Untangling The Churuli Mystery

On 19th November, Lijo Jose Pellisery’s Churuli was finally released on SonyLiv after much delay and hype (courtesy festival rounds). The trailer and pre-release talk around the premise of the film clearly gave the impression that the film wasn’t going to be a straightforward one. It definitely looked cinematically and ideologically rich – in short, one whose PinkLungi review would require many brains ticking simultaneously! And so we assembled the PL Task Force (in plainer words, internal film discussion group) to get the job done. The following conversation is a gist of the initial thoughts these folks had about Churuli, right after they had watched the film.

Also Read: Decoding the ‘Absurdity’ of Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham Movie

If you have also completed the watch, do join in on the fun and read on. If not, be warned that there are some heavy spoilers ahead! 

Navaneeth: Sooo. Thoughts on the film, guys? 

Govindan: …

Shahabaz: …

Anikait: ….

Maddy: Uhm. I feel so under pressure.. should I simply play safe and call it a masterpiece? Or are we allowed to be unbiased here? 😅

Govindan: Phew! Thank goodness you don’t think it is flawless. I was wondering if it was just me…

Shahabaz: Nope. I think we can all agree that the film, just like most films, had its good and bad sides. Let’s start from one end – the strengths. The film’s biggest plus, in my opinion, was the technical flair. All those forest shots not only provided aesthetic value but also added a tension element when characters moved through the canopies and groves of the forest. And the sound design was just wallah! Who was the person behind that?

Navaneeth: (Googles it up) Renganaath Ravee. Uff, give that man a kuthirapavan! 

Maddy: Completely agree. I had watched the film with good speakers and it was a complete surround sound experience. The intermittent buzzing, silences as well as sounds of the forest, do a good job of drawing the viewer into that world. 

Govindan: Sreeraj Saji’s background score also deserves a mention. Lijo knows exactly what kind of soundscape his films need!

Shahabaz: The world of Churuli was fascinating. To think that somewhere across a bridge lies a world inhabited by the rawest of raw people who revel in all possible vices and spout theris all the time!

Maddy: Liplocks weren’t needed in most films, but it played an important role in Chaappa Kurishu. Similarly, unlike most films, theri actually played an instrumental role in Churuli – in establishing the characters and the nature of its milieu. Foul language is a part of the locals’ no-holds-barred lifestyle, and this forms a precursor to the many foul behaviours that unfold eventually.

Anikait: I felt Churuli was almost like an extraterrestrial planet – the people there could be aliens. The bridge could be seen as a wormhole kinda thing.

Navaneeth: Aliens o…uff! Well, that’s not too outlandish a thought, because in a scene very early on in the film, at the chayakkada there is a news reference to aliens abducting two Americans. Maybe that bit was added to make us believe that the story was set in a time when aliens co-existed with humans!

Anikait: Also, these two cops who enter the village, are possibly stuck in a time loop – because Vinay tells Chemban later that he has lost track of time post arriving at Churuli. Various characters mention other policemen who have entered the village but didn’t make it out. Maybe it is the same guys but they are stuck in a time loop.

Maddy: The spiral-like structure of the loop gave a Bermuda Triangle vibe – there was no coming back once a person was sucked into it. Uncannily similar to what our parents say about drug addiction and other vices, no? I feel the film is centred upon the innate human affinity to vices that most people conceal in the real world to escape judgement and embarrassment. 

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Shahabaz: By the way, what did the clockwork and the cogs mean? Was that related to the time loop in any way?

Anikait: In all probability, those kinda surreal scenes were just purposely added to screw with people’s minds! They didn’t really add to the narrative at any point. 

Govindan: While the several loose ends in the story made me feel the writing wasn’t perfect, there were a few instances that I really liked, cinematically. Like the irony of how the kallushaap was converted into a chapel for the ceremony – both being places that peddle intoxicants. (That portion of the film was Lijo at his quirky best!) Also, while Thankan leads the duo to his house, we see a shot of a spider caught in the web – a clear foreshadowing of what follows next.

Maddy: Ah, that chapel scene…I wonder why they cut “Aadmiyathayude my#*” in the final version. Was all set to whistle at that trailer dialogue which was immortalised by meme pages a year ago :/ 

Shahbaz: Athokke vidu, let’s just get to the elephant in the room. The elephant that’ll drive everyone in the Instagram forest crazy for the next couple of months. The folk tale that comes as a prologue and in the climax definitely looks to be the base on which the film is mounted. How do you think that mini-story tied up with the ending of the film?

Navaneeth: I think that the Thirumeni is Chemban and either Soubin or Vinay could be the maadan,. We’d never know if Soubin was the real maadan and occupied Vinay’s body the entire time, or whether Vinay was the real maadan and used Soubin as a tool for misdirecting Chemban.

Anikait: I think thirumeni is Chemban and maadan is Vinay Forrt. We all are made to believe that Soubin is the culprit, but the real culprit is Vinay Forrt. It is proved in a few instances. First, when he takes Chemban and Surjit (the long-haired dude) for hunting in the forest and successfully hunts an animal. The second instance is the ‘pengal’ addressing Vinay Fort as Shajeevan and saying that they have met before. She also accuses him of sexually assaulting the male child in the house. And these are the two accusations against Soubin, as per the tale.

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Maddy: The last scene has Vinay Forrt exchange places with Soubin in the car, with Vinay Forrt occupying the lavish back seat and grinning uncontrollably. So yes, that should be it. Vinay is maadan.

Shahabaz: But then his character is unreliable..what about the shots that are shown from his perspective – for example, the chase by the ammumma wielding the axe (which was really scary, by the way)? Those shots don’t make any sense if Vinay is indeed maadan.

Govindan: Also Vinay could’ve traded places with Soubin because he is almost the same boat as Soubin’s character – poaching and paedophilia (supposed). I am thinking…What if the Thirumeni mentioned in the folk tale, is us? What if the maadan is the director, who is throwing us in different directions, essentially misleading us to think of various possibilities of the ‘right end’?

(Everyone lets out a collective 😮)

Govindan: So while watching the film, I was actively looking for patterns. I noticed that every time there was a “Churuli” milestone, the behaviour of the characters flipped – first at the bridge (villagers turning brash) and later in the forest (Vinay Forrt transformation). But then a milestone popped up the third time when Thankan takes them across the river. Now, based on the previous observations, I’m expecting a flip, but nothing happens. And I felt so…misled. That’s when I thought – maybe I’m the Thirumeni! 

Maddy: Ooooh! Also, in the end, the characters (Jaffer Idukki, Soubin, Vinay, etc.) look at the screen and laugh. We assume it to be shown from Chemban’s POV, but what if they’re breaking the fourth wall and laughing at our plight, revelling at the misdirection caused by Pellisery chettan? How characters in the story are laughing at the screen. What if they’re laughing at us, revelling at the misdirection caused by Pellisery chettan?

Navaneeth: So maybe the confusion and conflicting theories around the film are a direct result of the director purposely making us run around in circles? That’s just…genius!

Shahabaz: Well..is it genius or is it just convenient? I mean, sure, Pellisery is a prolific filmmaker. But post Angamaly Diaries, he has been progressively cryptic and subjective in his work. It was fun to decode that last boat scene in Ee Ma Yau – which was otherwise a pretty straight movie – but then he made Jallikattu which had quite a lot of subtext behind all the action..and now he goes ahead and makes a full-length film that is full of loose ends! 

Also Read: Ee.Ma.Yau: A Deep Dive Into Lijo Jose Pellisery’s Craft

Maddy: Also, I feel it is a case of indulgence. Lijo’s indulgence on the look and feel of his film, sometimes makes him digress from the plot. It happened with Double Barrel too (which would’ve been fantastic had the screenplay been tighter). 

Anikait: Hmm. Athey, my roommate is sleeping and by the principle of sleep induction, I’m also sleepy now. So…before we call it a day, any final thoughts? 

Shahabaz: Okay. Just look at the range of “Churuli” theories that have come up from four members in less than an hour. That is why I hate it! It’s definitely an intriguing viewing experience, but it does not give us any solid conclusions or closure. The human brain is trained to make sense of what is shown, but in this case what’s shown doesn’t make sense at times, which leaves us not understanding the entire picture….does that make me dumb? David Lynch films that give this same abstract vibe and I’ve not been his biggest fan. 

Navaneeth: It’s a film that people should watch if they like to set their brains off on a journey with no clear destination. If your brain likes GPS, I’d rather you go watch the same director’s Amen or Angamaly Diaries.

Govindan: I know this is digressing…but I guess it’s fair to say that no artist should be raised to a pedestal so high that criticism of their work is looked down upon. Pellisery fans can decode and analyse Churuli all they want, but it would be unfair of them to impose this cryptic film down the throats of the cinegoers who watch films to simply get entertained! 

Shahabaz: Adipoli. We’re putting this up on the internet, are we? Oru pongala prateekshicho! 

(Mustafa enters chat)

Mustafa: Hey guys! Just got done watching Kuruthi…quite an interesting film yeah?

Shahabaz: Machane, ninnod kaanaan paranjath Kuruthi alla, Churuli aayirunnu! 


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