I Watched Manichitrathazhu! Finally! My First Voluntary Malayalam film! I am Out of the Hands of Fate! (Also, MASSIVE SPOILERS!)

So, Lisa, my Malayalam expert commentator has been pushing me for weeks and weeks and weeks to see Manichitrathazhu.  And I finally did!  It was a nice break from all my Neerja posts.  Next I am going to watch Thattathin marayathu from my other Malayalam expert commentator.  And then maybe just go through this whole list from Midukki that a friend pointed me too.  By the way, if you are enjoying my Malayalam posts but wishing I knew a lot more, or had a bigger archive, or anything, you should definitely check her out.  And also this blog.

Anyway, Manichitrathazhu! (I guarantee, at some point in this post, I will miss-spell the title)

So so well structured!  Just, extremely well done.  I had seen the Hindi remake, Bhool Bhulaiyya, already, so I sort of knew where it was going and the twists and stuff.  But I think that made me like it more.  I was able to sort of appreciate how the building was built, instead of just enjoying living inside of it.

(Although Bhool Bhulaiyya does have an amazing title song.  I live near a Hare Krishna temple, and I think about this every time I walk by)

Actually, I think Bhool Bhulaiyya was structured worse for re-watching because they thought everyone knew what was going to happen.  The very beginning part of the film felt just sort of low-energy and lazy, like the filmmakers know that you know that they know that none of this actually matters.  All of the quiet background world building is just sort of thrown on the screen carelessly.  It isn’t until the first real “star” shows up (Akshay Kumar) that things start to feel alive.  In fact, if someone asked me how to watch that movie, I would just tell them to skip to right before the interval and Akshay’s first scene and ignore all the rest.

In Malayalam films in general, actually, I have really enjoyed the slow world-building.  Well, I mostly enjoy it.  Sometimes it was super confusing.  Actually, it is always super confusing, because I feel like I should understand who all the characters are and how they are related immediately.  I am trying to learn to slow down and accept that I just need to watch closely, and I will be able to figure it out.  It feels kind of like you are being dropped into the middle of a story, and have to work out what is happening as you go along.

Manichitrathazhu uses this stylistic habit in a really interesting way.  Even if you pay close attention, you still can’t quite figure everything out until the very very end.  There are clues along the way, but you are always only seeing bits of the truth.  Aalkkoottathhil Thaniye used this technique really well too, with the present storyline and past story line progressing in tandem, so you learned just enough about what happened in the past to understand the very next scene in the present, but still didn’t feel fully oriented until the very end.  Even the more straightforward films I’ve seen, like Ustad Hotel or Bangalore Days still had that moment when you finally get the last piece of the puzzle and everything falls into place.

(This isn’t related to anything really, but I just mentioned the film, and I really love this song)

Now I am wondering if this is related to general Malayalam narrative traditions or something?  Maybe I should read more articles about the novel traditions?  Because the stories never seem to really move forward, but instead out into the world, and in into a deeper understanding of the characters, if that makes sense.  I mean, it’s not “boy meets girl-boy loses girl-boy gets girl back”, it’s more “boy meets girl-girl goes to work and meets boss-boss goes home and fights with wife-wife is boy’s boss and talks to him-boy is sympathetic-boy meets girl again with a better understanding of women”.  Only, infinitely more complicated and connected than that example.

This technique makes a haunted house ghost story a really interesting genre to attack.  It wouldn’t have been my first thought, but it actually really makes sense.  Most haunted house films just go on one kind of boring track of “first scare-slightly worse second scare-deadly third scare-heroes fight back against fourth scare-success and/or death”.  Sometimes there is some sort of research backstory component as part of the fighting back, but it is really mostly about scare-scare-scare-scare.

What Manichitrathazhu does instead is integrate the scare scenes into the character and world building scenes. Spending all that time in the first hour plus setting the stage and getting to know everyone involved isn’t just a waste of time waiting for the scary part (which is how it felt in the Hindi version), it is challenging and complex and interesting.  By only telling us small pieces about the characters and showing us little bits of the geography of the area, and getting the “ghost story” out in the open immediately, it made me more curious about the people and the house than about the scary part.  Which is what makes the final reveal feel natural, instead of a cheap twist, because you have been watching the people all along, not just the ghost.

A big part of this, of course, is casting.  The Hindi industry did an okay job, they got Vidya Balan to play the hardest part, and Akshay to play the most important.  But the problem is, Vidya doesn’t really get to show what she can do until the second half, and Akshay doesn’t even really show up until the second half.  So the first half is all on Shiney Ahuja (blech blech blech!  Usually I can set aside personal life stuff, but he just makes me want to vomit when I see him onscreen), and Amisha Patel, who is fine, but doesn’t really have the acting style to make the most of a quiet character.  And then they were surrounded by a bunch of comic actors who were told to hit the “comic” part a lot harder than the “acting” part.  So instead of us being intrigued by the depth and mystery of their personalities and relationships, it was all sort of obvious and boring and just a series of gags.  There were gags in the original as well, but they were there to support the characters instead of the characters being created just to support the gags.  Actually, now that a think about, that is the same problem in the Hindi version with the second half, only now it is scares instead of gags.  And the characters are there just to be scared, not to be people.

(And Paresh Rawal actually CAN act!  He just wasn’t told to for this role)

But that’s what the Hindi one did wrong with casting, what did the original Malayalam version do right?  So, I don’t know who any of these people are (except Mohan Lal, at least I know him), but they were all great!  Okay, the comic relief was so-so, but the comic relief is always going to be so-so for me, it’s just not my thing.  But the husband actor was competent and charismatic (and so far as I know, never raped his 18 year old maid, so that’s one up on the Hindi casting!), and the uncle/second heroine’s father was believable as a loving father who was out of his depth.  And even her brother, who barely got any scenes, was touchingly worried about her.  The second heroine did a really really great job.  Amisha played the part as just sort of surface Hindi film “shy”.  But this heroine felt more “reserved”.  Like there was a strength and a depth to her that she didn’t always show.  It was intriguing, and made you want to learn more about the character.  It made the whole (SPOILERS) red herring section of the film where it appeared that she was crazy both more believable and more interesting.  Speaking of SPOILERS, before I get to Mohan Lal, I should really give a brief synopsis, just so you understand why his character is so important, shouldn’t I?

So, the film opens in a village that is centered around a large fancy house.  We meet all the various characters, the humorous cowardly servants, the older uncle of the boy who inherited the house, his wife and daughter and son, and there is a brief moment with his daughter’s friend, who is engaged to the college professor/poet who is staying at the gate house.  The servants get scared when walking by the house late at night, and possible the older servant plays it up a little for the sake of his wife.  We, the audience, see that there is no supernatural reason for these scares, but we also see that there is something about that house that scares everyone.

And then, the young heir returns home!  With his beautiful wife from Bengal!  (in the Hindi version, they played it up a little bit that his cousin from next door had a crush on him and was expecting to marry him, but I’m not sure if that was even a thing in this version)  Everyone greets the wife, she is lovely and a little delicate looking, and immediately sinks into the household and starts to get to know everyone.  She is curious about the locked wing of the house, and the old women of the household tell her the legend.  A beautiful dancer over a hundred years ago used to be kept locked in that room.  She was in love with another dancer, who lived in the gatehouse, but she was killed before she could enact her plan to murder the chieftain who held her captive and elope.  And her angry spirit was locked in the room by the means of an enchanted lock.  The wife is fascinated and insists on having the room unlocked.  At which point various “supernatural” things start happening; the servants sent to get the key become ill, a basket traps a kitten underneath and seems to move on its own.  Finally, people start hearing sounds from the room, like dancing bells.  In response to all this, the uncle’s family moves into the main house, to help out during this distressing time.

Finally, the wife is attacked, her sari set on fire, while cooking.  The only person in the room who could have done it is the neighbor/cousin.  Now the assumption is not that there is a ghost, but that the cousin is mentally ill/possessed.  This is the character played by Amisha in the remake, who in this one has such an interesting affect.  I am also seeing, according to wikipedia, that this character maybe had a failed marriage in her past and a bad horoscope (I did catch the horoscope part at least, but somehow missed the marriage references).  So there is a reason that she seems so self-contained and isolated.

(Hey!  It’s the actress who played wine-aunty in Ohm Shanti Oshaana!  No wonder I liked her!)

And it is at this point that Mohan Lal arrives like a breath of fresh air!  We have been watching these people living in close quarters getting more and more claustrophobic and caught up in their assumptions.  So to have him show up and be all cheerful and carefree and happy is amazing.  And it only works because he is such a super star.  Similar to his cameo in Aalkkoottathhil Thaniye, where his character has an outsize effect on the audience because of his outsize charisma even in small scenes, just this one new person coming in and forcing a happy and sensible perspective makes everyone else seem wrong.  Especially in his scenes with the two women.  The cousin, who has been treated so carefully by others and kept herself so remote until now, becomes part of his accidental stealing of wash clothes after a shower.  In the Hindi version, this was played as a goofy gag with Amisha just reacting with embarrassment.  But in this one, it feels like he is daring to treat her as a human being who can laugh at human foibles, and she is shocked because she has gotten so used to being considered the outsider, even before the recent suspicions.  And in his two scenes with the wife, his cheerful and practical attitude comes up against her delicate and romantic attitude in a dramatic fashion, as she delights in showing him all the romantic evidence of the past dancing girl and her ghost, and he treats it all as a huge joke.  It almost feels ungentlemanly, his refusal to go along with her, but he is so charming and cheerful that you forgive him.

It’s harder to forgive when he realizes that the husband’s tea has been poisoned and throws the cousin into a locked and isolated room.  This is the part that really lands harder here than in the Hindi version, thanks to all the time spent building up the characters.  We know that her father is a nice dignified man, that her little brother is sweet and worried about her, that her cousin is conflicted between his responsibilities to his wife versus his cousin.  We spend some times with their reactions.  But more importantly, we understand her freak out in response not as just regular hysteria, but as legitimate outrage that she could be so misunderstood just because she tends to hide her emotions.

And then, FAMOUS MIND-BLOWING TWIST! SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER It’s not the cousin, it’s the wife!  And in fact, the cousin has been faking this last little bit because Mohan Lal asked her to do it!  And suddenly all these little bits and pieces that you just sort of went “huh?” about start making sense!  Especially the song sequences.  Actually, I just realized how clever that was!

They used the sort of fantastical realism that we have come to accept from songs to hide the clues in plain sight.  When the wife was reading the poetry written by the guesthouse guy and remembering her lonely childhood, we were actually seeing the beginnings of her psychosis.  Both because she was falling in love with the poet due to her delusion that he is the dancer from the past who used to leave in the same place, and because all of those childhood moments lead up to her obsessive personality and habit of retreating into fantasy.

 

Even the happy cheer-up-the-brother song that happened earlier when Mohan Lal took the cousin’s brother for a bike ride because he was so worried about his sister isn’t what it looks like.  Because they were actually riding over to another village to learn more about her childhood.  And it was a nice song also!  It did two things!

And speaking of songs, the fantasy song sequence when the wife imagines she is the classical dancer, is AMAZING.  And another area where the Hindi version really messed up the casting.  Vidya is a wonderful actress in many ways, but she is not an expect classical dancer.  Where as the actress from this version apparently is, and the way she did the final dance completely changed my attitude to Bharat Natyam.  As in, it’s not actually boring and slow!

Oh, and also, the whole unfolding of the truth is built on big and interesting social ideas, not just “women!  They crazy!”  Everyone assumed that the quiet and repressed cousin was the mad one, because they were so used to thinking of her as “troubled”.  And what made the wife crazy was her lonely isolated life as a child, followed by the romantic fantasies and superstitions fed to her by her new in laws.  It’s not that the women were at fault, it’s because of how they were treated.  And that’s why Mohan Lal is so important, not just because he is the big name star that shows up at the end, but because he is completely outside of the situation and all the prejudices and assumptions and can see clearly what are the causes and the solutions.

Which is all tied together in a nice little epilogue when Mohan Lal says he is willing to marry the cousin, in fact eager.  And he knows her horoscope is bad, but he doesn’t care, because he is a Christian and doesn’t believe in that, just like he doesn’t believe in any of the other suspicions that have lead to all of this badness.

Anyway, it was a great movie.  And so well constructed.  And it really taught me a lot about how just the slight changes from industry to industry can lose a lot in translation.

Although, it did gain an amazing song.

(Bhojpuri version!)

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48 thoughts on “I Watched Manichitrathazhu! Finally! My First Voluntary Malayalam film! I am Out of the Hands of Fate! (Also, MASSIVE SPOILERS!)

  1. Geeeee omg you watched it!! Thank youuu ❤

    I have way too many points to make and I've already forgotten half of them so I'll try jotting them down as and when I remember them.

    The actors: The comic relief is a terrifically famous character actor called Innocent, well known for his comic roles. You'll find him do amazingly well in a comedy film called Ramji Rao Speaking (the Hindi version was Hera Pheri, and I lean more towards the original for the same reasons you ended up liking Manichitrathazhu better). The husband is Suresh Gopi (best known for his cop/action roles, but he does show more acting chops when he's given the chance, in movies like Kalliyatam, which was a Malayali adaptation of Othello, and Pathram), and the heroine of course is Shobhana, who was perfection personified for this role because of her incredible dancing abilities (her aunts were also famous dancers within the industry, and she now spends most of her time choreographing classical dance dramas)

    My mum says Shobhana choreographed Oru Murai Vanthu herself along with the male dancer (her real-life cousin Vineeth played the male dancer in Bhool Bhulaiyya. They approached him for this role and he wanted to do it but his dates were taken already). Also, most of the clothes she wore in the movie were from her own wardrobe, and by my nth rewatch I noticed that they show a subtle progression even in her dressing style through the movie…from wearing casual salwars and light pastel sarees and loosely tied hair to sporting structured buns, mostly dark shaded silk sarees and a slight smear of sandalwood paste on her forehead, she seems to be unknowingly imbibing Nagavalli's character in her waking moments as well.

    Sreedevi vs. Radha: The story they missed out in BB was that any interest Sreedevi's character may have had for her cousin, if there was any, was a thing of the past, unlike Radha who seems mostly single (?) when she sees Shiney's character. The match was something arranged between her dad and Nakulan's mum (both siblings…in some societies in Kerala and Tamil Nadu it is OK for cousins to marry if the cousin comes from the parent's opposite-gender sibling…like brother and sister can decide to marry off their kids to each other). Nakulan's mum however says no, and to save face Sreedevi's dad marries her off to the first guy they get without revealing that she is a Manglik (in the movie it's called chovva dosham). They find out, and she is promptly sent back, and to me it felt like any sense of frustration she could be having, would stem from being robbed of making her own choices. Which is why she wants to be with Mohanlal in the end. Because he gives her a *choice*. To me this is a woman who is strong at her core, deeply guarded and knows she doesn't quite fit in because she is neither married nor exactly single. She knows people view her differently and has grown resigned to it, all the while making it clear that she is someone you shouldn't mess around with. I loved how she had a certain control over things in the house and is never ashamed of showing it, even though she knows she'll be considered an oddball. I think when she mocks Sunny, it's out of her underlying frustration that her lack of docility makes people wary of her, and the tea episode is a breaking point for her.

    (To be continued)

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    • Okay, I knew I was missing a lot! Definitely a film I will have to come back to in 5 years, after I have actually managed to figure out Malayalam culture/language/religion/society/history/everything.

      Actors: I love Heri Pheri! But I love it because it is one of the few comedies that actually takes the time to build a world and make you care about people before turning it on its head. So I can definitely see how it would fit with the different kind of structure I see in Malayalam cinema. Interesting that the husband is an action hero, I definitely got a sort of confident and in control vibe from him. And the actress, of course, was awesome. Like I said, I love Vidya, but they really should have cast a dancer in that part. Interesting about her costumes and appearance changing. I noticed some of her mannerisms being altered, but I missed that. Again, need to rewatch!

      Okay, I loved everything you said about the Sreedevi character! I was only getting part of it, just enough to know that she was still single and at home and sort of held herself apart from the girlish interests of the other women. And I really loved the way that reserve and distance played off of Mohan Lal’s enthusiasm and openness. They really butchered all of that in the Hindi remake, just making her the standard emotional girlish shy village girl.

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  2. I think that’s also why Sunny proposes to Sreedevi the way he does: by saying that it takes as much courage to support a psychiatrist as it does to support a person suffering from a mental illness. He says that because he has already seen how she has never let any judgement from her family or anyone else change who she is.

    Songs: one thing I noticed in this movie, that I think the others missed, was the dual nature within the music. Ganga’s fantasy song in the beginning and Sunny’s song to Chandu on their way to Avoor is tied by the same tune and raga, and both deal with her childhood and loneliness. Same with Ganga-as-Nagavalli’s original rendition of Oru Murai, which is echoed raga-wise in Sunny’s song after he locks up Sreedevi. One really good theory I heard for this was that Sunny is basically using the same raga to calm the alter ego since it was almost in danger of coming out before Ganga was truly ready to accept her disease. But I feel there’s more to that, because Ganga isn’t even involved in the Avoor sequence and there is no obvious reason for him to use that tune. I think it’s to show him as a bit of a counterpoint to Ganga. She is this curious, unassuming, delicate young woman who hides a troubled conflicted personality – only she is not aware of the conflict itself. He is the man no one really takes seriously, who seems to consider everything a joke, yet there is a method even to his madness. Where Ganga’s songs are filled with loneliness and deep-hidden frustration, Sunny infuses hope into the same tune. Your thoughts on this?

    Absolutely loved the writeup!! Wouldn’t have expected anything less from you 😀

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    • I of course missed the details of the proposal, because I am missing so much! But I could see how she can ground him. And building on that, I think it is interesting that ultimately Sreedevi, the character everyone thought was mad, was actually the only sane one. And that is what Mohan Lal responded to, that she was able to keep her head and avoid the outside influences and hysteria that the whole rest of the household fell prey to.

      Interesting thoughts with the songs! Again, they just went phoosh, right over my head! I could see a couple of reasons for the pairings. First, like you say, to build the contrast and yin and yang between Mohan Lal, the big loud earthy type and Ganga, the dreamy poetic one. You could also say that it is to show that Mohan Lal is beginning to get into her head, to think like her and understand her. Especially since it is playing over the part where he investigates her childhood. And that would lead to the later scene, to show that his investigation and consideration of her personality has lead to an actual ability to control her alter ego (following the theory that he sings her theme song in an effort to calm her). And, for early viewers looking for red herrings, it could indicate that they are falling in love, that all the tension we see in their scenes together, and the similarities in their songs, is because of attraction.

      And so glad you liked the writing! I knew you knew this film really well, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything you hadn’t already read!

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  3. I was pretty confident you’d love this movie AND do a great job of this one actually! 😀 There aren’t a lot of blogposts dedicated to this cracker of a movie, and I was always a little sad about that. I remember seeing one post by a reviewer I usually like who claimed they didn’t like Mohanlal’s interpretation of Sunny (apparently they thought he played him far too goofy for their liking) and preffered Rajnikant in Chandramukhi because he seemed to have “more charisma” o.O (BTW Chandramukhi is terrible!! They made pretty much everything over-the-top, made Madhu Mattom’s beautifully layered script into a Rajni worship-fest and didn’t even give the poor scriptwriter credit, made a decent actress like Jyotika act like she was in desperate need of acting classes, and pretty much ruined the movie. I was in my sophomore year at college staying in a hostel, and for some reason I couldn’t fathom all my hostelmates LOVED the movie :/)
    Suffice to say, a LOT of scandalized Malayalis landed on that blog to painstakingly explain why he needed to be played that way. You put that fear to rest phew.

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that Kathakali sequence. IIRC the Kathakali enactment they showed I think was a reenactment of a scene from the Mahabharata featuring Bhima (or was it Arjuna? Must go back and watch it again) and Draupadi. If it’s Bhima and Draupadi it’s either the sequence where he bathes her hair in Dushasana’s blood or where he kills Keechaka for molesting Draupadi. Basically it subtley sets the tone for Nagavalli’s actions immediately after, and like you said, it shows us how well Mohanlal is able to tap into what appeals to her because he always choses these traditional, classical settings to see what it brings out in her. Like the temple scene where he understands that Sreedevi’s alliance with Nakulan was never a problem for Ganga, but where he uses her fascination with Nagavalli’s dance jewellery to rile her up. In the other two movies (I haven’t seen the Kannada version Aptamitra), this sequence is replaced by an engagement number…probably because the quiet intimacy of a Kathakali kacheri is hard to recapture using another dance form? I dunno. The problem with the dance numbers in the other films for me is that Ganga/Avni is actively involved in the festivities and THEN goes and does this to the groom and there’s no reasoning as to when that change took place…whereas in Manichitrathazhu it is this quiet thing that you can slip away from, and you can tell that the moment Ganga feels sleepy is when Nagavalli takes over.

    Another of my favourite sequences is the one that follows this scene, where Sunny tells Nakulan and the teacher/poet the truth. Not just because of the way they depicted her childhood through the flashback scenes, but because you recognize those scenes as the same ones used in her fantasy song, only this time they’re shot full-frontal to show you what’s really happening rather than from a peripheral view (case in point: in the song, we see a quickly-passing shot of teenage Ganga running from the exam hall from a side-bottom view, and that scene is shown again in painstaking detail when Sunny narrates her story. Same with the scene where she looks happy to see her parents, and then immediately withdraws – we only see the part where she looks happy in the song. I think if anything, the side-shots indicate that these memories might appear forgotten (Sunny mentions that whoever treated her made sure she wouldn’t remember) but they are still lurking somewhere, ready to come out.

    I think I might keep coming back to bring up some point or other. Too many things I’ve thought up about this movie but when it comes to writing I forget them all! 😛

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    • I haven’t seen the Tamil version (and it sounds like I shouldn’t bother), but the way you describe it pumping up the Rajnikanth role is what bothered me with Akshay in the Hindi. It felt like he was the focus of everything, which meant that whole first hour or so we were just killing time waiting for him to show up. Instead of him being treated as just one part of an ensemble, so the other elements were still worth watching.

      Interesting about the Kathakali, that it calls out to the essential bloodiness in the narrative, so it feels more integrated with what follows. And integrated, like you said, in terms of what actually makes sense for the character actions!

      And yes, I loved the way you only saw bits of things in her song and then saw the same thing, but fully, later! I’ve noticed the use of obstructed view a lot in these films actually, usually for a thematic purpose. Like, in Vanaprastham, we see our hero through Subhadra’s perspective, through a Purdah door. It’s a smart way to get in her mindset, with this literally “narrow” view of him, and of the world in general. In this, having only glimpses of her past in the first song, it felt sort of like a choice for the audience, implying that we were only getting glimpses but would learn more later. But actually, like you point out, we were in her head all along and these are the only glimpses she can actually remember.

      And keep coming back as much as you want! I loooooove having these kind of in depth discussions!

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    • The Kathakali enactment was Karna Shapatham portraying Karna and Duryodhana’s friendship.
      http://thiraseela.com/main/articleDetail.php?id=177
      But what aspect of it could’ve triggerred Nagavalli to take the immediate step of defaming Mahadevan is open for research I think. Or could’ve set the later tone to kill the Thampuran or if Nagavalli were to fail she would kill herself.

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  4. released in 1993 movie is still favourite for malayalees…even now people are exploring the hidden depths of nagavally and psychology in the movie…recently i came across an interesting write up by a psychological expert in which he says how this movie unknowingly becomes a prequel to a 1990 movie Innale by padmarajan with the same shobhana and suresh gopi as couples…according to him sunnys treatment will never cure gangas disorder permanently since he is not treating the root causes ofit…so the disorder will sleep inside and wake up at any moment in future….according to him what will happen if ganga and nakulan are allowed to live together again in this state is clearly depicted in the movie Innale which released 3 years earlier with same actors and some similarities in character names too(ganga becomes gouri ,nakulan-narendran)try to watch it too…its a movie by padmarajan,all time best storyteller from our land

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  5. released in 1993 movie is still favourite for malayalees…even now people are exploring the hidden depths of nagavally and psychology in the movie…recently i came across an interesting write up by a psychological expert in which he says how this movie unknowingly becomes a prequel to a 1990 movie Innale by padmarajan with the same shobhana and suresh gopi as couples…according to him sunnys treatment will never cure gangas disorder permanently since he is not treating the root causes ofit…so the disorder will sleep inside and wake up at any moment in future….according to him what will happen if ganga and nakulan are allowed to live together again in this state is clearly depicted in the movie Innale which released 3 years earlier with same actors and some similarities in character names too(ganga becomes gouri ,nakulan-narendran)try to watch it too…its a movie by padmarajan,all time best storyteller from our land

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  6. Ooh the theory about Innale is something I haven’t heard about before! In that Shobhana’s character suffers from retrograde amnesia from what I heard. Never seen this one, but the director, Padmarajan, was amazing. His last movie, Njan Gandharvan, was a fantasy film about a gandharva (musicians and intoxication-makers of heaven yee-haw!) falling in love with a human woman (yes yes it does sound very City of Angels, I know, but it offers a critique of the gods and the way things in heaven are run…in a way that City of Angels never did).

    In a few places, I’d read another theory about Nakulan likely being either impotent or downright not interested in his wife, and Ganga’s sexual frustration playing a part in her transformation to Nagavalli. I think it has its merits as a theory, but I’m not sure I quite buy it. Probably there are communication problems there, partly because Nakulan seems like the kind of man who doesn’t feel the need to be so expressive about his love for her. Which is why it comes to the forefront when Sunny confesses that the only thing that can save Ganga now is the possibility of seeing Nakulan die…and he doesn’t care that he could potentially be killed if they go wrong even by the millionth of a second.

    Another thing I was thinking about was Oru Murai Vanthu itself, side by side with its Tamil and Hindi remakes. There’s such a difference in the sequencing between Mani…. and the other two (the Kannada version followed Oru Murai closely). Mani begins with Ganga dancing like Nagavalli, with dishevelled hair, crumpled clothes and a slightly dazed expression, then shifts to her inner mindscape on two occasions: the first being her imagining herself dancing in the court, and the second dancing with Ramanathan. In the other two, you had Chandramukhi/Mounjolika first catching sight of the male dancer and romancing him, followed by a duet in the king’s court following which the king kills him (remember the scene where Sunny pretends to be Sankaran Thambi the cruel king who kills Nagavalli? In the Tamil version they have the dancer actually see Rajni and thereafter assume that Rajni is the king rather than her own husband. Yeah. Doesn’t make a lot of sense). Basically I always felt the dance sequences in the other two movies gave tremendous power to the male dancer (Vineeth in both versions) and extra screentime (why else was he in the courtroom sequence where Nagavalli alone had her moment to shine!)…wonder why. Maybe their classical courtroom dancing couldn’t stand alone in those sequences. Also…I noticed the nuances Shobhana added to her performance as Ganga-Nagavalli (GN)and imaginary Nagavalli(IN). When we see Ganga dancing, we can see how untrained she is, how she isn’t able to match the grace of the dancer that we see in her mind’s eye. IN makes sharp but graceful movements, knows how to use her hands, feet, neck, back…whereas GN’s movements are purposfully made to look sloppy, clumsy and confused, with no clear direction. Loved that little detail and I don’t think I saw that in the other two.

    Hope a lot of happy Malayalis come and read this writeup.

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  7. i watched the song again and enjoyed the nuances added in both performances…no wonder shobhana bagged the national award while other nagavallies had to satisfy with some state and filmfare awards….. the theory about nakulan being impotent or a workaholic and gangas sexual frustration is the basis of the theory i mentioned…i will try to post a link of the detailed article….and btw mredlich21 if you are impressed by our shobhana chechis performance do check out her latest movie thira(2013)..its a fast paced thriller still very realistic with good content…she is in the lead role…also half of the movie is in english and hindi…so it will be comfortable for you

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    • Glad you liked it! And I’m really glad so many people gave such detailed comments, as you can see, I am pretty out of my depth with Malayalam films and I need all the background info I can get!

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  14. Sorry for, maybe stupid question, but is Manichitrathazhu very scary? I read a lot about this movie, and about Chandramukhi, and I’m so curious about it, but I’m person who get scared even while watching Criminal Minds, and I don’t know if I can handle this horror. What do you think?

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    • I think you can probably handle it. There is no gore, and no jump scares even. I would compare it more with Hitchcock maybe, kind of a cerebral drama. If you can handle North By Northwest, you can handle this.

      But then, I haven’t watched it in a while, so anyone else can feel free to jump in and disagree with me on this!

      On Mon, Apr 3, 2017 at 11:19 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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          • Watched and liked 🙂 and it wasn’t even scary!
            What I loved the most:
            -Mohanlal as Sunny. I’m quite new to malayalam cinema, and it’s maybe my first Mohanlal’s movie, but after few minutes I just knew why he is a superstar.

            – Shobana. I must admit, in the first 30 minutes I couldn’t distinguish Ganga, Sreedevi and the third girl. Then I started realize who is who, but still Ganga was the one I liked less. I found her too rigid, and boring. Nothing special. But then, the “So you won’t let me go” scene happened and the dance scene, and I got goosebumps and was all like: WOW.

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          • So glad you liked it! I really need to go back and watch it again myself, with fresh eyes. I liked it the first time, but now I have seen a lot more Mohanlal and Shobhana and Malayalam films, and I am sure I would enjoy it more.

            I had a similar reaction to Shobhana, she felt almost too pretty to me. That is, her features are so regular and symmetrical that it almost made her hard to recognize (I have the same problem with Dia Mirza in Hindi films). But her dance numbers and acting were what made her finally stand out for me, in a way her beauty didn’t.

            On Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 3:27 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

            >

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    • Last time I checked, Hotstar was still “locked in your region” for me. But maybe it will be unlocked again! Or, if not, maybe I will go through the back roads of the internet and figure out how to make it think I am in India.

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