Anveshanam Movie Review: A well-shot procedural that fizzles out
Jayasurya's new film attempts to dig for drama in scenes that don't have enough dramatic depth
Anveshanam starts with the images of a happy, loving family. There is a deliberate artificiality to the way they are depicted. Anyone who has seen the trailer knows that this moment doesn't last that long. We also get tiny glimpses of the personal life of the film's supporting characters. There is a medical professional (Lena) who nurses (no pun intended) animosity towards her bed-ridden dad; a doctor (Srikanth Murali) presumably going through a divorce; a cop with a baby bump (Leona Lishoy's characterisation is a possible nod to Frances McDormand in Fargo).
There is a reason why we are shown all this. These characters and their emotions will collide at some point. Prasobh Vijayan, who made his directorial debut with Lilli, doesn't waste time setting up the film's central conflict. A family brings an unconscious child to the hospital. We are told about an accident, which could be intentional or not. There is an interrogation. There are multiple, Rashomon-style flashbacks of short duration — perspectives of either the interrogator or the suspect(s). Some of these perspectives are shaped by prejudices, a hint of which is given in the opening scenes.
Ace cinematographer Sujith Vaassudev plants us in the middle of these people, his camera closely surveying the actors' faces and capturing their anxiety. We get a lot of near claustrophobia-inducing moments in the film's first half. At one point, Leona suggests putting Jayasurya in a place where he feels the most uncomfortable. In another brilliantly composed scene, Leona is photographed like a giant towering over a seated Jayasurya — an apt composition given who is in charge.
It's nice to see Leona, who is often relegated to insignificant side roles (except for last year's Ishq), finally given a role that brings out her hidden potential. She is undoubtedly the standout performer in the film in spite of the presence of a bigger star like Jayasurya. There are multiple instances where the film makes good use of her eyes, which deliver a sharply-piercing glance that can intimidate anyone sitting across from her — or maybe even shatter glass. In the past, we have seen many female actors go over-the-top in police roles which are usually reserved for male actors, for obvious reasons. This is a performance that could have gone wrong in another actor's hands, but Leona gives her role just the right amount of gravitas. Note the scene where she immediately composes herself after a sudden table-slap in the middle of an interrogation. She also displays a slightly mischievous side. In one particular scene with a female character, Leona's performance alternates between compassion and an I-know-something-you-don't attitude.
But post-interval, Anveshanam doesn't quite deliver on the promise made not just in the first half, but also before the film's release. It attempts to dig for drama in scenes that don't have enough dramatic depth. Sometimes it hopes to elicit an anxious reaction from the viewer in situations that are not really anxiety-inducing. In fact, some of the performances, especially that of Jayasurya, occasionally border on the comical. But in some places, it makes sense why he is giving an exaggerated performance. Here is a man who was told at work, hours ago, that his ideas are outdated and that sometimes a wealth of experience can be a burden. So it's perfectly understandable why he would react extremely to the events in the hospital.
But this is something that applies to the other actors as well (minus Leona, of course). I'm not implying that their acting is bad; it's just that they're delivering 'good performances' in scenes that don't actually require them. After a while, when the underlying layers are slowly peeled away, the film begins to look more like an acting exercise. I also found the approach taken to express its ideas in the latter portions a bit problematic. In retrospect, the back-and-forth switching begins to feel like a gimmick and the delivery of information, confusing.
The film would've worked a lot better had it been not projected as a whodunit. Perhaps it would've been a smarter idea to begin the film with its final moments and then go for more of a 'psychological drama' vibe than a 'psychological thriller'. "Truth is always bizarre," says its posters. After having seen the 'truth', I don't think it's bizarre, just underwhelming. I understand the intention was to create a sense of ambiguity — the film's desire to bring up a point for serious debate about the moral conflict is certainly commendable — but I wish it was done more coherently.
That said, Anveshanam is a well-staged, engaging film that didn't bore me even for a single second (the 100-min duration was a smart idea). But, I expected more.