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!


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