Director Jeethu Joseph’s latest movie 12th Man plays like an episode from the adventures of popular fictional detective, Hercule Poirot. The film’s set-up, mood and its themes, including fractured relationships, betrayal, treachery and scandals, is indebted to Agatha Christie. Jeethu could have very well called this film Murder on a Hilltop Resort. But, it would have been an obvious giveaway. 12th Man title also works as it adds a layer of mystery, and puts a significant emphasis on Malayalam superstar Mohanlal’s character.
Mohanlal plays the role of a top cop, Chandrashekar. Suspended for beating up a media person under the influence of alcohol, he is biding his days at a hilltop resort, which is set to become a crime scene soon. To celebrate the impending end of his suspension period, he is drinking alcohol in his body weight.
Chandrashekar runs into a group of 11 young people, who have come to celebrate the upcoming wedding of a friend. They call it a bachelor party but the groom brings his wife-to-be to the celebration. The bachelor party 101: never invite your fiancée to your bachelor party.
Sidharth (Anu Mohan), however, has the reputation of being perfect. He is confident that he hasn’t got anything to hide, until he gets a phone call that proves otherwise. In this day and age, people keep some of their deepest secrets locked away on their smartphones, which make for an unfaithful companion. The one who owns your phone password, owns you — it has all your fantasies, affairs, and secrets that you want to take to your grave.
When Fida (Leona Lishoy) proposes a dare, others give into peer pressure and open up their phones. The consequences of this one action are life-altering.
Jeethu’s narrative is based on the universal truth that in modern times, our phones know more about us than a friend of 20 years. He banks on the dilemmas, the awkward silences, stolen glances, guilt-stricken faces and a stream of nervous energy to draw us into the investigation. The innocence and culpability of every character is separated by a thin line. Every time Chandrashekar fishes out the truth, it all makes sense. The things we take for granted, what we are absolutely sure about in our lives are the things that will come back to bite us. Every action has consequences and things we consider negligible, over time they compound and grow into a monster of our worst nightmare.
12th Man is a director’s canvas. The actors have a limited role to play, as most of the narrative load remains firmly on screenplay and editing. It’s a minimalistic locked-room drama, which plays out like one of Agatha Christie’s short stories. The production value looks cheap. There’s a complete reliance on Jeethu’s storytelling skills to keep us hooked so we don’t mind an aesthetically poor production.
The narration only gets interesting when Mohanlal’s Chandrashekar wakes up from his alcohol induced slumber to solve the death of a woman, one of the 11, who is found dead under mysterious circumstances. Till this point, it takes a lot of effort to stay invested in the story, hoping it would reward us for our patience. It does, but the payoff seems a little underwhelming, considering we put up with a tedious narration, devoid of colourful and unique characters that could have pulled us in.
12th Man streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar.