Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam Review: An Experiment In Minimalist Cinema

Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam Review: 2.5/5

Imagine you’re hitchhiking and a couple gives you a lift. Once inside the car, you eavesdrop on their conversation and stay mum (probably judging them) till you get dropped off an hour and a half later. This basically sums up what Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam is like. 

Malayalam cinema has adapted well to the “new normal” and seems to have found creative ways to work around the challenges that Covid has thrown at it. Many movies that have been released in the recent past seem to have been shot in just 1-2 locations. Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam takes this a notch higher; 85 continuous minutes in a car!

The 85 minute long-take

It is quite evident that the team behind the movie must’ve had multiple practise runs to get this right. An 85 minute long shot with just (mostly) two people in a car sounds like an impossible feat to pull off. And the Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam team has pulled it off quite well. 

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A commentary on “woke” culture

Many of us embrace liberal values and think “liberal”. But do we always behave and speak in “liberal” and “progressive” ways, especially when it comes to matters close to the heart? The movie holds up a mirror to the audience via the characters. The protagonists are clearly “woke” but seem to succumb to their patriarchal conditioning and sense of entitlement. This was particularly evident in one of the characters.

The hero’s journey 

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, talks about the hero’s journey – the cycle that the protagonist of a story has to go through to evoke catharsis in the reader/viewer. Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam deviates from this tried and tested formula and that is probably the first issue we have with the movie. One does not feel catharsis at the end. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining about the movie not having a “message”. We’re talking about how, after 85 minutes of getting to know the characters, neither they nor we have changed.

Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam

Limitations of the format

Long-takes are a challenge. One room movies are a challenge. Pulling off both together, time to start a new religion and proclaim the director a god. But hold your horses! While this movie will go into the experimental hall of fame, the format cripples it. The conversation between the protagonists does not hold your attention and beyond a point, it gets exasperating. The format also makes it hard to have exposition in subtle ways, and while there are a few creative ways we gain insight into the characters, most exposition is through dialogues and can seem like a drag.

The format also requires both the protagonists to hold their fort and contribute equally. Jithin Puthencherry does a good job of maintaining a raw flow to his conversation. Even when he misses a dialogue beat, he masks it with a gesture or an expression that renders it natural. It is quite gutsy of a mainstream actor like Rima Kallingal to be a part of such a film, but we felt that she dropped the ball in a few places. That said, we cannot begin to fathom how hard shooting this movie must’ve been for the actors, and they’ve truly tried to test their limits with this one. 

The film also veers into a meta segment when the director appears in a voice cameo, defending the creative decisions he has taken in the film. Don Palathara is definitely a filmmaker to watch out for, for he seems to be deft at creating full-length performance-oriented films out of shoestring budgets.

Should you watch Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam?

To be honest, this movie is not for everyone. Watch it for the format and the effort that has gone into its making. But we feel that there was a mismatch between the plot and the format – one pulls the other down. 

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