Kappela (Chapel) is where innocence reaches out for dreams and encounters reality. The innocence is in Jessy, the serenity of her tiny village, even her basic mobile phone. The vast expanses of the sea represent the dream. Everything that happens in between is the disturbing knock of reality. Good cinema has been made from fantasy tales, dark underbelly of mafia, political and court room dramas. But leave it to Malayalam film cinema to pick up the everyday and seemingly banal subjects and weave magic around it.
The film follows Jessy, whose charm takes the viewer gently by the hand and makes them walk alongside her in this nonchalantly paced film. While Jessy is in her idyllic village, the music is gentle, the people affable (most of them at least). When she gets down from the bus at Kozhikode, the music turns sombre, the people look suspicious. She meets 2 men who seem to have been taken from different universes. One appears to be a lead from Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of movies. Other is an Anurag Kashyap protagonist on steroids (or booze and smoke in this case). One is the ‘hero’, other the ‘villain’. But who is which? Therein lies the sleight of hand.
* The review contains spoilers
Roshan Mathew as Vishnu (what’s in a name you say?) and Sreenath Bhasi as Roy deliver riveting performances. Especially Sreenath Bhasi as his character could have easily fallen into the over the top rowdy loser stereotype that we have seen in countless movies. But Bhasi’s Roy is nuanced. There is anger and frustration, but it brims at best, never overflows. There are other co-passengers in Jessy’s journey, but they do not stand out. The father shouts and screams, the mother complaints and sulks, the friend expresses concern and the admirer tries to woo. They pass off their appraisals with a ‘meets expectations’ rating and will move on to the next project in a similar role.
The scenes are simple and yet meticulously crafted. The bonding over riddles, one of which organically leads to a song. The visits of Jessy to the Christ Statue which is the literal Kappela. The introductory scenes of Roy as an impending threat brewing in the vicinity. Jessy’s bus ride to Kozhikode where brightly lit scenes of the village are replaced by dark interior of the bus. Turbulent weather, dangerous turn on the road and the shutting of the window on the bus imply her transition from the safe cocoon of the home to unknown territory outside.
There are few things that hold it back from becoming a great movie. The end is hurried and a tad too convenient. Post the reveal, the behaviour of the main characters switches instantaneously. Like they had been waiting for the reveal to remove their masks. The test of a thriller is that when you look back at the movie, armed with the knowledge of the twist, the expressions, pauses, and dialogues fit back seamlessly. That does not happen with Kappela. That is the flaw in an otherwise well-made movie. One side bar moment in the movie deserves special mention. After visiting Jessy’s house, the textile shop owner’s mother tells him that they will not even send their cattle to that house. His response ‘do not forget that a great man was born in cattle shed’. He seems elated at his smart retort. When her mother asks what the point is, he appears confused and loses that thread. The same happens with good writing sometimes. You start admiring that wonderful line or twist that you have written so much so that the follow up to it is not thought of.
That aside, Kappela makes for a very interesting watch. Anna Ben is the perfect casting and you do not leave her side throughout the journey. Chapels of ease were built to make the place of worship accessible for parishioners who otherwise had to travel far to visit the main church. At the beginning of movie, in a fit of excitement, Jessy mentions ‘beach’ among the list of things that will soon come to their village as it grows into a town. By the climax, Jessy has seen the sea and is now happy, back in her ‘Kappela’. The malls and multiplexes will have to come to her. She is done travelling in search of ‘dreams’.