Classics are defined by their ability to communicate with the audience of all ages. In that sense, Gyanpith laureate Thakazhi Sivasankarapillai's magnificent novel 'Kayar' is a true classic – the cinematic adaptation of a small piece of it has the ability to touch the audience as probably the original work did exactly four decades ago.
Jayaraj, the veteran filmmaker with a mixed track record of translating literary works onto reels, has hit the right note again. He has found the right text and chose the right style to add one more to his ambitious nine-film 'Navarasa' series – 'Bhayanakam'.
Topographically, 'Bhayanakam' narrates a tale of the Kuttanad of 1930s and 40s - its people, backwaters, social hierarchy and pangs of poverty of the period mirror the film, whereas the mental landscapes it explores goes beyond boundaries. It raises eternal questions as to war, death and life – through the eyes of a postman, who is also a victim of war.
The nameless postman arrives in the village as a messenger of happiness as he brings letters and money orders from the young men who have joined the British Army. The postman is even treated as a good omen by villagers, who believe a sight of him would bring them luck. However, all that doesn't last long. Once the second World War breaks out the postman metamorphoses into the messenger of death and doom – a sight loathed by the entire village.
These two sides of life and how personal experiences define social relationships is portrayed neatly in the monochrome frames, beautifully captured by Nikhil S Praveen. Its tone is typical of the 'festival films' of Malayalam, but fast enough to keep the audience engaged. It even offers a pinch of humour in certain sequences portraying the innocuous villagers and their curious relationship with the postman.
The postman is undoubtedly one of the best characters in the career of writer-turned-actor Renji Panicker. He plays the character realistically and convincingly. The postman's fears over the imminent war and the tragedy it would shed on the village is perfectly brought to the screen by him. He gets ample support from Asha Sharreth, who plays a village woman who offers shelter and love to the postman.
The major shortfall of the film is in its script, which has a few scenes which are repetitive. Had these been trimmed out, the film would have ended up communicating more efficiently. The performance of some amateur actors are not up to the mark.
Despite minor shortfalls, 'Bhayanakam' is a literary-cinematic experience.