‘Puzhu’: slithers, bites, stuns

As the camera dollied across yet another evening during the cyclic course of Kuttan’s (Mammootty) rigid, time-table-bound days, I couldn’t help notice a mini-bar stacked with whiskey bottles and wondered if he’d ever get to bending the elbow. When he eventually does, it’s to seismic effect, more a growling rumble of a poisonous ivy’s mountain that can’t hold back its venom any longer. A septic tank of ingrained biases and conditioning that his clinical routine seems to only caulk. 

Puzhu (Worm), the debut feature from Ratheena PT, claws that very question out of your stunned being: isn’t social conditioning the very foundation of biases and vitriolic viewpoints: a routine of cleansing and disturbing repletion of targeted thinking and depletion of connectedness that closes the walls of echo-chambers even further into iniquitous behavior? Kuttan doesn’t realize he’s trapped in this chamber, OCD and anxieties among his jail guards. While the movie peels off some of his past to reveal what’s made him this way, the latest trigger is his sister Bharathi (Parvathy Thiruvothu) moving into the same apartment where he lives with his school-going son Kichu (Vasudev Sajeesh). It’s not just sibling rivalry, though. It’s Bharathi’s marriage to Kuttappan (Appunni Sasi), a stage actor who belongs to an oppressed caste, that’s gotten Kuttan’s cauldron of anger and bigotry stewing. 

Mammootty is chillingly outstanding.

While Kuttan vents his angst and self-pity to his bed-ridden mother (Manohari Joy) living in a luxurious villa, surrounded by their extended family, his paranoia jumps up by notches and heartbeats as he’s convinced—as are you—that someone in the apartment wants him dead. Amidst this grinding dread, he’s also involved in a big-money land deal with Jamal (Prasanth Alexander), who’s still wincing from an earlier transaction gone sour. As the poisoned canister in his mind and apartment points to multiple potentials, the attempts on his life seem to potentiate into everything he touches or inhales. 

Puzhu isn’t a thriller or a mystery, although it lightly swathes itself in those patterns. It’s a character study in the warping of minds that feed on fear, loathing, and prejudices. It’s the coming together of loss, disconnect, and psychosis that eventually fuse together for an imminent fissile reactor that swiftly goes out of control in a scene that’ll make your skin crawl and close your eyes in terror. With writers HarshadShafu, and Suhas, director Ratheena invokes the mythological story of the doomed emperor Parikshit and his irreversible path leading to Thakshakan, the king of serpents, who takes the form of a worm to fulfill the prophecy designed for Parikshit. 

Mammootty and Parvathy: sibling unrest.

Composer Jakes Bejoy lends uneasy notes to the proceedings, while the stellar cast orbit around Kuttan’s enclosure, shining their performances’ light on the movie: Vasudev Sajeesh as the hapless son is heartbreakingly good; the late Nedumudi Venu is as effective as ever, not one forced move from him, as is Kottayam Ramesh as Hari, Kuttan’s confidante. Indrans hits #home in a cameo as well.Parvathy Thiruvothu and Appunni Sasi play off each other naturally, waltzing in an arena that they know is their own, even if it’s in the center of Kuttan’s wretched Colosseum. Speaking of whom, Mammootty spins an effortless, nuanced, and complex act that consists solely of betrayals of morphing of facial landscapes. It’s a brave choice for any actor, and in his sure hands, Kuttan turns into a self-destructive, fragile being who’s consumed by the very poison that he keeps distilling. The actor shows why he’s one of the best we have, and we’ve had, an act so chilling and disturbing, all of it under the radar, employing his crafty body language to stunning effect.

And it’s when Sasi’s Kuttapan tells Parvathy’s Bharathi that it doesn’t matter even if human beings turn into robots, their biases will remain, Puzhu’s prescience hits you in the gut. With Artificial Intelligence creeping up on us, an inescapable glacier already taking charge of so much of our agency, all of the input that drives it is from the poisoned well of our own making. No matter how advanced our AI systems get (virtual universes, the social media, the robots), that worm will be an immutable core of whatever is yet to come. 

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Puzhu is streaming on Sony LIV and rated  U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition), though there’s some disturbing and violent scenes.

Director Ratheena PT Time 2h 2min
Writers HarshadShafuSuhas
Stars Mammootty, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Appunni Sasi, Vasudev Sajeesh Marar
Genres Crime, Drama, Thriller