Friday, September 18, 2015

Kamaladalam - A Timeless Flower

Revisiting old Malayalam movies is one of my favourite things to do. The Malayalam film industry might be going through an upheaval of sorts, with technological advancements, creative story lines and snazzy treatment. But if you want some soul, you need to go back to the past. I strongly maintain that the 1980s and 1990s had movies with depth, powerful characters and heart-touching stories. One such movie that moves me, no matter how many times I watch it is - Kamaladalam (Lotus Petal) (1992).

I am sure no Malayali is unfamiliar with this movie, directed by Sibi Malayil and written by A K Lohithadas (if you are....Seriously?!)
Just to jog your memories: Nandagopan (Mohanlal), a genius of an artist and dance teacher turns an alcoholic and drug addict after his wife Sumangala (Parvathy) commits suicide, in the whim of a moment. As he drifts on aimless, he gets a pupil, Malavika (Monisha) who wants him to revive his pet project, 'Sita Ramayanam', which he had meant for his wife to execute. His life ambition comes to fruition, but at the expense of his life itself.

What's to love in the movie?

1. For the love of arts – The glorious way in which the performing arts, mainly classical dance, is used as a backdrop. This is one film which tries to bring a common man close to dance without sounding scholarly. It is the vehicle which carries the movie forward. The life of an artist, his dedication to his art and how one must approach learning it - are some of the sub-themes that stand out. I especially love that sequence in the movie, when Mohanlal is challenged to put his money where his mouth is. He explains and demonstrates his interpretation of 'Aananda nadanam aadinaar...' (which was Monisha's Arangetram performance he'd disrupted). 

2. Stellar performances – I doubt if the casting could have been any better. Vineeth as Soman aka Somashekharan Unni, the jealous lover of Malavika; Monisha herself; Parvathy as Sumangala, Murali as Vineeth's brother, Oduvil Unnikrishnan as the Principal of Kerala Kala Mandiram and Monisha's father.... why even Nedumudi Venu as the irritating Secretary Velayudhan fit the role to a T! Not to mention, Mohanlal - who portrays the protagonist perfectly. Though not a trained dancer, he rendered the role with aplomb.

A little trivia here - the now famous television-cum-film actress Asha Sarath was offered Monisha's role (which she of course had then turned down).

3. Theme and mythological reference  Though the movie predominantly pursues Mohanlal's character and narrates the story from his perspective, the female leads Parvathy and Monisha are the pillars that hold it up. Much has to be said about Sita, the main mythological character, from whom the female leads' characterizations are derived. 

To begin with, Nandagopal's composition is 'Sita Ramayanam', his take on Ramayanam as seen by Sita. In a parallel to the famous Agnipariksha episode where Sita undergoes the fire ordeal in order to prove her chastity – Suma immolates herself, when she feels Nandagopan disparaged her (almost devotional) love. As if to prove that she was earnest in her intentions and love for him; something he failed to see. 

Then there is Malavika, whose hatred for Nandagopan turns to devotion, admiration and then love. She confesses it to Nandagopan  who then reminds her of Guru-shishya relationship and chides her for giving into this weakness. All is sorted, unbeknownst to Soman. He poisons a soft drink at the performance venue with the intention of killing Nandagopan. Things literally go out of hand, when the bottle gets mixed up with the others. 

In a riveting and befitting musical climax, all the leads and their stories are brought to the limelight, with Malavika's final act – a wronged Sita's monologue when she's asked by Rama to prove her fidelity yet again. And that song and performance is the pièce-de-résistance of the movie: Sumuhoorthamayi swasti. 

A very beautiful song penned by Kaithapram and composed by Raveendran master, it highlights the various moods of Sita  from anguish to ire  as she bids adieu and cries to her mother, Vasundhara (the Earth) to split and take her in. And end her life in this unjust world, once and for all.

To draw yet another parallel, this Sita's (Malavika's) grievance can be considered directed towards Soman, who is Rama at the moment – having doubted her purity and her faith. 

This climax makes me cry EVERY time I see it (and no, I'm not ashamed of it!) 
Talking of which, you need to see it, right NOW!

The lyrics below (I HAD to put it here, as trying to translate it would do no justice and in the context, it is relevant):

Sumuhoorthamayi swasti... swasti... swasti...
Suryachandranmarkiripidamakumen Rama saamrajyame
Devakale maamunimaare snehatharangale swapnangale
Pookkale vidayakumee velayil swasti... swasti... swasti...

Thrayambakam villodiyum mangaladhundubhi naadavumaayi
Mithilapuriyile mankidavinu
Raajakalayude maamangamekiya Kosala rajakumara
Sumuhoorthamayi swasti... swasti... swasti...

Aathmanivedanamariyathe enthinen
Mudranguleeyam valicherinju 
Raagachoodamani chenkolthurumbilangenthinu
Veruthe pathichuvachu Kosala rajakumara

Enne ee njaanayi jwalipichunarthiyoragniyepolum
Avishwasichengilum Kosala rajakumara... rajakumara...
Ennumaa sankalpa paadapadmangalil
Thalachaichuvache urangiyulloo, Sita urangyulloo

Pidakkunnu praanan vithumbunnu
Shokantha Ramayanam digandhangalil
Adharmam nadungunnu maarthanda pourusham
Ramashilayayi karuthuvo kalpanthavaariyil

Amme... sarvam sahayaam Amme
Ratnagarbhayam Amme
Threthayugathinte kannuneer muthine
Nenjodu cherthu punarnedukkoo
Sumuhoorthamayi swasti... swasti... swasti...

We feel for Soman, who has triggered a chain of events he can't undo. It's a nail-biting wait to know who consumed the poisoned drink. Even as Nandagopan starts spewing blood and everyone's alarmed – he doesn't let anything stop Malavika's Arangetram (having interrupted it himself previously). Perhaps the arrival of Suma's apparition is a tad melodramatic. But it does convey a sense of completion. He envisions her dancing as Sita and then joins her in the other world. He has reached his happy place. He's finally liberated from this world; something he couldn't do on his own.

Closing comment  I have always been curious as to why the movie was titled 'Kamaladalam'.  After a bit of digging into mythology, my personal conclusion is that this goes back to the Agnipariksha of Sita. In some versions of the Ramayanam, it is said that lotus flowers sprouted at Sita’s feet to protect her from the fire, or that the coal at her feet turned to lotus flowers. Alternatively, it's also said that not a flower petal in her hair was singed by the fire because the Gods knew she was pure, and had protected her through the ordeal. So there you go; one more reason why I say this movie is Sita-inspired!

P.S. I am very interested to know if there are any other theories for the title. So if you do know, humour me in the comments section!

Monday, July 20, 2015


He was making some money now. In this day and age, when people hardly had time to lift their heads from the devices in their hands, he made some money. It surprised him too. Perhaps it was because his was a dying art. Magic. Well not dying, really. Just that he did not know how to make money with his gift. Anything commercialized well would sell, he knew. But he had inherited his father's simplicity along with his talent. He was not zealously ambitious, had no drive to be famous or earn heaps. His father had barely made ends meet. And so did he. At least he had no family to feed. Alone and wandering, he made with what he got. A one-man show, in every sense.

It had been only a few days in this new spot. He usually targeted small parks, where he could put up his acts. He would mostly perform during late afternoons and evenings, when people would be out and, perhaps, be willing to be amused. It was becoming harder to draw people's attention and interest. People had their smart phones - their life partner, entertainment centre, book, guide, friend and much more rolled into one! But his amiable disposition and earnest love for magic reflected in his work. People would occasionally pause and see him. At the end of his little performance, he would walk around with his hat so that people may appreciate him (monetarily). He had noticed that if parents were around with kids, the odds were in his favour. 

It was one such generous day, and he had just completed his performance. Being a weekend, the turnout was better than usual. His hat had become heavier than normal too. He waved, the audience gently clapped and everyone dispersed. He noticed that there was a boy still lingering around. He seemed a bit shy, and it seemed like he wanted to say something. He smiled at the boy, as he was sorting his earnings for the day. The boy smiled back. The boy was shabbily dressed, but his face radiated innocence. "You liked my magic?" 

The boy was thrilled at being addressed. "Of course Magic chacha! I love magic. Umm...I can call you that, right? Magic chacha?" 
"Of course, of course... you can. So you love magic, huh? What is your name?"
"I am called Chotu by everyone". 
"Okay Chotu.... so what is it about magic that you like?"
"Whenever I watch you perform, I am amazed at how you bring things out from thin air; and how things disappear or break - but you bring it back or put it together!"

"Oh, is that so? Well, it's not very easy you know. It takes a lot of work and discipline to be a good magician. You think you can work hard enough, Chotu?"
"Yes, yes.... I absolutely will, I can. Will you teach me magic, Chacha?"
He let out a hearty laugh. "Ah, so you want me to teach you too? Good good."
"Yes Chacha. But I think I would like to make some small changes to the acts, if you don't mind. That is what I want to learn".

This is getting interesting, he thought. A boy is going to tell me how to better my acts!
"Oh, is that so? May I know what changes would you like?"

"Yes Chacha, definitely. I need to understand if those changes can be made."
"Okay, okay - sure. Go ahead, let me hear them."

"I love how you pull a bunny out of the hat. I think bunnies are cute. But, do you think you can teach me to pull biscuits out of a hat?"

"Biscuits?! Why would people want to see you pull biscuits out of a hat?"

"Chacha, actually, it's for Munna - my younger brother. He is too small to understand things. When he gets hungry, he just keeps crying. Now, you tell me Chacha - can we explain to him that there is no money and we can't buy food? Mai and me, we can go without food. But he doesn't understand. So if I could learn to pull biscuits out of a hat, he could eat that. He would stop crying, I think."

"Oh. So.... do you go hungry often, Chotu? Where is your father? Does he not earn?"

"No Chacha. Mai told me that one day Baba disappeared and left us alone, to fend for ourselves. Which brings me to the next act. You normally make a ball disappear, and then you bring it back, right? Is there any way you can bring a person back? I think it would help to bring my Baba back. We don't know where he disappeared to. From that day the smile from Mai's face disappeared as well. I think if Baba came back, the smile would come back too."

He choked and tears welled in his eyes. 
"It would be tough, you know. Bringing back a person..."

Chotu interrupted him "I thought so too. Well, there's one act which I think, needs no change. The one where you pull a coin from behind someone's ears? That is perfect! I think that once I master that, I will be able to pull out some notes too. And then we'd have some money to live with. I don't wish for a lot you know - just some money. So that we can live. I don't want to get greedy - Mai says that one must not be greedy; God punishes greedy people. Do you think so too?" 
"I, well... yes... I agree with your Mai..."

"I will try my best to learn, Chacha. Will you teach me the acts, with these changes?"
Looking into those naive eyes, he could not muster anything except a very weak "Yes".

Chotu beamed with happiness and pride, not being able to believe his good luck. "Chacha, you know what, Mai says that all this magic is nonsense! Can you believe that? Now I am going to learn this from you and surprise her one day. You wait and see! When can we start?"

"Let us start next week, okay?"
"Okay. I have to go now, Chacha. But you will be here, right? Next week?"
"Yes. I will." 
"Okay then!" 

Saying this, Chotu frolicked away.

He packed his things and started walking. Walking away as fast as he can and as far away as his legs would take him.


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