Similar to #SDurga, Varathan’s premise is horrifyingly bone-chilling, though it has no links to the paranormal. Varathan (Outsider) is in a unique way, the coming of age tale of Aby (#FaahadhFaasil) who moves back with his wife to her native land. The storyline isn’t all that new, but the filmmaking is incredible. Much like S Durga, I was reminded that no ghost could parallel the sense of discomfort that the ‘violating male gaze’ instills.
Varathan is yet another example where the performances and the visuals greatly elevate the impact a scene has. I immensely loved the close-ups in Koode and thought it was Anjali Menon’s doing, but now I am sensing that #LittilSwayamp had a stronger hand. His close-ups and slow-mos are cleverly placed for moments — of discomfort, love, and anger — that need to linger in our minds. He places so many shots that we remember well after the film — a looming shadow that acts as a precursor to a kickass transformation. As Priya walks away, tossing an unsolicited phone number into the bin, the owner of the number walks out ignorantly proud of his ‘achievement’. There is a father who says ‘What will women do with education’ as his daughter pedals off to school in the background. The frames tell you much more than the dialogues do. As the title suggests, the arena is set for the native vs outsider game the minute Aby and Priya (#AishwaryaLekshmi) reach their native land — they are welcomed with judgemental stares.
With some nuanced performances, the emotion overpowers the logic in the final act. I didn’t want to care about the burning doll in the rain. Rather, I was cheering for Fahadh to bash the brains out of the bad guys. That’s the success of Amal Neerad and the reward they reap for the time they take in establishing the characters. Also, Fahadh sells these moments with such conviction that you take it at (his) face value, no questions asked.
Irony is a main theme in the film. Amal Neerad achieves this by juxtaposing contrasting characters and the reactions they elicit from other characters. Aby, who has no second-thoughts about drying his wife’s clothes, or making tea for her, gets the name ‘useless’ from the villagers. Who’s better? Men who ‘call out’ couples for being together in public and in the same breathe, fantasise about a married woman, so much so that they peep into the bedrooms and bathroom; men who abuse and a violate woman and assume that they have the right to dictate how the women in their life should love and live. Amal’s take on what’s ‘macho’ is brilliant especially in the final act, Aby brandishes a frying pan with better swag than a knife.
However, I wish Amal had rephrased the confrontational scene between Priya and Aby. Shown as a someone who is more rational than the average person, Priya’s dialogues seemed uncharacteristic (but not unwarranted.) Also, I would have loved to see some of then Aby who cries out without inhibition. But then this is ‘a war of disputes (as the interval card proclaims) and all is fair in love and war.