Nyla Usha and Sharafudheen
Nyla Usha and Sharafudheen

Priyan Ottathilanu Movie Review: Breezy drama with empathetic characters and ample humour

 Priyan Ottathilanu is better viewed more from a spiritual standpoint than filmmaking
Rating:(4 / 5)

I've always been in awe of people who have a natural gift for multi-tasking. And I'm more in awe of those with anxiety issues doing the same. It's usually the senior female members of our family that we've mostly seen do these things. But we have seen male multitaskers, too, especially in our neighbourhood, running around, hopping from one house or family to another. When I see someone handling 6-7 things at once, I wish I had those powers. In Priyan Ottathilaanu, Sharafuddhin's Dr Priyadarshan juggles a truckload of tasks. I lost count after a point. When I set out to do something, I create a list of things to do for the day. Priyan is the guy whose to-do list sometimes gets updated by the minute or hour. 

Director: Antony Sony

Cast: Sharafudheen, Nyla Usha, Aparna Das, Biju Sopanam, Jaffer Idukki

Don't go into director Antony Sony's new film expecting a mammoth conflict for the central characters to solve. I like to see a work like Priyan Ottathilanu more from a spiritual standpoint than filmmaking. That's not to say the film is devoid of any admirable craft. After all, it takes a little of that to make us feel something, right? If you ask me if Priyan Ottathilanu is 'cinematic', it is, but not so much as to make it seem like whatever the characters are doing is unrealistic. They are dealing with everyday problems. 

Priyan is a homoeopath who, when not working in his clinic, tends to not only his neighbours' issues but also working on movie scripts on the side. Speaking of his medical practice, that's an area that the film rarely shows. But this is a question that Nyla Usha's pivotal character Priscilla, who enters the story post-interval, asks him. Not that it's a spoiler, but maybe I should leave the readers to find out for themselves. Priyan doesn't give the most profound answer, but it makes sense. There is no need to doubt the existence of such people because they do. We just haven't seen a lot of them. After seeing many selfish folks around us, we begin to see everything through a cynical lens. However, I can say that Priyan Ottathilanu is not a typical virtuous man's story. 

In Malayalam cinema, usually, the writers go so overboard with the saccharine content that you are not surprised when you see memes and trolls about them later. Priyan Ottathilanu should be safe from those because the above-mentioned aspects are not forcefully incorporated. Like I said, everyday problems. It could be taking care of a maintenance problem, arranging funds for a child's surgery, finding a job for a relative, fixing a relationship issue, or trying to make it in time for a meeting with a Malayalam superstar (whether he shows up or not is for you to find out).

Some people are workaholics because being immersed in work -- which they're passionate about -- helps them keep all negative thoughts at bay. Some people help others out because they have ulterior motives. Some people do it because they are genuinely selfless. Priyan seemingly falls in the third, but I imagine Priyan also does it for the first reason. I don't know if everyone will see it, but there is a bit of nuance in Sharaf's performance that suggests that maybe Priyan also enjoys the kicks from all the validation he gets from those who are happy with whatever he has done for them. But, hey, nothing wrong with that as long as one doesn't fall in the second category. Who doesn't enjoy a little validation? Priyan Ottathilanu devotes its entire pre-interval portion to giving us a complete picture of Priyan's character before setting up his meeting with Priscilla.

Much of the film's humour comes from: Jaffer Idukki as a cop baffled at the mess he has to deal with; Harishree Ashokan as a film producer unbothered about title or story as long as he gets a certain superstar; and Biju Sopanam as Priyan's anticapitalist, chaos-seeking cousin. 

Nyla Usha is quite remarkable as a woman who struggles with depression, an after-effect of past trauma. I liked how Priscilla is not one of those stereotypically dreary characters. She knows how to carry herself well and has a sense of humour that she applies at the right moments. I initially expected Priscilla to make a more significant contribution to the film. But, later, I realised that maybe her purpose is to make Priyan understand himself better, aside from watching him and feeling inspired. Perhaps she is speaking for someone like me, who prefers to focus on one or two things at the most. Priscilla takes a while to warm up to Priyan and the final moments between them are heartwarming. That's the kind of friendship we need to see more of in movies. 

However, I wish the script had more to offer for Aparna Das, who plays Priyan's wife. I'm not saying her performance is lacking. It's just that the only impression this character leaves is of someone who is constantly complaining that her husband doesn't have enough time for her and their daughter. Also, what purpose did Anarkali Marikkar's character serve? Was it to show that Priyan is a faithful man who doesn't cheat on his wife?

When I came out of the theatre, I had six WhatsApp messages about upcoming tasks. I usually tend to get slightly anxious when that happens, but I was surprisingly calm. Was it because I just came out of a film about an effortless multitasker? It should be, and I must credit Priyan and his creators for giving me the much-needed 'antidote'. It's been three hours since I saw the film, and as I conclude this review, I would like to add that I won't be looking at the idea of multi-tasking with the same level of wariness as before. The film also reminds me that the wiring is not the same for all and that I shouldn't expect loved ones to always pay attention to me or respond to my messages when they have so much on their plate. It also reminds me that if I ever find myself in their shoes, I should spare some time for those who badly need my attention. Priyan realises it, too. Priyan Ottathilanu exists not to make lofty statements but to show us that a modicum of empathy can sometimes make a big difference.

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