Murali, played with terrifying authenticity by Jaya Surya, is a full-blown alcoholic. The good part of this awful disease is that Murali knows he is ill. Every time someone chastises him he pleads guilty but also expresses his helplessness in stopping himself from drinking.
Vellam is not an easy film to watch. I flinched each time Murali stole a peg. After generations of cinema like Devdas and Sharaabi glorifying and romanticizing alcoholism here, at last, is that authentic film on the malaise of intoxication that shows us what it is like. The sheer ugliness of the situation will hit you in your guts.
In one sequence Murali hospitalized after rehabilitation, wakes up and starts sucking on a cotton ball swathed in chloroform. In another awful sequence, Murali steals upon his sleeping daughter relieves her of her gold chain. Before he can run out and sell it he is caught and thrashed by his wife. Mortified by the spousal abuse Murali climbs a coconut tree threatening to hang himself. Anger turns to hurt when his mother and wife ignore him.
The episode above nice wrings the truth out of the bitter situation while retaining a sense of humour about it. Miraculously, Vellam remains lighthearted when it needs to be even while stripping its alcoholic protagonist of every shred of dignity, reducing him to a cowering spineless shadow of a man who would go to any length to get his drink.
“When you are thinking of marrying someone make sure to find out what his nickname is. If I had found out what mine it (it was ‘Vellam’ a euphemism for alcohol) was called I’d have never married him,” Murali’s wife Sunitha (Samyuktha Menon, a fireball of agony) tells her friend.
Murali’s descent into hell is not solitary. He drags his entire family down with him, especially his tenacious brave and remarkable wife and his little daughter, compromising their dignity while killing his own self-respect.
Vellam is an outstanding portrait of drunkenness. Director Prajesh Sen had earlier collaborated with actor Jaisurya for the bio-pic Captain on the captain of the Indian National Football team V P Sathyan. Vellam too is a true-life story of Kerala born businessman Murali Kunumpurath who pulled himself out of the alcoholic stupor to become a successful entrepreneur. I found Murli’s redemption and the turn-around in his fortunes to be a little too hasty and neat. Maybe it did happen this way in real life. On-screen the level of Murali’s desperation and doom is so intense that he seems irredeemable.
Actor Jaisurya’s performance hits all the right notes, never overdone always right on target. The way he wallows on the roadside his dhoti slipping off his body, lying there exposed and vulnerable will make your skin crawl. What is it about these Malayalam actors, Fahadh Faasil, Nivin Pauly, Roshan Matthews, Jayasurya that makes them so fearless.?
Vellam is a film and a performance that comes from a place of absolute fearlessness and integrity. We see Murali’s descent into self-destruction in all its stark details. There is no place to hide in this honest exploration of self-annihilation. It’s not as if I don’t believe in happy endings. But Vellam didn’t seem the right occasion for it.
Directed by Prajesh Sen, Vellam gets 3 and a half stars!
Image Source: Instagram/vellam_movie, youtube/bijibalofficial
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