I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go see the Malayalam language Indian film Ajagajantharam, directed by Tinu Pappachan (Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil), over the weekend at the local multiplex. I didn’t have a clue what I was in for except that it was a martial arts thriller. What I received in addition to that was a howling inferno of sound and colour. Ajagajantharam’s best translation of the Malayalam language title provided by Quora is, “the size difference between an elephant and a goat”. This is the best translation Western audiences are likely to get, but it’s quite apt. The decidedly un-Western action flick features an elephant, after all, along with a motley crew of surly, miscreant youths.
The small village of Aranjali is primed to receive dramatists, vendors, and guests alike for the annual festival for the Hindu temple. Jugglers of fire and dancers decked out in costumes made to look like Hindu gods throng the streets along with festivalgoers. There is an arresting quality to the tropical beauty. As the sun goes down on the South Indian jungle villages, the partying continues late into the night, with many crowds coming to celebrate the “33 crore (330 million) gods”. These are trappings mostly to rapidly push our young men onstage, the spoiling violence acting as a glaring spotlight as enmity grows between them.
A group of unemployed young men looking for trouble, or at least a laugh, make their way to the event. A seasoned acting troupe makes its way by bus to the village. A new elephant keeper, who has never attended festivals before, brings a brightly bedecked elephant to the festival. Along with his own large enough ego in tow, as well.
Though it’s different, those who are adventuresome enough to come out to an action martial arts thriller like Ajagajantharam can keep an open mind. It’s a stimulating watch, meant to be seen on the big screen, with the booming audio track, bright, colourful festivities of the Hindu festival, traditional Hindu songs overlaid on booming dance tracks, and an Indian wedding celebration. And lots and lots of partying, smoking, drinking, and dancing.
Being a Westerner, I personally had no idea that there were 330 million gods in the Hindu faith. This movie is a slice of life, a glimpse into a culture totally different from my own. There are explosions and knife fights aplenty, and the deadliest fight scenes that a martial arts enthusiast could ever enjoy. I found myself wondering during the film if the popular martial art pencak silat was the fighting style of choice.
Certainly, I had expected a South Indian beatdown, but the style of Ajagajantharam struck me as being fresh and invigorating more than anything. Ajagajantharam feels like the Malayalam language answer to a prime-era Guy Ritchie film. Even the elephant’s got moves!