With Churuli, Lijo Jose Pellissery takes us on an abstract cinematic journey, quite different from his earlier much-appreciated projects. His films have always tried to convey much more than plain storytelling with a visually atmospheric presentation. But Churuli almost entirely focuses on the same that can also be considered as a downer, resulting in a limited appeal.
It begins creating a mystical ambience, with a poetic text slide, a voice-over, and a short animation. The voice-over narrates the story of a monk who goes into the forest looking for a phantom and keeps wandering through the unsure lanes forever, carrying an anteater on his head. Perhaps we are all different versions of the monk wandering in our own worlds.
Post this short segment; we get back to reality where two undercover police officers are on their way to a dense forest region to nab a criminal. They have their early encounter with the locals, and everything seems fine until they cross a manually built bridge during their jeep ride to the destination. The locals in the jeep suddenly transform into abusive, aggressive people confronting the visitors, post crossing the bridge. From here onwards, the plot of the officers in disguise looking for their catch takes a back seat, and it’s all about the mysterious place, the people, and the eerie forest region.
Based on Vinoy Thomas’ story, Lijo doesn’t spoon-feed or give any clear information about the double-faced residents and their scary conduct. He leaves a lot for the audience to decide and plays it like a game where you have to keep on guessing. Hence, the film also appears to be a mystical puzzle, concealing a lot on purpose. Dominated by all-male characters with only a few women in a couple of sequences, Churuli is also for mature audiences with many abuses in its dialogues, justifying its characterisation.
It largely remains a visual treat to experience with striking cinematography and suspenseful score brilliantly using the natural sounds of the forest. At most of the places, it’s the meditative sound design that adds a lot to the undisclosed narrative that keeps oscillating between the light and the darkness.
Overall, it’s an unusual fantasy with highly realistic performances that slowly grows, creating a surreal feel before reaching the climax. And that’s where it again goes back to the beginning, thoughtfully connecting to the story of the wandering monk. However, personally, it didn’t give me the expected satisfaction because of its various constraints. But then, as a dialogue in the film says, “This isn’t an ordinary land”. So, the decision is all yours.
Title: CHURULI (Malayalam)
Cast: Chemban Vinod Jose, Vinay Forrt, Joju George
Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Rating: 3 stars