There are some movies that you watch with enormous expectations. Some of these bowl you over with the sheer beauty of the filmmaking. Others leave you feeling shortchanged. And yet others make you happy, but make you wonder what that little missing component is, that will make a good film perfect. Payanam falls into the third category. The combination of Radha Mohan and Prakash Raj was enough to draw me to the film. Their earlier venture was quite satisfying and I expected to see a well-made film. And they do not disappoint. However, there are those nagging little details that differentiate the good from the great.
The screenplay is tailored to perfection. The pacing of the narrative, the style, the use of humour in the most tense situation, the sheer tightness of the script…all these and more keep you on the edge of your seat. Not once until intermission are you compelled to check your watch to see when you can get your popcorn. The narrative ensures that no further entertainment is needed. In all such dramas, the depth of the characters are normally open to question because of the sheer numbers of people that you are compelled to handle. When your story requires you to centre the narrative around more than a hundred passengers confined to an aircraft, there is plenty of scope for mistakes. This is especially true in the case of hijack dramas with big stars where the action needs to centre around them. Payanam steers clear of that danger (and of succumbing to commercial needs and inserting an item number in the climax) by choosing to use lesser-known, but highly talented actors in place of big-name stars. Each of the characters is etched with a decent level of detail. As a result, the middle-aged couple on the way to see their son, the young woman leaving her husband for good, the priest, the Pakistani family returning to Karachi after their child’s heart surgery; each of these characters become real people and not merely victims in a hijack waiting to be saved by a hero. And this approach, despite the presence of a star like Nagarjuna is refreshing.
The soundtrack is unobtrusive and conveys the tension in just the right measure. No exaggeration. The smaller characters, although garnering much less screen time, are as important to the main plot as the protagonists. Indeed, at one point you realize there are no protagonists really. Just a bunch of people who are trying to do their best to save a hundred passengers from a fate worse than death. Nobody is more important than the other. But nobody is less important either. The camera work and editing reminded me strongly of Unnaipol Oruvan. Slick editing, and ruthless trimming away of non-essentials have done a great deal to enhance the already tight scripting.
One thing about Payanam that appealed to me personally was the use of humour to ease the tension on screen. Wit, sarcasm and dry humour were the hallmark of Payanam and for me, that worked big-time. I have never been a big fan of Vadivel-type slapsticky humour and this is precisely what Payanam diligently avoided. Kudos to the team for that! Me, being the die-hard Kamal fan seem to compare every non-Kamal film I see with something Kamal may have produced from his stables. This is especially true in the case of my taste for humour. It is perhaps a tribute to the few Indian directors who still swear by satire and sarcasm as a weapon for criticism, that the filmmakers have chosen to employ humour even in the most critical situations in the film.
On the whole, Payanam is a satisfying film. That said, the little things sometimes irk. Like why is Yusuf Khan reading The Hindu in a scene that is supposed to be taking place somewhere in Kashmir. Ok, he is really in Tirupathi, but a local Kashmiri newspaper may have been more convincing, in my opinion. I know this is probably nitpicking and that it is entirely irrelevant to the plot, but these are the little things that go into making a good film great. Also, after all that jihadist propoganda and talk of kafirs, why does one of the terrorists have to be Hindu? Why this obsessive need for political correctness?
The bottomline is, the film is definitely watchable. It is well-made, well-scripted, well-edited and well-structured. It is not one of those films you should watch between several breaks on a pirated DVD. Go to a theatre please! This is worth the effort.