Of the very few thrillers from last year, is Garudan (2023) a Malayalam film. The directorial debut of Arun Varma and made by Listin Stephen, Garudan is now the talk of the town. It hit the theatres last November gathering positive responses due to its captivating thriller mode, so different from many of the recent releases especially in South Indian films.
The film also becomes unique in its conscious choice to refrain from the gory depiction of assault or violence but it never loses its effects. The title literally translates as ‘eagle’, perfectly fitting as an epithet for both the protagonist, Harish Madhav as well as the antagonist, Nishanth Kumar. Like the resemblance in their epithets both the characters are similar in their genius and motifs.
Style of narration in Garudan
The presentation pattern in Garudan used includes both chronological narration and flash back to the major events. The back story, involving the sexual assault of a young college student, provides further momentum for the events taking place after many years in the life of retired investigation officer Harish Madhav. The movement of the story follows a uniform pace until the middle portion where the lag sets in. But the brilliant performance of the lead actors never lets it take the film down, rather it aids in keeping the audience in the guessing phase assuming who might be wrong.
After the middle portion comes the most brilliant and breath-taking moments like the hunter-prey chase of Harish and Nishanth keeping the audience in tight grip even to the close of the film. The appropriate use of background score is also an additional element mainly contributing to the unexpected twists in the story. The scriptwriter has also utilised many tactics to keep the audience believing the plot as it is, before giving them the ultimate shock.
Suspense and villainy in Garudan
The antagonist in Garudan, Nishanth Kumar, seems to be a person with the ultimate clean chit until his mask is lifted. The character, penned by the scriptwriter as well as the actor Biju Menon who breathed life into the character, are a wild and rare combination in the film giving it a certain charm.
The suspense around Nishanth Kumar is formed after intense contemplation around the fact that he appears too decent and innocent and it leads to finding the truth about his case. His long wait, planning and law degree which help him extract his revenge add up to the psychopathic behavior in him. This completely reverses the predator victim roles and turns the plot into the most interesting one.
Biju Menon is an exemplary actor but seen too often in good or grey roles, never as such a hardcore psychopath. This itself was a shock to the audience. Moreover his depiction of the psychopath behavior in Nishanth is something that no audience would ever forget from the film.
The gravity of Biju Menon’s acting is equally balanced and added up by Harish Madhav, played by the veteran actor Suresh Gopi. Though Suresh Gopi was and is often seen in police roles, his Harish Kumar is the old lion with lost teeth, after his retirement from power and political hold. In this sense, Harish was also a fresh character for Suresh Gopi.
As a maestro, Suresh Gopi has not forgotten to include the follies and frustrations owing to age as faced by any retired person wishing to enjoy a normal life of happiness with their family. Many times in the film, Harish Madhav seems to have been reduced to that old, confused hypocrite stereotype who cannot find a way out and tries to slowly believe that he himself went wrong somewhere in the investigation. But despite all this, Harish Madhav retains his standard and rigor as a police officer which always kept him going through puzzling circumstances. He also gladly confirms that it is his personality as a police officer that comes to his guard even at the crucial juncture with Nishanth Kumar, hence he always says, ‘Once a cop, always a cop’.
Both the characters of the protagonist and antagonist in Garudan strongly fight and defend each other in the most appreciable way. Instead of reducing itself to cheap drama that often brings undesirable impact upon the non-involving parties, the narrative has retained its standard in warring intellectually. This again adds to the suspense elements since the viewers find it the most difficult to predict the way in which the next move is initiated.
Even though a few minutes before the ultimate suspense is completely revealed itself before the audience they could guess the turn, but not the question of why and how. The classic moment in the film comes in then, with Nishanth Kumar confessing his psychic pleasure in his manneristic way.
Of the few many Malayalam thrillers, Garudan (2023) doubtlessly deserves a special place. It has made use of the many talented minor and major actors amplifying the various moments in the story like the character of Salam Kayperi by Jagadish, Adv Thomas Iype by Siddique, Sreedevi by Abhirami, etc.
Garudan’s choice to avoid the use of any scenes depicting direct violence is also showing the caution and calibre of the director and scriptwriter in traversing through the mental scape of the viewers and making use of only those elements that need to create the gory impact. This move is commendable in a time when many other script writers and directors never miss this opportunity to visualise violence and bloodshed, as if they think it is one of the most significant requirements to elicit the catharsis.
The time and the energy exhibited by the characters in immersing into the very bottom of the plot, make the audience feel the life of it. Leaving out the lag in the middle created by the turn of events at the interval, the film remained entertaining. Altogether, the film has made an irrevocable impact on the audience, leaving them gaping at the end and marveling at the excellent execution of the various dimensions of the film. Remarkably enough, it fits into that category of cinematic literature that can be grouped as a model to learn and understand the making of sensitised thrillers.