American novelist and art critic John Updike rightly said about art that “... predictability is aesthetically boring—an anti-virtue in a field where we hope to be astonished and startled and at some deep level refreshed.”
Cinema is an art form where predictability is a cardinal sin. A sin debutant director Vivek commits with Athiran. Will a confession ease the pain? Who knows. The film's trailer piqued the interest of film buffs but it also led to speculations that it was 'inspired' from Martin Scorcese's 2010-thriller Shutter Island, which had Leonardo DiCaprio playing the lead. The makers of Athiran, however, categorically denied that the Fahadh Faasil-Sai Pallavi-starrer had anything to do with Scorcese's psychological thriller, though the genre was same.
Athiran is set in the 70s and revolves around a mental asylum run by Dr Benjamin Dias (Atul Kulkarni) in Ooty. It has its share of secrets, weird patients and one special patient Nithya (Sai Pallavi) who forms the crux of the story. Rings any bells? Enter Dr M.K. Nair (Fahadh Faasil), a psychiatrist from Trivandrum Medical College, who has been tasked with investigating the alleged malpractices at the mental asylum. Nair is convinced that the asylum has skeletons in its cupboards, literally. But Dias insists that plays by the rulebook though his technique might be a bit 'different' (An oblique reference to lobotomy, perhaps? It was a rare form of psychosurgery to treat mental illness that involved severing connections in the brain's prefrontal cortex. Lobotomy was central to the theme of Shutter Island. And it is believed that it was practised in India in the 60s and 70s.)
Coming back to Athiran, Nair, invariably, comes across Nithya, an autistic woman with a 'violent' yet royal past. He takes it upon himself to save her from the clutches of Dias and his partner-in-crime, hospital supervisor Renuka (Lena). Whether he succeeds or becomes one of the 'victims', forms the rest of the story. Surely you can hear the bells ringing loud and clear now.
The concept is director Vivek's brainchild but the screenplay is by veteran novelist and scriptwriter P.F. Mathews. For a scriptwriter of Mathews's stature (he scripted the award-winning Ee. Ma. Yau and Kutty Srank), there are several loose ends in the first half, which are, to an extent, tied up in the second half. In fact, even for those who have not watched Shutter Island, it might end up as a predictable fare towards the latter part of the second half.
But that is not to say that the film doesn't have its bright moments. The cast, for instance, is perfect. Fahadh, fresh from his much-acclaimed role of Shammi in Kumbalangi Nights, had come up with yet another convincing portrayal of the doctor with a twist. Kulkarni and Lena, too, scorch the screen in their own ways. But it is Sai Pallavi who, to borrow from legendary boxer Muhammad Ali's quote, 'floats like a butterfly and stings like bee'. The actress who mesmerised the Malayali audience as Malar in Premam, owns the role of the autistic and extremely lovable Nithya. She hardly speaks and lets her body do the talking. And she gets to show off her kalari moves, too!
The other highlights are the background score by Ghibran (though, at some points, it is too loud and jarring) and music by P.S. Jayhari.
But, as a scene in the film shows, “the brighter the light, the darker the shadow”. It is a shadow that Athiran finds it a bit difficult to come out of.
P.S.: What's Prakash Raj doing in Athiran, you wonder? Mum's the word. Part of our no-spoiler policy!
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Sai Pallavi, Atul Kulkarni, Lena, Prakash Raj