It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that Rorschach piqued the interest of every Malayalam cinema enthusiast out there right from the time of it’s announcement. Though they never made any tall claims, with a no fuss- no frills marketing campaign that saw the release of some well timed intriguing posters and teasers, the makers ensured that the anticipation and the curiosity reached a crescendo in the days leading up to the release of the film. It worked obviously because after a long while I dragged myself to the theater on the first day after a long day at work and ended up looking up at the screen from the front row last night and woke up with a sprained neck too but I’m not complaining either. In fact, totally worth it I say.
With a cinematic language that’s new to Malayalam Cinema, or even Indian Cinema, Rorschach sets the mood and tone with the very first frame. From the bgm to writing to performances of actors relatively new and seasoned, everything about Rorschach surprises you as a viewer, and the makers manage to keep up this momentum to the very end, though not totally without misgivings and you don’t really care about those at the end considering the engaging experience you’ve had. At no point does the film take its audience for granted but nor does it resort to the kind of spoon feeding that we are used to in some films that are passed of as complex psychological thrillers these days. The film uses voice overs and narration by multiple central characters on more than one occasion and the viewers are as clueless as the character at that point too. It’s almost as if the character is thinking aloud with the viewer. But at the same time a lot is conveyed by characters through a gaze or a shrug or a scowl. It’s brilliant writing backed by subtle, restrained performances from a bunch of seriously talented actors.
The foundation of the film is without doubt the writing by Sameer Abdul. From dark humor to complex human relationships, he explores it all in his nuanced, layered screenplay. The characters are etched out not in words, but flesh and blood. That’s how real they are. Nisam Basheer on the other hand flexes his creative muscles so much so that his debut film looks like Bruce Banner compared to The Incredible Hulk that Rorschach is. The man goes berserk here. He manages to extract fan moments for the lead actor without hurting the narrative in a film that’s branded as an off beat psychological thriller. That’s where his skill comes to the fore most, when he balances the film perfectly where the film appeals to the purists and the fandom alike. In the same breath, despite the visionary direction and brilliant writing, I’m surprised how some amateurish, logical inconsistencies crept into the film, especially in the parts where the past of the two main characters are explored. But that’s a minor hiccup rather muted by the edge of the seat narrative that keeps the audience guessing right to the closing scene. Midhun Mukundan channels his inner Johnny Cash when he renders a background score that sets the film apart again and right from the scene where Mammooty stands before the house with the hammer in his hand, Midhun almost single handedly elevates the proceedings on the screen. It’s not only in stark contrast to the rustic backdrop of the film but also to his work in Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. Nimish Ravi plays another crucial role here with his visuals, considering the fact that most of the proceedings happen in the dark of the night. Kiran Das adds another extraordinary film again to his list of associations as an editor.
The film belongs to the supporting cast as much as it does to Mammooty, who proves yet again that his hunger for new challenges is still intact. The greatest success of the actor here lies in the fact that you won’t get to see the remotest shades of any of his other characters to date, in his latest outing as the enigmatic, almost- deranged Luke Antony. Kottayam Nazeer makes you wonder why he’s not seen in more meatier roles more often. That Grace Antony holds her own against her towering leading man with a measured performance speaks volumes of her skills as an actor. Bindu Panikker is probably the only actor who could have pulled off this role and I for one can’t think of a replacement. Just the other day I was watching Jagadeesh squirming in his iconic In HariharNagar scenes and was thinking how it was so real and unique in terms of expressions and the kind of skill it took to show it on camera, at will. Jagadeesh here is almost unrecognizable as the dogged cop. The show stealer I felt was Sharaffuddin though. He has fewer written lines than most of his fellow actors but he says so much more in every scene he is in, including one of the closing shots. His exchanges with Jagadeesh were a delight to watch and his reaction in the scene where Jagadeesh’s character slams the door on him proves that Sharafuddin has come a long way indeed, from that funny guy on the bridge in Premam. And of course any discourse on the film is incomplete without a word about that actor who chose to stay behind a mask through the entire length of the film. Probably a first for Indian Cinema. Rorschach is groundbreaking cinema I feel, in more ways than one. It’s one of those rare engaging cinematic experiences that doesn’t insult your intelligence and doesn’t make any compromises in it’s narrative for the sake of the audience. It’s ahead of the times for Malayalam Cinema, I’m tempted to say, despite the kind of exposure viewers have these days, which is why I wonder if it would turn out to Mammoty’s Big B of this decade. But that’s just me. 🤷♂️.