Pookkaalam movie review: A wholesome family entertainer designed to lift your spirits
Vijayaraghavan steals the show in a remarkable performance we have not seen the veteran do before
The first noticeable quality of Pookkaalam is its colours: yellows, browns, greens, pinks... all contributing to the suitably warm images captured by Anend C Chandran. Its overall atmosphere is apt for a film that wants to make you laugh, cry, and smile. Pookkaalam is built on the simple but novel idea of a nonagenarian man, Ittoop (Vijayaraghavan), suddenly discovering one day that his whole life has been a lie -- a discovery that affects his relationship with his wife Kochuthresia (KPAC Leela). It comes at a time when their house is gearing up for a betrothal function, brightened by the presence of all their family members, their funny interactions, and all kinds of noise.
Director: Ganesh Raj
Cast: Vijayaraghavan, KPAC Leela, Basil Joseph, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Arun Kurian, Annu Antony
There is an 'uncle' (Abu Salim) who just invented a kozhukatta machine christened 'KOMA'; there are two twins married to twins; there is a lady who runs a rubber factory; her eager-to-get-married daughter, her eccentric sibling, and her 'entrepreneur' groom-to-be; and many more. More characters show up: Johnny Antony's advocate, who accepts only "anthassulla casukal" (prestigious cases) and his junior (Basil Joseph), who jumps at the opportunity to take on the case of Ittoop when he learns that the latter wants to divorce his wife. The festival mood of Pookkaalam gets further heightened when Vineeth Sreenivasan shows up as a judge -- and Basil's batchmate.
In terms of scale, the immediate comparison one can think of is the Priyadarshan films from the 80s, such as Mazha Peyyunnu Madhalam Kottunnu. (It's not as funny, though.) While Pookkaalam is not going for the vibe of a full-fledged slapstick comedy, it makes its principal actors behave as though they belong to one for a significant stretch of its runtime before things get serious and the fun and games come to a stop. But even when it's knee-deep in conflict, it manages to achieve a nice balance between its serious and comic elements. The film is careful not to overwhelm even when two tragic events occur. Much fun gets mined out of the quirky dynamic between people opposed to one idea, which happens to be the thought of Ittoop wanting a divorce after all these years.
Suffice it to say that writer-director Ganesh Raj follows up his 2016 hit Aanandam with another feel-good entertainer that aims for the heart and succeeds. Narrated through chapters and occasional flashbacks, the film resorts to aspect ratio switching to evoke the cinema of a different time. Rather than focusing on one timeline all the time, Pookkaalam keeps its narrative interesting by revealing information about Ittoop's past in sporadic bursts instead of all in one shot. Some say the arrival of a child brings a husband and wife together. But what happens if a couple loses a male child? How does the son's disappearance impact the father's attitude towards his daughters?
It's so refreshing to see Vijayaraghavan in the kind of performance we have not seen him do before. Three decades after his father, NN Pillai, made waves with his iconic Anjooran character in Godfather (1991), Vijayaraghavan aces a character who is two decades older than him. He is superb as Ittoop, with KPAC Leela neatly complementing him as the woman who had to bear the burden of her secret for 50 years. His expressive eyes run the gamut of emotions from embarrassment to helplessness to regret. He plays Ittoop at two different stages of his life -- the unpleasant younger self and the vulnerable older self -- with unchecked ego being the commonality binding both. While the actor maintains impressive emotional continuity in both phases, Nandhini Gopalakrishnan manages to pull off the same as Kochuthresia in her 40s. They share an intense backstory that opens the door to new revelations and guest appearances.
Arun Kurian and Annu Antony, familiar to us through Aanandam and Hridayam, maintain a constant presence as the enthusiastic couple that starts reassessing their relationship after the above incident. These characters don't have much depth, but they have enough characteristics to remind us of people we may know. Initially behaving like two idealistic kids who can't wait to get married, they mellow down later to look at themselves from the outside. They hope not to make the mistakes their grandparents did.
Despite some of its rough edges, Pookkaalam is what I would call a wholesome family entertainer ideal for the holidays. There are places where the exaggerated acting from Basil Joseph, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Johny Antony, and others don't land, but their presence also makes Pookkaalam lively when necessary. In a way, they remind us of some of our family members. We don't always like what they do, but we can't live without them either.