Gripping tales from the southside: Anupama Chopra on Poacher and Bramayugam - Hindustan Times
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Gripping tales from the southside: Anupama Chopra on Poacher and Bramayugam

Mar 02, 2024 11:56 AM IST

The two are as different as could be, and both excellent examples of the Malayalam industry’s superior storytelling.

In August 2019, at a Q and A, after the screening of Virus (2019), an enthralled viewer asked the film’s director Aashiq Abu, what they were reading and watching because the storytelling in Malayalam cinemas was so much superior to Bollywood. That moment came back to me over the last two weeks as I watched Bramayugam and Poacher.

Mammootty in the fantasy-horror period film Bramayugam (Age of Madness). PREMIUM
Mammootty in the fantasy-horror period film Bramayugam (Age of Madness).

Bramayugam is a fantasy horror period film co-written and directed by Rahul Sadasivan, who earlier made Bhoothakaalam (2022). The title means ‘The Age of Madness’ and the story is set in the 17th century. Bramayugam, shot entirely in black and white, is an allegory about power. The brilliant Mammootty plays Kodumon Potti, a powerful lord of a sprawling but dilapidated manor where time seems to stand still. A singer (Arjun Ashokan), who is lost in the forest wanders into this space and then finds out that like in the iconic Eagles song, Hotel California, he can check out any time he likes but he can never leave. Sharing the same fate is the cook (Sidharth Bharathan) who has been trapped there even longer. Potti perversely toys with these two like a child hurting animals as a pastime. At one point, it seems that the tables might turn but ultimately, Bramayugam repeats what British historian Lord Acton famously said: Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Bramayugam is frightening but not in the way that an average horror film is. Rahul isn’t relying on jump scares or doors creaking in the night. He creates a more layered and complex psychological horror. This manor seems suffused by suffering. Each day brings more of the same. It rains incessantly. There are long corridors that seem to lead nowhere. And at the centre of it is Potti, intimidating, malevolent and invincible. Mammootty inhabits the role with fierceness—I don’t think I’ve been afraid of an actor’s teeth before. The camerawork (Shehnad Jalal), music (Christo Xavier) and production design (Jothish Shankar) help to build a disorienting, atmospheric experience that is singular. Certain frames stay etched in your head.

As does Malayali actor Nimisha Sajayan’s performance in Poacher, the new Amazon Prime Video series. Created and directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta (who also made the stellar first season of Delhi Crime), Poacher is a fictionalised version of India’s largest ivory raid. The action moves between the dense and foreboding forests of Kerala, where elephants are killed and Delhi, where those coveted tusks are bought and sold. Nimisha plays Mala Jogi, an uncompromising forest officer who is fueled by rage at the casual cruelty she witnesses.

Nimisha Sajayan plays an uncompromising forest officer in Poacher.
Nimisha Sajayan plays an uncompromising forest officer in Poacher.

Along with her terrific co-stars Roshan Mathew and Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Nimisha powers the eight-episode series. This is an actor without a trace of vanity who disappears into the role. She grasps Mala’s resilience but also her tortured relationship with her father, her loneliness, how broken she is and ultimately how nature helps her to heal. All of which comes to the fore in the coda, which is guaranteed to make you weep. In a promotional interview for Poacher, Alia Bhatt, who is the executive producer, said that she is Nimisha’s fan for life and that she is in awe of her performance. So am I.

Whatever these artists are reading or watching should be made mandatory for the entertainment industry.

(To reach Anupama Chopra with feedback, email feedbackforanu@gmail.com)

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