What is common between the films Take Off, C U Soon, Malik, and now Ariyippu apart from being Malayalam films directed by the ace editor turned Director Mahesh Narayanan? Well, all these films are based on news headlines around which the story is built and the screenplay structured. The main plot of Ariyippu (Declaration) follows a headline of a Malayali couple getting caught in a complex web of problems as migrant workers in Noida far away from their native, Kerala.
Ariyippu is set in a glove manufacturing factory in Noida and stars Kunchacko Boban and Divya Prabha as the lead couple who work in the factory. As a migrant couple, we see them go through the motions of an arduous life in Noida while trying to go abroad for a living like many Malayalis. An innocuous skill video of the wife shot for visa purposes becomes a “Non-Veg” clip that gets circulated from where the couple gets entangled in a series of relationship and professional problems. Mahesh who has also written the story takes us through a complex and layered characterisation of not just the main leads but even the supporting characters. Almost all the characters with the exception of the wife character turn shades of grey as the film progresses. The husband character changes from being an idealist to a pragmatist while the wife character does the opposite as the story unveils.
As we have seen in his earlier films like C U Soon and Malik, Mahesh is a master technician who has a strong hold on the craft. In Ariyippu too, he shows his brilliance in the making in almost every frame. Keeping it real in all aspects of filmmaking seems to be the underlying theme of this film. Almost the entire film is shot in natural lights and on location with extensive use of the Steadicam. Sanu Varghese’s cinematography is outstanding in a film where the opportunity to show pleasing frames isn’t just there. Films shot in Delhi usually showcase the vibrancy of the capital. For the first time, we get to see the dark and not-so-pleasing vignettes of Delhi shown mostly from the perspective of the migrant population. In the past, we have only seen Mumbai in this light.
The entire film has just a handful of characters. Boban and Divya are so natural in their respective roles that you feel for the situation they are going through in the film. There is hardly a scene in which both of these characters smile. Divya holds her own in what is a strong author-backed role. With Covid looming large in the story setting, we hardly get to see characters without masks. The Director uses the mask as a metaphor to convey that everyone is masking something. Without making it obvious, Mahesh uses the film to make a commentary on many contemporary social issues like patriarchy, North-South divide, Unemployment issue and so on.
While one track of the story deals with the problems faced by the couple, the second track is about operational business issues at the factory. I felt that this track has not been handled properly and becomes difficult to follow as to what is exactly going on. For some reason, the writer tries to take these tracks in parallel and get to a closure side by side towards the end which doesn’t seem organic. But for this issue, I found Ariyippu to be written very well. In the climax, we figure that the marriage is over for the couple and how does the Director show it? By actually referencing an innocuous unrelated scene that happens right in the beginning. For the first 20 mins or so, the film looks like a documentary of a glove-making unit.
Ariyippu is a slow-burn Malayalam film that people usually label as “Festival Cinema”. The Director doesn’t make any attempt to change this perception and keeps it strictly as a real film that deals with layered issues. If you are a fan of this genre, I would recommend Ariyippu as a “Must Watch”. Only If. The film is streaming on Netflix.