(The author, Kishore Kumar, is well known in Malayalam cyberspace through his RagaKairali web site. He can be reached @ http://ragakairali.blogspot.com )
Hindi film industry (I love Hollywood but hate the term “Bollywood” ) is eagerly awaiting the release of Priyadarshan’s Bhool-Bhulaiya , a remake of Manichithrathazhu. Priyadarshan, who is already successful at re-making super hit Malayalam movies into Hindi, was also one of the second unit directors of Manichithrathazhu. I wish all financial and artistic success to Bhool-Bhulaiya, which I hope would be a refreshing change from the typical filthy-rich-people/NRI stories and “foren” locations of commercial Hindi movies.
But the question is “Can Manichithrathazhu be effectively remade into any other language outside of its original Kerala context”? The answer is an emphatic “No”. The story does not sit well even when transplanted to our neighboring Tamil Nadu. The character of Nagavalli embodies the spirit of Kannaki, a vengeful heroine of Tamil epic Chilappadikaram. Writer Madhu Muttam has cleverly revealed this inspiration for the character in the Ilankovadikal chilambu nalki…. lines of the movie’s Tamil-Malayalam duet “Oru murai vanthu parthaya…“. This means that the character of Ganga has to speak Malayalam since Nagavalli is her alter-ego and the core of the story is rooted in the duality of these two closely related languages.
The drama in this movie unfolds into its peak when this switching from Malayalam to Tamil happens. It has to be noted that no sub-titles were shown in the movie when Tamil dialogues were spoken. There was no need but still the audience could experience the dramatic impact of the language switching! Can any other pair of Indian languages be able to re-create this magic? Can any other dance form apart from Bharathanatyam be able to express the high voltage pangs of this (Angry and Sad) Khandita-Virahanayika? It is true that financially successful remakes have been made as Apthamithra(Kannada) and Chandramukhi(Tamil/Telugu) but the soul of this movie cannot be uprooted from Kerala–even if the re-maker is its original director Fazil. I can only postulate this because I refuse to watch any re-makes of this movie!
My second question is “Can this role be successfully enacted by anyone other than Shobana?”. And the answer would be another emphatic “No”. Even though Shobana had been acting in Malayalam movies since 1984, I never used to consider her as a top-notch actress. All changed once Manichithrathazhu was released. Audiences were stunned by her performance and mesmerized by the final Bharathanatyam dance number and exorcism scenes. She literally swept best actress award category at all levels – Film-Fare, Film-Critics, Kerala State and National awards, you name it.
The multiple-personality character of Ganga was a role of a lifetime and only an actress who possesses superior acting and classical-dancing skills and the physicality required to project a vindictive, super-natural heroine, could have done full justice to such a role. I just cannot think of any other actress other than Shobana to match this requirement.
Everyone agrees that the two peak moments of Shobanaâ€™s performance in the movie are
- The scene where Ganga turns into Nagavalli and then back into Ganga upon Nakulan’s refusal to her shopping plans.
- The final Bharathanatyam dance and exorcism scenes.
But I want to draw everyoneâ€™s attention to some of the nuances in Shobana’s characterization of the mild-mannered Ganga which may not be very obvious in first time or casual viewing. If you watch the movie a second time and carefully observe Ganga, you can see that in many of the scenes Shobana has used many subtle eyebrow archings, eye twitches, facial contractions, expressions and mannerisms, accurately portraying the agony and reactions of a repressed of mental patient.
In fact three of such scenes are narrated (and shown again as brief flashbacks) when Dr. Sunny explains Ganga’s multiple-personality disorder to her husband Nakulan. These three scenes are:
- Ganga’s hyper-enthusiasm when she shows Nagavalli’s ornaments to Dr. Sunny and her subsequent anxiety when one of the anklets (“chilanka“) is missing.
- The out-of-control altercation at the temple between Dr. Sunny and Ganga about the anklet.
- Ganga’s reaction when she arrives at the congregation where Dr. Sunny had just busted her plan to kill Nakulan by poisoning his tea.
In all these moments, Ganga is on the verge of a mental breakdown and Dr. Sunny is seen diffusing the tension and switching the discussion by forcefully clapping his hands. The challenge in these situations is to not over-do it since it should not visible at first viewing (which would kill the suspense) but do it with controlled intensity so that someone watching the movie a second time can clearly observe it. The story of this movie is like a puzzle which has enough clues embedded within it to solve itself!
Other similar but more subtle acting moments:
- Scene after the glass pane of the wall-clock is broken during a “ghost” incident at night. Ganga is shown terrified but at the same time there is an expression of relief in her face because no one is suspecting her.
- Scene when Nakulan and Ganga meets Dr. Sunny on the day of his arrival and asks about Sridevi’s diagnosis. Dr. Sunny says that itâ€™s curable since the illness is in its primary stages. On hearing this, Ganga is experiencing eye-twitching and facial contractions.
- Scene when Kunjamma (KPAC Lalitha) explains to Ganga about Sridevi’s divorce and subsequent depression. Watch for Ganga’s walking posture, facial contractions and expressions.
- Scene when Dr. Sunny jovially sings “Oru muria vanthu parayo…” when Ganga was giving him a guided tour of the forbidden Thekkini. Her smile slowly transforms into an angry, irritated expression. In fact all the scenes when Ganga and Sunny are in the Thekkini are sprinkled with great acting moments by both these legends.
- Scene of Ganga watching the Kathakali performance at the temple. Ganga sits distant from her family members and the expression on her face is that of complete self-identification with the love-torn characters of the Kathakali unfolding in front of her eyes.
These subtle acting moments are very difficult to perform and the actress in Shobana should be celebrated for doing an accurate and convincing job at this. Director Fazil also made the climax dance sequence very interesting by showing the real Nagavalli dancing as a courtesan inside Ganga’s split mental space. This gave ample opportunity in this dance sequence to explore most of the navarasas (nine facial expressions) used in Indian classical dances. And Shobana performed this dance sequence beyond perfection. It reveals an artist who is in complete control of her facial expressions and fully aware of how a cinematographer’s camera will project them onto silver screen.
Another important aspect of this movie is that it is a repository of some of the gems in Indian classical music and dance. I can write an entire article analyzing the appropriateness of the ragas of the songs chosen by composer M.G. Radhakrishnan. Or, analyzing the adavus and abhinaya in the Bharathanatyam number choreographed and performed by Shobana (joined at the end by Sridhar). Hey, may be one day I may even write a book about this greatest psycho-thriller movie ever made!
See Also: Manichitrathazhu Review