Monday Malayalam: Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu, The Safety of Denial

Look, I watched an actual good movie!  A classic even. It just took all of you listing off the good movies for me on HotStar so I could avoid their gosh awful search function and go directly to what I wanted.

This is a Mohanlal movie from back in 1984, before Spadikam, before all the rest, back when he was just an actor.  And he does a really good job being just an actor, just one of many characters in the film.  He has a good body and a sweet smile and a clever way of playing a few scenes, but he isn’t the most important person there.

The most important person is Nadhiya Moidu.  Who, I am just now realizing, is the same Nadhiya that I fell in love with as Prabhas’ mother in Mirchi.  So I guess she has spent her whole career being the surprisingly strong female lead of a film even though you would think her part would come a far second to the hero.

Image result for nokketha doorathu kannum nattu

Second to Nadhiya still isn’t Mohanlal, next comes Padmini, former dancing star of Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi films, who married a doctor and retired to New Jersey but returned for this role.  It is a role worthy of her, not the usual grandmother.  In three levels, there is how she appears, there is how she thinks of herself, and then there is the reality.

Everyone in this film is acting on at least two levels, denying who they really are because it is easier that way.  Nadhiya has the greatest denial, but Padmini has the most deeply buried, the one the script and her performance have to tease out very gradually.  And Mohanlal is the shallowest, no more interesting or unusual than any teenage boy pretending not to be interested in the girl next door.

That “girl next door” is the most important part, this is a film of a neighborhood, an apartment block, and the community that springs up around it.  The warm magical unappreciated by those who live there community.  Nadhiya runs away to join it, Padmini refuses to leave it, Mohanlal doesn’t realize how special it is.  It’s a little island in the world, with no doubts of fears or future or past, time stands still and stretches out.  Which is why Nadhiya is there, that very special quality of a place where time doesn’t matter.

 

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

Padmini is the grumpy old lady of the building.  The little kids constantly ring her bell and make fun of her.  And she complains about Mohanlal, the young man of the building, playing his music too loudly.  Into this clearly defined small world, comes Nadhiya.  Young and modern in jeans and a t-shirt, stepping off the bus alone with her bags and boxes and ringing Padmini’s doorbell to announce she is her granddaughter.  She befriends the children who bother Padmini, teases Mohanlal, and eventually softens her grandmother’s heart by dressing and acting like her mother used to. But she is hiding a secret that Mohanlal finds out first, she is dying.  She has a brain aneurysm, either she gets a surgery that has a slight chance of success and a much higher chance of killing her immediately, or she enjoys the time she has until the aneurysm kills her.  Her father wants her to have the surgery, so she runs away to her grandmother’s, the one place she thinks her father will never look.  In the end, the truth comes out and her grandmother, after first promising she will never have to leave, goes back on the promise and insists on her leaving.  But she rehangs the bell outside her door, keeping faith that Nadhiya will return again.

 

Like I said, it is a film about denial and seeing the world as we want to see it.  Nadhiya says over and over again that she has time, and yet we see that she doesn’t.  There is a scene late in the film when Mohanlal takes her for a walk on the beach after he finds out about her diagnosis.  He is acting cautious with her, and she laughs and says not to worry, she has time, she won’t die today.  And then minutes later she suddenly grows weak and sits down.  No matter what she may say, she is dying.  She just can’t admit it to herself, let alone anyone else.  It is this denial that drove her to her grandmother, to come to a place where no one knows her, where she can escape into a fantasy of life where everything is safe and planned and within the few walls of a house.  She is so strong in her denial that it appears like certainty, she tells Mohanlal she will not die, she tells everyone else that she wants to live every minute of every day, she seemingly has herself fully together, has made an informed clear decision to live until she dies.  But then, slowly, the denial is peeled away.  The audience goes from seeing her as she wants us to see her, a normal happy teenage girl, to seeing her as she wants to see herself, in charge of her own life and making decisions for herself, to seeing her as she really is, a terrified little girl who runs from her problems until she has no where else to run.

(Her last Christmas, even if she can’t admit to herself it is probably her last Christmas)

Mohanlal has the shallowest denial.  He is a teenage boy pretending he hates the girl next door instead of having a crush on her.  He wants us to see himself as the clever prankster who tricks her and then plays his music loud in triumph.  But it only takes his friend from out of town to recognize Nadhiya and tell him the truth about her condition for that facade to go away.  He turns into the sweet sensitive caring boy who was there all along inside, he is just letting him out.  The only final denial is one we can forgive, pretending that he just feels sorry for her as a person, not that he is a little in love with her.

But then there is Padmini.  She has a very complicated series of denials.  Her first layer is the grumpy mean old lady that all her neighbors know.  And which is how she stays during Nadhiya’s first few days in her house.  Until, suddenly, Nadhiya manages to break through and turn her into a loving grandmother again.  Which is how Padmini always saw herself inside, the loving good saintly mother and grandmother that hides her soft heart under the stern exterior that everyone else sees.  But Padmini doesn’t see that even that vision of the saintly loving mother and grandmother isn’t quite right.

She tells her story, her version of it, to Nadhiya.  Her husband died and she poured all her love out on her daughter.  And when her daughter fell in love, she let her be married and welcomed her husband into the family, and only asked that the couple keep living with her after marriage.  Her son-in-law evilly took her daughter away, breaking both their hearts.  Her daughter returned, pregnant, to say she was unhappy in her marriage and wanted to be back with her mother.  Padmini helped her give birth and then her husband came back.  Padmini begged him to let her keep her granddaughter, but he took her away.  And then Padmini’s daughter died, but she kept up hope under her bitter exterior, that someday her granddaughter would come back to her.

It’s a very sad story, but also a story that already sounds a little odd.  Padmini paints a picture of mother and daughter, happy alone.  But then, why would her daughter want to get married?  And asking her daughter and son-in-law to stay her her house, that is not the one small thing she makes it out to be, that is a big big thing!!!!  Just like asking to have her baby granddaughter to raise was also a big big thing.  And finally, if she really was that perfect giving grandmother, why did she hold off on loving Nadhiya at first?  And why did she strangely forbid her from certain things, like taking an excursion boat?

And there is the oddity of Nadhiya seeming perfectly happy and healthy and all those other things that you would expect from someone raised in a loving home by a loving parent.  How could her father be the ogre Padmini makes him out as?  But on the other hand, if he wasn’t an ogre, then why did he keep Nadhiya from her grandmother for most of her life?  And why is Nadhiya running away from him now?

This is the denial at the center of the plot, intersecting with Nadhiya’s illness and her denial.  Padmini is the master of denial.  She denied that she needed her daughter more than her daughter needed her.  She denied that she was keeping her daughter from growing up.  She denied that it was wrong to force her daughter and son-in-law to live with her after marriage.  She denied that she drove her daughter away.  And she buried herself in denial with the idea that her son-in-law was evil and she was the one who deserved to raise her granddaughter.  And finally, she denied that she actually HAD turned into that bitter old woman, that she resisted opening herself up to Nadhiya not just because she was afraid of being hurt, but because she had come to enjoy holding on to her bitterness and walls around her, she didn’t want to let that go.

Padmini’s denial intersects with Nadhiya’s, Nadhiya learns that she has a grandmother who wouldn’t let her mother out of the house even after she was married, who tried to keep her granddaughter away from her own father, and immediately knows to run to her when she needs to get away from the realities of the world.  This is a woman who will hold on and keep you in a safe little world away from everything that is difficult, that tries to make you grow up a little.  That’s what her father was trying to save her from, this woman who would never let her go or let her grow.  And that’s what he is still trying to save her from, gently convincing her grandmother to let her go, to finally voluntarily let her child leave and face the dangers of the real world, and have faith she will come back.

And thus the ending.  Padmini putting her doorbell back up.  This time not out of denial, not out of a crazed belief that her granddaughter will never be happy without her, but out of hope.  Hope that her granddaughter will survive the operation and choose to come back to her.  She has the stubbornness of mother love that is simultaneously a blessing and a curse to those who receive it.

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46 thoughts on “Monday Malayalam: Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu, The Safety of Denial

  1. It’s really hard for me to think of Padmini as a grandmother. 🙂 You do realize that it was her older sister Lalitha who played Chandramukhi in the the Telugu Devadasu, right? Not that that relates to anything in this post, but that’s what I thought of.

    This film sounds very interesting. I’m glad you found something you can enjoy.

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      • Faazil did have happy endings in Aniyathipravu, Manichitrathazhu & several others. I thought Sibi Malayil(in combination with Lohithadas)was the king of meloncholic, soul-crushing movies. Aakashadootu was like a cry-orgy.

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        • Just looked up Sibi Malayil to see if I had seen any of his. I have! And you are right! Although His Highness Abdullah had a sort of upbeat ending,

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          • The makers marketed the movie by offering the audience hankies to help them during watching. Those who watched it & made good use of the hankies spread the word. It was a huge success those days. Somehow we equate sadness & crying to entertainment😂😂

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          • Ha! In America in the 1930s and 40s there was this spate of sad movies, and reviewers started using the shorthand in reviews of “2 handkerchief picture”, “3 handkerchief picture” and so on.

            On Tue, May 22, 2018 at 9:15 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I was thinking on why so many Malayalam movies have the
            no-happy endings after you mentioned it & Im sharing my speculation. Lohitadas(Sibi Malayil’s movies are mostly based on his scripts) Bharatan, Padmarajan are credited for the artistic peak of Malayalam films in 80s & still continues to inspire the whole industry. From whatever I have read, these three gentlemen & the likes of K G George(his movies are all kinds of dark)treated cinema less as a medium to entertain but more for them to tell realistic, gritty stories that came naturally to them as writers. They were all writers first & then filmmakers. If that meant giving up the happy endings that weren’t the natural progression of the story, then they didn’t shy away from showing it. That is not to say that all their movies had sad endings. Some had bittersweet endings like Namukku Paarkan Munthirithopukal, Innale, Bharatam, Patheyam, Amaram etc while some had outright happy endings. But the story was etched out from beginning to end seamlessly.My guess is that later filmmakers(who were directors first & relied on scripts from others)had the idea that to be taken seriously, they too had to make movies that were ‘artsy’/sad enough. Result -sudden shift in tone in second half & contrived sad endings in many Priyadarshan & few Faasil/Kamal/Satyan Anthikadu movies. Their movies would start with a basic idea(long lost grand daughter visits grumpy granny & turns her into lovable granny)which the scriptwriter wdnt know how to progress after a certain point.Time to introduce terminal illness, sad flashback, reappearance of long lost bf/gf, murder-someone-hence-has-to-go-to-jail situations.Really anything that will fit in the last 45 mins to end on a less-happy or a hope-for-better-tomorrow note-something the women audience(who were the main audience)would approve of.

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          • That makes sense to me! Especially going back to how some of the most famous “sad” directors we were just mentioning also had happy movies. Devasuram, His Highness Abdullah, they followed the natural story of these characters, and sometimes that reaches a happy ending. It’s the lessor directors/writers who are more committed to the misery.

            Priya Joshi (one of my favorite authors) wrote this brilliant paper talking about the reverse with Hindi film, the title really says it all, “Bollylite”. She points out that the post-2000s version of Hindi films, the K3Gs and so on, seem to think that all you need is a romance and a happy ending, and miss the way that earlier films wrapped those romances in social statements and made endings that weren’t entirely happy.

            On Tue, May 22, 2018 at 9:47 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • They did the same (distributing hankies) for the Telugu remake Mathrudevobhava too. I remember reading cartoons on this topic in the magazines at that time.

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      • You think so really? We have so many, don’t we? Premam, Neram, OSO, Bangalore Days, Usthad Hotel, Charlie, Sudani, Ann Mariya, 1983, Godha, Su Su Sudhi, Vikramadithyan, Maheshinte, Salt N Pepper, Amen, etc etc.

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        • Those are the newer wave movies. The movies made in 80s-90s susually had super sad endings. Even in Kilukkam, Priyadarshan flirted with a sad ending and ultimately landed on a happy one (Thank goodness!) . I guess he couldn’t take it out of him,so created a sadder version of Kilukkam – Minnaram. So identical in plot just sad ending 😀

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          • Chitram though!! it presented a happy story and you leave the movie with tears

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          • I think the headline for my review is something like “What Was Up With That Last Half Hour????” Super cute movie, very odd ending.

            On Tue, May 22, 2018 at 5:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • All of Priyadarshan’s romcoms have a standard template-Mohanlal & heroine fight a lot that gives many funny scenes. Mohanlal has a funny wingman. Funny song. Mohanlal & heroine start falling in love after an emotional scene. Romantic song. Second half gets serious. wing man is less prominent. Some emotional scenes. Sad song. End-depending on his mood, it can go either ways. Really doesn’t matter-we love them all for the super funny bits in the first half. Now think of Chitram, Vandhanam, Kilukkam, Minnaram, Thenmavin Kombathu, Vettam(he replaced Lal with Dileep here)Chandralekha & if they all fit in the template.

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  2. While reading spoilers, I got a feeling that I saw similar story in Telugu movie. And I was right – it was Muddula Manavaralu with Suhasini as granddaughter and the legend Bhanumati as the grandma. And, it’s one of my favorites as it was directed by Jandhyala. Now, feeling a little bit bad that it’s a remake of this Malayalam movie.

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    • Thanks for this info! I’ll search out Muddula Manavaralu now (though i know the whole story). At least I can think of Bhanumathi as a grandmother, since I already saw her in that role in Bamma Mata Bangaru Baata. 🙂

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        • The Malayalam original is titled “Godfather”. It was later remade in Hindi as “Hulchul”. A few people in this blog are trying hard to get M to watch Godfather, but she refuses each time because Hulchul, it seems is one of her favourites!

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          • GODFATHER!! M, you have to. Even the name SCREAMS while Hulchul is just Hulchul.

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          • Thanks – I had watched both of them. I recommended the Telugu version to Moimeme as she was interested in Bhanumathi as grandma

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  3. –> why would her daughter want to get married? And asking her daughter and son-in-law to stay her her house, that is not the one small thing she makes it out to be, that is a big big thing!!!!
    That was the norm in those times in India. A girl/woman had to get married – she was not supposed to live in maternal home forever.
    –>And finally, if she really was that perfect giving grandmother, why did she hold off on loving Nadhiya at first?
    That was what her character was – holding herself high with self-pride. At least, Bhanumathi played that perfectly in Telugu.
    –>And why did she strangely forbid her from certain things, like taking an excursion boat?
    Because of her love – she did not want to lose her

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    • –>And why did she strangely forbid her from certain things, like taking an excursion boat?
      And, Padmini’s husband died in a boat accident or something (they mention it somewhere in the movie)

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    • What I find very well done in the movie is that we can understand all of these things from her perspective, but also see them from the side of her son-in-law and granddaughter. Her son-in-law wanted his wife to life with him, not her mother. Nadhiya just wanted to have a simple boat ride. Padmini sees her demands as small things, because she never looks at the other side of it, just as Nadhiya never considers how her father feels when she runs away from home, or Mohanlal never considers how Nadhiya feels with his pranks.

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  4. TRIVIA
    ==========
    >>> This was one of the biggest hits that year and made Nadhiya Moidu an overnight star (much like Sai Pallavi after Premam). She went on to do meaningful roles in Tamil & Telugu films as well. Still regarding highly in all these industries.
    >>> Padmini, and her sisters Lalitha and Ragini collectively known as the “Travancore Sisters” were active in all the industries (including Malayalam) though Padmini was the more popular among them. As per her wiki page, she’s even done a Russian film!
    >>> Shobhana (one of your favourites) is their niece.
    >>> Mohanlal’s friend from out of town is played by the director himself – Faazil ( Fahadh’s dad). It was Faazil who introduced Mohanlal to Malayalam films, btw. He later remade this film in Tamil and was a commercial success there too.
    >>> The song “Aayiram Kannumayi” is a favourite among many Malayalees. Here’s an American singing the song — it’s an ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH (you can start from 1:30) !!! The music director later explains the connection the song has with your country!

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  5. I’ve seen some of Padmini’s older films.And she overacted a lot.It’s a credit to the director that he got her to tone down a little in this one.I remember only bits and pieces of the movie but the songs are magical and sticks in mind.

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  6. You reviewed my childhood favorite movie and I’m just commenting on it. Apparently it’s the first movie I ever saw in a theatre (can’t say I remember I was 2) but I do have a vague memory of two characters running around on a large screen trying to catch crabs. 🤣
    I watched it much later and I just find it very beautiful. Also made me a life long fan of faazil’s (that’s also cos of manichitrathazhu and aniyathipravu). Manivathoorile aayiram shivarathtikal, ende mamattikuttiyammaykku (Baby Shalini’s superstar turn), ende sooryaputrikku were some of his movies that were one different from the other but with a lot of substance.
    Also, I forever love Nadiya cos of this movie.
    And there’s so much pain and longing and love in aayiram kannumayi, it’s evergreen. It sounded so fresh when used in thattathin marayathu too.
    Irrelevant trivia – I danced to the Christmas song lathiri poothiri when I was in 2nd std.

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    • I am impressed, when I was 2 I wouldn’t actually watch movies in theaters, I would get scared and have to stand out in the hallway and watch through the glass in the door. I finally saw Little Mermaid a few years back, and by golly, it IS scary! I wasn’t imagining it! Although this film would work pretty well for a little kid, there’s the crab scene and some of the practical jokes and other hijinks, and the plot would probably go so far over your head that it wouldn’t even be disturbing.

      On Wed, May 23, 2018 at 4:11 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. @Meenakshy – cos I can’t reply to that thread anymore 😦
    Vandanam’s ending was just bizarre, there was absolutely no need to have that sort of ending. That wasn’t what the movie was about in the first place. Like you said, Priyadarshan used it to off-set all the hilarious parts in the movie, so that it came across as a deeper product.

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  8. I’m half way through the Telugu version of this. Since Bhanumathi plays the grandmother, they had two special songs (so far) just for her. So that got me wondering, since Padmini plays the grandmother in the Malayalam version, did they have special dances just for her?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nope, no dances at all. It was surprising, since she is Padmini after all. She sang and was happy with her granddaughter and daughter in a flashback, but no real dance numbers.

      On Wed, May 23, 2018 at 6:25 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. I’ve now finished the Telugu version, and the biggest difference, I think, is that the Telugu version is definitely focused on the grandmother. I suspect that this is because the grandmother was played by Bhanumathi, who would accept nothing less. I also suspect that the version on Youtube has been edited rather drastically, as it’s only 2hours and 17 minutes. In 1986, that is still much shorter than the standard length of 3 hours for a Telugu film. You can clearly see the choppy editing in some places. So I don’t know what nuances may have been lost. All the plot elements mentioned by Margaret are there, but they don’t flow as smoothly. Especially the “revelation” of the grandmother’s true character was handled very clumsily, with the granddaughter just giving a long speech about how she has been wrong and unjust to both her parents all along, and that leads to a very violent (emotionally speaking) confrontation. There’s no reason why the granddaughter should suddenly burst out like that. There were some other plot changes, too — her daughter doesn’t come back when she’s pregnant, nor does she complain that she’s unhappy in her marriage. Rather, the grandmother hears (almost at the due date) that her daughter is pregnant, so she begs her son-in-law (in person) to let her take her daughter home for the baby’s delivery, as is the proper traditional procedure. And then she dies in childbirth, and the grandmother insists on raising the baby herself. The father lets her, but comes back after seven years, saying he’s never remarried out of love for his wife, and without even his daughter, he’s too lonely, and so wants to take her with him. The grandmother refuses, so he “steals” her away one night when she’s sleeping.

    I don’t know how much of the “clumsiness” is due to the unauthorized editing, and how much due to the style of the director (Jandhyala), who’s not particularly noted for his subtlety. So, viewed as just a film, this wouldn’t have made any impression on me as a good one, if I’d seen it out of the blue, so to speak. Now I want to watch the Malayalam version to see how the story shapes there.

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    • The grandmother insists on raising the baby because she has now lost her beloved daughter, so she wants to keep this “representative” of her daughter with her. And when her father finally takes her away, she’s heartbroken, and swears to have nothing to do with either of them in future, though in her heart of heats, she still hopes her granddaughter may come to her one day, hence she installed a doorbell.

      (Also, while this is supposedly set in a village/small town, the grandmother lives in a mansion, not an apartment block.)

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      • This is fascinating, it sounds like the Telugu version went for “showing” a lot that the Malayalam chose just to tell. The only flashback we get is a brief scene of the grandmother dancing with the baby, everything else we only hear her telling about.

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        • Good grief. If the Malayalam movie “told” all these things that the Telugu one “showed”, how long is the film? Seems to me like it could wrap up in about ten minutes. 😦

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          • It’s very Malayalam. There’s a lot of little practical jokes on the neighbors and celebrating birthdays and Christmas and stuff like that. Nothing actually “happens”.

            On Thu, May 24, 2018 at 8:35 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Actually, there’s a lot of “telling” in the Telugu version, too. That is, all these scenes (like the grandmother asking to take her daughter home fore the delivery) are filmed, but there is a voiceover explaining what is going on. We don’t hear the actual dialog, though we can see people are talking.

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  10. Thanks for the review and to all those who have commented, vaguely remember watching this movie and liking it, love the song. Now I have a renewed enthusiasm to go look for it again. Its for such reviews and even more for the discussion in the comments section, that I really come to this site.

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  11. I have been a silent reader of your blogs, but today I have decided to start commenting. I absolutely love this movie, and the ‘sun-glass scene’ in the movie is still spoken about. In fact Mohanlal and Nadiya are acting together in a movie after a gap of 34 years. And they have included this song in the movie too.

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