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17 December 2013

Ayalum Njanum Thammil (2012)

Directed by: Lal Jose
Music: Ouseppachan
Lyrics: Vayalar Sarath Chandra Varma
Starring: Prithviraj, Pratap Pothen, Narain, Samvrutha Sunil, 
Remya Nambeesan, Reema Kallingal, Kalabhavan Mani, Salim Kumar
Taking inspiration from Akiro Kurosawa's Red Beard - according to Wikipedia - writer-brothers Bobby and Sanjay develop a script that looks at the practice of sending young doctors into rural hospitals for a couple of years, despite most of them being totally unprepared to deal with not just loneliness, but also to work in hospitals with little to no infrastructure. 

When we first meet Dr Ravi Tharakan (Prithviraj), he is in his mid-to-late thirties, a hardworking doctor in a private hospital in Ernakulam. Having pursued his graduate studies abroad, he has returned home to become a very well-known cardiac surgeon. The difference is that he also treats patients who cannot afford his treatment, absolutely free of cost.
The night brings an emergency case, a young girl, who is suffering an asthma attack. We are made privy to the fact that she had been seen in that very hospital before, and Dr Tharakan had then diagnosed a heart defect and advised immediate surgery. The girl's father, who had seen his elder brother die on the operation table, has steadfastly refused to operate, even though Dr Tharakan had offered to operate for free. Now, she is in extreme distress, and an emergency operation may give her a 10% chance of survival. Dr Tharakan is blunt - without an operation, she will die. But with such a small sliver of hope, the father is still adamant. No operation.

Seeing the girl's condition and the mother's distress, Dr Tharakan takes unprecedented action, but the girl dies on the operation table.
His colleagues rush Dr Tharakan out through the backdoor of the hospital, while they try to manage the unruly mob who are baying for the doctor's blood outside. Driving through the heavy downpour, and feeling both guilty over the girl's death and worried about the aftermath (he had suggested he go out to explain why he did what he did, but is overruled), Ravi skids off the road in a desperate attempt to escape crashing into an oncoming vehicle. 
The next day, there is a media outcry. The father of the girl has political affiliations, and the police are under pressure from up top. The protests outside the hospital are growing in intensity, Dr Tharakan is missing, and the hospital is besieged by threats of lawsuits. To save their own skin, the Board of Directors decide to let it be known that Dr Tharakan had, in fact, been sacked prior to the operation.
No one seems to have a clue where Dr Tharakan is. His parents are devastated, the hospital is conspiring to save its coffers and its reputation, the police have sealed the borders and have begun a man-hunt for the man they believe has run away. 

The media coverage is watched with increasing distress by Dr Vivek (Narain). Ravi and Vivek had been classmates who had neither the aptitude nor the interest nor the calling to pursue medicine. Both of them are sons of rich fathers, and spend their time on campus playing the fool, and making a nuisance of themselves. 
Ravi also has a college romance with a junior, Sainu (Samvrutha Sunil).
When in their final year, Ravi and Vivek were still unable to diagnose illnesses nor did they know the difference between the different surgical instruments. Ravi, in fact, had been suspended for a year for cheating in his final exams. It was only the Principal's intervention that prevented him from being debarred for three years. Eventually, with the help of a friendly, 'professional' patient, both Ravi and Vivek attain their (5-year) degree in seven years. 

But there is a catch. According to a bond they signed in their first year, they have to either pay the college Rs5 lakhs, or practice in a rural area for two years before the principal will sign their certificates. 
The only two openings available are in Munnar and Cherrapunji. Vivek is sure (and so is Ravi)  that Ravi's father will pay the penalty, but that he will have to ruralise. But Ravi is in for a shock. Having had enough of his son's wayward ways, and sick of the pampering that Ravi receives at home, his father (Prem Prakash) refuses to pay the bond money; instead, he suggests that it is time Ravi grew up. Ironically, Vivek's father pays the bond money.

Ravi Tharakan is forced to go slumming. With no other alternative, he leaves to take up his post at the Redemption Hospital, Munnar, which is run by a Dr Samuel (Pratap Pothen). On the way, he runs afoul of a drunk-with-power sub-inspector, Purushotthaman (Kalabhavan Mani); angered at the public humiliation that the policeman metes out, Ravi promptly files a complaint against the man, causing him to be suspended. 
Ravi doesn't find his new job very pleasant. Dr Samuel is a tough nut. On the one hand, he believes in the true meaning of the Hippocratic Oath. On the other, he has no patience for doctors like Ravi who are in the profession only for what they can get out of it. He also seems to have an uncanny sixth sense in sniffing out all of Ravi's excuses. But Dr Samuel is also an immensely just and fair man. 
Soft-spoken and hardworking, Dr Samuel is a man who is absolutely devoted to his profession. Ravi's only consolation is his correspondence with Sainu and his intermittent telephone calls to Vivek. Thomachan (Salim Kumar), who is still a professional patient, and Sister Lucia (Sukumari) help keep boredom at bay. 

Slowly, without being really conscious of it, Ravi begins to change and take a deeper interest in his work. But his relation with Dr Samuel is still fraught with discomfort. 
One day, he is informed by Dr Samuel that Sainu's parents had intercepted one of his letters to her, and as a result, fixed her marriage to a boy from their community. Her father had asked Dr Samuel to warn Ravi against meeting or corresponding with Sainu ever again. Ravi is distraught, but supported by Dr Samuel, calls Vivek for help. Very soon, Ravi and Sainu decide to get married at the Registrar's Office. Unfortunately, a suicide case delays Ravi. And speeding from Munnar to Kochi, he is further delayed by SI Purushotthaman, back on his beat, who decides to take revenge for his suspension - by delaying Ravi's journey. By the time the distraught Ravi reaches the venue, Sainu's father and brother have taken her away.
Distressed at Sainu's not being able to defy her parents, Ravi returns to his lonely post. 
Shaking off his memories of the past, upset on Ravi's behalf, and worried about his disappearance, Vivek decides to begin his own private investigation. When he lands up at the hospital, he runs into Dia, the personal secretary of the Chairman of the Board. When she learns who he is looking for, she tells him what the Board is plotting, and how she had been fired that morning for protesting the decision. 
It is through her that we come to know of Dr Tharakan's strong principles and his fight to uphold medical ethics. Dia had realised that the hospital-pharmaceutical nexus resulted in the hospital being supplied by substandard medical equipment such as heart replacement valves and surgical instruments, as well as drugs that were past their expiry date. Though she is shocked by the revelation, the huge amounts credited privately into her bank account allows her to ignore her conscience.
Until Dr Tharakan shows her the result of those substandard heart replacement valves. It is a life-changing moment for her - somewhere, someone is affected by her action of affixing a signature on a purchase form. 

But Vivek and Dia are no closer to solving Dr Tharakan's disappearance. Vivek remembers that Ravi had been joined in his penal servitude by Dr Supriya (Remya Nambeesan). 
They track her down to find out whether Ravi had contacted her after the incident at the hospital. He hadn't, but Supriya is able to fill in a few blanks for them...

After losing Sainu, Ravi had immersed himself in work. He has changed from the don't-care medical student to a responsible doctor with a strong work ethic. Until, one day, a little girl is brought into the hospital with a severe asthma attack. Ravi, the only doctor on duty at the time (Drs Samuel and Supriya are away attending to a case in the village), is about to treat her, but turns away when he realises that the girl is the daughter of the sub-inspector who had ruined his life. No pleas from the distraught father, nor Thomachan's admonitions, nor Sister Lucia's appeals to his professional ethics can shake him from his need to pay the SI back. 
Luckily for the little girl, Thomachan brings Dr Samuel and Dr Supriya back in time. The girl's condition stabilises, but Dr Samuel, disgusted by Ravi's attitude, slaps him in front of the entire staff. Furious at the insult, Ravi decides to leave. Only, he is charged with medical negligence and brought in front of the medical board. Ravi offers no defence. It is Dr Samuel who comes to his rescue. Since Ravi had been charged with medical negligence (and not dereliction of duty), and since the girl had been treated in time and had recovered completely, Dr Samuel claims that the charge of medical negligence is baseless. Ravi is taken aback by Dr Samuel's action.
Left with no other option, the panel exonerates Ravi. But this incident has a great impact on him. Soon, the two years are up, and Ravi leaves the hospital for further studies in Europe. That is all Dr Supriya knows. She and Ravi had slowly lost touch over the years. 

Vivek and Dia are right where they started. Where is Dr Ravi Tharakan now and why is he hiding? Why did he operate on that girl even though her parents had not consented? Who will reach him first? Vivek and Dia? Or the police? 

Ayalum Njanum Thammil (literal translation: Between Him and Me) produced by Prem Prakash, opened to critical acclaim and commercial success, and scooped up four Kerala State Film Awards, including Best Actor for Prithviraj. This was a performance that silenced his critics (and there are many of the ilk) and added another feather to his cap of 'different' and unusual roles.
Three scenes stand out: one, the scene after he is slapped by Dr Samuel. The humiliation, the fury, the sheer intensity of his reaction is emphasised by his silence when it happens, and by his outburst later. 
The second is where he meets his father after being pulled up by the Medical Board. When his father (producer Prem Prakash did a wonderful job) offers him a cheque to pay off the bond, and Ravi, grateful though he is, rejects that offer. 
The gratitude of a son who realises that his father really loves him, the realisation that he had learnt the lesson that his father had wanted him to learn, the real affection between father and son - Prithviraj allowed his face to display the different emotions without having to make a sentimental, dramatic speech to that effect. In fact, that understatement underlines his performance throughout. Even when he makes an attempt to get Sainu back, his machismo is never overt. And his emotional turmoil is all the more believable because of it. 
The third is where, after Dr Samuel testifies on his behalf, he goes of  his own volition to beg the pardon of the little girl whom he refused to treat. There is shame, there is guilt, there is genuine repentance, and finally, there is humility.

But Prithvi's transformation in the film is not due to one moment, one incident. It is there throughout the film as he learns what it means to be a doctor, how even a second's indecision can lead to catastrophic consequences, how, sometimes, it is important to take difficult decisions, etc. As Dr Samuel so often reminds them: doctors are not God; but sometimes, they are the medium through which God acts. And that  is a responsibility.

Pratap Pothen is not one of my favourite actors. At least, he wasn't, in the days he played hero. But in this film, he was really, really good as the soft-spoken Dr Samuel. Whether he is letting Ravi know that he is aware of his transgressions, or he is dealing with his wayward son, or teaching Ravi and Supriya what it means to be a doctor, his performance was devoid of the self-righteousness that usually accompanies such roles. His was a warm, gentle presence, that showed you what a doctor could, and should be.
What could I have done away with? 
  • Most of the campus scenes, for one, because it did nothing to take the plot along except to provide us with some laughs. (Some of the scenes were rather ridiculous, actually.) They did do that, so I suppose they can be forgiven. A couple of the songs for another  that were completely unnecessary and not very great either. (Sorry. I know the music was by Ouseppachan, but still, it just wasn't up to his usual standard; and I'm getting rather tired of the 'corrected' voices of the singers. Technical perfection doesn't always make for 'good' songs!) There was just one song that did justice to the plot and seemed necessary to the narrative - Azhalinte aazhangalil, whose montage of scenes effectively underscored Ravi's emotional devastation.
  • A few loose ends in the narrative because you are told of certain things by one of the characters, but there is no follow-up on what is being talked about. So if they were not going to go further in that direction, it made no sense to bring it up in the first place. In that sense, the direction (Lal Jose) could have been tightened up a little more.
  • Two of the three heroines, Samvrutha Sunil and Reema Kallingal, both extremely good actresses, who really had nothing to do. Of course, I'm sure they knew it too. Samvrutha, at least, had two songs picturised on her. Even Narain as Vivek had more of a role. The script is mostly about Ravi, his camaraderie with Vivek, and his relationship with his mentor. And the three men did a fantastic job. Especially Narain, a good actor, who is usually relegated to being the side-hero. I wish someone would give him a decent role.
What works for the film is its strong emotional core, excellent acting from the main characters, even Salim Kumar in his relatively minor role as Thomachan, and the sense of conviction that the script conveys. In the final reckoning, when you are pulled into the story without actually seeing its flaws until you are thinking about it later, the film is successful in what it set out to do. Ayalum Njanum Thammil succeeds, and very, very well. 

 Oh, and that afore-mentioned 'inspired by Red Beard'? Well, 'inspiration' is all it is.  


  1. Ah, so this was the Prithvi movie you'd told me you'd be reviewing! Hadn't heard of this one, Anu, even though I'm a Prithvi fan. (Since I am a new convert - I actually have very little recollection of him from Nandanam - I suppose I can be forgiven!) This one sounds interesting, and emotional drama does appeal to me as long as it doesn't descend into melodrama. Will keep an eye out for this. Now I must hope and pray that I can get hold of a subbed copy!

  2. Unfortunately, though I should be commenting on your competent review or the film itself...the only sentence scrolling through my brain is "Words, words, words, Prithiviraj, yum, words, yum." Yes, I was recently flattened by the Prithviraj steamer, and as such, have little constructive to say ;)

  3. Yes, I watched this on Saturday since we were snowed in, and was half-tempted to post the review on Sunday itself. It is an engaging film, and I think you will like it. I have sent you an email with where you can source this film. :) If you do get to see it, let me know how you liked it. I would be interested to know. *grin*

    As for Nandanam, even though that was Prithvi's debut, the film belonged to Navya Nair, whose devotion to Lord Krishna was the focal point of the film. So, of course you are forgiven for overlooking him. :) Actually, though, I think it showed guts to debut in a film where he was not a conventional hero, rescuing the damsel in distress and riding off with her into the sunset.

  4. Ha ha ha! You are forgiven. In any case, with all the screen caps of Prithvi on the page, I don't blame you for seeing only that.

  5. I am not all that familiar with the Kerala film world. My knowledge is limited to old timers like Madhu. I have absolutely no clue about who is who. so when I saw in my inbox that it was a Kerala film, I thought I will read the review later. The first few lines however intrigued me and frankly I was hooked, I wish I could see this film. Curious to know the end. Excellently written review Anu.

  6. HA! HA! jHow silly of me to constantly refer to a Malyalam film as a Kerala film. Sorry, am not feeling well(so what's new?) was just waiting to crash. After a while realized what I had done and switched on the computer to rectify the mistake. Sorry once again.

  7. Thanks, Shilpi. You can watch it if you want to. It is available on the 'Net - with subtitles.

  8. No hassles. :) I knew what you meant. And you are ill a lot - take care, do. Hugs.

  9. Yes, good movie and good acting. Too many female co-protagonists though. And yes, the college bits are lengthy. But then, in the end another good 'Kerala' movie ;) - Wonder why we only have Mumbai and no New Delhi movies, but then I guess Patna movies make up for that.

  10. Thank heavens they didn't have the other two females falling in love with him! I was very worried when Remya Nambeesan showed up in the hospital!

    I have no clue what your last line means.

  11. Oh! thou doth not worry, I just stuck my tongue into the cheek and continued from where one of your readers left off, by referring to this as a Kerala movie.

  12. I sort of figured that, but I hoped it was not so. :) Idjt!

  13. Aaahhh young dustedoff , the effect Krishna has on women even when it's not the real guy but somebody impersonating him. tsk tsk...

  14. Yes, Arvind was good, wasn't he? He's the best Krishna I have seen since Nitish Bharadwaj in the Mahabharata.

    I notice my husband has added his two bits to this discussion. *grin*

  15. Actually, I don't find Krishna at all enticing. All the descriptions of him - and all (except the Nandanam) representations of him - that I've seen give me the creeps. It just so happened that Nandanam was well-made, and that Krishna was shown as something more than a handsome god with an eye for the ladies. That's why. ;-)

  16. I'm curious - there's more to Krishna than being a ladies' man; what is it that creeps you out about him?


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