Sports dramas that are not guilty of overplaying are few and far between in Malayalam.
Sudani From Nigeria released in 2018 and Godha made a year before that used sports as a medium to deftly drive across its purpose.
The latest in the genre, Aaha, directed by debutant Bibin Paul Samuel has raised the bar.
The film captures the frailty of humankind just as well as the power of unity using the contest of 'vadamvali' (tug-of-war).
It encapsulates a social commentary that succinctly exposes the Malayali community's hypocrisy on the matters of caste divide, hostility toward migrants, and other forms of social segregation.
In that sense, vadam (rope) is not merely a tool, rather a medium to liberate broken souls from the noose they might otherwise place their necks into.
The makers have based their story on a real-life vadamvali team, 'Aha Neeloor' based in the Kottayam district that held cult status in its prime.
Writer Tobit Chirayath has thoughtfully sketched his characters and woven them intrinsically into the plot set in the high ranges where nature decides the fate of its occupants in the form of landslides and floods.
Be it Kochu, the fate-stricken protagonist portrayed by the versatile Indrajith, his crude nemesis Chenkan deftly handled by Ashwin Kumar, or the affable macho Ani played by Amith Chakalakkal, each member of Team Aha is fallible; incapable of pulling themselves out of their misery.
Manoj K Jayan as Geevarghese Ashan and Santhy Balachandran as Mary have chipped in powerful and graceful performances respectively.
The dialogues are subtle and relatable, not giving in to mindless rhetoric for the sake of it. As the tagline goes, it is all about the 'war within' and the makers have ensured to not stray from its purpose.
Sayanora Philip has proven to be a brilliant music director as each song offers a different mood. She has infused her peculiar high energy into the score. The duet 'Thandodinja Thamara..' is probably the finest.
Cinematographer Rahul Balchandran has communicated the essence of vadamvali in his frames.
Credit to the director for not compromising on the 'sport' element to emphasise the underlying emotions. Bibin has guaranteed the 'spectators' proper treatment of the gripping sport even while holding firm on to the concept.
The film is, however, not an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It rather grows on you and will rightfully demand a standing ovation as the final whistle goes.