Thuramukham Movie Review (2023)

Rajeev Ravi

Rajeev Ravi's 'Thuramukham' (Nivin Pauly, Arjun Ashokan) is a strong, unsparing 360-degree view of a workers' struggle

Thuramukham Movie Review

Thuramukham Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Collective Phase One,Pauly Junior Pictures,Thekkepat Films
Director : Rajeev Ravi
Music Director : Krishna Kumar,Shahabaz Aman

Stylistically speaking, Rajeev Ravi's Thuramukham can be seen as a companion piece to his earlier film, Kuttavum Shikshayum. The latter was a police drama – an interstate cops-and-robbers story – that ditched easy thrills for rock-solid procedural detail. It was not a glamorous script about supercops. We got to see, step by incremental step, what an investigation is really like. In Thuramukham, we get to see what the building of a workers' movement is really like. Again, Rajeev (with his writer, Gopan Chidambaran) resists simple glamorisation. This is not about the making of a hero who single-handedly made the movement. The film is about solidarity ("all of us will be equal") and thus, everyone is a hero. You don't get the full grasp of this incremental design until you see that the rousing speech at the end is given not by the characters played by Nivin Pauly or Arjun Ashokan or Indrajith Sukumaran, but by someone else, someone who registered, earlier, as a minor player. It's like how a tail-ender might end up saving a match after the star batsmen have fallen.

The story is set against the backdrop of a workers' struggle, which centres on the casual and cruel system of labour allocation at the Mattancherry harbour in Kochi during the 1940s/50s. The workers would gather in front of their masters, who would throw metal tokens into the air – like throwing chunks of meat into a sea filled with sharks. And then, they'd sit back and watch the feeding frenzy as every worker tried to grab a token. What an inhumane system! If you didn't grab a token, you weren't allowed to work in the harbour that day – and it all came down to how strong and agile you were while those tokens were being thrown. Various unions were formed subsequently (some pro-workers and some pro-bosses), and this chain of events led to a police firing in 1953 that claimed the lives of three workers. That's the spark.

With Nivin Pauly and Arjun Ashokan playing brothers on opposite sides of this workers' struggle – i.e., on opposite sides of dharma, so to speak – you expect Deewar-like dramatic fireworks. But Rajeev deliberately de-dramatises every emotional possibility: whether it's the faint contours of a love triangle, or a sister suffering from a serious illness. I don't recall a recent film with a more powerful and star-packed cast: a strong and smouldering Nivin Pauly, along with Indrajith Sukumaran, Joju George, Sudev Nair, Manikandan Achari, Darshana Rajendran, Nimisha Sajayan, and a particularly excellent Arjun Ashokan and Poornima Indrajith. But they are all – in true Communist spirit – a part of the collective. A different film would have amped up, say, the grand echo of a father and a son dying the same way. But whether it's the music or the fights, nothing is allowed to become big enough to stand out. It's almost always single instruments (a guitar, a clarinet) until the huge action set piece at the end: as all the workers unite, all the instruments unite and become a symphony.

Like in Kuttavum Shikshayum, no detail is too small to be discarded: wrestling matches, a bangle that keeps reappearing, a money-lending Jewess, migrants from other troubled lands, or a ship filled with Russians. And the screenplay churns with blunt-force repetition. The tokens are thrown. Workers lunge at them. The ones lucky enough to grab a token go in lines to gather coal or whatever else the ships bring in. Then they return to the token-throwing room to stand in line for their meagre wages. Sometimes, one of them gets angry and protests. Sometimes, there are processions with extremely specific and carefully worded slogans. (Sample: "Who painted the Communist flag red with his blood?") Other times, the slogan is just "Inquilab zindabad." And then we go back to square one, with the tokens being thrown and the workers lunging at them. And again. And again. 

This repeating series of events becomes numbing after a point, especially in a film that lasts almost three hours – and I missed the sharp, vivid character strokes from Kuttavum Shikshayum, or Vada Chennai, to take another film that talked about similar issues in a more mainstream fashion. But again, I think this is by design. The unrelenting (i.e. numbing) sameness also reinforces how many times all of this was done before the big bang that closes the film. Rajeev doesn't just want us to watch. He wants to immerse us in this reality. He wants us to experience it. If we grow numb just watching these events, imagine how much the workers would have suffered while endlessly enduring them. But yes, there are snatches of emotional release. Thuramukham is a movie about these workers, these men - but it opens with a woman screaming and closes with the same woman screaming for a different reason. The grand echo we did not get with the father and son, we get with the mother.

The men are fighting for survival, for their families, and the women wait and wait for a new dawn. (That's their version of numbing reality.) They wait for the alcoholism to stop. They wait for the violence to end. They wait for money that will keep the home fires burning. At the end of a scene, a mother's eyes go upwards – towards the skies, towards heaven. Without a word being uttered, we realise that the gesture is an angry question: When, O Allah, will the misery end? The gesture is also a quiet statement: In the absence of divine or man-made intervention, these women just have to carry on. In other words, like Kuttavum Shikshayum, Thuramukham gives us a 360-degree view of an ecosystem. In Kammatipaadam, Rajeev Ravi took an issue and wove a "story" around it. Now, the issues are the story, and the various steps and processes in them have become the chapters. He's weaving tapestries of a particular place, a particular time. Nivin Pauly should be congratulated for lending his stardom to movies like Moothon and this one, where he is not treated like a star. Hits will come and go, but these are the films that will last.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.