Chayilyam is one of those slow-moving narratives which has a strong story to tell, but fails to impress due to its shoddy execution.
Gowri (Anumol) is a young widow who, along with her ten-year-old son, lives at her in-laws' place after her father-in-law (M R Gopakumar), an ayurvedic medical practitioner and a village chief, realises that they are the only ones who are left as a memory of his son. However, her entry into the chief's house raises backlash from other village chiefs and members, mainly because he had dubbed his son as an outcast after he had eloped with Gowri eleven years ago. Giving a safe haven to the wife of an outcast person is, however, considered sacrilegious by the villagers. This forces, either naturally or voluntarily, for Gowri to behave abnormally, forcing the villagers at large to believe that a Goddess has taken shelter in her body, further causing them to revere here. This not only wreaks havoc to Gowri's otherwise normal life, but also pits her against a sea of faith- blind and highly superstitious people. Things take a murky turn when she is requested to pose as a Goddess in an upcoming annual religious event, where she has to BE the Goddess herself rather than just pretending to be one, which comes with a list of egregious requisites.
This premise is very interesting, for it provides insight into how certain villages in India (still) follow such rules dictated by idol-worshipping and blind theism. It essentially shows how a woman, in fervent distress, is initially reprimanded for her actions, and then worshipped for the uncalculated consequences of these actions. However, the way this has been conveyed is rather unpolished and dull. It took the makers around 90 minutes to tell this story, but instead of showcasing the hardships of the woman, they often deviated from the topic.
Director Manoj Kana definitely does not fear the naysayers or the religious idiots. Because, the sequences that he captures are bold enough to scorn any religious Johnny out there. The story samples menstruation as a sin, unlawful coitus, unemployment, and other serious religious offences to tell a story about hardships faced by women in a country which is still backward, at least in terms of equality and cultural norms.
Anumol does a fantastic job as Gowry, with her efforts clear as sky. Supporting cast do a good job, as well, but it is the narration that makes this a one-time afternoon watch. And that, too, if you are interested in art-house cinema.
BOTTOM LINE: Manoj Kana's "Chayilyam" is a dull film talking about an intriguing subject. Watch it on YouTube.
Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO
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