Season (1989) opens with a brief, cryptic voice-over narration by Jeevan (Mohanlal), a handcuffed convict in a police vehicle, as he’s resigning to the idea of another prison term; this time, he’s in for two years. It’s not a Hero’s account of how he got here – it’s part complaint (he’s going to miss the sight of fog setting in over the roads), part acceptance of the inevitable (he even lets out a half-chuckle). There’s no affectation here, this is no plodding lead-in, but with every re-watch of the film, this sounds so right – a casual, teasing opening note to what would unfold as a dark story of drug deals, deception and revenge served cold.
Writer-director P Padmarajan keeps this tease alive through the first half with an interesting use of flashbacks. The recaps loop back to the prison, where Jeevan is engaging Fabian Ramirez (Gavin Packard) with plans for a jail-break. Padmarajan almost de-stylises the action (take, for instance, the gritty climactic fight sequence which is more struggle than choreographed stunt). Instead, he uses raw violence and an earthy setting which comes alive in people – realpeople – who lurk in the underbelly of the beach-town of Kovalam,some dealing in smuggled electronic goods, some peddling “good smack” to the tourist.
There’s this scene in which a man is carefully preparing “the powder” at his little home with unplastered walls as his wife wonders what he’s mixing her turmeric powder with. As he talks about the fortunes awaiting them, his child cries, a cat walks in lazily. Selling the drugs to the tourists, he demands a higher price saying, “I have two children!”. Later, when confronted by his cheated, angry customers, he stands his ground – “This is Kovalam, no tricks here.” This is a film in which cops tell prison inmates, over a laugh, that they’ve gained weight since they met last. This is where death waits at desolate level crossings and violence is as real as heated iron, placed inches from the face.
The late Gavin Packard plays Fabian with a natural confidence. “He’s Satan,” is how Merlin (Leena Nair), Fabian’s girlfriend, describes him. Packard, however, doesn’t play Satan. He has a terrific screen presence and is quietly intimidating; we can see that Fabian doesn’t flinch before he kills but he would wait for the time, the moment.
Jeevan and Fabian are men in interesting moral spaces and their utterly personal motives – this is not about losing loved ones or enforcing vigilante justice – make this a special duel; man to man,kill or be killed. In some ways, it’s the sort of chemistry that sets up the face-off between Balan and Raghavan in Thaazhvaram (1990), another film about surviving to kill, about the need for retribution.
Season is often broadly tagged as a different Padmarajan film, and not always as a compliment; a lazy take on a writer-director whose imprint was also shaped by the range of his themes. The film, perhaps, was also viewed at its time of release as leaning closer to sensibilities of a genre actioner, an unlikely Padmarajan film. Here, it’s interesting to view Season as a sort of non-companion piece with two Mohanlal gangland films that released a year earlier and later –Aryan and Indrajalam, both set in Mumbai and both big, style-heavy star vehicles. In Season, the violence is not gratifying and the star blends in without the trappings.
Jeevan is a fascinating character, unattached, even aloof and his growing wealth the stuff of legend for people on the beach – “He doesn’t have a family, why does he need all this money?” The man has no real back-story – Kanthi (Raju) tells his girlfriend that he might have come “with the hippies” in the 1970s but even he isn’t sure. This is no myth-making that we’ve been conditioned to accept in the mass-hero film. These are bits that perhaps validate the precise, almost businesslike detailing of his vengeance. Jeevan is persistent as he hunts down Fabian and now, without the fear of losing anything, or anyone, he’s out there only for closure. Who could play this man better than Mohanlal in prime form? No, that’s no question and yes, the remake is a bad idea.
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