Drawing inspiration from classic films across the world, Tinu Pappachan has done a decent job by pulling off a good jail movie in Malayalam with his debut film Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil.
Prior to this, Tinu worked as an assistant director with Lijo Jose Pellissery. The Lijo influence is highly evident throughout the movie - be it the narration or the shots. Lijo has played the role of a lawyer in the movie, who often overshadows the main villain with a more gracious screen presence. Lijo clearly grabbed his style from popular gangster movies, be it the way he keeps the company of a cigar or the manner in which he is introduced beside a typical gang-lord's black Mercedes-benz .
Antony Varghese, who is etched in the audience's mind as Vincent Pepe, the quick-tempered Angamaly youth, transforms himself into a 30-year old murder accused. The plot revolves around a set of incidents that lands him in the jail and his journey to the 'freedom at midnight.'
Antony's character, Jacob Varghese, was first introduced to the audience in an action scene, where he flees the police grabbing his lover Betty's (Aswathy Manoharan) hand. Jacob runs off into darkness where the camera shifts to the broken glass of a police jeep with the silencer of a freshly blasted motorcycle piercing it, much like how Jacob pierced into the law and order system and shattered it.
Vinayakan and Chemban Vinod have done a commendable role. The biggest drawback of this movie is its backdrop. It says Jacob and all the major characters hail from Kottayam, with the entire sequence playing out in the district.
But except for the text that denotes it is Kottayam and the school-turned-court building, it feels nothing like Kottayam. They could have written Angamaly or Irinjalakkuda instead, considering the clear traits of slang in Antony's and Lijo's dialogue delivery.
What stays up to the hype is Girish Gangadharan's brilliant work with the camera. A clever use of natural light and experimental angles while capturing the grey insides of a jail campus or an escape burrow help him deliver beautiful visuals. Despite the slow pace and slight lag in both the halves the audience were apparently glued to the film.
Girish brilliantly captures the haplessness of the inmates, the dirty toilets and the incessant rain that wets the yards during every stumble or conflict Jacob goes through. This, paired with Deepak Alexander's deep-drum back ground score, gives a gritty feel to the audience, who could easily understand the frustration and exasperation every character goes through.
Like every jailbreak movie ever, the lead character makes a flawless plan, yet brings a surprise element to his fellow escapees and audience. The movie has drawn inspirations from Shawshank Redemption, Escape Plan and literally every popular jailbreak movie. But what makes it stand out is, again, Girish's outstanding frames. The way a fight inside a narrow tunnel was shot using natural light often reminds one of the 2010 thriller Buried.
It is a challenge to show what happens inside such a narrow space, without giving away the feel and struggle of being in a narrow space.
It may not be the perfect jailbreak movie, but it is arguably one of the best jail movies ever made in Malayalam.
Rating: 3 / 5