Ace Malayalam director Lijo Jose Pellisery, who has ensured resounding box-office successes by narrating the stories of the villages of Kerala's high ranges in his earlier movies such as 'Angamaly Diaries', 'EeMaYu' and 'Jallikettu', has unspooled yet another movie set in the high ranges, and it has equal doses of mystery, humour and fantasy.
The director, however, seems to have set a standard for himself with a distinctive style of filmmaking and there are shades of 'Jallikettu' in some shots of the movie, and the deep wild and misty forests show certain resemblances.
The idea of 'Churuli' comes from the short story 'Kaligeminnarile Kuttavalikal' by Vinoy Thomas, one of the most brilliant writers in contemporary Malayalam literature, and is almost an adaptation of the story but for the elements of fantasy that the director introduces into the film.
Two policemen, Antony (Chemban Vinod Jose, who co-produced the movie ) and Shajeevan (Vinay Forrt), are in pursuit of a criminal in a long-pending case (LPC) and they cross a bridge and reaches a place that seems to exist in a different space altogether. Both the policemen are in disguise.
The movie revolves around a toddy shop, which is also a makeshift church and leads the viewer into a makeshift world where there is an element of mystery.
The central idea of the film seems to be of history repeating itself and one of the policemen, Shajeevan, says that he seems to have been living in the village for ages even though he had stepped into it just a day earlier.
The similarity with 'Jallikettu' is in the pace and mood of the movie, as raucous ribaldry is common to both. Women, as in the case of 'Jallikettu', do not have much of a role in the movie, even though the Malayalam film industry has been experimenting with woman-centric movies such as 'Great Indian Kitchen'. Nonetheless, the movie charms with excellent performances by Chemban Vinod and Vinay Fortt.
'Churuli' commences with a man from the dominant Namboothiri caste going out in search of a 'perumadan', or a phantom, but unknown to him, the 'perumadan' was in the basket he was carrying.
The film has its fun moments, doses of fantasy and scary scenes, but there seem to be no straight answers for the viewers as they get acquainted with the strange behaviour of the people of Churuli.
The driver of the jeep who takes the policemen to Churuli is polite and expressive as also the other fellow travellers, but when they cross a particular bridge, the manner of the people changes and they become roguish and overly brash.
The toddy shop is run by a foul-mouthed person played beautifully by Jaffer Idukki and interestingly, the two policemen also change their behaviour upon reaching Churuli.
The movie is all about exposing the hypocrisy behind the mask of the civilised world, but there are times when it seems the director has lost the plot.
The camera work by Madhu Neelakandan is endearing and the screenplay of S. Hareesh is in sync with the story by Vinoy Thomas. As a director, Lijo Jose Pellisery, however, has to shrug off the baggage he has been carrying of 'Jallikettu'.
Still, 'Churuli', though at times it does meander, works because of its tight script, brilliant camerawork and flawless acting by Chemban Vinod Jose, Vinay Forrt, Jaffer Idukki and Joju George.