Malayalam cinema continues to go from strength to strength. There is no denying the freshness fecundity and relevance of cinematic content from Kerala. Thimiran (meaning Cataract) is the latest thought-provoking product from the state of plenty. It tells the story of a 70-year old family man Sudhakaran (played brilliantly by KK Sudhakaran) who is….there is no polite way of putting this…a sexual pervert and a predator. The writer-director spares us none of the details of Sudhakaran’s sleazy lurid exploits. Early on he visits a prostitute whom he insults and underpays and berates for not keeping condoms handy. Soon he is in the neighbouring grocery store run by a dignified widow, touching her asking her if she’s free in the night showing at her gate drunk getting caught by her son.
Save your cringes. The best is yet to come. A little later Sudhakaran is in the hospital for cataract surgery groping the nurse when she is helping him to the bathroom. The worst is yet to come. In one particularly obnoxious act of voyeurism, Sudhakran listens in and tries to peep into his son and daughter-in-law’s bedroom as they have sex.
The unsettling deeply disturbing portrait of an old man who is very obviously sick in his head as well as his eyes begin to feel like a manual to old-age perversion. But here’s where this masterly study of deprivation scores high marks: the writer-director allows Sudhakaran to do what he enjoys without being overly judgmental. The backlash, when it comes, is so severe in its impact because it comes from his trusting simple god-fearing family who cannot even begin to understand how the patriarch’s mind works.
In one especially harrowing sequence, Sudhakaran’s son Ram (Vishak Nair, serene almost a saint, or maybe just a normal human being as compared with his father) walks into his father’s hospital room to confront his father about his aberrant father. Each word of recrimination is a slap to the sleazy father and to the hoary practice of patriarchy which allows some men to think they can behave with women as they will.
I loved the dramatic tension between Sudhakaran and his daughter-in-law Vandhana (Meera Nair) an independent-minded wife who has given up her dreams and tolerates her creepy father-in-law for her husband’s sake and the sake of their baby. The old man insults her by refusing to even talk to her directly. These scenes are not played with dramatic props. This film doesn’t need extraneous support. It is solidly honest powerful and devastating in its upturning of the age-old tradition whereby parents are God. No question about it.
Significantly the film suggests that patriarchal arrogance is traceable to one’s childhood. In the way discrimination between the two genders is normalized by Sudharakan’s family in his childhood (as children his sister is served less food than he, because, boys need more nourishment). Curiously, Sudharakan has a change of heart at the end. Or is he just feigning it because his good son threatens to leave him?
We would never know. Thimiram is an important, powerful piece of work, thought-provoking and disturbing. It doesn’t mince or gloss over its protagonist’s ugly urges. Instead, it brings them out in the open. And the film silently watches the protagonist destroy his world without deriving any triumph or joy in the tragedy of a family coming apart at the seams. Because, well, Dad can’t keep it in his pants even at an age when his eyes can no longer see his dirty doings.
Written & Directed by Shivram Mony, Thimiram gets 3 and a half stars.
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