Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan; Writer: Adoor Gopalakrishnan; Producer: Adoor Gopalakrishnan; Cinematographer: Mankada Ravi Varma, Sunny Joseph; Editor: B. Ajithkumar; Cast: Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Sukumari, Reeja, Thara Kalyan, Narain, Sivakumar, Nedumudi Venu, Murali, Indrans, Jagathy Sreekumar, Vijayaraghavan, Kukku Prameshwaran
Duration: 01:29:22; Aspect Ratio: 1.817:1; Hue: 53.444; Saturation: 0.083; Lightness: 0.290; Volume: 0.121; Cuts per Minute: 5.662
Summary: The plot is set in the 1940s in a village of Travancore, British India. Kaliyappan, the last hangman of Travancore dynasty is dragging his remaining life by consuming alcohol and worshipping the Mother Goddess. The reason for this self-destruction is the remorse born out of the feeling that the last man he hanged was an innocent.
While pulling on his life by boozing, worshiping the Goddess and treating ailing people with the ash obtained by burning the hanging rope, one day the King's messenger once again arrives with the King's order of appointing him for executing a convict termed as 'a killer, proved beyond doubt'. He leaves to the jail with his Gandhian, freedom fighter son to assist him in his job.
As a tradition, the hangman has to spend the eve of the execution awake. When alcohol fails to keep Kaliyappan awake, the jailer starts telling a 'spicy tale' to keep him awake, the tale of a 13-year-old girl raped and killed by her own brother-in-law and an innocent musician boy convicted for this charge.When Kaliyappan comes to know the condemned person he is about to hang is that very same musician boy, he breaks down. The job of executing the convict is passed on to his assistant, his son. The Gandhian, freedom fighter son completes the job. His motivations are not spelt out, but the choice of title hints that the son perhaps punishes the father by reminding him that any of his prior executions may have been a farce just like this one.
The title of the film Nizhalkuthu (Shadow Kill) refers to a popular play Nizhalkuthu Attakatha, adapted from the Mahabharata, about the inherent unjustness of certain punishments. In the play, the Kauravas force a witch hunter to kill the Pandavas by stabbing their shadows. However, the witch hunter's wife finds this out and is enraged. To punish her husband by making him feel what Kunti, the mother of Pandavas must feel, she kills their child in the same way. The film reflects that death penalty is probably in the same vein. We may---like the witch hunter's wife---be handing out punishments that are equally ridiculous under the false perception that we are doing justice, if not being directly criminal like the witch hunter.
Just like the witch hunter's wife in Mahabharata, the son's sense of punishment completely ignores the innocent victim who would be executed. We are reminded that what we think of something as just may not always be so.