I have said this before about Malayalam films. Once in a while, you have a movie that doesn’t have a “star”, gets released without much hype or hoopla but leaves you stunned by how it turns out. Recently we had Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey and Mukundan Unni Associates in this category. I will add Thankam to this list. Thankam is not a flawless film but it makes an earnest effort to say something different.
In the first 10 to 20 mins including a song at the beginning, the director takes his time to introduce the characters in a typical leisurely Malayalam film style. There are two friends who are involved in gold business and we are let to know how they conduct the business which is all not white. Everything goes normally till an event happens. The film is set in Thrissur which is introduced to us as the Gold Capital of India. The film title – Thankam, the setting of Thrissur and the main protagonists who are involved in the gold trade, and we try to connect the golden dots. The gold business takes one of the lead characters played by Vineeth Sreenivasan (another stellar performance) to Mumbai which is when we get to know the genre of the film as a mystery thriller. Till then it seems like a family entertainer about two or three friends.
From here on, the film moves at a fast and interesting pace as a police investigation or a procedural. This part of the film as the investigation cris-crosses between Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai which is shown in a very realistic without the usual filmy flourish is the highlight of the film. When this part ends in a massy action sequence, the film also loses a bit of steam when the climax is actually revealed. You can see that I am trying to convey what the film is about without any spoilers as this film should be seen without having any idea of what’s coming next. The writer and director ensure that we are kept in the dark of what’s happening by not telling too much in the first half.
The film is directed by Saheed Arafath who does a fine job of translating the script on paper to the screen. In fact, the subtle and no-nonsense filmmaking style does a lot to elevate the script itself. Syam Pushkaran being the writer is known for taking us to unchartered territories and we are prepared for the same. But here, for the most part, we are completely misled as to what is coming. This in a way works and at the same time might have also pulled back the film to some extent. The climax and the reveal at the end come as a dampener after all the played-up investigation sequences. I thought that the makers overestimated my intelligence of me as a viewer by not throwing hints while establishing the character of Vineeth Sreenivasan who is the main protagonist. I later understood that it was by design and some smart writing in not even hiding easter eggs here and there in the beginning.
Vineet Sreenivasan is cast in the character of Kannan, a very pious, God-Fearing travelling gold salesman. Coming close on the heels of his totally “black” act in Mukundan Unni Associates, we feel a hangover of that character in this film too and that works beautifully for the film. In terms of performance, Sreenivasan is upstaged by Biju Menon who comes as his friend, Mathews aka Muthu. Menon, a fine character actor kills it with his controlled and measured performance in this film yet again. In some of the sequences – like the dichotomy he displays in the beginning and the end, his acting is a master class for aspiring actors. The other standout performance is that of Girish Kulkarni, who is the Hindi/Marathi speaking investigation officer. We have seen him in films like Dangal etc… but this act will take him to another level in terms of recognition and future opportunities. The other supporting cast including Aparna Balamurali also does well.
When the film ends, we realise that the film tries to tell a lot in terms of narratives. There is this friendship narrative, there is this side track of how petty corruption plays out in police, then there is interstate play the police have to endure during investigations, then finally the fact that “All that glitters is not gold”! Thankam is a must-watch film for this genre-shifting storytelling. It is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
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