The most efficient way to describe Aarkkariyam is as an experimental study of simplicity, relationships, and love.
With a very small cast of characters and two small filming locations, Varghese manages to impress with a thoughtful, delicately handled story. Roy and Shirley (played by Sharfudheen and Parvathy Thiruvothu) are packing their flat in Mumbai for a trip to Shirley’s childhood home during the initial days of lockdown. At his humble home, the widower Ittyavira Abhraham (Biju Menon) is busy taking care of his land and managing the household. The story begins when both their routines and lives intersect, brought together by the lockdown.
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Sanu Jose Varghese’s directorial debut brings together an excellent cast of characters and simple, provoking camera work to tell a tale we are all familiar with, but differently:
Simplicity of Aarkkariyam
Aarkkariyam is the epitome of simplicity. The story presents itself with no filter. There is no extravagant make-up, no mind-melding sets, no over-the-top celebratory songs, no earth-shattering romances, and no big, misleading plot twists. All of this should turn you off the film, but what it does beautifully is to offer you a cast of three characters who are as normal as we are.
They have problems we recognise; the decisions they make are the ones we would make as well. Defined by silences and short dialogues, the film is more than just monologues. It is a study of characters and the way they communicate with each other. Touches, smiles, physical pain, glances and stares communicate for the characters. Varghese’s directorial debut allows space for subtle touches and silent messages scattered throughout the film.
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A Study in Character Relationships
The relationship between the characters drives this film. Varghese takes his time to introduce each of the characters as very normal people with normal problems, normal heartbreaks, and normal lives. We resonate with them immediately. There is Roy and Shirley, portrayed as a loving couple who is very open about their past relationships.
It is obvious from their discussions that they are not insecure in their respective positions in the marriage. They talk about everything and support each other. There is no melodrama between them. Shirley’s father, Ittyavira, also joins the duo to put forth a very convincing and liberal family.
The audience is greeted with an air of affection, may it be in the beginning with Shirley and Roy in Mumbai or with the three of them in Shirley’s ancestral home. The supporting characters also contribute to this familial, affectionate tone of the film.
Realism of Aarkkariyam
The one thing that the film captures beautifully is the sense of discordance we all felt when the lockdown was first announced. Set in the initial few days of lockdown, the three main characters explore the different ways in which people reacted to lockdown. Both Shirley and Roy immediately embrace the masks and sanitiser lifestyle, while Ittyavira is sceptical (like most senior citizens were).
The disruption that lockdown caused in their otherwise middle-class routine is what drives the story forward. Shirley turns her faith in God and so does her father. Roy turns it to his work and keeping his family afloat. Furthermore, Shirley’s daughter is also stuck in a boarding school while all the other students have returned home. These are problems we have all experienced and have become familiar with in the past year. It is necessary to note the mundane representation of a modern household where work, worries, and happiness is shared.
Echoes of realism also leak into smaller details like the exhaustion they feel, the burden of making ends meet, the boredom of finding activities to do during the lockdown, and the uncertainty that the future holds. This is done beautifully through a well-paced plot. Nothing much happens throughout the first half of the film, except the establishment of routines and relationships which is tested in the second half with a shocking revelation.
Also, the film features two people in their second marriage and a very healthy relationship between a step-father and his step-daughter, which is quite progressive. It also resonates with second-generation immigrants, who are born and raised outside Kerala, through their code-switching between Hindi, English, and Malayalam.
This film is an excellent example of how religious sentiments can be handled delicately and effectively. All three of them, Shirley, Ittyavira, and Roy are strong believers in Christianity.
The most used dialogue in the film is “Aarkkariyam” (who knows) in the face of challenging, demanding situations. What is left unsaid is “God knows”. It is both an acknowledgement and a reminder to the audience that we live in uncertain times. Sometimes, it is necessary to believe that things will work out in some way or the other. All we can do is continue to live.
Another theme the film puts forth is that of love. It can also be considered a study of love. There is love that is kind and patient and empathetic. There is all-consuming, passionate love and the absence of love. There is also love that brings comfort and happiness. All of these exist between the characters.
The film has done many things in the best possible way. However, it is not perfect, like any piece of art cannot be perfect. Somewhere along the lines, the plot branches out and tries to cover too much. It gets lost in its own ambition.
However, it is a beautifully crafted, masterfully narrated tale of simplicity about a very normal family. They are going through normal problems and existing alongside us in these difficult, precarious times.
Aarkkariyam, is produced by Aashiq Abu and Santhosh T Kuruvilla under the banners of OPM Cinemas and Moonshot Entertainments. Sanu John Varughese, Rajesh Ravi, and Arun Janardhanan are the people behind the screenplay. G Sreenivas Reddy is the cinematographer and Mahesh Narayan, the editor. Aarkkariyam is streaming on multiple Malayalam OTT platforms – including Roots Video, Neestream, Amazon Prime, and Cave.