Shutter is an intriguing début film from noted theatre actor and playwright Joy Mathew. The story sounds simple; a married man ends up locked in his own empty shop with a prostitute for a night and a day, but Mathew has developed rich and detailed characters with a complex story that says much about society and the double standards applied to men and women. There is suspense and plenty of drama as Rasheed (Lal) has to face his own hypocrisy and struggles to deal with the possible consequences of his actions. Although the film starts slowly and does take some time to fully introduce the characters and eventual situation, it is well worth the extended set up as the film features excellent performances from Lal, Vinay Forrt, Sreenivasan and Sajitha Madathil along with the clever storyline. Shutter is an excellent slice of social commentary and one I highly recommend as a memorable and thought provoking film.
The story follows Rasheed as he visits his family in Kozhikode during a break from his work in the Gulf. In the short time he is home, he manages to upset his eldest daughter Nyla (Riya Saira) by insisting she stops her studies and gets married, and alienates his wife (Nisha Joseph) by snubbing her relatives. Not bad for just a few days! However his views are not extreme and seem fairly typical for a man of his generation. While his belief that studying is wasted on girls is one that I personally find outrageous, it’s one that seems common in India even to-day. So Rasheed’s bluster to his friends that Nyla will do as he says and get married, even though she is underage, sounds plausible and typical of an Indian father, while the half-hearted objections of his friends also ring true.
Rasheed also owns some shops which are just in front of his family home. He rents one out to an auto mechanic and is renovating another, while in the evenings he invites his friends into the empty shop for a night of drinking. While on a trip to a bottle shop with his friend Suran (Vinay Forrt), Rasheed spots a prostitute Thankam (Sajitha Madathil) and decides to bring her back to the shop when they cannot find a hotel room. Suran locks them in while he goes to find food but fails to return following series of unfortunate events which leave him with his own predicament to solve. The story then follows Rasheed’s moral dilemma as he quickly realises what he has done and what will happen if he is discovered in the shop with a prostitute. To make matters worse he can see his house from the small window, which serves as a constant reminder of his wife, his family and everything he might lose as a result of his rash decision.
While Rasheed goes through his moral crisis, Thankam is a brilliant contrast to his misery and despair. She has a relaxed, take life it as it comes attitude, and her constantly ringing phone and cheery attitude infuriate Rasheed. Naturally Thankam can’t see his problem as she just needs to keep in contact with her clients and her only difficulty is that she may have to cancel appointments if she can’t escape the shop. For Rasheed every call risks discovery and he desperately tries to silence her conversations any way he can. The difference in their attitudes is summed up when Thankam lies down for a short nap, while Rasheed paces around the increasingly claustrophobic room with tears and sweat dripping down his face. I like that Thankam isn’t yet another beaten down woman who has turned to prostitution in desperation, but rather is portrayed as a businesswoman for whom the night is just one more transaction, albeit one that doesn’t go quite to plan.
Parallel to the main story, a film director Manoharan (Srineevasan) is shown trying to tie down dates for his lead actor and secure financial backing for his next venture. Unfortunately Manoharan is having some difficulty with this and adds to his problems when he leaves his script behind in Suran’s auto. This pulls Manoharan into Suran and Rasheed’s world and the two stories blend together seamlessly. Vinay Forrt is just superb in his role as the anxious and somewhat naïve auto driver who doesn’t know how to get his friend out of a locked shop without letting the cat out of the bag too. Sreenivasan is perhaps a little too understated for much of the film, but he provides a more stable and rational character and another different viewpoint of the situation.
Glimpses of the outside world through the shutter heighten the stuffy closeness of the shop, while Suran’s travels in his auto and Sreenivasan’s conversations in a car with his friend provide a counterpoint. Despite the illusion of freedom and travel, neither can solve their problems, while Rasheed, stuck in his small room without freedom of movement can achieve self-realisation and come to terms with the issues he faces, even if his main problem is one he cannot resolve himself.
There is so much I like about this film. I love the characterisations and the depiction of ordinary, everyday people with their conventional concerns. I like the way Joy Mathew takes a simple story and layers more and more complexity to each character to finish with a rich and satisfying plot. The underlying social issues are expertly brought into the forefront of the story and I hope raise plenty of questions and lead to discussions around the inequalities portrayed. The performances are all outstanding and Hari Nair’s excellent cinematography adds to the drama and tension without over shadowing the very human story. It’s wonderful and definitely not a film to miss. 4 ½ stars.