Dr Biju's Kaadu Pookkunna Neram (When the woods bloom) is essentially the on-screen text of a prominent socio-political discourse -- the endless fight between the state and the cause of human rights.
Though it sounds to be an academic and thus dry subject, Biju makes it appealing to all sorts of audience with a neatly-crafted narrative that accommodates some compelling moments of dramatic expressions.
The characters are nameless as they are representations of the social groups they belong to. In the lead, we have a woman activist (Rima Kallingal) who fights for the rights of the Adivasis, and an ordinary policeman (Indrajith Sukumaran) who is part of a team trying to hunt down the ultra leftists believed to be working among the tribes people. What happens between them during a day and night after they get caught in the deep, dark woods makes the rest of the film. Don't get mistaken by that clue and the romantic title -- no amount of romance blooms between the duo, for they remain the hunter and the prey throughout the troubled times, though the roles are reversed frequently.
The policeman wants to escape from the forest for which only the woman can help him. Will she do it risking her own life or let the cop succumb to his helplessness, in an act of vengeance against the state apparatus that tries to eliminate her and her comrades? The rest of the narrative remains the search for an answer to this question with enough action and drama that the film calls for. It gradually evolves to be a survival game with strong political undertones.
The police team that camps at a tribal school is obviously hunting for Maoists but nowhere in the picture it is made clear if the woman activist belongs to the ultra leftist group. At one point, the policeman asks for her name and she replies 'Maoist'. But that sounds sarcastic and a slap on the face of the state apparatus and obedient mainstream media that brand those who raise dissenting voice as Maoists or extremists.
There are predictable scenes in the movie like the one above mentioned. At another place, the woman explains why she is fighting for the poor and why the police want to gun them down. That sounds more like a political statement and a bit unreal in such a situation, but that's inevitable to complete the film.
The film could have ended up as a repetition of the umpteen number of dissenting notes and academic articles being published every year if it remained just another narrative that sides with the so-called oppressed and a critique of the armed forces of the state. Instead, Biju makes the film a humanitarian text with its portrayal of the policeman also as a victim -- that of ignorance, suspicions and prejudices injected into him by popular discourses and the powers that be.
Kaadu Pookkunna Neram, undoubtedly, is a technically sound film. M.J. Radhakrishnan's decades-long experience comes at play in the beautiful picturization of the deep woods both during day and night. The neat mix of sounds by Jayadevan Chakkadath, who handled location sync sound and sound design, adds to the technical perfection of the film.
Kaadu Pookkunna Neram marks the gradual growth of Biju as a filmmaker and screen writer after each film.
Onmanorama rating: 3/5