Cast: Keerthy Suresh, Lingaa, Madhampatty Rangaraj
Director: Eashwar Karthic
Let’s talk about the positives first. There aren’t many. It’s good to see a woman protagonist battle multiple forces at the same time and, for once, in films of this nature, none of them is a sexual crime.
Penguin, written and directed by debutante Eashvar Karthic, is about a mother, Rhythm (Keerthy Suresh), who lost her kid six years ago when he was two and is undoubtedly experiencing the effects of it still. She is also at her last trimester with her current partner (Madhampatty Rangaraj as Gautham).
A loss of a child can drive a wedge into relationships and that’s exactly what happened to Rhythm and Raghu (Lingaa), with Raghu being antipathetic at best and gaslighting at worst. Rhythm is a curious name for a lead who is under a lot of post-traumatic stress while also being pregnant.
Her beats change quickly, insects induce trauma in her as does the lake where her son Ajay was last seen. She’s rarely in harmony with her own self, and yet, she is Rhythm. Among gaslighting partners, friends and doctors, she must find and battle her own way to get back to the right beat in the song of her life. And Keerthy Suresh sinks her teeth into a thankless role.
In a matter of seconds, she can switch between pretending to be happy and nursing an unborn child while still mourning for a lost one. Her battle is between measuring her love for Ajay and that for the baby yet to come. Her smile betrays the sadness that’s seeped into every corner of her physical and mental self. Her bedside readings include Mayra Ron’s Diary of a Crazy Woman, a story of a mother struggling to give meaning to her autistic child’s life, and Written on Her Heart by Alan Maki, about a presumably dead person still being alive.
Rhythm is crazy. She does things nobody in their third trimester would dare to do but Keerthy Suresh lends her that credibility, her past haunts her enough to make her want to do those things, and she’d go to great lengths to change that past. Not to mention that she is clever enough to do so. The film packs itself with men all around her. Nobody believes her the first time she says anything. Her Labrador, Cyrus, is her only trusting friend. Maybe they should change that adage – a dog is a woman’s best friend.
Everybody wants her to rest, take it easy. There isn’t a single character who wants to sit down and listen to her. This has all the makings of a Kahaani like thriller, rousing you with every passing minute as Rhythm decides to take the matter into her own hands. Sadly, it comes apart rapidly.
Eashvar Karthic promises a lot. An early scene — at the home of her friend Bhavana whose dad has just passed away – goes from mourning to mounting tension as two-year-old Ajay goes missing. Everyone who was crying, keeping to themselves or searching for the right words to say to the family begin the search for a lost child that Eashvar Karthic films in a long take.
The camera follows Rhythm, Raghu and Ajay’s entrance until the sepulchral atmosphere vanishes and the drama is dialled up. Penguin, which was doing so well with atmosphere until then, loses all of it and floats in space with its different parts moving away from each other. Every character not named Rhythm is one note.
Raghu gets a couple of scenes for us to get to know him while Gautham is just there. His acting is not. Everyone apart from Keerthy Suresh is a bad performer and/or gets a bad rap in the writing department.
Penguin is a disjointed jigsaw puzzle where pieces that don’t fit together are attached with a violent sleight of hand and it shows. And don’t even get me started on the dialogs. The dialogs and staging begin to feel contrived, some of the characters are reading out badly edited Wikipedia articles. It’s tough to say if this is the writer’s fault or the actors.
Looking at how Penguin has turned out, it’s a bit of both. Clearly, the movie’s better parts in the first act are the ones filmed in silence. A sequence at the police station in what is supposed to be interrogation is a lesson on how not to stage a scene. The last third is a cringe fest galore and not in the way violent serial killer thrillers can be.
Penguin could have been a different film if it had pitted the serial killer vs Rhythm straight on. It involves itself with too many people, her ex and current partners, her friends who dish out the worst mental health advice, the police.
Maybe Eashwar Karthic was unwilling to make a pregnant protagonist turn full crazy and go at it alone. Does that mean he didn’t trust his own character? But what a film that could have been! Rhythm never needed a crutch. But Eashvar Karthic fashions a clumsy looking one that breaks into two, wrecks his film and does a massive disservice to Keerthy Suresh’s sincere performance.
The Penguin review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.