A racy trailer, which got over a million views in less than a day. More than 60 promising new actors. Megastar Mammootty sporting an uber cool look in the film. An impressive star cast. Lyricist-turned-director Shanker Ramakrishnan's Pathinettam Padi had all the rumblings of a thrilling entertainer.
And thrill it does. Albeit in (extended) patches. Now, films revolving around rivalries between schools have been there from the times of the iconic Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. What separates Pathinettam Padi from the rest is that it looks at the school life outside classrooms, away from the gaze of the teachers and parents. There are two institutions—Government Model Higher Secondary School and the swanky International School—who are always in the cross hairs of each other. There are hardly any scenes inside the classroom—the action is on the grounds, inside stadiums, on public roads and buses. Literally.
A brooding and rustic Ayyappan (Akshay Radhakrishnan), who flies off the handle quite easily, leads the Model School boy gang, while Ashwin (Ashwin Gopinath) is part of the International School gang. The two groups are a world apart in almost all aspects. Except when it comes to trading blows. The action sequences are perhaps the most thrilling part in the film. When you have Bangkok-based action choreographer Kecha Khamphakdee of Troy, 300 and Baahubali 2 fame, can you expect anything less? But therein lies the aberration. These are school kids, but most of them fight like trained fighters. It seems surreal at times.
The rivalry takes an ugly turn and things start spiralling out of control. And so does the narrative, unfortunately. It seemed like the director and scriptwriter Ramakrishnan was caught in two minds—he couldn't delay the arrival of the megastar further, but at the same time he had to make it convincing enough to gel with the rest of the narrative. The result? The flow of events is disturbed, and the film loses its grip on the audience. The songs slow down the film further in the second half, though, kudos to composer A.H. Kaashif for some soothing and foot-tapping music.
The attempts by the director to build up on a tragic incident, which sets up the second half of the film, largely falls flat. What started off as a film revolving around school rivalry and drug abuse, soon transforms into something entirely different. To accommodate John Abraham Palackal (Mammootty), perhaps? It's more of an extended cameo for the 67-year-old actor (yes, he is 67!), and he does what is expected of him.
The climax is tailored for the fans, but that's as far as it goes. The film belongs to Ayyappan and Ashwin, and the boy gangs that they are part of. Or rather, that's how it should have stayed. Cameos by popular and talented actors might up the star quotient of the film (as Prithviraj—who doubles up as the narrator, Arya, Priyamani, Unni Mukundan, Suraj Venjaramoodu do in Pathinettam Padi), but it's a challenge really to weave them all seamlessly into the narrative. Ashiq Abu's recent flick Virus, though belonging to a wholly different genre, did it brilliantly.
Also, there lies the risk of the focus shifting away from the central theme and the lead actors. Pathinettam Padi suffers from these precisely. The cameos are, essentially, just cameos, for the sake of it.
A word about the title of the film, too. The director Ramakrishnan had said in an interview that he chose the number 18 because that age was an important 'step' in a person's life.
But it's also the term used to refer to the 18 holy steps to the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple. It is believed that after climbing these steps, a person symbolically detaches oneself from all the worldly ties that bind him or her physically and mentally to the world. So, was it an attempt by the director to refer to the coming off age of the lead characters Ashwin and Ayyappan or... ?
We leave it to the viewer!
P.S.: Interestingly, while the Sabarimala issue was on the boil, Prithviraj had announced his next film Ayyappan based on the life of the deity, which will be helmed by Ramakrishnan.
Film: 18am Padi (Pathinettam Padi)
Director: Shanker Ramakrishnan
Cast: Akshay Radhakrishnan, Ashwin Gopinath, Mammootty, Ahaana Krishna, Chandunadh