Whenever I champion the quality of cinema being produced from the youth brigade of Tamil and Hindi cinema, I am greeted with incredulous, disbelieving, and even contempous expressions. But its true - while Tamil cinema can boast of Kaathal, Paruthiveeran, Veyyil, Kathrathu Thamizh and even Pithaamagan in the last few years, while Hindi cinema has an eclectic oeuvre in Black Friday, Bheja Fry, Maqbool, Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, Johnny Gaddar, Omkara, Mithya, and The Blue Umbrella in recent years, Malayalam cinema has little to boast of, at least from its youth brigade, if one exists (we have a grandfathers' brigade for sure, though!) Myskin's Anjaathey is a worthy addition to the list of Tamil films quoted above.
Take the whole opening sequence, for instance. Its just another stunt scene, really. But the director places a camera on the ground, and instead of moving the camera moving around to cover the characters, has the characters move in and around the camera. The only parallel I can think of is in Kamal Hasan's Apoorva Sahodarangal, where a camera is placed in a trench, and we see a car stopping, and people (their feet, rather) getting out. Its slightly gimmicky, certainly, but an effective way of raising curiosity, one has to admit.
The tale is but a variant of the ages-old story of two friends, one a cop, and the other a goonda. But the whole role-reversal thing out here (you see, Narain is the goonda who later becomes the righteous cop, and Ajmal the self-righteous hero-type who later turns amoral due to a perceived failure in life) makes for a nice twist. And of course, the casting of the hitherto soft-spoken Prasanna as the scenerey-chewing serial rapist makes for a decidedly wicked turn of casting. As with all other good movies, there's a whole bunch of other characters who could have been merely incidental in other movies, but are more than relevant to the proceedings here. Fo instance, there's the one-handed gullible friend Kuruvi, Ajmal's sister who has a crush on Narain (which is brought out ever-so subtly), the old flower-seller, the father of the kidnapped girl - in fact, almost too many to count - and each one of these characters is given at least one crucial scene (its almost as if the director told these actors while casting them, 'hey, you have one scene to yourself, so make the most of it').
What I liked here was that the director had a clear vision. He takes almost every single cliche in the book - the two-friends saga, son redeeming himself in father's eyes, friendship, sacrifice of the friend, cops versus villains - and re-works them, until they take on a decidedly different form. Most of the time, the hero is merely incidental to the proceedings, and is forced to the sidelines while all these catastrophic events take place around him.
Performances are uniformly good. Prasanna, despite being burdened with a weird wig, underplays his character, and in a marked departure from his usual chocolate-boy roles, manages to be a menacing villain. Ajmal makes a neat debut. Narain is a little rough around the edges, but its also that kind of role - a rookie cop in a tough investigation - and he makes no glaring mistakes. However, at the end of the movie, its undoubtedly the director's vision that makes Anjathey a treat to watch. Full marks to Myskin.
Verdict: Extremely good, falls just short of greatness.