of the abuse that she had to endure at the hands of her alcoholic husband. When she decides to leave him, no one in her family, except her father, supports her. Both Sophie and Joshua find solace and company in each other. The cinematography by Littil Swayamp elevates the film to greater heights and M Jayachandran and Raghu Dixit’s music adds the right amount of peppiness to the melancholic mood of the film.
Menon has left a lot unsaid in the film. But therein lies the beauty of Koode. Dialogues are used sparsely and much is left to the imagination of the viewers. Koode excels in every aspect of filmmaking and should be on one’s must-watch list of Malayalam films.