In 2021, I was introduced to Fahadh Faasil as the anti-hero of the crime drama Joji, and perhaps that’s the movie that introduced me extensively to Malayalam cinema. Joji was inspired by Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare and was directed by Dileesh Pothan and fantabulously written by Syam Pushkaran. Interestingly, we have the above three producing Thankam (Gold).
The film begins with a montage that introduces the audience to the intricacies of Thrissur’s gold industry. The montage also establishes the tone of the film, which is both divine and perplexing but unmistakably about an indefinite and uncertain risky business of some kind.
After the song montage, you will notice the slice-of-life cinema alongside friendship taking its shape. You are now not just an audience. But also part of the societal milieu introduced to you by the directors. You are breathing the same air the characters are breathing. So you relate to them as you would relate to your neighbor. That being said, we never know what is happening in our neighbor’s head, do we? The neighbor is a distant relation. In fact, how much do we know about our family, relatives, and friends? Towards the end of Thankam, we may be left overwhelmed, but that’s the reality of life.
From start to finish, Kannan (Vineeth Sreenivasan), the working-class hero, dominates the scene, whether he is alive or dead. He controls the situation and is portrayed as a spiritual person carefully executing his responsibilities of the Thrissur’s gold trade. Kannan is the ‘gold rider’ who transports the ornaments to jewelers across Mumbai with utmost care. In exchange, he receives biscuits made of raw gold coins, which are then turned into ornaments by his friend and associate, Muthu (Biju Menon).
Trouble starts when Kannan convinces Muthu and Bijoy (Vineeth Thattil David), their other partner, to accompany him to Coimbatore on a business-cum-enjoyment trip. He promises them great Tamil Nadu food and sex workers to satisfy their sexual needs.
Kannan takes Muthu’s car. But he accidentally leaves the car keys behind. Then the encounter with the police at the state borders begins. All of a sudden, we are introduced to the crime linked to this trio. We are then introduced to police officer Jayanth Sakhalkar who cannot be messed with. Thankam literally gets lost introducing to us Kannan and Muthu and their friendship.
You notice the camaraderie between Kannan and Muthu. However, the directors seem to have ignored the fact that the audience knows too little about the Thrissur Gold Industry. Or did they want to inform us only that much? But the secretiveness of Kannan’s activities cannot be bailed out when the information on the industry is kept hidden. Nevertheless, that aspect is taken care of by the other active and capturing realism of the story.
All of the characters have their corrupt stories to tell. Whether it is the supposedly law-abiding cop or the civilians who ought to be manifesting reverence to the laws and regulations about them. The policeman takes their gold chain bribe. The three monkey replica friends are fishy, icky, and creepy around women, and their vocabulary is questionable. However, none of this is made humorous but rather political.
Language or vocabulary, as I mentioned earlier, has to be noted in the movie as the directors choose not to exploit any language as foreign and to be fancied. But they have logically made the character choices who would authentically utilize the languages of their choice and even not attempt to barge into a language that they aren’t familiar with. None is shown as against any language or forced actually to know the Hindi language, which earlier films have portrayed. Or, generally, is the stereotype based on which other assumptions hang loose.
Each of the stunning characters, despite the emotions they had to harbor, has taken the onus to present exact and relatable persons from the leads to the lesser screen time actors. The women characters could still have more screen presence. Although it is not required for the plot, Malayalam cinema should think critically about its female leads and give them a chance and representation in the mainstream.
Thankam, nevertheless, doesn’t hurt you to be a thriller. It is the most relaxed version of a thriller I have watched in recent times. It is a perfect ensemble with a perfect message at the end of it all. The filmmaker well represents the sociocultural complexities, as is the gold used as an example.