The premise - Watching A New Release On OTT
A new era!
This is the first major South Indian film to be reviewed by us and of course a multi-language film to hit the OTTs without a theatrical release. Trades and viabilities we better leave somewhere else, for now concentrate on how the film is and the new experience of giving our trademark authentic and exhaustive review (of course without spoilers) of this 132 minute thriller starring Mahanati actress Keerthy Suresh.
The film has been heavily promoted as a new experience in thrillers (everyone says so about their films) and initially avoided going all out Streaming. But you know how things have been and OTT release was optioned by the makers for the valid reasons they know. But let me come up with a spoiler: The film is better watched on a big screen with others than lonely on your bed or in your couch on a mobile device or on the TV with all the usual disturbances pertaining to work from home.
By this time, at least 300% more audience would have watched this film as it’s available to everyone at the same time. No privilege for reviewers to have a look at it as a premiere. Missing the exhilaration of theatrical watching. The movie starts with a chillingly thrilling scene. A winged angel state is shown with some eerie music.
A kid walks towards a statue in the woods. But his (pet) dog cautions him to protect him from apparent danger. If he listens to it as common sense says, he would be saved. And there wouldn’t be this film. But following all cinematic rules of this genre, he moves ahead. As he nears the imposing statue, a person wearing a Charlie Chaplin mask steps from behind it, and in one swift move, slashes the kid. No. This is not exactly a Hollywood style slasher film.
The murderer then picks up the body and walks into a lake, and for a few seconds all that we see is the striking visual of a yellow umbrella submerging into a grey lake. This reminds us of the haunting image of George crawling with his one hand cut off (eaten away by IT in that film, in rain. But here there’s no rain. Director Eashvar Karthic sets the mood of his film quite effectively. In the opening itself the way the dog sniffs at a shoe is used as a metaphor for searching and finding clues.
The story then shifts to Rhythm, Keerthy Suresh in a gut-wrenchingly brilliant performance. She’s a pregnant woman, still carrying the guilt of letting down her son, Ajay, who has been missing for six Grief-stricken years. Obviously such incidents change one’s life. Her marriage got destroyed. Raghu. That man leaves her. Or rather, she grew apart from him.
Everyone, including the police and her current husband Gautham, believes the boy to be dead, but Rhythm doesn’t listen to any of them. She’s passionate about finding the clues and whereabouts of her son. On a whim, one day (of course the plot of the film needs to move forward, no?) and against the advice of her doctor, she goes to the lake where the boy went missing.
By a quirk of fate, she manages to find Ajay, stunningly nonchalant performance by Master Advaith. In the process she avoids a masked killer. But where was the boy all these years, and who had kidnapped him? Common sense. What happened to him? Not giving any thoughts and following her motherly love, she brings home. The consequences are horrifying and we’re in for a show.
A Keerthy Suresh show - Advaith says hi!
Penguin is Keerthy Suresh’s film entirely. It is she who lent weight to the film and proceedings. As a frantic and devastated mother who never gives up on the search for her firstborn (you know, how mothers are) though he's written off as dead by everyone else, she brings authenticity to the role. She’s a pregnant woman. And a mother and lost her first son. Not the bubbly Keerthy Suresh. She brings out the vulnerability and the strength in this character, typical of women. Naturally.
Unfortunately, a whistle worthy dialogue by her in the film (had it’s been released in a theatres) lost its impact watching it on a small screen with most of the others at home sleeping. When a character remarks at how she caught him off guard despite being pregnant, she retorts with a gem of a statement: I'm pregnant not brain damaged". Haha!
And as unfortunately, the director might have anticipated a direct video release even before we heard of this pandemic and forced lockdown. The quality of the actors is not up to mark. Everyone including the police and other crucial and emotion building characters included are amateurish at best. But the kid who played the son Ajay is an exception. As the main leads are great and the antagonist is intriguing enough, we can ignore the mediocre show by others.
Writing and direction
The first half of the film set up by the wonderful but plasticky opening is fairly engaging. There are enough creepy scenes. But instead of organically developing the suspense and thrills, the director tried to force those upon us in the form of jump scares which is a big mistake. This is not a horror film. It’s more of a horror thriller drama.
This is where he lost the grip over the narration and the movie panders towards the ending. The second half also has some good moments but the climax is not satisfactory. But the interval block (if it’s a theatrical release) is first rate. But he couldn’t bring the same gravitas to the climax despite a quote-worthy dialogue that has the potential to be a T-shirt slogan to the level of Che Guevara.
Kharthik Phalani's cinematography is terrific. The visuals carried the mood of the film. It can be safely said that he better understood the potential of this film than the director himself. Santhosh Narayanan's score suited the eerie mood of the film and is spot on right from the first shot of the film.
The editing is neat for the most part but couldn’t help elevate a convoluted narration. The art department did a terrific job. The locations, especially the lake are remarkable. The producers unlike the director might not have expected a non-theatrical release and didn’t compromise on the quality of the film. The production values are good.
Penguin is a cute animal which everyone loves. Giving that as the title of this eerily crafted story is... somewhat ironical and using it for a film that’s centred around a kid is a masterstroke. But the director who had shown brilliance in flashes has a lot of scope for developing into a top class filmmaker. All he needs is to concentrate more on story than the effects to showcase his talents. You can watch this film for a great storyline, and masterful performances of Keerthy and Master Advaith. I still feel it'll be more effective to watch on the big screen.
• Watching The film in the comfort of your couch/bed/at home
• Keerthy Suresh’s masterful performance
• Master Advaith
• Brilliant cinematography and excellent music
• This is a film that seriously deserves theatrical experience to completely enjoy it
• Direction is brilliant in flashes which makes it more frustrating
• The supporting characters are not etched well and the performances are mediocre
• The Climax is tad disappointing
Rating: 2.75 out of 5
Reviewed by: GitacharYa