Kondraal Paavam Movie Review: An effective suspense drama shouldered by compelling performances
Director Dayal efficaciously establishes the characters and their motives in the first half, and this helps us in understanding their machinations in the latter half
In one of the early scenes in Kondraal Paavam, we see a godman (Manobala) preaching about the concept of desire, and how it serves as the fuel for life. He asserts that excessive desire and selfish motives pull humans into the web of deviance and wrongdoings. In Kondraal Paavam, the Tamil remake of the Kannada film Aa Karaala Ratri, it is this aberration in human desire and its aftermath that is effectively reflected as the credits roll.
Director: Dayal Padmanabhan
Cast: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Santhosh Pratap, Eswari Rao and Charle
Set in the '80s, the film follows a family of three--Malikka (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar) and her parents — played by Eswari Rao and Charle — who live in a humble house in a nondescript village. The family has been grappling with poverty for years. Mallika harbours a desire to lead a happy and content life, but it seems improbable with every passing day, and the angst keeps haunting her. It is exactly at that time the family has an unwelcomed guest, a young guy named Arjun (Santhosh Prathap), who seeks to stay for a night at their house. After contemplation, the family agrees to host Arjun, and the story unfolds with a series of riveting events that happen overnight.
As the title suggests, the vital part of the film revolves around a murder, and yet, the light-hearted mood of the first half works in favour of the film. Director Dayal efficaciously establishes the characters and their motives in the first half, and this helps us in understanding their machinations in the latter half. It is nice to see Kondraal Paavam position itself as a character-driven film. For instance, let's talk about Mallika, whose actions steer the central plotline. She is as grey as she can be, and is unapologetically sly. In one of the scenes, Mallika attempts to woo Arjun, and when he rebukes her, she immediately guards herself by confronting him. Although she understands what she did is wrong, the yearning to break out of this gutter of deprivation overcomes the guilt. And that's exactly why she is ready to go to any extent. Similarly, the mystery surrounding Arjun injects a much-needed dose of intrigue into the film. Through Eswari, who plays a midwife, Kondraal Paavam broods on the idea of the circle of life and death. The film also registers several disturbing moments that play with these themes, and keep us engaged even when squirming. Charle plays a neat foil with his pertinent and consummate performance.
While the filmmaker manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seat throughout the film, there are places where the sluggish pacing and exhaustive dialogues prove a dampener. The dramatic treatment and Sam CS' loud music initially help in amplifying the narrative, but the melodrama and the trumpeting numbers feel louder and more distracting in the second half. The sepia colour tones, the scenic visuals of the riverside, and the eerie vintage Thinnai Veedu ferry us to the 80s.
The film's third act begins with the family preparing to kill a hen for cooking. It reiterates the film's title, derived from an old Tamil saying: Kondraal Paavam, Thinnaal Theerum, and also serves as a metaphor for Arjun's plight. The usage of these metaphors and the incorporation of the thin layers between beliefs and superstitions reflect the nuanced and layered writing. The climatic reveal is grim and unsettling. It joins all the dots and echoes the film's crux that connects greed to misery and aberrance. It also serves as a reminder that some 'paavams' will just eat you out from the inside... for a long time.