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Thankam Movie Review: Fairly grim and engaging investigative procedural- Cinema express

Thankam Movie Review: Fairly grim and engaging investigative procedural

And as in any of Syam Pushkaran's previous works, Thankam is a film that relishes spending time with its characters

Published: 26th January 2023

The first thing that stands out about Thankam is its overall look. The dominant green hue (with a bit of yellow occasionally creeping in) makes the film look as though it spent way too much time inside a hospital, except when the characters step outside. I don't recall seeing the sun, except in that one dreamy shot of a character framed against the backdrop of a sunset. I don't apply a negative connotation here. Cinematographer Gautham Shankar, who established himself as a talent worthy of note in Theevandi, opts for muted colours and minimal lighting, which I think is apt for a subject of Thankam's nature. You can't shoot something like this with bright lights and colours. 

Director: Saheed Arafath

Cast: Vineeth Sreenivasan, Biju Menon, Aparna Balamurali, Girish Kulkarni, Vineeth Thattil David

Thankam reveals itself to be a certain kind of movie from very early on, but it keeps its true intention reserved for its haunting finale, which becomes something of an emotional payoff. Biju Menon and Vineeth Sreenivasan play Muthu and Kannan, respectively. They are in a not-so-ethical gold business. Naturally, there is bound to be a whiff of menace in the air, which gets more oppressive as we go further into the plot. When one character meets with an untimely and unpleasant death, every detail points to a possible murder. Naturally, this sets off the principal characters on a journey to grab the culprit. 

Thankam is at once a road movie and procedural. And when Syam Pushkaran writes anything, you don't expect him to cook up a textbook, been-there-done-that version. You expect him -- and every filmmaker who directs his scripts -- to pay special attention to characters and their dynamics. Given how the Tamil, Marathi and Hindi-speaking characters speak in their mother tongue, with Malayalam subtitles for both these lines and the English ones, I guess it is safe to call Thankam a 'pan-Indian' film. 

And as in any of Syam's previous works, Thankam is a film that relishes spending time with its characters, especially Girish Kulkarni's Maharashtra-based cop, whose involvement becomes crucial considering the victim's connection to Mumbai and Tamil Nadu. I'm glad to see an actor of Girish's calibre getting plenty of screen time here. Sure, Biju and Vineeth are in fine form -- especially the latter, who, just like another actor-filmmaker, Basil Joseph, keeps surprising us with his recent choices. 

But, if there's one actor I'm going to focus on the most in this review, it's going to be Girish, who gives my favourite performance in the film. One of his impressive qualities is that he belongs to the ever-reliable ilk of actors like Manoj Bajpayee and Irrfan Khan -- they are not repetitive. Girish, who once donned the khaki in Anurag Kashyap's Ugly, is not retreading the same territory in Thankam. Instead, he gives us someone who remains understated for the most part, even though he is prone to sudden outbursts when things don't go according to plan. While not exactly a saint, Girish is also quite committed to his duty. He is in a hurry to solve the case as soon as possible.

By now, everyone familiar with Syam's oeuvre is aware of his remarkable ear for dialogues and character interactions. In Thankam, some of the finest writing gets reserved for Girish, who plays this cop as someone constantly thinking of inventive ways to extract testimonials from anyone he believes has suspect motives. My favourite stretch is the one where he puts a senior police official in an uncomfortable situation. The former doesn't let the rank aspect slow him down. He demonstrates a lesson on how to handle an intimidating superior. It recalls that scene in The Godfather-II, where a young Vito Corleone turns the situation with Fanucci to his advantage when the latter, in a coffee shop, tells the former that he needs to "wet his beak".

I was also surprised at how Pushkaran found time for humour in a largely grim affair; it shows up in areas you least expect it. Vineeth Thattil David, known for his brief laugh-inducing appearances in Angamaly Diaries, Ayyappanum Koshiym, and Gold, is relegated to a full-fledged comic position this time. For instance, a tricky interrogation moment involving a young girl takes a hilarious turn when Vineeth Thattil tries something that the cops couldn't imagine doing. The girl starts speaking, and her mother's and relatives' subsequent reactions are priceless! I was also surprised by a 'mass' moment -- the only one in the film -- that occurs inside a movie theatre. I wonder if this is Syam Pushkaran's way of sneaking in a mini homage to Spadikam and Thalapathy.

Phew! I can see that I got this far in my review without revealing any spoilers. While maintaining the same stance, let me also add that when the final revelation arrives, the intended effect, I think, is not so much about who did what but throwing light on a way of life and how frustrating it is when those whom you assumed were 'close' to you keep you in the dark when it comes to certain things. In that sense, Thankam oddly reminded me of the recent Tovino Thomas movie Dear Friend in that it also conveyed the essence of some truths hitting you like a sledgehammer. 

At the same time, the film wants to keep us at a distance, not letting us get emotionally involved. And as in Dear Friend, Thankam steers clear of melodrama. I guess the point of view it wants us to take is that of Biju Menon's Kannan. Does that make Thankam a coming-of-age drama? I guess so. It's not really a one-time process. It occurs at various points in our life, and the lesson that gets imparted each time is different. While Thankam is not as dark as Syam's Joji, I'm not sure it has the latter's replay value. If anything, it is, like Joji, another testament to the fact that Syam can also venture into considerably grim territories.


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