A barefoot Aiyyappan stands in front of Punnapra-Vayalar Martyrs Column, his face beaming with undisguised pride and reverence. He has exercised 41 days of austerity to visit the deity of the hill shrine, but offers a solid fist salute in front of a monument commemorating the biggest Communist uprising in the history of the State.
Lal Joses 41 is built around this paradox as the film explores the perpetual ideology-versus-the-divine theme in a light and laid-back manner. And though Sabarimala has gained new dimensions and generated multiple discourses of late, the Biju Menon-starrer is set in pre-controversy times.
41 follows Ullas, a comrade and hardcore atheist, who is ready to forgo anything to remain a true-blue Leftist. In the opening shot, we see him as a levitating swami, but soon he discloses the trick behind the miracle and introduces himself as the author of Vyavasayiyaya Daivam (A Merchant Called God).
In the scenes
In one of the scenes he insists that the party hoardings use Vilavedupp Utsavam (harvest festival) instead of Onam to counter Vamana Jayanti, a newly coined name by the right wing.
At one point, he is entrusted with the duty of reforming Kannan Vavachi, an alcoholic party worker, and accompanies him to Sabarimala.
Ullas reluctantly follows all the hard 41-day rituals since a section of devotees are observing them and he represents the party. The duo set off on their long trip from Kannur to Pampa and 41 is all about what follows, giving it shades of a road movie in the second half.
While Lal Jose has done a decent job in navigating the story without any self-sabotaging tedium, the screenplay by P.G. Prageesh fails to elevate it to a more engaging level. There is no balance when it comes to the satire part and the film has few moments that evoke freewheeling hilarity.
While the script lacks the candour of Sandesham or Arabikkatha, the dialogues are interspersed with not-so-innocent jibes and insults, all aimed at one direction. The film also tries to portray the caste-based social hierarchy in a forceful and least-subtle manner.
The narrative is set in a party village in Kannur, which is well on its way to becoming an accredited clich in Malayalam cinema. And the film also has all the oft-repeated tropes, including the parippuvada at party meetings and casual references to political killings. The other side also gets their due reel time whenever the camera zooms into Rakhis and saffron dhotis.
Biju Menon simply behaves in a role that fits him like a glove, while newbie Saranjith almost steals the show. He flawlessly mirrors the body language of a struggling alcoholic and brings a totality to his arc without much effort.
Nimisha Sajayan is a natural, but the actor definitely needs a break from homely, no-makeup roles.
S. Kumars cinematography is one positive factor that adds some depth to the narrative while the film is in need of a little more trimming.
41 is a film bogged down by sloppy writing which leaves it a notch below genuine political satires.