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Appan movie review: A Movie Tale about Ancestral Sin

As a father-suffocating son, Sunny Wayne gives a career-defining performance. He helps Maju bravely depict a horrific image of toxic masculinity alongside his amazing co-stars.

Cast includes Drupad Krishna, Radhika Radhakrishnan, Sunny Wayne, Ananya, Alencier Ley Lopez, Pauly Valsan, Grace Antony, and Geethi Sangeetha.

Director: Maju

Language: Malay

A man can be heard singing loudly and laughing aloud over the dead silence in the rest of the house as the curtain rises on filmmaker Maju's Appan (Father). It's dawn, and the only other occupants of that house awake are a man silently getting ready for work and a woman.

For a moment, that obtrusive voice reminds me of the bedridden grandfather from K.G. George's Irakal (1985), laying unnoticed in a room of his big house, his mind clouded by old age, ill health, and perhaps by his irrelevance, yelling frantically for attention. Just briefly.

Alencier Ley Lopez's Itty shouts as well in Appan. However, in contrast to the patriarch in Irakal, this old guy hollers—and not out of desperation—in order to curse, belittle, and humiliate his wife Kuttyamma (Pauly Valsan), son Njoonju (Sunny Wayne), daughter-in-law Rosy (Ananya), other family members, and even the majority of guests. Though below the waist paralysed, he is neither helpless nor mistreated.

Itty carefully combines emotional abuse with the prospect of leaving his substantial estate to someone else in order to hold his family in a vice-like grip.

It is common to wonder, "Why didn't she leave?" in a culture that seeks ways to blame women for the violence they experience in intimate relationships. Although Kuttyamma is held accountable by at least one character in Appan for tolerating Itty, we also see a gender role reversal and discover the solution to the question why doesn't he go.

Njoonju experienced the psychological stress of growing up in a violent household as a child. Even as an adult, he continues to be the focus of his father's insults and the rumours that he too might develop into an Itty in the future. So why does Njoonju choose to stay with Itty?

The movie Appan explores the power that abusers have over their victims in a variety of relationships, including marriage, parenthood, and even "romantic" ones, as well as how patriarchy gives men control over both their male progeny and female relatives.

Maju (who previously directed French Viplavam) and R. Jayakumar have written a minimalist narrative that only partially reveals the histories of the main individuals and just some of Itty's wrongdoings till the very end. Itty is a dreadful person who is universally despised in the community and by his family, and that is the one thing that is immediately clear.

Never leaving the area surrounding this house, the action. Despite taking place in a small space, Appan maintains its audience's interest until the final shot, which is a testament to the writing's potency, Dawn Vincent's music's subtly menacing quality, and the cinematographers Pappu and Vinod Illampally's command of the subject. The addition of a fresh character changes the dynamic every time the movie appears to be stretching itself a little.

As conversations continue to centre on everyone's desire for Itty to pass away, Appan initially creates the sense that it will be parody. Though the first of them seems particularly out of place in hindsight, the script is unable to maintain the tone of those early discussions, and the movie becomes increasingly depressing until it becomes clear that Appan is an unapologetic portrait of familial misery rivalled in Malayalam cinema in 2022 by the hero's despair in Paka (River of Blood).

The main characters and two additional, the sex worker Sheela and her daughter Moly (played by Radhika Radhakrishnan and Grace Antony, respectively), are brilliantly written and portrayed. Naturally, it is ironic that Alencier was chosen to play a lead in a movie about how tolerant a patriarchal culture can be of male obnoxiousness. In the public and film industry's memories, MeToo today seems like a distant past.

Despite their restrictive environment, Appan's principal protagonists are everything but stereotypical movie characters.

However, in Appan, as in 2021's The Great Indian Kitchen, we are shown the potential for warmth between two such women, in Kuttyamma and Rosy's love for one other. Indian society characterises mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships as being inherently antagonistic. We see an alternate scenario developing here as well, as mutual suffering leads to empathy growing between women for whom it would be natural to be at odds with each other. Kuttyamma lashes out at women with whom Itty had affairs, and in one instance, Njoonju questions her for misdirecting her fire, which he feels should be directed at Itty alone.

Sheela and Njoonju are the two less prevalent characters in Appan. Both Sunny Wayne and Radhika Radhakrishnan excel in their respective parts.

The parent-child bond is romanticised by Indian culture and media, but Appan depicts a reality that is largely ignored by both: the reality of a tense parent-child relationship and the suffering of elder care when it is forced upon children by social conditioning and/or a lack of choice, even if a parent is a nasty piece of work. It takes guts to de-romanticise the appan of a family and expose him for the monstrosity that he is, as Maju does in this movie, given how mainstream Indian cinema continues to exalt toxic masculinity and dictatorial fatherhood.

Minor spoilers follow in this paragraph. Njoonju gets the chance to watch other people kill Itty on several occasions. Whether a viewer's answer to that option is motivated by human instinct, a misguided or confused sense of responsibility, his conscience, or training depends on the viewer's perspective. Only a scene in which Njoonju defends his father at great personal risk and another scene in the epilogue, in which he shows genuine affection toward Itty, did I find myself lacking in faith in Njoonju's ability to capture the human condition.

Sunny Wayne has made some courageous decisions over the past few years, including playing a confused police officer in Kuttavum Shikshayum and the conflicted husband of a lady who seeks an abortion in Sara's. As Njoonju, he gives a performance that will go down in history, embodying the suffocation of the character in every muscle of his body, his waining voice, and his sluggish demeanour. Maju bravely depicts the horrifying manipulation of a hateful, entitled, debauched father and the depravity of those he dominates with Sunny and the rest of the outstanding ensemble on his side.

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

Appan is streaming on SonyLIV

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