Verdict: A deeply artistic movie that explores the fragility of human minds.

Sanal Sasidharan of Sexy Durga fame brings us another masterpiece that travels deep into the dark abyss about what a human being can become. Chola, made under the banner Appu Pathu Pappu, is produced by Joju George, who also plays one of the leading roles in the film. Sanal, who co-wrote the story with K.V. Manikandan, is also the editor of the movie. Cinematography by Ajith Aacharya is par excellence while the Russian musician Sergei Cheremisinov and Basil C.J. form the music department. Nimisha Sajayan plays the female lead. Sanal has found new talent in Akhil Viswanath who completes the triangle in the movie.

What’s Chola About:

Jaanu (Nimisha Sajayan) has stepped out of her home in her school uniform for a day out with her boyfriend (Akhil Viswanath) who is waiting for her with his Aashaan (Joju George) near the road in a jeep. As she realizes that Aashaan will be accompanying them on the trip, she prefers to go back home. But the boyfriend assures her that with Aashaan, they will be safe. They visit Kochi and Jaanu is amazed at the sights and sounds of the crowded streets and malls. After a playful time at the beach, they decide to head back but soon realize that things have gone wrong at home as Jaanu’s mother has found out that she was away with her boyfriend. Despite her fear, the boyfriend and Aashaan take her to a seedy lodge. Things go downhill from here as the inevitable happens and there seems to be no escape for Jaanu.

What Works:

Chola belongs to the realm of art films that are not made for the usual Malayalam movie lover. Although it explores the socially relevant topic of rape and victimization, the treatment of the subject is completely different from the ones that the Malayali audience is used to. Sanal Sasidharan is a person with his own vision and style, which sets him apart from the other directors in the Malayalam film industry. From the first scene till the end of the two hours, you will go on an anguish-ridden, gut-wrenching ride that seems to go further and further into the depths of the abyss that a human mind is. Sanal had said that he had drawn inspiration from the Suryanelli case that happened years ago. He and co-writer K.V. Manikandan’s journey into the mind of the victim and the perpetrator has produced the most heartbreaking story in Chola. They seem to juxtapose the movie’s descent into fear, shock, and confusion with the shots and frames captured in the able hands of the cinematographer Ajith Aacharya. The top shot of the winding road and the chaotic waterfalls are all symbolic of the chaos in the movie. Russian musician Sergei Cheremisinov’s background score provides a haunting presence in an already terrifying movie. You know something disastrous is about to happen when you hear the violins playing in the background.

Joju George as Aashaan who plays with the two puny lives at his disposal is a class apart. It is a shame that it took the Malayalam film industry so long to discover this true talent. Aashaan is an antithesis of Joju’s Joseph. He is natural as Aashan who seems to enjoy being a brute. With Chola, he again offers us a lesson on how to use one’s body and not just the face or voice as an actor. Nimisha Sajayan’s portrayal of Janaki or Jaanu who is out for a day of fun with her boyfriend is wonderful. Jaanu’s amazement at the wonderful skyscrapers, malls and the crowded town that is so different from the hilly, cold hometown is noteworthy. And as the inevitable happens, Nimisha’s interpretation of a child caught in the hands of the monster is heart-wrenching. Akhil Viswanath, who is the nameless boyfriend, is a new and excellent find. His attentive but thoughtless boyfriend character is a perfect rendition that completes the trio.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The director could have made the movie more socially relevant and comprehensible for the usual audience. Though Sanal is known for his more artistically inclined movies, Chola could have been given more religious and social context so that the audience can leave the theatre feeling satisfied.

Why You Should Watch:

Watch Chola for the deeply satisfying performances of its three lead actors and for the artistic value it brings on the screen.

– By Annifred Solomon