Travel Travails

Travel Travails

Imagine that you live in a remote suburb of Trivandrum.

For all practical purposes, it is in the middle of nowhere. There is no bus stop and no self-respecting auto driver will go there. You have to walk 1.5 kilometers south west to reach the nearest bus stop, from where you have a direct bus to college at 8:40 am. If you miss that, you will have to get on a series of buses, clinging on for dear life on the foot board. So the direct Veekkay bus is your lifeline.

One Monday, you are late. Despite having jogged all the way, you miss the bus by a wide margin. On Tuesday, you leave the house ten minutes early, determined to get the bus; but just as you reach halfway, you remember you have left your purse behind and rush back. You locate the purse in a jiffy but find it empty; you bang on the bathroom door, where amma has conveniently disappeared, and obtain the necessary cash. By the time you get out, you are no longer early (to say the least). You run all the way with your satchel bouncing up and down, sporadically smacking your bottom whenever it feels you are slowing down. You reach the bus stop just in time…to see the bus gliding away like a swan.

On Wednesday, you get out of your house twenty minutes early, after carefully checking that you have all the necessary cash and assignments in submittable condition, and walk at a leisurely pace to the bus stop. You can’t help feeling a teeny bit smug because you just know in your bones that today is your day. But just as you pass Bhagat Singh lane, you run into a family friend who insists on inquiring after the welfare of all your family members and describing his son’s many coups at a hair oil company in Chicken, Alaska. After ten minutes of looking pointedly at your watch and shuffling from foot to foot, you give up all hope and stand there resigned to your fate.

On Thursday, you leave forty minutes early so as to allow time for unexpected delays. But no obstacles come your way and you reach the bus stop at 8:25am. At least four buses going in your direction pass that way, but you smirk at them, secure in the knowledge that the Veekkay bus that will drop you off right in front of the college gates is coming up. 8:40am comes and goes…then 9. A bald man at the bus stop informs you that the bus you are waiting for has had a puncture and is in the workshop. You fling yourself on the dusty ground and weep.

On Friday, you leave the house at dawn, much to the annoyance of everybody else in the house. Miraculously, you get the bus. Your joy knows no bounds, as you hand a coin to the conductor and say triumphantly, “One ticket to Pappanamcode!”

He gives you an irritated look and says, “Didn’t you read the board before getting in? The route has been changed…this bus now goes to Museum.”

[I came across this piece on my old blog. It was written based on real life incidents in March 2006, in the days before Uber. I tend to dislike most of what I’ve written in the past, but this was an exception.]

 

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.

 

Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.

 

Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .

 

Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.

 

Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.

 

Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.

 

Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair

 

I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.

 

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Search for ‘Innale mayangumbol’ on Google, and this is the first result that comes up. The song from the movie Anueshichu Kandethiyilla in the golden voice of Yesudas. It has 238,790 views as of today and 462 Likes. Certainly well-deserved, and I would have given it a thumbs up too if I hadn’t come across this by accident: the original song sung by the music director himself, MS Baburaj.

This little-known video has a grand total of 484 views and 3 Likes. But it has been haunting me since the day I heard it first.

The story of MS Baburaj has always fascinated me. His rise from an orphan singer in trains to a musical stalwart, his colourful personality, the music that flowed down the streets of Kozhikode, the days as a wedding singer to eke out a living, the friend circles that he chaired initially and which eventually spurned him…for anyone interested, you can piece together his story from here and here.

I have loved his songs for as long as I can remember, but hearing him in his own voice left me speechless. His voice is not golden or flawless. It is crude and unfettered. It is like honey with grains of sand in it. There is sweetness and gentleness, but there’s also a roughness that leaves scratches on your heart.

In this song, when he sings “Omane, neeyente arikil vannu…“, when he says omane, I become his beloved. I hear the man behind the words in the way he pronounces certain words, in the way he lets the naked emotion show as he sings… MS Baburaj has put his soul into every song he’s ever composed – I think that is what is making the difference. When he sings, you hear his pain and his love and his want.

Each time I listen to his voice, I am left drenched and shaken. Compared to this, the sheer perfection of Yesudas’ voice is too much for me.

Just this once, I tell myself, I want something less than perfect.

A Tribute to Comedy Queen Kalpana

A Tribute to Comedy Queen Kalpana

It was a shock to hear about Kalpana’s untimely demise yesterday. I was struck by the thought that we have lost yet another artist from the golden age of Malayalam cinema that our generation grew up watching.

First went Philomina (1997). Then Sukumari (2013). And now, Kalpana. With her passing, an era of effortless female comedy has come to an end.

Surprisingly, when I tried to think of my favourite Kalpana movies, I had to wrack my brains. But once I recalled the first few, the others came tumbling after, and try as I might, I could not think of another comedienne who who could have pulled off these roles with such ease and elan. Here’s my list.

  1. Sathi Leelavathi (1995)

As the titular heroine in this Tamil comedy, Kalpana put up a brilliant show as the naive, loving, well meaning wife of Arun (Ramesh Arvind), who finds out to her horror that her husband has a mistress whom he is unwilling to give up. Initially devastated, Leela pulls the rags of courage around her and with the help of her husband’s old friend Dr.Sakthivel Gounder (Kamal Hasan), fights  to win her husband back.

Some of my favourite scenes from the movie include fun ones like Leela getting How To Hold On To Your Man advice from the mami next door and more serious ones like the scene in which she confronts Arun about his affair. Watch the movie here

Image result for sathi leelavathi kalpana

   2. Bangalore Days (2014)

After many years, Kalpana makes a terrific comeback as Shantha, the mother of Kuttan in Bangalore Days. How she sees her husband’s departure as a means to escape from a life of drudgery and how she manages to get away step by step is portrayed beautifully. My favourite dialogue from this movie is where she pulls a harassed face from the midst of her card playing cronies at the tired and hungry Kuttan and says”Ente mone, innu ividunnu onnu anangan polum pattiyittilla… nee oru pisaa (pizza) order cheyyu, avaru pettennu kondu tharumallo!”

Kalpana

3. Pidakkozhi Koovunna Noottandu (1994)

Ponnamma, the feisty, man hating post office employee, is an evergreen character. Subjected to neglect as a child by her parents because she was a girl, Ponnamma grows up hating all men. This movie, a laugh riot, but with a solid story, is one of my favourites, and some of the best scenes here belong to Kalpana and Jagathy. Watch the movie here:

 

4. Kudumbakodathi (1996)

“Nenu Guntur Parvathi…”

So starts the fiery Telugu monologue of Kalpana, who appears in a bold, chest thumping, ball busting mother-in-law avatar in this movie. Again, a role that I can imagine nobody except Sukumari managing to pull off.

 

5. CID Unnikrishnan, BA, BEd (1994)

Another excellent pairing with Jagathy’s Oommen Koshy, Clara the cook with her beehive hair and nose-in-the-air affectations is another quirky, memorable character.

 

5. Kouthuka Varthakal (1990)

Kamalu is one of Kalpana’s more serious roles. An innocent young woman married to a much older man, she is wooed and duped by a trickster played by Mukesh. Though the rest of the movie has a happy ending, this particular subplot does not. It is Kalpana’s wide-eyed, trusting performance as Kamalu that makes you feel for the character.

6. Alibabayum Ararakallanmarum (1998)

It’s impossible to forget the scene where Jagathy, Kalpana and their son pretend to be impoverished Bengali farmers to gain access to houses they can rob later. Their accent, the way they sing Vaishnava Janatho, and their expression when the householder asks them to shut up, are just hilarious! Watch the scene here:

 

4 Malayalam movies of 2015 that disappointed. Big time.

4 Malayalam movies of 2015 that disappointed. Big time.

Three-quarters of the year 2015 was pretty good in that many of the Malayalam movies that came out did not disappoint and I had many opportunities to wax eloquent about the superior quality and tastes of the Malayalam film industry compared to many others in India. But in the past few months, I’ve had to swallow my words.

Many of the movies I watched with great expectations turned out to be duds. Some were mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad. Others were dull, flat, like a puffed-up kachori that you bite into, and your teeth snaps in air, because there’s nothing inside. It’s empty.

Here are the movies I consider The Worst of 2015, not including the lot that sank without a trace.

1. Anarkali

Pic Courtesy: Magic Moon Productions

This was our Diwali pick, one that our entire extended family went to watch with great hopes. To be fair, only I, SR, and a cousin were so badly disappointed by it. Here’s what I learned after watching Anarkali:

(1) Biju Menon, delightful and talented as he is, cannot rescue every crappy movie. Just the way plastering Sachin Tendulkar’s face on the tube could not save Sach toothpaste.

(2) There is apparently a severe shortage of actresses in Malayalam cinema. Which is why the makers of this movie had to go and find a wooden-faced doll to play the heroine. You will understand my sentiment when I say that Katrina Kaif can emote better than Priyal Gor has in this movie. It didn’t help that all her dialogues were stilted, melodramatic, and inspired by various Hindi soap operas.

(3) There is no limit to the quantum of drama you can pack into a two-hour movie, all to keep it going in the absence of an actual story.

Why You Should Watch Anarkali
(1) If you want to visit Lakshadweep but don’t have the money or the leave balance to go, watch this instead. The island is shown in all its splendor, and you get a glimpse of everyday life there.

(2) Erm.

2. Madhuranaranga

Pic Courtesy: Good Line Productions

First of all, I don’t understand why this movie is called Madhuranaranga. SR says it’s because it is ‘bittersweet’. Funny, I seem to have slept through all the sweet parts.

What I loved about it is the fact that I didn’t have to spend a penny on it. I watched Madhuranaranga when it was aired last weekend, as a Christmas special. All I gave up was 3 hours of my life.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jeevan (Kunchako) and Salim (Biju Menon) are taxi drivers and roommates in Sharjah. A girl runs into Kunchako’s car one day. She is a Srilankan refugee who has been brought to Sharjah illegally and sold to a brothel from where she escapes after injuring a molester. Out of sympathy, Jeevan offers her shelter.

Love happens. Sex happens. One baby happens. All without the government knowing. Then an accident happens. Arrests happen. Suddenly, Jeevan is lying somewhere in Kerala with one side of his body paralyzed. Thamara (the girl) is deported to Sri Lanka. The child is in an orphanage in Sharjah and up for adoption by a wealthy UK-based couple. I forget what happened to everyone else.

The rest of the movie is about how Jeevan and friends go to Sri Lanka to search for Thamara and bring her back so that they can reclaim their child. A lot of wasted film and a miraculous coincidence later (praise the lord!), they are all reunited.

When I told the story to my brother (who hadn’t watched this movie, the lucky dog!), he had just one question: why didn’t Thamara, after she reached Sri Lanka, just ring up Jeevan or his friends and give them her address?

She must have had her own dark, shadowy reasons.
The mystery remains.

3. Salt Mango Tree

Pic courtesy: 1000 Lights Entertainments

This wasn’t as bad as some of the others, because the acting was pretty good and there were a few good laughs. The story goes this way.

There’s this couple (Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya) with an adorable four-year-old son, for whom they are trying to secure an admission in a top school in the city. But the system seems to test the parents’ socioeconomic status and general knowledge more than the IQ or EQ of the child. Preoccupied with getting him into one of these ‘gateways to a better future’, Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya don’t let him enjoy his childhood or spend quality time with his grandparents.

After multiple failed attempts, they enroll themselves in a coaching program conducted by Suhasini, where they get a lot of random, disconnected pieces of advice. (I went out during the interval to buy popcorn and got back to my seat only after the movie had resumed. For five minutes, I thought they were airing a video course in Personality Development as a filler)

The couple eventually attend an interview in which the child is asked a question he wasn’t coached for. As his parents freeze, he launches into a story his grandfather had taught him. But later, while everyone else on the list gets admit letters, he doesn’t.

An angry and frustrated Lakshmi Priya berates the child and drags him with his shoes on the wrong feet to Suhasini’s office (possibly to demand a refund of the course money) While she pours out her frustration, it is revealed that Suhasini had made the same mistake of pushing her own son beyond his limits, and he had attempted suicide. Seeing the bedridden teenager, Lakshmi Priya has a change of heart and runs to hug her son.

As an icing on the cake, Biju Menon comes rushing in with the news that their son is a scholarship student, whose admission news was conveyed directly by the Principal over the phone (which explains why he didn’t get the letter like everyone else)

What angers me is that the director and the script writer took a story with so much promise and so many characters with possibilities, and did… nothing with them. Instead of a happy ending, they could have had the child not get the admission, but his parents coming to terms with it anyway. Instead of showing Suhasini with a paralyzed son, they could have focused on how the grandparents’ lessons and stories helped the child more than the tuition classes and mugging sessions they had forced on him. There were so many possibilities, none utilized. That is disappointing.

On an aside, I’ve realized as I write this article that I am a sucker for Biju Menon movies. I see that guy’s name on the list of actors, and I am convinced that the movie has to be good. Despite a string of disappointments, I don’t stop. Maybe it’s just his mustache and the deep voice. Or the crinkly, smiley eyes. Yeah, probably that.

4. Oru Vadakkan Selfie

Pic courtesy: Cast N’ Crew productions

I must have lived with my head in a hole in the ground, because until I watched it, I thought Oru Vadakkan Selfie starred Vineeth Srinivasan and Namitha Pramod. Well, it doesn’t.

The first half of this movie has a lot of laughs. Nivin Pauly, Aju Varghese, Vineeth Srinivasan and the rest of the cast enact their roles to perfection. And right up to the interval, you are excited to know what happens next. But then you spend the next 1.5 hours in a state of bewilderment.

“Where the fuck is this going?” is the thought foremost in your mind. And this thought never leaves you, even after the movie ends.

What starts out as an extremely interesting slice-of-life movie about a good-for-nothing fellow in a village, slowly turns into a road trip-cum-mystery-cum-drama-cum-I-don’t-know-what-else movie. At some point, it even turns into a discourse on cyber safety.

If they air it on TV, should you watch it? Sure, sit around for the first half. You’ll know when to get up and walk away.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

After 2 failed attempts to get tickets, I managed to watch Premam last week It was running (and continues to do so) to full theatres within and outside Kerala, and the rave reviews I’d been hearing made me determined to watch it at any cost.

I sat through the movie, smirked a few times, sniggered a little, and came out. Next to me, SR was raving.

“How much would you rate it?” I asked.

“4.5!” he said, happily. I remained quiet.

“What, you didn’t like it?”

“It was okay.”

That was it. Premam was just okay – funny and sweet in parts, but not mind blowingly awesome as I had been led to believe. And I am part of a target group who should have been predisposed to liking Premam. I fulfill both the essential criteria:

(1) I am a fan of Nivin Pauly

(2) I generally like coming-of-age and friend circle movies

Yet, the movie is exactly what its poster claims: it has nothing new!

fb-DP

But I am not going to dish it on that argument alone. Here are some of the other things that are off in Premam.

Mary

For me, the Mary story line dragged. It had one too many songs and one too many weird shots of the road in front of the tea shop, and one too many scenes of the angry dad chasing various boys away. (They could have cut this short by 15 minutes-at least-and used it to develop the Celine story. But more on that later) And if they had shown one more shot of Mary stroking her vaikol thuru hair, I would have had to rip my own out (whatever is left of it!)

Premam Stills-Nivin Pauly-Anupama Parameswaran-Malayalam Movie 2015-Onlookers Media

Cafe Agape

I’m not saying that all of us have to display signs of our calling in life from a young age. But really, for 60% of the movie -in fact, until George graduates from college – would you have guessed that he would become a pastry chef running a posh upmarket cafe?

To me, the cafe setting seemed like something fit in forcefully just to provide a beautiful meet-cute for Celine and George. The George we had seen so far had been genuine and ordinary – this suave pastry chef, with his perpetually frowning eyebrows and orders barked at his staff, felt like a complete stranger.

Celine

You would expect a 30 year old man -who’s already been scarred once in a love affair- to be a little more cautious when falling in love with a girl he had last seen as a kid, and for all intents and purposes, as a kid sister. Wouldn’t you expect him to take some time to get to know Celine, and then slowly realize that she’s no longer a kid, but a woman he’s fascinated by?

But no – the director’s already given too much reel time to George’s first love, and is in a hurry to wrap up the movie. So, the Celine plot line is lazily developed, and too much happens in too little time. The treatment is shallow, and therefore, this relationship – the supposedly perennial one in George’s life – feels the most hollow. Quite unfortunate.

There were other little touches that could have made a difference, but were missing in the movie -for instance, Mary and her dad are conspicuously absent at George and Celine’s wedding; What happens to Vimal sir? I always thought he would end up proposing to Anjali, the girl he used to keep telling “Doubt undengil parayanam!”

But I can live without these.

What works for me in Premam is Nivin Pauly’s acting – the man definitely has screen presence, and how he can pull off any look and age is just amazing. 1983, OSO, Bangalore Days, and now this… he is certainly here to stay.

Nivin-Pauly

Sai Pallavi is well worth all the raving – she has screen presence and her simple charm is thankfully unmasked by layers of makeup. The chemistry between the duo also certainly works.

IMG-20150609-WA0041

The boyhood friendship that grows (without maturing!) over time is also done brilliantly. The actors, the banter, the songs… all of it work.

By itself, Premam isn’t a bad movie at all. But like all things overhyped, it falters under the weight of expectation.

And while we are making controversial statements, let me add a few more I’ve been bottling up inside.

Manju Warrier’s best role is not Unnimaya in Aaram Thampuran. (If anyone’s interested, it is Aami in Summer in Bethlehem. More on that in another post)

ARR’s music in OK Kanmani is just about average. The songs don’t grate on your ears, but they are eminently forgettable.

Drishyam is a good thriller and worth a watch, but I don’t see what the bruhaha is about. (And Meena did a terrible job, just as she did in Katha Parayumbol.)

There, I said it!

6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

During summer vacations when I was in school, I used to spend most of my time indoors. My brother would be out playing cricket with his buddies. But I didn’t have any friends in the locality and used to just curl up with a book. I also used to watch one B&W movie a day with Pappu thatha, my paternal grandfather -these were classics from the 60s and 70s and used to be aired every morning at around 11AM on DD Malayalam (if my memory serves me right.) Some of the most memorable ones include Aswamedham, Pareeksha, School Master, Kavyamela, and Murappennu.

I suspect my love for Malayalam cinema stems from these matinee experiences I had as a child. Even today, after a tough day at work, my favourite way of relaxing is to watch an old Malayalam movie (the period depends on my mood for the day) – sometimes I skip through the songs to the parts I love most; sometimes, I read up trivia about the movie or its actors or crew. For those few hours, I am transported back to those days – the Keralam of those times. And it is truly an escape.

In this post, I am compiling some of the most poignant scenes from Malayalam movies, in which there is some fine, nuanced moments of acting. These scenes have moved me – sometimes to tears, sometimes not – but they are powerful, and make you forget for those few moments that it is acting that you are seeing. That Maya and Siddharthan and Ammukkutty are not real people, but simply, characters brought to life by very talented actors.

So, here goes.

1. Oru Yatramozhi (A Final Goodbye) – 1997

Think about this movie, and the names that come to mind are those of stalwarts Sivaji Ganesan and Mohanlal. No doubt they have done a brilliant job of portraying Periyavar and Govindan Kutty. And they have received enough and more praise for their acting. But for me, the truly tragic figure in this movie is the character Appu Mama played by Nedumudi Venu. Here is a man whose life has been spent pining away for a woman who will never love him back. He hates himself for this weakness, but still, he cannot keep away from her. Knowing that till the very end, her heart belongs to someone else, being mocked and ostracized by his own relatives, knowing that she is using him for her own selfish needs time and again, Appu is unable to tear himself away.

In this scene, in which Gowri asks Appu to meet Periyavar and tell him to leave the village, you see all these emotions flit across Appu’s face: shock, angst, anger, and self-loathing. Because as much as he protests, “Should I be the one to do this too?”, he knows he will do it again – for her.

Oru Yatramozhi

Watch the scene here:
Oru Yatra Mozhi – Nedumudi, Bharathi

2. Ente Sooryaputhrikku (To My Unacknowledged Daughter) – 1991

Every time I watch this movie, SR has a wry grin on his face. He really doesn’t get why I would want to watch such a tragic movie. What captivates me really is Maya Vinodini, the character played by Amala. She is like a wounded animal – hurt and vulnerable because she doesn’t know who her parents are. Then again, she is a typical college girl, wanting to have fun, play pranks, and dally in a little romance. In the hands of a poorer script writer or actress, Maya Vinodini could have become a melodramatic and shallow caricature. But scripted by Fazil and acted out to perfection by Amala, she is in safe hands.

One of my favourite scenes in this movie is the one in which Maya comes to meet her mother, Vasundhara Devi, played by the beautiful Srividya. The soul stirring background score of this scene – punctuated by a harsh discordant note that embodies Vasundhara Devi’s shock – is simply brilliant. At first, it looks like Maya has the upper hand – she walks in as cool as a cucumber, and her mother is shaken. She gives out a false name – thereby, letting her mother know that she knows. But a little while after she leaves the room, she turns into this little girl who desperately wants her mother to acknowledge her. When Maya makes that call from the booth, her trembling fingers and the downturned corners of her mouth betray her desperate hopefulness, which dissolves into frustrated tears and anger as she is rejected again.

Ente Suryaputhrikku

Watch this scene here:

Ente Sooryaputhrikku – Srividya, Amala

3. Dasharatham (The Fate Of Dasharatha) – 1989

This is not one of my favourite movies, and I have watched it in its entirety perhaps only once. But what remains etched in my mind is the very last scene. Rajiv asks his maid Maggie, “Do all mothers love their children as much as Annie loves her son?” The disturbed Maggie replies in the affirmative. Then, unexpectedly, Rajiv asks her, “Can you love me, Maggie?” Maggie is shocked.

In the few seconds after asking this question, Mohanlal shows just how brilliant an actor he is. Various emotions flit through his face – a bit of a laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, his deep sadness, a ‘squaring up his shoulders’ and getting ready to move on decision… So much that is said in a span of 3-4 seconds.

Watch the scene here:

Dasharatham – Mohanlal, Sukumari

4. Devasuram (Of Gods & Demons) – 1993

This movie has a larger-than-life hero, songs, action, romance, and a happy ending. By all definitions, it is a wholesome entertainer. But definitely not shallow or superficial. There is not even a modicum of melodrama: the dramatic element in this movie is tuned to that fine heightened pitch where it is most appealing. A trifle more: an extra word in the dialogue, an additional gesture or expression on an actor’s face, a different background score – could have ruined the scene. But Devasuram triumphs on every count.

My favourite scene in this movie is the one in which Oduvil Unnikrishnan comes to meet his fallen hero and friend. He refuses to step into the courtyard, confessing that he does not have the courage to see the fallen Mangalassery Neelakantan. He would rather hold on to the image he has been carrying about in his mind.

Before leaving, he recites a six line poem that is a poignant elegy to Krishna who is lying wounded by a hunter’s treacherous arrow. Sung in MG Radhakrishnan’s voice, this is the poem.

Vande mukunda hare, jaya shaure,

Sandapa hari murare!

Greetings, O Mukunda, brave warrior, destroyer of all sorrows!

Dwapara chandrika charchithamaam ninte

Dwaraka puri evide?

Where is your kingdom Dwaraka, where the moon of the Dwapara Yuga used to rise?

Peeli thilakkavum, kolakkuzhal paattum,

Ambadi paikkalum evide?

Where is the sheen of peacock feathers, the song of your flute, and the grazing cattle of Ambadi?

Kroora nishadha sharam kondu neerumee

Nenjil en aatma pranam

I bow to your heart that is bleeding from the cruel arrow of the nishada

Prema swaroopanam sneha sateerthyante

Kaalkalen kanneer pranamam

I bow, tearfully, at the feet of my dear friend, who is the very embodiment of love

Watch the scene here:

Devasuram: Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Mohanlal

5. Aalkoottathil Thaniye (Alone In A Crowd) – 1984

My father had a book of the collected scripts of MT Vasudevan Nair, and I have spent many hot summer days lying on my stomach in the upstairs bedroom, reading Kuttyedathi, Perunthachan, and Nirmalyam. Funnily enough, I still have not watched any of these movies – yet, the characters and the dialogues and the scenes are imprinted in my mind.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye is an MT movie that is neither an outright entertainer (like Pazhassi Raja or Oru Vadakkan Veera Gadha) nor a tragic drama (like Nirmalyam or Kuttyedathi). It doesn’t have a particularly detailed story – everything revolves around the anticipated death of Balan K Nair – nor memorable songs. In fact, it actually has a reasonably happy ending. But the one character that remains in your mind long after the movie ends is that of Ammukkutty, played by Seema. We see her evolve from an innocent and playful lover, to a mature and supportive woman, and finally, a tragic figure who proudly refuses to let you point out the tragedy of her life or pity her.

In this scene, Vinod (an old friend of Rajan, the character played by Mammootty) comes to meet him, and mistakes Ammukkutty for Rajan’s wife. She manages to correct his presumption, and cautiously, he asks Ammukkuty, “So, then you…?” Ammukkutty replies, “Me? I… I live here by myself…”

She says so much by saying so little, and Vinod’s sense of disbelief and pity is palpable. He goes away, disillusioned, no longer keen on meeting Rajan.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye

Watch the scene here:

Aalkoottathil Thaniye: Seema, Mohanlal

6. Paithrukam (Heritage or Legacy) – 1993

This is a movie in which the story and script outshine the perfectly adequate acting. The scene I have chosen here is also similar – more than the acting, it is the dialogue and the direction that take centrestage.

The radical atheist Somadathan (Suresh Gopi) has learned that he has just had a son. He tells his father, the priest Chemmathirippadu (Narendra Prasad) that he doesn’t want his son to be brought up according to Vedic beliefs, because he himself doesn’t believe in any of them.

“My son must grow up according to my wishes – I want my son to be like me!!” he declares arrogantly. To which the Chemmathirippadu replies sadly, almost paintively, “But I did not insist thus about my own son!”

The stricken Somadathan turns away, speechless.

Watch the scene here:

Paithrukam – Suresh Gopi, Narendra Prasad