Monday, November 07, 2016

Ithaca Fantastik ’16: Kammatti Paadam

It is like Jake Gittes’ Chinatown or the Korean thriller Gangnam Blues, but with “untouchables.” There will be big money to be made in Ernakulam real estate, particularly if the developers can scoop up tomorrow’s prized tracts today. Evicting the current landholders should be easy, particularly when they are marginalized Dalits. That is where Balan Chettan’s gang comes in. However, when the muscle develops a conscious it leads to a bad end for nearly everyone in Rajeev Ravi’s three-hour Malayalam crime drama, Kammatti Paadam (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Ithaca Fantastik film festival.

Mumbai security guard Krishnan thought he had put his criminal days behind him, until he gets a call from his old running mate Ganga. When a subsequent call is terminated under suspicious circumstances, Krishnan returns to the title village in rural Kochi to investigate. Given the D.O.A.-style in media res structure, it is safe to say Krishnan will eventually get stabbed in the gut for his troubles. However, Krishnan will be harder to kill than Edmond O’Brien.

As Krishnan clings to consciousness on a slow bus from Kochi to Mumbai (at least he’s not going to New Delhi), we watch flashbacks of his childhood and early gangster years. Despite his caste, he was always attracted to Ganga’s Dalit cousin Anita and in awe of his older brother, the local gang leader, Balan Chettan. Like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Chettan could be laughing and scratching one minute and then carving up body parts the next.

Frankly, Chettan takes more of a shine to Krishnan, especially when the high caste thug does a stretch of prison time for Ganga’s sake. Ater his release, he quickly shows an aptitude for their new booze-running business. Yet, Ganga still assumes Anita will be his rather than Krishnan’s for reasons of caste and family.

As one might expect of a juicy Indian gangster movie, the one hundred seventy-seven-minutes of KP zing along at a gallop. Frankly, the film could have been a bit longer, allowing more time to establish the complicated web of relationships. There will be moments when viewers realize: “oh, so that’s so-and-so’s uncle.”

One thing is clear from the start, Vinyakan is all kinds of badass as Chettan. It is a massively physically performance, convincingly portraying spectacular beatdowns and decades’ worth of aging, but it is also a tragic turn that roots Chettan’s eventual downfall in his profound insecurities. Likewise, Dulquer Salmaan (DQ) looks like two distinct actors, one being Kochi Krishnan and the other the Mumbai Krishnan.

Ravi keeps the pace pacey, while instilling a vivid sense of place. You can feel the grit and mud under your feet while watching the film. It rather figures he would have an affinity for the genre, since he served as cinematographer on Anurag Kashyap’s Hindi gangster epics Bombay Velvet and The Gangs of Wasseypur. He delivers the goods and stays true to the realities of the region and its people. Highly recommended for fans of South Asian cinema, Kammatti Paadam screens this Friday (11/11) as part of this year’s Ithaca Fantastik.