I have wanted to get this movie for close to a year, ever since I saw it mentioned in 2007, along with its many remakes, over at Bollywood Food Club. I’ve also posted the most famous scene from this sometime back (but will not hesitate to post it again, of course). Now, finally, thanks to the same person who sent me that great movie starring the aunt of the star of this movie, I have had a chance to watch Manichitrathazhu in full, with subtitles. And it does make a difference to know the context of the literal insanity that you might see in the clips.
This is a sort of horror film, but it has a lot of comedy to it, and inentionally so. Sometimes, therefore, the humor is a bit dark – or the horror is a bit funny - and thus requires someone who can walk that sort of line, with an over-the-top but still convincing psycho act. Shobana is able to do that and much more. Her acting is impressive in ths film, and her dancing is fantastic. I imagine that this must have made her aunt Padmini proud.
Manichitrathazhu isn’t going to give you any deep thoughts or revelations about the world, but it does provide an interesting combination of two different horror/thriller themes, split personality and possesson. And while those themes have certainly been combined before, this plot adds a new angle by including a solution to the problem that also combines the scientific with the supernatural. The scientific explanation may win out over the supernatural, but the remedy for the psychological ailment requires the help of men versed in old magic. That might be the most interesting aspect of the plot; it is certainly a refreshing twist.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help noticing a very familiar scenario too, one which would probably grate against anyone with a feminist viewpoint: Here we have a woman gone out of control who needs to be cured by a few expert men. The most famous scene, surrounding the song “Oru Murai Vanthe,” also might look strangely sexist if taken out of context, because these men seem to be acting like voyeurs of her mandness, running like crazy up to those little windows to have a peek.
Taken in context, though, it doesn’t seem quite as perverted, because it’s all part of a bigger plan. But it’s still pretty funny in a way. This is a suspenseful time during the film, and they are supposed to be studying her with great anxiety as well as determination to cure her of her terrible illness. But who would not also want run down the hall like crazy and climb up to those little windows just to catch her doing this terrific dance?
(“Oru Murai Vanthe”)
It’s also kind of funny how the men are sometimes all terrified of her, as many of the men were terrified earlier when they thought they saw the ghost whom she has metaphorically absorbed into her psychosis…
To make this all a little clearer to anyone who hasn’t heard about this movie (and its many remakes), the main character, Ganga, played by Shobana, has developed a psychotic empathy with the legacy of a woman who once lived in the house where she now lives. This woman (who suffered a terrible fate long ago) happened to be a dancer. So, there is an explanation for why Ganga’s madness causes her to break out into bharatanatyam…which does coincidentally make this a wonderful madness to watch.
I actually wish there were more bharatanatyam madness here. More often in the movie, she just does the regular split-personality/possession kind of scene. Though she is awfully good at it.
(Subtitles in balloons from YouTube poster Raju0101012008… Not identical to the subtitles I got, but the gist is the same. )
I should add, by the way, that Shobana is not the only good actor here. Ganga’s husband, Nakulan, is played by Suresh Gopi, who does more than a decent job. The actor who plays Dr. Sunny Joseph, the shrink, is great; that’s Mohanlal, who I know I’ve seen in a few film clips, at least. And then there’s Vinaya Prasad, who plays the character Sreedevi… There’s a sort of false direction taken in the plot for a while, which puts more of a focus on Sreedevi and Dr. Joseph and some antics between them. I thought it went on for a bit too long, maybe because I already knew too much about the great scenes involving Shobana that would follow sometime soon. (And maybe also because that part of the movie just takes too long, compared to the really important part.) However, I found it easier to get through than I might have otherwise because it was a lot of fun watching Vinaya Prasad. Shobana might be the dancing beauty in this movie, but I found Vinaya Prasad to be adorably cute.
(By the way, sorry about lack of subtitles, but it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here…)
The music, admittedly, did not interest me much, especially during those middle parts. The soundtrack, composed by M. G. Radhakrishnan, consists of a soft kind of music that I’ve heard in a few contemporary Malayalam film clips. (That singing sounds especially Malayalam to me – which just goes to show, I might not love absolutely everything from Kerala, though I do love most things from there…) I like “Oru Murai Vanthu,” but mostly because the softer elements are balanced by those wonderful bharatanatyam beats. (And the lyrics are kind of touching, and I do like that pretty duet at the end.) I think I much preferred the bharatanatyam music that Padmini often danced to, where the Tamil percussion came out stronger and everything just seemed to rock more. But that’s just a matter of personal taste; I know that some of this music has been praised a lot, and I’ll understand if people say that they love it. Conversely, I probably won’t understand it if someone claims not to love Shobana’s dance.
Several remakes of this movie came out in different Indian languages, and a few were hits. But I can’t imagine a remake of this movie being adequate without Shobana in it. I said close to a year ago, when I saw a few different versions of that ”Oru Murai Vanthu” scene, that I thought Shobana’s was by far the best. I feel even more that way now.
P.S. It was nice to see that one of the characters was played by KPAC Lalitha. KPAC Lalitha has an interesting story behind her. According to what I read, she couldn’t just call herself Lalitha because there was another famous actress in Kerala named Lalitha (perhaps Lalitha of the Travancore sisters?). So, she added the acronym KPAC to her name, since she happened to have gotten her start in the Kerala People’s Arts Club.