The Beypore Sultan’s
only first Screenplay in Malayalam.
If only the Sultan wrote more Screenplays than short-stories and novellas. If only. This has to be one of the rare horror films in the history of cinema which is an absolute delight to watch with a half-smile on your lips. It is a movie that carries you away with its simplicity in narration ( yet regally eloquent if you think about it). Bhargavi Nilayam (Bhargavi’s Mansion), produced by PK Pareekkutty‘s Chandrathara Productions, was the debut directorial venture of the legendary cinematographer A Vincent, and had the screenplay written by the one and only Sultan of Beypore, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Shobhana Parameshwaran Nair, fondly recalls the journey they took to meet Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and coerce him to write a screenplay for them in the seminal documentary, Cinemayudey Kaalpadkual (more on that later!).
Adapted from the Sultan’s short story Neelavelicham from the compilation of his short stories Paavappettavarudey Veshya (The Destitutes’ Whore), the story emphatically told you and showed you the existence of the supernatural and a narrative that was heart-warming and gut-wrenching at the same time, told in simple prose, the way only the Sultan could. The movie was also the debut of two actors, the lead actress Vijaya Nirmala in Malayalam cinema and a certain Padmadalakshan who would go on to become the Kuthiravattam Pappu as we know him today, with the moniker borrowed from this movie, MP Kuthiravattam. The songs that went on to become a part of the Malayalam cinema’s playback heritage were written by P Bhaskaran, set to music by MS Baburaj. Bhaskar Rao ( A Vincent’s protege’) was the Director of Cinematography (an amazing job in Black and White! ).
Madhu, (he seems to go without a screen name), the upcoming novelist , after searching for an peaceful and ‘inspiring’ place to start his latest work, zeroes in on the abandoned mansion called Bharagavinilayam, considered to be haunted by the locals. The rickshaw pullers flee after dumping his baggage at the gate, unnerved by the place and more by the cool-as-a-cucumber novelist. The terror is evident as he goes around updating the neighborhood eatery, his gang of friends and the Postman of his new address. (The Postman seems to be Shobana Parameshwaran Nair in a delightful cameo! Need to confirm.) He also finds time toexplore the house and the ‘choked-with-weed’ backyard, and even throws a big rock into the huge, abandoned well in mischievous glee.
Apparently the house is named after the daughter of the house, Bhargavikutty (Vijaya Nirmala) , who loved to sing and dance, was beautiful beyond compare, and who committed suicide in the deep well in the backward, heartbroken in seemingly unrequited love, and hence, in the after-life, a fierce man-hater. Chastened from his prejudiced notions, and eager to meet her, Madhu hurries back home and goes about speaking to Bhargavi or the Well in the dead of the night, which, to me personally, is one of the most delightful bit of screenplay ever written in Malayalam Cinema. We need to speak more on that, but later).
He doesn’t stop there. He has more or less decided that with all the bad vibes floating around, compounded by his guilt, it would be his last night on the planet, and even mutters a goodbye prayer to the planet, and before he closes his eyes, a goodnight wish to Bhargavi too ! Morning comes, and the locals are amazed at this mortal who has survived a night alone as he drops in at the tea shop. He also comes to know about a new personality in town, a certain MN aka M Nanukkuttan (PJ Antony), Bhargavi’s uncle’s son, betrothed to her, and also the fact that she was in love with the musician living next door. It was a love triangle, after all.
Back home, in a locked room upstairs, he find a dusty, warped sitar with the initials SK which he surmises to be the musician Sasikumar’s, the neighbor who is currently the villian of the whole story, which may have been gifted to her. He also finds a locked box with a B emblazoned, which he thinks would hold the “key to unlocking her life’s secrets.” That night, he is awakened by a piercing scream from the front porch and finds a wayfaring stranger, named Cheriya Parikkanni (Adoor Bhasi), scared out of his wits, and intimidated becasue he got slapped by a strange woman in his sleep! Madhu invites him to stay with him and help around the place. But the ‘Spirit’ by now has taken an immense liking to Cheriya Parikkanni and ensures that he is kept terrified in just the right amount. Madhu has by now decided to base his next story on Bhargavi’s tragic life. But his next evening out at the neighborhood beach becomes a turning point in his life.
He sings some, hum some and at the end of it all, an beautiful lady suddenly appears , walks up to him, and disappears in a cloud of spray, just as she came, leaving him a irritated, inquisitive and at some level scared. He hurries back home, but her eyes seems to have seared into his memory. back home, he takes another look at the dusty photograph at his rickety writing table, and he knows. He had just met Bhargavikutty for the first time, and sadly, she didn’t even say a word! Another incident happens soon. In a joint operation to clean up the inner-walls of the well in the backyard, thick with weeds and wild fronds, they rig up a rope and scaffold contraption which ends with the rope breaking off and Madhu falling into the well. But he survives without a scratch, and recalls someone actually lifting his sinking body from the inky depths, helping him breathe. He is sure it has to be her. And there is more to come. The writer is so eager to hear it all from his muse, now that he has started off on his new project, and she does just that, but not all of it.
She lets him know a perspective of her life that he was not aware of, and as if to emphasise it, his draft goes up in flames. He realises he had been wrong along, and the story is entirely different. Bhargavi, also opens up her memory chest for him as she leaves, where he finds an yellowed, moldy newspaper which reports of the body of an unidentified male found in a Railway station lounge, with a few snips of curly hair, seemingly feminine, in his pocket. Along with the newspaper is a moldy bunch of letters, one of which he hungrily pulls open. It is from MN and it reads, “If you aint marrying me, you aint marrying anyone.” The ‘investigator inside’ now smells blood, a desire to unravel it all, and get to the bottom of it. He manages to track down her two friends through his friends who, curiously were still of the opinion that Sasi Kumar had betrayed Bhargavi. But Bhargavi’s mother, dispels all that. She had always held him in high regard, and also tells Madhu about a letter that was found next to the well, the morning after Bhargavi committed suicide, allegedly written by Sasi Kumar which said he was going away to get married. But the letter was taken away by MN, according to her, and not heard of anymore !
That night, Bhargavi Nilayam receives a threatening message in the form of a firebomb, hurled into the compound, and a country dagger thrown against the window, missing the writer by inches. A very angry Madhu, goes around checking with everyone for the possible origins/ownership of such a dagger but draws a blank. Later, on a rainy night, in the flickering light of a Hurricane lamp, absolutely sure that Bhargavi is present in the room, Madhu starts reading out her story to her, and that forms the delightful flashback where the college trio approaches the young and handsome musician Sasi Kumar to compose a song to dance to for their college fest. Inspired by a moth dancing next to the lamp, Sasi kumar composes one for Bhargavi. It doesn’t take for the admiration to turn to love, and the musician fondly reciprocates.
A Vincent also introduces MP Kuthiravattam, the handyman of the household who dreams of becoming a world-famous playwright almost all the time. No marks for guessing how Kuthiravattam Pappu got his famous prefix from.
Interestingly, in portraying the romantic interludes between Sasi Kumar and Bhargavi, Basheer introduces the garden wall, across which both of them pour out their hearts as and when they can. If this exchange was of the fulfilling kind, Basheer also introduced the heart-breaking version in his Mathilukal, adapted to screen by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, where the entire story revolved around a prison-wall and two souls in love on either side. The romance progresses and before long, Nanukuttan (PJ Antony) pays a visit to Sasi Kumar, worried and scared about his plan of marrying Bhargavi slowly sinking away, having got wind of the ‘affair’ in the neighborhood. The garden wall has, by now, graduated into their own love-post box with both of them exchanging love notes on it (the ones Madhu later finds in the box), but it doesnt take long for private messages in public domain to fall into wrong hands. Nanukuttan stumbles upon one love note and is enraged. There is now no mercy. Sasi Kumar barely escapes a murder attempt on him by an unknown assailant, a gunshot that misses him by inches. He plans to leave for Lucknow, take a break, and return in 6 months, also promising to send her a letter every week. But Nanukkuttan is listening in. Sasi Kumar finds a surprise companion across his seat, Nanukuttan who fibs about a sudden trip and a missing friend, and also hands over a food parcel which he says was send across by Bhargavi. We presume he has poisoned it. In the esuing months, Bhargavi is heart-broken with no news of her beloved. Nanukkuttan coerces his aunt to fix their wedding. Bhargavi is adamant, and Nanukkuttan plays his trump card. He confronts Bhargavi and tells her that he has finished off Sasikumar with the poison laced bananas.
An enraged Bhargavi gets into scuffle with Nanukkuttan and is pushed into the well by the latter, who later plants the fake letter next to the well. It is at this point that the ‘Reading’ is interrupted by Nanukkattan in the present, who had broken in into Bharagavinilayam, planning to finish off Madhu. He reveals that he is of course the murderer, and he intends to kill Madhu too before morning breaks by throwing him in the well. But, for once, he has picked on the wrong one to fight. A scuffle ensues resulting in both of them crashing through the old well’s safety wall and hurtling down into the watery grave.
What happens next? Do they survive or perish? For that, you would have to watch the movie :)
So, is there a DVD/VCD available of the movie?
VCD, yes, and a crappy one at that, courtesy Harmony Videos.
Can I buy it online?
Yes, you can get a copy here.