Classic Picks | KS Sethumadhavan | Kanyakumari (1974)

This is fondly dedicated to a “Kanyakumari Evangelist “ 🙂

Kanyakumari (1974) Songbook-Cover
Credit : MSI

Kanyakumari (1974), directed by KS Sethumadhavan based on MT Vasudevan Nair’s screenplay also had a unique pairing onscreen that was never repeated ever – Kamal Haasan with Rita Bhaduri   ( NOT to be confused with the younger sister of Jaya Bhaduri), that too in a Malayalam film production! It was her second movie in her career having graduated from the Pune Film Institute in 1973. Zarina Wahab, her batch-mate, however decided to stick with Malayalam films along with her work in Hindi, and even started off paired opposite, guess whom – Kamal Haasan in Malayalam, in Madanolsavam (1978).

This was also Kamal Haasan’s first film in Malayalam in a leading (?) role, after his debut in Kannum Karalum (1961), which again was by KS Sethumadhavan. Kanyakumari (1974) portrays a brief increment in time, centred around the three focii – Kanyakaumari and its enduring myths, the main Rest House of the tourist destination and the vistors to the coastal town who stay there, the squalid tenement of the leading protagonist, Parvati and the events that bind them, riding on sheer chances and coincidences. In a way, as I see it, Kanyakumari is an interesting study of helplessness, sexual and spiritual – of the leading members of the cast pitted against unbridled virility without any morality, and the how destiny addresses each in its own celestial logic.

For a short, tight and almost mystical narrative, I could find only two aspects of the movie, shall I say, incredulous – the dialect used through out the movie and the choice in casting of the main male protagonist . More about this here. The very fact that the legendary duo chose to accommodate / over-ride these two aspects still puzzles me.

The Rest House that forms the hub of the movie - Kanyakumari (1974)
The Rest House that forms the hub of the movie – Kanyakumari (1974)

The movie begins with a group of local tourists been taken around the Kanyakumari temple, as KS Sethumadhavan almost makes the introduction to a promo reel for the temple. Prominent in the crowd is a young couple, newly married ( a very, very young Jagathy Sreekumar) with all the trappings of any honey mooning lovebirds – the excessive public display of affection, the gadgets ( Jagathy flaunts a TLR camera around his neck) and an overzealousness to please and rib each other. Other than being the “face of this group” – in the bus journey and at the Kanyakumari shore , their personal life do not form part of the main narrative of the movie. Nameless, they depart soon. At the temple, the guide emphatically gestures as he narrates the story, a well-worn tale he knows backwards and inside out. Of how the Devi Parashakthi, smitten by Lord Shiva does penance to win him over, and the gods so moved by her devotion convinces the Lord who becomes a willing groom for the wedding that was to happen at midnight. Lord Siva enroute to the wedding venue is fooled into believing he was late, and that morning had broken, by Lord Indra, who takes the form of a rooster and coos within his earshot. A dejected Lord Siva returns. The enraged bride dumps the wedding feast into the sea, pulls down the festive buntings and decide to stay in penance for ever at Kanyakumari. As the crowd collectively nods, a tiny voice quips, tugging her mother’s saree, “ Ma, but I remember grandpa saying  it was Narada and NOT Lord Indra who came as the rooster.”  She is promptly asked to shut up.

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Should it be a coincidence that the setting is Kanyakumari and our lead protagonists are named Shankaran ( Kamal Haasan ) and Parvati ( Rita Bhaduri ) ! The bus, along with a Swami ( KG Menon )  who almost misses it, reaches Kanyakumari who, like one who knows the place like the palm of his hand, where he is accosted by the chirpy, bubbly Parvati, who sells trinkets but decides otherwise not to pitch her wares seeing his attire. Swami walks into the Rest House, where he is shown the room by the loud-mouthed, loose-jawed steward Bhaskaran ( Alummoodan), a constant chatter-box. In the foyer is a hassled Seth ( Shankaradi in an absolutely delightful role ), screaming and cussing in flawless, chaste Hindi and switching to Malayalam seamlessly on a business deal gone sour, as his young wife fidgets and attempts to pacify him, as her husband’s expletives fly around with abandon. In his room, Swami catches the eye of Jayan staring listlessly at the ocean, across the other wing of the building. Jayan ( Prem Navas ) is the spoiled-rich brat of a millionaire businessman, so soaked in alcohol and drugs that doctors have warned him that the next sundowner might be his last, and he is been here since a week for rehabilitation, all by himself.

The Swami has his own share of secrets - Kanyakumari (1974)
The Swami has his own share of secrets – Kanyakumari-(1974)

KS Sethumadhavan also takes us on a tour of the Vivekananda Rock, along with a boatload of tourists, amongst whom is also a very, very young Mallika Sukumaran taking photographs of her family/loved ones. Swamy meets Jayan on a stroll on the beach, the latter starting off a conversation like he has just picked off from where he left the last time they met. Jayan pours his heart out to the ascetic, fearful about his mind that seems to be keeping an arm’s distance from him. Rudderless, he keeps trying to find meaning about himself. Down the beach is Parvati, done for the day, waiting for Shankaran, the only bright spot in her drab life in a hovel with her drunkard, wayward uncle ( N Govindankutty in a menacing, yet restrained role ) and her blind grandmother, the latter offering a semblance of perceived security in her life. Shankaran is a stone-cutter and a budding sculptor who has now found regular work off-shore in a quarry. The embankment is their regular meeting place.

Frederic, the swimmer has an eye on Pravati - Kanyakumari (1974)
Frederic, the swimmer has an eye on Pravati – Kanyakumari (1974)

It’s here that we are introduced to another inmate, on his way back from his daily swim in the sea, Frederic ( Murali “Jesus” Das ), who is all testosterone with the mental constitution of a hyena. His life is very linear – good food, alcohol, his swims and his conquests, with absolutely no moral compunctions nor afterthought. He has an eye on Parvati and is biding his time.

As the night grows at the Rest House, the hippies in the adjoining room, partake in the sacrament of the chillum. As the  song wafts onto the beach and to Jayan, staring listlessly at the night surf, keeps repeating her words, “I’m in love, with love”. The Rest house has another couple checking in the late hours – an elderly, bitter, infirm Somasundaram ( Veeran ), the owner of Ambika mills and his demure, timid wife Rajani ( Mani Mala ), who is less than half his age. The foyer resonates with his screaming at the staff not having honored his special request of a room on the ground floor, and the loud drug-fuelled orgy that’s coming from the adjoining wing, enough to rattle his nerves. Jayan, walking in from the beach, sees Rajani and is stunned. He just cannot seem to recall her exact identity as he frantically tries to search through the hundreds of faces through his hall of memories enveloped in a haze of drugs and alcohol but he knows this face held a special meaning to him sometime ago. And the associated emotions of the time comes rushing, overwhelming him, but he still cannot figure out, even as Somasundaram curses this young man’s stare and they walk to their room.

Somasundaram and Rajini  in Kanyakumar (1974)
Somasundaram and Rajini in Kanyakumari (1974)

The Rest House’s lone restaurant is almost full and as the two elderly couples make themselves comfortable around the huge dinner table , they are joined by Frederic who orders a drink, and switches on his charm on Seth’s wife, who has by then fallen, hook line and sinker for his sheer physical magnetism. At times, the moth dive-bombs into the flame with the full realization of what lies at the end of the journey, and she expects no less an outcome, on whatever level it is. The sexual vibes are not lost on the fellow diners ( except for the Seth that is ) who leave after a hurried meal. The Swami, meanwhile, back in his room, finds his the small suitcase that holds his belongings has been someone else’s, now filled with children’s dresses and feminine wear. Bemused, and a bit disappointed, he goes ahead and goes on draping each article of dressing on and around the bed. An unknown family comes alive around him, the children’s rhymes, a harried mother’s reprimands and he sighs, for a moment thinking of the things that might have been. Meanwhile in the corridor, a pair of dainty feet stealthily moves in a purposeful  hurry from the Seth’s room to Frederic’s room with her partner’s loud snore escorting her safely.

A perturbed Jayan, on whom this new face has grown into an obsession has by now made the corridor that gives a safe and unobstructed view of Somasundaram’s room his new haunt. He just has to get to the bottom of it, and that face stays like the maddening itch that persists in that unreachable part of your back.

Parvati's uncle has an eye on her  too - Kanyakumari (1974)
Parvati’s uncle has an eye on her too – Kanyakumari (1974)

In another part of the coastal town, domestic bliss is the farthest from his mind, as the garrulous and drunk Veerappan starts his hideous flirting and terrorizing of Parvati and her invalid and blind grandmother. He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that before the next year is through, Parvati would be his wife, come what may. A terrified and disgusted Parvati can only cringe.

Parvati is surprised and happy to find Swami in front of her hut next morning and is even more surprised as he reels out the local landmarks around this part of Kanyakumari, some of which even she isn’t aware. But what surprises her most is that swami even knows her grandmother’s maiden name, Karuthamma. She is amazed, surely he has divine powers ! On his stroll back to the beach, in front of the driveway to the Rest house, he is accosted by a very emotional Jayan who emphatically tells him that he has come to the final conclusion, after being up all night, recollecting that he and the lady with Somasundaram are acquaintances but from when, he doesn’t know. And its at that moment the couple appear, enroute to the nearby temple. Jayan takes leave, says he too needs a temple visit. The Swami smiles empathetically.

Swami amazes Parvati with his knowledge of her locality - Kanyakumari (1974)
Swami amazes Parvati with his knowledge of her locality – Kanyakumari (1974)

At the temple, Jayan follows the couple at a safe distance, even to the curio stalls dotted around the temple, and soon comes in direct eye-contact with an already cursing Somasundaram, who finds the quality of the curios disgusting and their sales techniques loathsome. Seeing Jayan inside the shop and  stalking his wife is the last straw as he explodes, insulting him. Jayan is unfazed. He just cannot recognize the face but will keep trying.

Swami is at the beach, almost waiting  with a purpose, and it is not long before Shankaran returns after his day’s work.  It doesn’t take long for him to form a bond with the young stone-cutter who melts at the very name of his beloved from this venerable sage. The Swami’s part inquiry, part-conversation indicates more of a guardian’s “due diligence” as he weighs the best options to secure his ward’s future. The benevolence seems almost cloyingly sweet. As he takes leave, he blesses him with almost paternal love.

And it is with amusement that he watches the Seth and his wife, engrossed in their seemingly personal world, though in reality, she is intently engrossed in watching Frederic taking his daily swim and drinking it all in with her hungry eyes. The Seth, is blissfully unaware. As they leave Kanyakumari the next day, the deeply religious Seth falls at the feet of  Swami whom he meets at the driveway, the wife following suit, as he discloses the real purpose of his visit which is in fact a pilgrimage to be blessed with a heir to their personal fortune. It’s been close to three decades of pilgrimages now. Oblivious to the Swami, Destiny had, this time around invoked the good graces of a “god” on earth itself, a secret known only to Seth’s wife, probably forever.

Jayan, meanwhile has reached a decision of serious consequences as he realises that in this intense quest of pursuing this face from his past, he has also fallen deeply in love with her, without even having said a word. Gathering his courage, he mentions this to Swami, revealing his course of action of gatecrashing into Somasundaram’s room and telling his acquaintance that he is deeply in love with her. Swami offers all his moral support. At a different part of the beach, osession has taken a more sinister and lustful form in the form of Frederic who again tries to hit on Parvati, inviting her to his room, so that he can buy off all her bead-necklaces and pay her well. As she wriggles out this , she is accosted by Veeran who has come in search of her for his booze-money.

Frederic seizes opportunities by their necks - Kanyakumari (1974)
Frederic seizes opportunities by their necks – Kanyakumari (1974)

Frederic wastes no time in realising an opportunity that Destiny has brought around, befriends Veeran, takes him to his room, plies him with country liquor and asks him to get the “girl” that night to his room, even paying him. It isn’t long before Veeran passes out at the Rest House premises on his way out. Jayan, who almost gate-crashes into Somasundaram’s room in the guise of borrowing a Railways Time Table,  introducing himself and declaring his love for his acquaintance is visibly shattered when she is introduced as Mrs. Somasundaram. His destruction is complete. Swami, on a night stroll finds Jayan drunk and incoherent, but happy of having ultimately recognised her in the confrontation. She was his childhood sweet-heart whom he had lost touch as they moved to another place.

Jayan is helped to his room by Swami and on the stairwell is met by Rajini, who seem to have recognised him the moment they met at the foyer for the first time. Resigned to the ways of the world, he apologises for having dragged into this bizarre situation of his making. It’s a beautiful moment as both wistfully hope for a moment of how it might had been and drag themselves violently to the present and its depressing reality. Jayan is at peace now. He has atleast found an answer to one of his own questions. That, he feels, makes him a little less helpless than he had been.

In the stairwell, as Swami escorts her to her room, they find themselves in the presence of Somasundaram, in all his acerbic, bitter, cussing glory. But this time its Rajini, for the first time in their marital “arrangement ”cuts him down to size, for all the berating and the barbed arrowheads that he had stuck into her heart, every single day. Somasundaram, suddenly feeling lower than the pock-marked mosaic floor, literally crawls away.

In the early hours next morning, Parvati is on her way up to the beach, after bidding Shankaran goodbye, Frederic is lying in wait for her. The beach head is deserted, as far her eyes can see both ways, and Frederic knows his moment has arrived and he is not going to let go off it, come what may. Swami, who knows where to find Parvati at this time of the day, has the purposeful walk of an estranged parent atlast about to meet his daughter, with a memorable gift for her wedding that he sees not far away in the future, to a boy he approves. To know what happens next, you need to watch the movie 🙂

So, is there a legal copy available that I can buy online?

The VCD of the movie is available and you can buy it here.

Related Weird dialects, a mystic mascot and melody time-travels.

Related The Songs of Kanyakumari (1974)

10 thoughts on “Classic Picks | KS Sethumadhavan | Kanyakumari (1974)

  1. Nice blend of old Malayalam cinema…., even i don’t have this kind of old Malayalam cinema section in my blog.
    great effort guys….. keep going…..

  2. have not seen KANYAKUMARI…and after reading this I feel that I have “seen” the movie. Never knew that Ritabhaduri was the sister of Jaya bachchan

    1. Dear Narayan,
      That Rita is a different Rita from THIS Rita Bhaduri who is an actress. The actress Rita Bhaduri is NOT the sister of Jaya Bhaduri. Thanks, cm.

  3. :D. Now i have got to watch this movie. when i read about the guide’s narration of the legend, i noticed the discrepancy too; the kid asked my question:)
    what a complicated story. but am sure i shall enjoy it, especially the location. would be nice to see the old kanyakumari, less crowded and more pristine. and thanks once again.. OMG! a dedication!

    1. It isn’t that complicated once you are in it. It is the classic “strangers-in-a-building” scenario with some karma thrown in 🙂 Ok, now that I have shamelessly generalised it, you can go with an expectation that it is way more dense than one think it is 🙂 What you must be doing is be watching it without fail. And about the dedication, why not? Regards, cinematters

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