Hate is a strong word. For the one who feels it, it is at best an emotion. For the others, it is a cause for dissection, to conclude the primal reason for such a strong emotion. Most often, we encounter both these aspects ourselves, holding a particular reaction of hate under the scanner of reason long after we have experienced it.
For me, Thilakan as the step-father in Nammuku Paarkan Munthirithoppukal, was a role that inspired hate. He was pure scum incarnate, a persona clad in a hitched-up lungi, a testosterone-driven bare-chested beast covered in coils of black hair accentuating the lecherous energy associated with that role. He bristled on screen, a walking instance of psychic intent, his darting eyes and controlled aggression partially revealing an intent of no good.
In 1987, I watched Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986) on videotape for the first time. I have seen the movie, a few times ever since. The VCR was in business in those days, what with most Malayalis having a relative or two in the Gulf. The VCR was a luxury then, and most of the movies of the Eighties were released on VCR format by VGP (V G Paneerdas), a label that held rights to most Malayalam movies. My uncle, a ‘Gulfie’, came on vacation that year with a Siemens VCR in tow. Very heavy and big, compared to other VCRs, this one was typical German in terms of superior quality. And he brought lots of video cassettes for the family to watch.
The Siemens VCR.
Of course, that is also the time that the neighbourhood video-rental libraries came into prominence. And these libraries enjoyed a lot of attention from the local community. It was quite normal for a family to see a movie on the VCR every evening, considering the lacklustre fare dished out by state television, the Doordarshan. A kid from the family would rush out during siesta-time, to return the cassette borrowed the previous day, and borrow another based on the list the family sent through him. I liked hanging out at the library, the owners were youngsters themselves, in their early 20s. They seemed to like the attention too, and I liked the fact that they would talk to me. I felt grown up when they did that.
If you didn’t own a VCR at home, you could borrow it. The library had maybe 2 or 3 VCRs for circulation and the rental would be around Rs.50 for a day. The cassette rental was about Rs.10 per day. Most of the time, when someone returned a VCR or a cassette, the library owner would run a check if it was being returned in a working condition. I was witness to many a slanging match, since most of those who rented a VCR would utilise it to the maximum by watching at least 10 movies in a row. There is only so much a VCR can adjust to such indiscriminate use, and most often, it gave up, it’s gizzards fuming unable to withstand the constant usage.
Now when I look back, sans the wonder that permeates the perception of a 14-year old, these library owners were just older kids trying to make a fast buck while doing something respectable by the standards of their community. It was hard to escape that small village unless you went to Gulf just like anyone else and it seemed for a while, that owning a video lending library was glamorous. It wasn’t sustainable as a business, as they soon found out, and it was quite common to see new libraries springing in different parts of the village and shutting down not long after. They did well for a while but a business needs more than glamorous reasons to survive.
Coming back to Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986), even though we had a VCR at home, I watched the film at a house which I used to frequent for tuition in Math during school vacations. I remember it was the subtitled version, in English and Arabic.
And then, Thilakan just walked in.
Amidst the almost biblical overtones of Johnson’s music and that sliver of an ethereal conversation, centered on the Song of Songs, between the lead pair by a stunning white wicket fence separating their respective houses, Thilakan was a proverbial cat set amongst a flock of pigeons. It overpowered everything, a disturbing instance of violence in a metaphorical heaven created by Padmarajan on screen. It is in fact, evidenced by the hate I felt, one of Thilakan‘s better performances on screen. Padmarajan‘s genius lay in casting Thilakan for that role, a performance bristling with a gruff malevolence that walked in with the revolting grace of a stalking hyena.
The fear, a primal aspect that confronts his step-daughter on a daily basis, overturns the concept of home and it’s safety, symptomatic of a society that suffers the ignominy of its women having to face danger lurking within their own homes. The white wicket-gate is also a metaphor of divide, with the conversation between Mohanlal and Thilakan, the morning after they have a scuffle, taking place there. It is the moment that turns the story on its head, when pride makes its entry into the equation, where the step-father and the young neighbour are in the race to possess the same woman, albeit in two different ways.
Thilakan‘s aura is feral, his ex-serviceman character suffers from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis his neighbours who are better off. He expresses that trait of his by being roughshod with his wife and step-daughter, the women of the house.
Even though he inspires fear, he is an afraid animal himself, lurking most often in the shadows, acting high handed to conceal his lame inner core. Add to it his convoluted moral advantage of having married a single mother, which translates into his idea of uncompromising obedience by the women.
A classic example being his asking his wife to stand at a particular place before him, correcting her position to an inch so that he can resort to his questioning session, just as he and his colleague are having their evening drinks. It is a show of power in a demeaning way, and soon the situation snowballs into a major scuffle involving the neighbours.
The rape of the heroine, by her step-father, leaves us ravaged. And even though love finds its way in spite of it, one feels cheated for the singular slash across the face of love. We yearn for perfection in love, or let’s say perfection and love are synonymous with each other. In Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986), it turns out to be an illusion, filling us with hate for the one responsible for it. And if that’s how we felt, we must applaud Thilakan for his histrionics that eats into you like acid.
Thilakan, in conversation with Rekha Menon, Amrita TV, 2009.