[ This is a guest post by Prakash Rajan, from Bangalore India, now residing in New Jersey, USA. Prakash is an inveterate cinephile and an 80’s -era Malayalam films junkie.”I love Sathyan Anthikad, Satajit Ray and Stanley Kubrick“, says Prakash. Touch base with Prakash here.]
‘Sarvakalshala’ is quintessential Venu Nagavalli. Why? This is because, like the man himself, the film is philosophical and brooding. There is a pervading sense of melancholy in the movie, just like our man who is known for his pensive image. However, there is more to Venu Nagavalli than what meets the eye. There are many rib-tickling moments in the movie, attributed mainly to those classics moments in which Shankaradi, Innocent and Jagathy rule the roost. This again, is the very reflection of the man, who inspite of his serious countenance, can conjure moments of great humour. (Remember he is the writer of the laugh riot – Kilukkam.)
The Cassocks of Kuttanad and Charachira butt heads.
Rare are movies in which pathos and humour mingle and reach such a heady mix as in Sarvakalashala, so much so that we are sucked right into the University atmosphere. What adds to the effect is the fact that the movie does not have a story at all. A linear story would have made us passive viewers, but Venu ingeniously strings together moments in a college life and invites us into the moods of its chief characters. A classic case illustrating this is, when we too end up being a part of the late-night drinking binge in which Nadumudi Venu croons “Athiru kakkum”, and the rest of the characters, including ourselves, silently listen to the song and ponder over our lives. Sukumaran’s character aptly sums things up when he says in the movie that, all of us have our tragic tales.
Athiru kaakkum from Sarvakalashala (1987)
The background score, use of slow motion at key moments and the flashbacks are the many cinematic devises that Venu Nagavalli uses to create a palpable mood. Talking of cinematic devises, in one of the best scenes in the movie, Chakkara tries to ape Venu Nagavalli himself. This self- deprecatory humour, for a moment, breaks the 4th wall so to say, and makes us conscious of the director.
Chakkara does a Venu Nagavalli.
We have seen movies where cities, due to their overwhelming atmosphere, become a virtual character in a movie. Be it New York in Taxi Driver, Mumbai in ‘Dhobi Ghat’ or Delhi in ‘Delhi 6’. In this movie, University is given an outright character. The movie begins and ends with voice-overs of Lal speaking to Muthachan – which is the University itself. How unique!
Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are the ones involving Lal courting Gayathri and his marriage proposal. Gayathri’s father nonchalantly regrets Lal’s marriage proposal. Lal is chagrined and hurt, but accepts the decision rather gracefully. The whole process of putting forth the proposal, the rejection, the dejection and the resumption is so dignified. (You cringe when you see the melodramatic and over-the-top courtships in movies of today)
Venu Nagavally’s mastery in portraying love’s desolation and helplessness.( Starts at 5 : 41)
Despite the underlying melancholy, the ending of the movie is not tragic, although it does almost totter at its very precipice. “Life ain’t so dark after all” – Venu seems to say, because Truth is the ray of hope which shines through the fog of despair and “Truth always prevails.”
The delightful Athintho from Sarvakalashala (1987)
‘Sarvakalashala’ is eventually a classic. It is a hidden gem amongst classic Malayalam movies and a classic example of why the 80’s will remain the golden period of Malayalam cinema. May writers and directors dig deep into the very recesses of their heart and make such movies – melancholic, satirical, tragic, comic -the genre does not matter, but honesty does.