Pathonpatham Noottandu Movie Review: A Package With a Punch, Despite Its Flaws

Pathonpatham Noottandu is a cut above some overhyped period films of recent years

Pathonpatham Noottandu sits a cut above some overhyped period films of recent years

Big-budget, larger-than-life cinema from the South has been making waves across the country in recent years. Compared to these, that of Vinayan Pathonpatham Noottandu may be smaller in budget, scale and ambition, but the two protagonists the film features stand in stark contrast to the heroes of these larger films, who proudly display their toxic masculinity.

Direction: Vinayan

With: Siju Wilson, Kayadu Lohar, Chemban Vinod José, Anoop Menon, Sudev Nair

One is Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker (Siju Wilson), the 18th century social reformer who fought for the rights of lower caste women to wear superior clothes and ornaments and built a temple where people of all races castes could worship. Nangeli (Kayadu Lohar), the other, is said to have cut off her breasts in protest against the practice of levying a breast tax in former Travancore. With these two figures as a peg, Vinayan attempts to paint a broader picture of the atrocities that the lower castes had to endure in Kerala in the 19th century.

Since historical records for the period are minimal, the filmmaker, who also wrote the screenplay, took some liberties by bringing in fictional elements to fill in the gaps. But the decision to place Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker at the center is laudable, as he remains an overlooked figure in popular culture despite the pioneering role he played in challenging regressive practices. The fact that he was also a wealthy merchant also helped him in this endeavor and to gain the support of the ruler at the time. Siju Wilson’s transformation from a neighborhood boy into a formidable warrior in demeanor and physique is one of the highlights of the film.

The only noticeable and disappointing change from popular mythos is the heavily negative depiction of Kayamkulam Kochunni (Chemban Vinod Jose), the Robinhood-style thief, who is shown as showering the poor with goodies just to hide his misdeeds. Well-crafted action sequences are a mainstay of the film, despite the overreliance on slow motion. The larger budget he had this time seems to have allowed Vinayan to achieve something closer to his vision in production design as well.

The script, due to the intention to tell about the many atrocities of the time, sometimes lacks focus due to which some of the sufferings fail to move the audience. While the narrative remains engaging for most parts, the focus was obviously more on the action sequences rather than the script, which has quite a few one-dimensional characters. The camera’s gaze on women is sometimes problematic, especially given the subjects covered by the film. Even Nangeli does not escape this gaze.

There would certainly be debates about the amount of fiction in Pathonpatham Noottandu, but the film does an important job of bringing the period’s unsettling history into the mainstream, at a time when regressive practices are hailed in the name of “tradition,” a word the film effectively pokes fun at. Despite its flaws, it packs a punch and sits a cut above some of the Malayalam industry’s overrated period films of recent years.