It is a widely accepted fact that public service in India is punctured with various inefficiencies. People at different levels in the ecosystem fall prey to personal incentives to manipulate the set order in which specific governmental procedures must be done. While these manipulations may seem, on the surface, insignificant and forgettable, there always lies a risk: what if, somehow, there is a random call-back to that very procedure, which could potentially tear open all the cracks in the system? This is the core of Krishand’s latest offering, Purusha Pretham: The Male Ghost, starring Prashanth Alexander, Darshana Rajendran, Jagadeesh and a host of supporting actors.
Krishand, who made a solid debut with the social mockumentary “Aavasavyuham“, conjures up another interesting genre mix this time, peppering what is essentially a police procedural with unprecedented comic and thriller elements. The film is streaming now on SonyLiv.
A dead body shows up floating on a river bank in Ernakulam, and based on the jurisdiction mapping, the case is assigned to CI Sebastian (Prashanth)’s station. The unidentified body is then taken to the mortuary, and the police wait for someone to claim the body. But no one arrives. Three days later, the officer in charge of the body, Dileep (Jagadeesh), is forced by the mortuary officials to move the body out. This leaves the police with no option but to bury the body at the public cemetery. Sebastian, who is on kalla-vedi duties, assigns Dileep to take care of this. And Dileep, who is in a haste to watch the Star Singer finals, assigns the work to the cemetery workers. The next day, Susan (Darshana) shows up, claiming the body could be her missing husband. The red tape-ism that follows, and the dark secrets that tumble out of this series of incidents, form the rest of the plot.
There are many things worth discussing in this experimental film, and I will try and be as spoiler-free as possible.
The Sa-Tyre that keeps this vehicle running
In a way, Purusha Pretham is a “true blue Indian police procedural”: in the sense that it riddles the general police procedural template with realistic possibilities, such as the lackadaisical attitude and corruption by the police officers as well as the public. Result? I don’t think I can now watch a police story without thinking of the pitfalls that could happen at each step – how someone in the system could manipulate the data presented at each beat.
Satire becomes the tool that Krishand uses to highlight these grim realities, and he does this primarily through quirky characterisation.
Almost every police character in the film enjoys some perk from their power. While some seek respect, others seek monetary advantages (one of them even begins to consider revenue streams like agriculture, fish farming and ferry rentals when he learns that a suspension is imposed on him). And it is their pursuit of these personal goals that create inefficiencies and confusion. Moreover, there are digs at the pitfalls of the hierarchical system – how every rank officer wouldn’t want to assume accountability for what’s happened and pushes it down their subordinate’s throat.
The film’s central protagonist, Sebastian (or as the police officers call him, Super Sebastian), is essentially a revamped version of Kunjiramayanam’s Well Done Vasu, who vidal-ises every encounter with criminals while being a bit of a dork each time. He is initially laid back and crude, but eventually, he realizes his flaws and tries to make amends. Does he manage to seal the inefficiencies, or does he succumb to the system? Also, who is Susan? These are things you’ll have to watch and know for yourself!
An aspect that can’t go unnoticed is how the characters are always placed in an extreme corner of the frame, leaving ample negative space. While I initially thought it was just a random framing choice by Krishand, I later felt it was done keeping in mind the nature of the story. If one is in the centre, the frame seems complete. However, if they are placed on the left side of the frame, the viewer subconsciously wonders what’s on the character’s left side (it isn’t visible in the frame, but it obviously exists in that universe). This adds to the suspenseful nature of the proceedings. The film is also visually appealing and uses an exciting colour palette, especially towards the end (reds, greens).
The editing by Suhail Backer is also noteworthy. The constant cutaways and flash cuts used in tandem with the voiceover narrations either help add more details to the technicalities or offer a visual contrast to what’s being said (mainly works as a humour device during Sebastian’s vidals scenes).
Another interesting creative choice is hip-hop as a background scoring device. While there aren’t any ‘songs’ in the conventional format, many character-building scenes have rap portions (that work as said characters’ invoices), courtesy Fejo, J’Mynah and MC Couper. Even otherwise, a regular hip-hop/trap beat drills away as we watch the on-screen events, which lends a certain pace to the proceedings.
Usually, in a film, the casting is focused on getting the best set of leads, and the supporting and extra characters are cast with lesser consideration and effort. But slowly, Malayalam cinema has begun to take casting seriously, and we see more and more films with a high volume of great performances. Purusha Pretham becomes a fine addition to the list, as every actor on screen delivers.
Be it Sebastian’s illicit girlfriend (Devika Rajendran), his superior officer (Jeo Baby), or the talkative local doctor (Balaji Sharma), everyone lends a certain believability to the characters while still catering to the demands of the humour genre. Darshana Rajendran doesn’t have a role that demands 100% of her acting prowess, but she does a neat job portraying the mysterious Susan. Jagadeesh plays the flawed cop to the T – his expressions and top-class comic timing significantly elevate the film. But it is Prashanth Alexander who takes the cake with a career-defining performance. He deftly takes us through the ups and downs of Super Sebastian, and somewhere the earnestness of his performance makes us want to root for him even when we know he’s not the cleanest man in town.
As with all films (except The GodFather and Krishnanum Radhayum :P), this film has flaws. The biggest grouse for me was the nearly 2.5-hour runtime. It is an investigative story that should keep the viewer invested throughout its runtime. But a few scenes (especially in the second half) drag the film’s pace down, and you tend to occasionally pause and look at how many minutes are left – which isn’t ideal for any film. Moreover, the climax (with a reasonably predictable twist) didn’t give me a sense of closure after all that was shown and discussed in the preceding 2.5 hours.
You might have noticed that I haven’t talked much about the purusha pretham (male dead body) himself – I think a discussion that veers toward that territory is bound to hamper your viewing experience, so… (shuts up). All I’ll say is this: the film delivers beyond what the trailer promised. And if you’re not the trailer-watching type, I’d still recommend you to try watching Purusha Pretham – after all, doesn’t the title have a nice ‘ring’ to it? (IYKYK :P)