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More Manichitrathazhu Analysis


We all know that Manichithathazhu is a classic, and this belief is reinforced after seeing the remakes by P. Vasu and Priyadarshan. To enjoy the original, you have to see it multiple times as there are subtleties, nuances and various clues left all around. Kishore Kumar wrote an article explaining some of the nuances and now here is another one by Ranjith Nair.

Consider this: in ‘Manichithrathazhu’, there is a strong hint that Nakul (Suresh Gopi) is a neglectful husband – sample the scene where Ganga asks Nakul to bed, and he excuses himself citing the excuse that he has work to attend to. In fact, the lovely Varuvanillarumee Vijanamam Ee Vazhiyil number strongly indicates that Nakul might even be impotent ( a fact that is only indicated at in the various remakes by Prabhu’s nuanced performance). Thus there is a strong foundation laid for the possibility that Ganga is neglected, bored out of her wits, and thus particularly vulnerable and empathetic to the legend of Nagavalli. Instead, here we have Shiney Ahuja all the time grinning like an idiot, and happily nuzzling a rather plump Vidya Balan during an incoveniently placed duet.

The music of Manichitrathazhu was very important too, since the the alternate persona was a dancer-singer clearly well-versed with music; she sang and danced at night, after all. The Pazhamthamizh pattu number (conveniently ditched in the remakes, as the timing of the song placement was slightly awry) was not just a song randomly inserted into a scene; it was clearly the the doctor trying to soothe the alternate persona by singing a song in the same raaga as that of the one that the dancer dances to at night (the doctor hears this earlier, and hence he knows the song, so that loophole is closed as well). [Manichithrathazhu: The Unmaking of a Classic]


  1. Ranjith is right about song “pazham thamil..” which many, on first time viewing, thought was a mis-fit for the situation and was inserted only to satisfy Mohanlal fans. When poisoning of Nakulan was busted by Dr.Sunny, Ganga was almost on the verge of a mental breakdown. Dr.Sunny diverts the situation by accusing Sreedevi and locking up her, and starts to sing this song. The song, set in the same tune (& ragam) as that of the Tamil song that Sunny heard from Thekkini, is an abstract poem about a viraha-nayika and Ganga is shown keenly looking at Sunny and empathising with the song. The song was intended to be theraputic for Ganga.

    But I don’t agree with the observation that Ganga’s mental disturbances were caused due to lack of sexual satisfaction from Nakulan. Even though its a nice interpretation, the movie makes it clear that it was Ganga’s lonely childhood in the village away from her parents that caused her mental issues. Once she is back in a village setting as an adult(from Calcutta), she is again reminded of her lonely childhood. This, along with the colorful stories about Nagavalli’s spirit, is what is explained as the cause of her multiple personality disorder.

    There is no such scene where Nakulan is refusing Ganga’s invitation to bed (atleast not in my DVD). Here is the exact scene :

    മാടംബള്ളിയിലെ ആദ്യ രാത്രിയില്‍ കട്ടിലില്‍ കിടന്നു വായിച്ച് ഉറക്കത്താല്‍ മിഴികളടയുന്ന ഗംഗ ജോലി ചെയ്യുന്ന നകുലനോടു പറയുന്നു : “കിടക്കാന്‍ നേരത്തൊന്നു വിളിച്ചേക്കണേ നകുലേട്ട, എനിക്കുറക്കം വരുന്നു”. നകുലന്‍ “ആയിക്കോട്ടേ..” എന്ന് മറുപടിയും പറയുന്നു.

    To me, this indicates that this couple have an active sex life. There is no other scene in the movie which can be interpreted as Nakulan avoiding Ganga’s advances. The song “Varuvanillarumee Vijanamam Ee Vazhiyil” is more about Ganga reminising her lonely childhood in village, aided by her favorite poet Mahadevan’s poem. Giving it a connotation of sexual dissatisfaction is not what the writer/director intended.

    • Yes, there is a scene where Ganga is on the bed and asks Nakulan whether he is coming to bed and he says, “you sleep” and she falls asleep alone.

  2. Kishor – You are right about the song and Ganga not being depraved. As is revealed in the story, she was a lonely girl in her childhood and was under lot of mental duress (the scene where she runs in school throwing the text books, on eve of her exam). Later she identified herself with Nagavalli and transformed into Nagavalli.

    Also isnt that poem “Varuvanil”, a copy of a song from ‘Chillu ‘?

    Speaking of Chandramukhi, Vinaya Prasad who was Sridevi in M’thaazhu, played one of the ‘aunties’.Chandramukhi also had a lot of double meaning dialogues. And it had scenes liberally copied from Aaram Thampuran (the Harimuraliravam song where Manju runs up the steps listening to the song – here Nayan does the same when rajni sings) and Minnaram (the interactions between Vadivelu & Suvarna Mathew, on impotency etc).

  3. Kishor,
    Great to discuss this marvelous movie out here. And VC, thanks a bunch for linking to me!

    WRT the relationship between Nakul and Ganga, I had not interpreted the song that way either. However, there was an interview of Madhu Muttam on a Malayalam publication where he did mention that he had a sitting with the lyricist to insert elements of Nakul’s purported impotency. And I’d beg to disagree with you regarding the lyrics – the first stanza clearly indicates that Ganga wishes for a ‘friend’ / companion, despite having no hope for this happening. Their relationship, while not THE reason for Ganga’s later pschiatric problems, might have played a factor in making her susceptible, I guess (no expert on this stuff!).

    After noticing and accepting this aspect, I also noticed (and I might definitely be attributing here) an akwardness between Nakul and Ganga in the final scene, where Sunny tells them to ‘start a new life’.

    Truly, its all these layers to the movie that makes it a classic.

  4. Krishnan, “Varuvanilla” is definitely not a copy of “Oruvattam kootiyen(Chillue)”. There is no tune-by-tune similarity. The songs have some similarities but thats possible when 2 songs are set in the same raga. One need to clearly distinguish between bland plagiarising and similarity due to same raga-base.

    Ranjit, You are not the first one who has implied about Ganga’s mental desease being caused partly due to sexual dis-satisfaction. If you think about it, Nagavally is the worst nightmare for any married man. Not only is she openely having an affair, but she also wants to kill her husband! So, we are dealing with some very primitive male fears here. And viewers (depending on who they are) may rationalize this situation by giving different interpretations that will pacify them. The visuals shown during “varuvanilla” shows flashbacks of Ganga as a child watching the gate, expecting her parents arriving from Calcutta. The word “priyamulla” can be used in Malayalam in a non-romantic way.

    But any great art form is open to different interpretations. And I would even add that some of the interpretations might not even be intended by its creator! Once created, art gets a life of its own. Infact, I have read a research paper which analyzes the interactions between Dr.Sunny and Chandu(Sudheesh) and draws some bizzare conclusions.

  5. Pingback: Manichithrathazhu Oru Murai Vanthu Parthayo | varnachitram

  6. can anyone tell me the name of hte actor who played the role of mahadevan/ramanathan in the movie manichitrathazhu??

  7. Name of the actor is Sridhar who one time was a hero in Kannada movie industry. He used to do meaningful roles in 90s. Now out of the race, does appear in small screen. He and his wife are trained Bharatanatyam dancers and present themselves in stage shows.

  8. Manichithrathazhu was made solely for the box office, not that there is anything wrong with doing so, except that it loses all claim to a good proper movie. To credit it as a classic would be a gross overstatement, and an injustice to several moviemakers who have made much better attempts at making good films. The plot is too ugly and manipulated for a proper movie, and belongs in the dustbin. Any psychiatrist who does like Sunny does in the movie gets jailed in real life and would get his license cancelled forever. The attestation to Sunny’s proficiency by Thilakan’s character must have made any doctor laugh, even if he or she had not waited for the gross misdiagnosis that is blurted out towards the end.

    For some reason the director/screenplaywright also seems to think that the movie needs Sunny’s bizzare heroics and strange behaviour of the first half to keep the audience engaged… which only means that the director/screenplaywright is trying to cover up for his inability to present a story properly.

    I could go on and on and on…, except that it is not worthwhile.

    The remakes need to be exterminated from the face of this planet straightaway.

  9. Pingback: Nagavalli sound | varnachitram

  10. I watched this film with a foreigner, obviously with the subtitles on. He is Russian. The film was definitely entertaining for him. But one thing that annoyed him was the comedy track of Sunny Joseph. He was pretty annoyed with it. Especially the whole scene when Sunny meets Nakulan, this was Lal’s intro scene. Obviously Fazil added this comedy track to probably filter out the serious/tension part. Malayalis would probably have no problem with this as we understand the charisma of Lalettan. But when you think about it objectively, his funny scenes were very distracting to the whole serious nature of the film. This is one negative aspect that the film has. Of course its a common style prevalent in many Indian films. We always mix in genres. This is obviously due to box office pressure. It’s like a masala dish.

    One thing I can understand from this is that comedy is tough to translate, unless its purely physical comedy (such as Chaplin or Tom & Jerry). What is funny in one place is considered tame in another place. Whereas drama is a universally understood thing. As an example, a scene where a mother dies. This is understood the same way in South Africa, India, Russia, or anywhere else. That’s why comedy films haven’t won many awards.

  11. Agree with James that comedy can be very colloquial and hard to understand for foreigners. But, I think the light comedy track of Dr.Sunny was very much required. Its the psychological game that he plays during the investigative phase. Also the very serious climax of the movie needs to be built-up by having something lighter in contrast in earlier stages. That’s when the climax will have a huge impact.

    But seriously, who should we care about satisfying foreigners in our art?

  12. Agree with James that comedy can be very colloquial and hard to understand for foreigners. But, I think the light comedy track of Dr.Sunny was very much required. Its the psychological game that he plays during the investigative phase. Also the very serious climax of the movie needs to be built-up by having something lighter in contrast in earlier stages. That’s when the climax will have a huge impact.

    But seriously, WHY should we care about satisfying foreigners in our art?

    • Over my years of watching films I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no art in cinema. It’s a business that has survived for 100+ only because it is a business. Unlike science or math, there is no one right answer to cinema.

      Ranjan Pramod has said it right. He recently said this in an interview, “There is no art in cinema. Art is in the perspective. The fate of the film mainly depends on how well people can relate to the story, how well they can identify themselves with the characters,”

  13. I partly agree with James and Kishore. I look at the comedy aspect in Manichitrathazu slightly differently. To begin with I find the movie to be of the genre that makes audience constantly think about the next scene and keeps the suspense till the very end. Dr.Sunny as an accomplished psychiatrist is shown to use his deceptive and quirky personality as a method of psycho-analysis to size-up the family members (suspects) in the house – the humor used gels with the quirky approach of the psychiatrist and is subtle (unlike how Priyan used a louder version with AK in Hindi). There are strong cultural traits in the way Lal enacted the quirkiness, some of which is familiar to the malayalee audience, but the humor as such is relevant to the script and required to the portrayal of Dr.Sunny’s character.

    His quirkiness in the introductory scenes breaks away from the stereotypical psychiatrist and makes the members of the family look at the newly arrived Dr differently – if one does not react normally to a weirdly behaving / quirky person – s/he can be considered not normal in psychiatry. In other words, if you know that you are being observed by a psychiatrist you may try to behave normal. I guess this method plays a major role in nailing down Shobhana.

    I think the humor was essential to the movie – Fazil, Lal, Shobhana, Suresh Gopi and all others did justice to their parts.

  14. wow! i have probably watched this movie hundreds of movie (because of asianet, of course). but i had never noticed this little things, mentioned in this article and a previous article about Manichitrathazhu. I watched this movie a week ago and saw everything as if it was clear all along. thanks so much for opening my eyes!

  15. Can someone explain all of those supernatural incidents that take place in the beginning of the movie? The clock’s glass breaking, the plates falling and breaking?

    I can understand that Ganga burned her own saree, it’s not difficult to do. But how does she break the clock and the plates in front of 3-4 people without them noticing that it is her?

    Plus, Ganga’s face shows a lot of fear.

    Is there any ghost activity implied there? Or is there an implication that Ganga was doing this with brain power?

    I really don’t understand and it is never explained at the end of the movie. Only the saree bit is explained.

    • Burcidi, I think when Sunny is explaining Ganga’s situation to Nakulan he mentions that Ganga was extra “sensitive” to things around her because of her mental state; kind of as if it gave her superpowers. He specifically said that this was the reason that she was able to speak fluent tamil when she never learned it and also why she was able to dance bharat natyam when she never learned that either. It makes sense because we as humans only use a very small percentage of our brains so someone in an altered mental state would be using either a larger percentage or maybe even a different portion of the brain which is what causes their issues. And it’s been studied that our brain actually retains pretty much everything we’ve absorbed through our 5 senses our whole lives, without us actually being able to voluntarily access it. The best way to explain that would be to say that our whole life from birth till present was recorded as a movie and saved somewhere in our brains. This is what our brains involuntarily access when we’re in a state like Ganga is. She may not have learned tamil or bharat natyam but she definitely has heard it or seen it somewhere in her life, on tv or in a song, and those few moments of exposure are enough for her brain to piece it all together and have her be fluent in both. That’s the scientific explanation for whats going on, but back to answering your question. Basically with these so called “powers” of hers she was able to rig situations in a way where she could throw stones and break clocks and pots without anyone noticing it was her. Her high “sensitivity” to her surroundings made it easy for her to know who was paying attention to what, what time span she had to throw a rock without anyone seeing it and from which angle, etc. This also extended to Nakulan; she knew at which second he fell asleep and at which second he would awaken and it was during this time that she would get up at night and dance in the thekkini, and return unnoticed. The scene when Sreedevi comes to wake Nakulan and Ganga because of the house servant feeling unwell, you can see the way Ganga is laying on Nakulan it looks as if she has just come to bed and laid on him a few moments earlier. Also when she wakes up you can tell she was still in “Nagavelli mode” by how she opens her eyes and her arched eyebrow.

      Just typing this up gives me the chills. Nagavelli is one of few thriller characters that actually still scare me. Everytime I hear her name I can hear her “impending doom” theme music from the movie. Such a creepy, suspenseful and chilling score. I love this movie and do consider it a classic no matter what anyone else’s opinion is. It’s the only movie that has given me spontaneous nightmares my whole life but I still can’t go without watching it at least once a year (not including the 100+ times I watched it as a kid). I can talk about it for AGES!

      • If ganga was extra sensitive to things around her Then why didnt she notice that she was cutting a doll instead of the king in the climax The head of the doll was clearly visible to her

      • Thank you for the explanation. Regardless of how those mysterious events took place, I like that the film left that to our imagination. In Bhool Bhulaiyyaa, Priyadarshan actually added a scene showing Ganga throwing stones/plates. I think that was unnecessary… the way it was left in Manichitrathazhu is more intriguing and exciting… we are still wondering about it.

  16. If Nagavalli wanted to kill Nakulan on the day of durgashtami then why did she try to kill him before durgashtami by poisoning his tea

  17. I am huge fan of this film too and regard it as no less than a classic as far as psychological thrillers go, across languages. This is mainly because of the sophistication of the plot and sub-plots. The one place where this tightness and plausibility of the script fails (quite badly) is in the sequence where a pot, a rack of plates and the clock are broken. All these incidents defy any reasonable explanation. Supernatural explanations are nonsense. The brilliance of the film is because it makes the mythic tragic lore all so human, and this business of making it supernatural for one sequence (and that alone) dilutes the brilliance of the film. I wish we could have some non-supernatural explanations (and not far fetched ones).

  18. Hello, I would like to let you know that I have linked to your site from my article:

    Your analyses of Manichirathazhu were very beneficial and I wanted to make sure that I give credit to you. Thank you.

  19. could anyone tell me what the raga of the song pazham tamil is??? also if oru murai which mohanlal sings overlooking the thekkini window is in the same Raaga & where it’ll be available for download…..

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