Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Writers: Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Paul Zacharia
Cast: Mammootty, M.R. Gopakumar, Tanvi Azmi
Language: Malayalam, Kannada
It is a cinematic adaptation of the Novella 'Bhaskara Pattelarum Ente Jeevithavum' by Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia and it explores the master-slave dialectic in Southern Karnataka settings. Thommy (M.R. Gopakumar) is a Christian migrant labourer from Kerala who is new to the Karnataka-Kerala border village in which Pattelar (Mammootty) is sort of the feudal overlord. When they first meet, Pattelar proceeds to humiliate the migrant and subsequently rapes his wife. Even though Thommy is enraged at first he is helpless to do anything about it. On top of that he is co-opted by Pattelar into his inner circle by offering him a job in the local toddy shop and makes him his trusted servant. The title of the film translates as 'The Servile' and is told from the perspective of Thommy.
Going by the above synopsis some would presume that the film is a tale of cruelty told in a very serious fashion. My memory of it from watching bits and pieces of it when I was very young was also like that. But it is told with plenty of black humor with minimal dialog. Pattelar is not portrayed as the uber bad guy and is someone with his own insecurities and vulnerabilities. When he asks Thommy's help to kill his wife and make it look like an accident, he quips that her brothers can be a troublesome if it is not done properly. The feudal master-slave dynamics still exist in many rural parts of India but is extinct in Kerala. The time period that the film is set in is not mentioned explicitly and I would guess it to be mid 70s or something like that. The character Pattelar speaks Kannada as his mother tongue and delivers Malayalam in a very odd manner when he speaks to Thommy. It was off-putting initially as it also sounded different to Mammootty's normal voice and we are so used to how he speaks. M.R. Gopakumar is amazing in his role as Thommy but it was Mammootty who got the national award for his role in this film. On balance, I think the former was more deserving to win but one should praise the latter for accepting such a role that would be considered by many to be very negative. Trivia: Steven Spielberg wanted to work with Indian actor M.R. Gopakumar in the movie, but due to his passport traveling issues he was unable to accept that offer to act in Lost World: Jurassic Park.
I hadn't seen any of the Adoor Gopalakrishnan films in its entirety prior to watching this and Vidheyan was indeed a great watch. The recent Malayalam films from him doesn't look very interesting and I don't know whether it is due to the fact that he is hamstrung by limited actors from this generation. In Vidheyan, the dialog delivery in the able shoulders of its two leads is quite safe but lesser actors can certainly make it quite grating to watch. There is one scene towards the end when Pattelar and Thommy decides to go into hiding and we see Thommy's wife crying and approaching someone. You expect that she is actually approaching Pattelar to complete Thommy's emasculation but instead she goes to Thommy. Then Thommy consoles her that he will take care of Pattelar as if that is top of her worries and that was amazingly funny and sums up the film as a tragi-comedy. As far as technical things go, I watched a really shite youtube print of the film and it is not fair to comment based on that. Anyway it is shot in a very raw manner and the approach is that of realism. I guess if you are looking into Adoor Gopalakrishnan's filmography, Vidheyan will be a very good film to start with.