Lilli Review: An unapologetic thriller that makes a strong impression
A film like this happens when the performances, atmosphere, and mood work together in perfect unison.
The advice given to aspiring filmmakers is to set their story in a single location with available resources and the least number of characters. But how many of them can tell a riveting story? Debutant Prasobh Vijayan, however, has managed to come up with an apt reply.
Lilli is groundbreaking in terms of its storytelling and its presentation of violence. It is raw and gritty; it doesn't have any qualms about showing you all the blood it sheds. If a long rusty iron nail is thrust into somebody's neck, expect to see a fountain of blood. If a few skulls are cracked, expect to hear the sound. Needless to say, it is one of the most unsettling films ever made.
The film opens during the time of demonetisation. We first see Lilli (Samyuktha Menon) when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on TV announcing the note-ban. But I don't think any political statement was being made. This is not a film desperate to be 'deep' with its visual motifs. This background detail is there simply to convey the desperation of the characters; nothing more, nothing less. It is a straightforward and unapologetic film.
Director: Prasobh Vijayan
Cast: Samyuktha Menon, Kannan Nayar, Dhanesh Anand, Kevin Jose, Sajin Cherukayil
Among the characters affected by the note-ban are a group of kidnappers seeking information about a missing girl. They kidnap Lilli because they believe she knows the girl's whereabouts. The intensity of this situation is heightened by the fact that Lilli is heavily pregnant. And to make matters worse, one of the kidnappers, Rajesh (Dhanesh Anand) has some other thoughts on his mind, apart from monetary gains.
Though he is not the leader, it is Rajesh who makes the strongest impression. With his jittery demeanour and eyes that are perpetually glinting with menace, Rajesh manages to be a nasty villain. You feel uneasy every time he approaches Lilli. You have no clue what he is about to do next. Even his gang members are made uncomfortable by his presence. How can you not, when you hear him say things like, "Wouldn't it be fun to watch a woman deliver a baby?"
And in order to get us more acquainted with him, Prasobh, who also wrote the script, gives us individual moments where Rajesh is all by himself trying to come up with ways to entertain himself. One way is to kill a chicken with his bare hands, just for fun. This is obviously not the kind of man you would want in the same room as Lilli.
Lilli, on the other hand, is no ordinary woman. When she unflinchingly thrusts that aforementioned iron nail into a guy's neck, you know she has been in some dark places before. In a flashback, you not only get some history on Lilli but also how the missing girl figures in her story.
Though Samyuktha made a solid impression in Theevandi, the film did not properly utilise the actress in her. Her character in Lilli, however, carries a lot of weight -- both literally and figuratively. There is nothing artificial about her performance. You can feel the struggle of a woman trying to fend off her captors while carrying a 9-month old baby inside her.
A film like Lilli happens when the performances, atmosphere, and mood work together in perfect unison. This film is also a testament to the commitment and hard work put in by a bunch of passionate film buffs. A special shout out to the film's art department whose well-thought-out ideas splendidly convey the ugliness and decay that pervades the film. This is a world filled with sleaze and desperation. Add some mist and minimal lighting and what you get is an intensely atmospheric cinematic experience.
The excessive violence may be too much for some. This is a film that celebrates its 'A' certificate. And some may express disappointment over the way the film ends but it's not every day that you see a first-time filmmaker ending his film with the announcement of a potential sequel. I hope this one makes enough noise to spawn an even better second part.