Faasil and Soubin Shahir Image Credit: Supplied

Film: Carbon

Language: Malayalam

Director: Venu

Rating: PG13

Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Mamta Mohandas, Manikandan R Achari and Kochu Preman.

Stars: 3 out of 5

Treasure hunt dramas are usually high on adrenalin, but what sets director Venu’s thriller Carbon apart is the intriguing back story behind the protagonist’s rabid fascination with unearthing gold. It isn’t a mindless quest of a young man obsessed with an urban legend that point towards pots of gold hidden in the hills bordering the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Top actor Fahadh Faasil plays a rudderless hustler Sibi Sebastian, who dreams of hitting the big league in trading. But he occupies the lowest berth in the ruthless business food-chain. His dealings are often shady — think elephants and stolen gems. Sebastian’s life is a grim portrait of someone going through a wretched quarter-life crisis. Money is tight and his friends who are like family are running out of patience at his misdeeds.

The first half is all about acquainting us with the troubled Sebastian, who dominates every frame. He shines in his role as a disillusioned young man in Carbon. The scene in which one of his best mates casually lends him money after yet another aborted business dealing is pure gold. There’s no fuss or drama, but the camaraderie among friends who don’t need to vocalise their troubles is wonderfully brought out.

Director Venu, whose credits include the gritty Munariyuppu, opts for a languid pace in the first half. It’s the second half that picks up momentum when Sebastian ends up as a manager at a deserted plantation mansion and hears about the folklore from the villagers about chests of treasure being hidden in the neighbouring hills. His world lights up once again and he dreams of yet another get-rich-quick scheme.

New characters are introduced into his life at this point. Sameera, played by the vivacious Mamta Mohandas, introduces herself as the ‘jungle-junkie’. Mohandas, who is a good fit as the feisty Sameera, loves to trek and is game to sleep under the stars. She’s a sharp contrast to Sebastian’s checkered personality, but they somehow make sense together. She is a perfect foil to his eccentricities. Both have an untamed, wild streak, making them vulnerable and nutty at the same time.

Cinematographer-turned-director Venu does a splendid job of building an aura of suspense and doom from the word go. Shot in the hills of Wayanad and Idukki in Kerala by KU Mohanan, the beauty and bestiality of nature is superbly captured. The film also boasts of a wry humour. Some of the subtle jokes may fly past you if you aren’t paying attention. It’s no slapstick but the comic undertones at Sebastian’s gimmicks will put a smile on your face. The scene in which he thinks getting into selling ageing elephants is a novel business idea hits the sweet spot.

Carbon is a film that morphs from an angsty family drama to a spooky adventure. The shift is seamless, but you may have to suspend disbelief about how the protagonist, who isn’t familiar with nature trails and trekking, navigates the treacherous forests of Kerala combating hunger, fatigue and thirst for long. Perhaps, his quiet desperation, his naked ambition and his controlled greed was the catalyst required to beat all odds.

It’s a film that doesn’t serve all answers on a platter. It requires you to think and there are several scenes which are borderline hallucinatory. Just like the mushrooms that Faasil’s character ingested to stay alive in a forest, you wonder what’s real and what’s not.

Carbon is a mind-teaser. Watch this if you are in the mood for a thriller that doesn’t tread the conventional path. And remember, being patient pays when it comes to Carbon.