Seasoned cinematographer Sanu John Varughese’s directorial debut burns slowly and for somewhat too long but it burns surely. The Malayalam-language Aarkkariyam (Who Really Knows), which is out on Amazon Prime Video, is set during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in India in 2020. During a period of isolation enforced by events on the outside, members of a family travel inwards, weighing their choices and examining their relationship with their faith and morality.

Sherley (Parvathy Thiruvothu) and her husband Roy (Sharafudeen) leave their home in Mumbai to visit Sherley’s ancestral village in Kerala as well as pick up their daughter from boarding school. Back home, Sherley’s father Ittyavira (Biju Menon) makes preparations for the family’s arrival.

A retired mathematics teacher who now tends to his vast plantation, Ittyavira’s gruffness and bad temper conceal immense love for his only daughter and a secret or two. Circumstances force Ittyavira’s hand, including Roy’s business problems and the very real fear of death.

Events flow in an unhurried, organic manner in Aarkkariyam, which has been written by Varughese, Arun Janardhanan and Rajesh Ravi. Ittyavira’s hidden truth is only one of the motors of a movie about a health crisis forcing an interruption in life but also leading to a new calibration of human relations.

This reassessment mainly takes place between Ittyavira and Roy, one a local who is deeply grounded in his faith and the soil, the other an urban transplant who moves easily between Hindi and Malayalam, the city and the semi-rural. However, their altered equation excludes Sherley, leading to a question mark over her role in and feelings towards Ittyavira’s mystery.

Parvathy Thiruvothu is typically impressive, but retreats into the background as the baton of inheritance passes on from Ittyavira to Roy. Sharafudeen has Roy down pat, but the movie belongs to Biju Menon. Both enigmatic and open-hearted, Menon’s Ittyavira crystallises the movie’s occasionally awkwardly handled theme of revelation and warmth in the age of the mask and social distancing.

Aarkkariyam (2021).