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Sapthamashree Thaskaraha (dir. Anil Radhakrishnan Menon, 2014)

This post first appeared on Totally Filmi on November 17, 2017.

This post is part of the It Takes a Thief blogathon organized by Moon in Gemini (and fair warning, it’s also a bit spoilery).  Be sure to check out all the entries!

Marti (Chemban Vinod Jose) arrives at a church in Thrissur to request that the priest (director Lijo Jose Pellissery in an extended cameo) hear his confession.  Marti reveals that, after having been caught trying to steal from a temple donation box, he ended up in prison and meets six other men:

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Narayankutty (Neeraj Madhav) – an electronics wiz with his own shop, but extremely naïve.  When two men come to the shop to ask him to fit a miniature camera into a soap box, he happily does so, proudly affixing a shop sticker to the bottom of the box (in order to promote his business, as he later tells the others), utterly clueless about the men’s dishonourable intentions. 

Shabab (Asif Ali) – his visa for Dubai turned out to be forged, and he spent time in prison there.  He arrives in the jail in Thrissur after beating up the man who gave him a forged visa.  The first time the others meet him in prison is when he’s thrashing another prisoner who had been jailed for assaulting an eight-year-old child.

Leaf Vasu (Sudheer Karamana) – in jail as former muscle for Pious (more on him in a moment), and somewhat mentally challenged after having been hit on the head with a kind of long weapon known as a leaf.

Salam (Salam Bukhari) – an escape artist at a circus, in prison after having thrashed some boorish audience members.

Nobelettan (Nedumudi Venu) – a chit fund manager (chit funds are a kind of savings scheme prevalent in India) accused of fraud after getting involved with Pious Mathew, who, along with his brother Christo, cheated the fund.  Nobelettan’s son, who worked with him in the business, committed suicide; Nobelettan went to prison.

Krishnan Unni (Prithviraj) – a bank employee whose pregnant wife, Sarah, was framed by Pious (Joy Mathew) and company in order to stop her fighting for housing rights (including her support for an orphanage).  Sarah is killed when, distracted and upset by receiving a suspension notice from her job, she steps out into traffic and is hit by a car; Krishnan Unni holds Pious responsible and is in jail for trying to beat him up.

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Nobelettan shares with the others his idea that Pious and his brothers stash the black money they earn from various businesses away in a hospital they own, and the seven of them decide that, once they are all released from prison, that they will figure out exactly where the money is kept (oddly, it’s the spacey Leaf Vasu who has the answer to that question), and steal it from the brothers. 

Sapthamashree Thaskaraha is a little odd for a heist film, in that the films pre-interval portion is devoted entirely to the men meeting in prison, and to us learning their back stories.  This is essential, though:  we, the viewers, need to identify with them.  We need to feel that they are, indeed, Seven Good men who are justified in carrying out the heist.  Yes, on some level, it’s about the money, but they’re also seeking retribution for the stuff carried out by Pious and his brothers – we can probably safely assume that there are more victims out there than just Nobelettan and Krishnan Unni.

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In the post-interval portion of the film, the crew sets out to plan the heist, with some help from Nobelettan’s daughter Annama (Sanusha), who works as a nurse at the hospital.  Narayankutty builds some miniature cameras that Annama hides in the hospital offices; they also place them at a gym owned by the brothers.   Krishnan Unni and Salam, who serves as the locksmith who will, they presume, open the safe, discover that the safe that the brothers have chosen is somewhat special, and Salam will be unable to crack it.  The safe can only be opened through the use of three keys that must be inserted into the lock at the same time, and each of the three brothers, Pious, Christo  and Franco holds one of the three keys.  Undaunted, the crew manages to get their hands on the keys and make an impression of each of them, that they use to make copies of the keys.

They are aided in all their endeavours by the fact that the Onam holiday is approaching – the gym is organizing an event for its weight lifters, and they find one of the keys in a display case there whilst the event is going on; there’s a Pulikali, or tiger dance, that allows Shabab the cover to break into Franco’s car where he kept his key; and finally, Marti manages (in the very same church where he’s making his confession) to snatch the key that Pious keeps on a chain around his neck, make a copy, and then leave the chain with an alter boy so that Pious is none the wiser about what has happened.

They plan the hospital break in for the evening of a local church procession, complete with fireworks.  Although their plan is to enter the room where the safe is via an air conditioning duct (with the help of Salam’s girlfriend, a circus performer skilled in gymnastics), they create an explosion in a septic tank that sits between the hospital and the police station next door, in order to cover up the heist.  The crew arranges for a clean up crew for the septic tank, complete with vats – most of these they drive away with, well, the contents from the septic tank clean-up.  One of the vats, though – in a truck driven by Krishnan Unni – is filled with the take from the heist.

The three brothers are alerted to the fact that someone is breaking into their safe through an app on Pious’s phone (you have to love modern technology) – but when the brothers chase down the trucks, all they find is, well – you know.

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The crew eventually rallies at the meeting spot they had previously arranged, each truck and vat turning up, with the exception, they realize eventually, of the one driven by Krishnan Unni.  Slowly, they realize that they’ve all been played, and that Krishnan Unni has escaped with the treasure from the heist.

The six remaining members make an attempt to find Krishnan Unni – they know his story, they have the bag and some photos he left behind.  And one day, Marti and Shabab find and address for Krishnan Unni – but when they turn up there, the door is answered by someone very different answering to the name (Indrajith, brother to Prithviraj, in a cameo).  They see a memorial photo of Sarah on the wall that matches the one *their* Krishnan Unni had with him – but realize that the man had adopted *this* Krishnan Unni’s identity and story for his own purposes.

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The priest has a good chuckle when Marti finishes telling him this story, figuring it was, in a way, just retribution for having planned the theft in the first place. He assumes the loot is lost, but Marti assures him, no, that’s not how it played out.

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One day, each of the members of the crew receives a package:  they open it, to see, on first glance, a set of solar panels.  But the solar panels open out, and inside, each of them finds stacks of bills – their share of the heist.

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It turns out that the man posing as Krishnan Unni used the heist money to start a business – in solar panels.  And in one of the film’s final very clever moments, when we see him making a presentation to potential investors, it’s the one moment in the film that he doesn’t speak (as he did earlier, as does everyone else in the film) in the very distinctive Thrissur accent.

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Sapthamashree Thaskaraha isn’t a flashy, glitzy heist film like you might be used to – but it’s not supposed to be.  We’re supposed to connect with the story Marti tells, and with the various characters involved, and we root for them as we follow their planning of the heist.  Just as the priest becomes engaged in the story Marti tells as part of his confession (they even break for lunch at one point, so involved is the story), so do we as viewers.  Sushin Shyam (from the thrash metal band The Down Troddence) made his film score debut with the film, and his background music is at turns folky and jazzy — especially in the sections where the heist is planned — and adds another layer to the film that already benefits from a smart script and a terrific ensemble cast who truly do embody the seven good thieves of the film’s title in a way that makes us root for their success, makes us heartbroken at the thought that they’ve been tricked, and, ultimately, happy that despite the twist, they all end up with their share of the loot.

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