Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil Review: A technically superlative prison break drama
While it doesn't quite reach the benchmark set by popular Hollywood films of the same genre, Pappachan's film still has enough awesomeness to make it a huge deal for Malayalam cinema
When was the last time that we saw a good prison break film in Malayalam? I cannot recall anything other than Padmarajan's 1988 film Season, in which Mohanlal manages to get inside a prison so that he can break out the man responsible for killing his friends. The whole focus of the film wasn't on the prison break; it was a small segment. Still, it was an exciting sequence.
Cast: Antony Varghese, Aswathy Manohar, Vinayakan, Chemban Vinod Jose
Director: Tinu Pappachan
Unlike in Hollywood, this is a genre that has not been explored much in India. To pull off a prison break story is as complex as pulling off a prison break. This is an age where most youngsters have seen Prison Break, the popular TV series featuring some of the most ingenuous and exciting plot twists (not always logical). So anyone planning to make a prison break film has a big challenge ahead of them.
Also, considering the fact that Hollywood has produced some popular prison break dramas like The Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Alcatraz and The Great Escape, naturally there is going to be a tendency to compare a new film in the genre with those films. While Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil, made by debutant Tinu Pappachan, doesn't quite reach the benchmark set by those films, it still has enough awesomeness to make it a huge deal for Malayalam cinema.
First of all, in order to make a good prison break film, the characters must establish a solid connection with the viewer. They have to be engaging and relatable. If that box is not ticked, no matter how many twists you put in, the film isn't going to work. In that regard, Swathanthryam... is a mighty success. Yes, the lead character Jacob (Antony Varghese) has murdered someone -- the details of which are kept vague at the beginning -- but, just like Tim Robbins' character in The Shawshank Redemption, you get the sense that maybe he is not really a "bad guy". You'll get your answer much later in the film.
Then comes the camaradarie between the prisoners, which is another important thing when writing these stories. This film scores big in that department too. Some of the prisoners' conversations, laced with adult humour, are clap-worthy. All the supporting actors -- from Vinayakan to Chemban Vinod Jose -- are in top form; a lot of them appeared in last year's Angamaly Diaries, incidentally. So this film feels like a reunion of sorts. There are plenty of moments where you get the feeling that you're watching its sequel.
And it's not just the actors that remind you of that film. Some of the main crew members have worked with Pellissery in the past. Pappachan worked as an associate director on Angamaly Diaries. The same goes for cinematographer Gireesh Gangadharan and editor Shameer Muhammed. And finally, Pellissery himself is the producer. So you can see a bit of his influence on the film's overall look.
One of the film's strongest points is its experimental, one-of-a-kind background score, by debutant Deepak Alexander (I noticed some similarities with the score in the opening credits of David Fincher's Se7en).
This a technically superlative film that is best experienced on the big screen; not on your mobile phone.