Malayalam director Amal Neerad holds a mirror to a society ridden by male chauvinism and voyeurism in Varathan.
Backed by excellent performances, stunning visuals and music that complements the narrative, Varathan becomes an intriguing thriller that follows you home.
The story opens in Dubai. Abin (Fahadh Faasil) and Priya (Aishwarya Lekshmi), a young married couple in love, go through two unfortunate events.
When Priya suggests that they return to Kerala, Abin agrees. So they decide to stay at her father’s ancestral property in the hills of Idukki.
Their joy and solitude is soon threatened when Priya realises that her childhood home of happy memories is unsafe for her as a woman.
You get an inkling of the attitude of the local villagers the moment they enter the town and stop at a roadside store for tea. The discomfiting stares of the men sitting outside is something any woman will connect to. Priya points out to Abin the old man among them known for his roving eye.
The fear of being watched creeps into Priya’s mind — while in the midst of baking she turns around to face a stranger peering through the window; the shadow of a man looking into their bedroom door; the notion of being observed that Priya’s feels while undressing in her bathroom.
Neerad gradually builds it along with cinematographer Little Swayamp — the camera close at heels of Priya all the while taking in her activities like the stalkers outside. Adding to it is Sushin Shyam’s background music ushering in an eerie ambience.
Women have an instinct to understand when the glances and gazes are just not right and like Priya they often find it hard to convince others around of the threat.
Priya is irritated with Abin for being naive about the intentions of Josy (Sharafudden), a school mate who had a crush on her and still lusts for her. Giving him company are his two friends. From the field that Priya’s family has let out to Josy — a convenient vantage point — they intrude into her life. What seemed like a worm crawling on the skin grows into a monster to wreck Priya’s and Abin’s lives.
When Priya packs her bags telling Abin that she does not feel safe in his care, Abin’s manliness is questioned. She recalls her father who provided a safety umbrella for his family.
Abin breaks down in the courtyard. That was a brilliant performance from Faasil, one of the many the versatile actor delivers.
Turning cinematic and giving Abin an opportunity to be the man Priya wants, Varathan soon becomes the story of a hero. Faasil fans are in for a treat. Abin’s lone battle with a group of men carrying guns and knives is well choreographed as he intelligently strikes at them using resources at hand.
The film’s strong points lie in the onscreen chemistry between Faasil and Lekshmi, who holds her own well opposite Faasil.
Writers Suhas and Sharfu’s characters are so real, you see people like them around you. Abin’s character graph — how he evolves from a suave man in love to one who resorts to violence when his wife is threatened — is well developed. Abin, who would not even hurt a cockroach, does not hesitate to squash a cockroach in the last scene.
Sharafudden gives a jaw-dropping performance, one that is different from his roles in Premam, Pretham and Aadhi.
Priya’s traumatic scene has been shot neatly and Lekshmi brings out her anguish and anger perfectly.
Varathan lays bare the hypocrisy of men. Some claim to be moral police on one hand and worry about culture losing way to modern clothes and behaviour, but it’s these very men who are a threat to women. And, when it concerns their sisters and daughters, they can be monsters.