He places his plate at a certain angle on the dinner table, has different footwear for different rooms of the house and wears a surgical mask on his way to work. He cannot tolerate the slightest mess and uses the bathroom every day at a certain hour. Meet Harikrishnan from Malayalam film North 24 Kaatham, played to perfection by Fahadh Faasil.
Harikrishnan, who lives with his parents and brother, has a family who is supportive and understanding of his obsessive compulsive traits. They have learnt to live with his quirks and aloofness. For the most part, Harikrishnan keeps to himself and is content in his world. He can also be incisively curt if his space is intruded upon. While he is not as intolerable as Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall from As Good As It Gets, working with Harikrishan is no walk in the park. We see his colleagues constantly grumbling and ridiculing him. That he is liked by the boss because he is brilliant at his work only makes it worse for them. He even gains a reputation of sending co-workers crying. His nicknames range from Lord Hari to Appan (Father). They exact their revenge when Harikrishnan is sent, aided in part to their plotting, to Trivandrum to attend a conference. Needless to say, he is averse to travelling or anything that upsets his routine.
Debutant director Anil Radhakrishnan Menon, who has also written the film, uses the familiar plot device of a journey to show his protagonist's character development and to bring three very different people together through circumstance. Harikrishnan is on the train to Trivandrum when one thing leads to another and he has to undertake a trip from Paravur near Kollam in the south to Kozhikode in north Kerala on a hartal day with two strangers, Gopalan and Narayani. As everyone in Kerala knows, staying indoors is your best option when a hartal has been announced. The three have to use skill, wit and tact to get to their destination. Gopalan, a retired schoolteacher and a Communist party worker is essayed gracefully by Nedumudi Venu. He is the kind of gentleman you want to hear interesting tales from. Narayani, a social worker, is portrayed confidently by Swati Reddy. Narayani is upbeat, ever helpful and self-assured, without slipping into the cliched 'bubbly young girl' image thankfully.
In interviews, Menon has said many of Harikrishnan's habits are his own. This probably explains the film's strength which lies in its sensible characterisation, especially that of Harikrishnan. The script builds on his nuances and mannerisms and interaction with others to give us a well fleshed out person. From an introduction to Harikrishnan's elaborate morning ritual to showing his uneasy relationship with water, to depicting a terse but almost comical relationship with his father, the script does full justice to the character. Just as the viewer feels he/she has known Harikrishnan all along, the film surprises us in tiny measures with his unpredictability. It is the particulars and the minute details that stay with the viewer long after the credits roll.
Towards the end of the film, Narayani asks our protagonist, "Have you always been like this? This guardian of cleanliness?" In response, Harikrishnan breaks into a smile for the first time. By this point though, he has already charmed his way into the viewer's heart.
Annie Philip is an independent journalist based in Mumbai