Chillu (1982) | Of Fragile relationships and frightening escape hatches.

Chillu (1982) - Title Card [ SPOILERS AHEAD ! ]

To anyone who has a part of his/her yester years safe in a cookie jar deep down, the lyrics of “Oru vattam koodiyen” from this movie are unforgettable. From the same movie is the song “Chaithram chayam” whose melody captures a deep sorrow within it – a sorrow that seems to echo the collective sorrow of a universe. It was this music that led me to the movie.

Chillu (1982) – I found the title fascinating.  A piece of glass that is sturdy and firm on the exterior, and in truth, so delicate and fragile that it could break into a million pieces at the slightest trauma. Such is the central character of this movie – Annie (Shanthi Krishna). The movie has its oddities and eccentricities in terms of script, dialogue delivery, pace and performance –  it carries strong tones of an art movie, as opposed to other movies which have touched upon the theme of suicide, such as Neeyethra Dhanya (1987) or Oru May maasa Pulariyil (1987) . However, what appealed to me about this movie was the characterization of Annie – the sketching of a personality trait that predisposes to suicidal behaviour. In that regard, this was yet another Malayalam movie that scored brilliantly at its psychological perspective.

The evergreen “Oru Vattam Koodiyen”.

In the first half of the movie, we are introduced to an Annie who is unconventional, outgoing and quite open minded. She personifies individuality and appears to be in control of herself. Having lost her mother early in her childhood, her father has raised her liberally. We also see the impulsive Annie who leads a life that is far from mundane. Her plans and her actions are abrupt and impulsive. An Annie who lives in the moment, whose life does not revolve around one particular focus. Instead, she is volatile and switches from one endeavour to another. This moment, she is seen chatting and laughing with a bunch of friends. The next moment, she switches over to a more intellectual conversation with Ananthu (Venu Nagavalli). And then you see her switching over to a playful banter with Manu (Rony Vincent).

Shanthi Krishna as Annie in Chillu (1982)
Shanthi Krishna as Annie in Chillu (1982)

Annie cherishes relationships; she seeks deep intimacy in all her relationships. This is where her relationship with Ananthu derives emphasis. Ananthu is an intellectual companion- someone whom Anne relates to. Manu, on the contrary, is her companion from childhood. She cherishes both these relationships, albeit on different grounds. However, Manu fails to comprehend this equation and he feels threatened by her emotional intimacy with Ananthu. When confronted with the question as to whether Annie is in love with Manu, she has a simple answer- “I grow restless if I don’t see him a single day.” And then she laughs about it. One would almost mistake her for a woman who was incapable of being dependent on relationships.

Rony Vincent as Manu in Chillu-(1982)
Rony Vincent as Manu in Chillu-(1982)

And that is Annie for us in the first part. While her relationships are in place, we see an Annie who is idealistic, joyful and loving. She refrains from defining emotions and relationships because definitions perhaps undermine their value.

The movie takes a turn towards the second half as Manu’s insecurity grows. As a desperate attempt to ‘own’ Annie, Manu pretends to court another girl. However, Manu’s mother grasps the situation and decides to take a stand. She arranges for Manu to get married to this girl, gauging well that Manu’s insecurity would always stand in the way of his relationship with Annie. She explains this to Annie. And that is the moment we see the other version of Annie- intensely sensitive and fragile. Annie breaks down. Her vitality is replaced by a brooding personality – a personality that is overwhelmed by the pain of rejection and abandonment. Her lows sail through depression – a sorrow that refuses to abandon her. In this period, we also see her mood swings and emotional instability. One moment, she is crying out aloud and the next moment, she gathers herself up, ignoring the ache that is gnawing at her. She switches from vulnerability to strength and back to vulnerability. Depression turns into a season that refuses to leave. Her mind desperately hunts for an escape from it. Impulsively, she visits Ananthu. Their college life has come to an end and Ananthu is leaving. Her mind desperately longs to hold on to someone who will comfort her and help her tide over her depression. She expresses her desire to accompany Ananthu, merely to escape from the emotional chaos within her mind. However, when he expresses his helplessness, she is quick to repress the vulnerability she has transiently exposed. And thus, Annie comes face to face with her loneliness. We see the Annie who is in reality, intensely dependent on her relationships for happiness.

Venu Nagavalli as Ananthu in Chillu (1982)
Venu Nagavalli as Ananthu in Chillu (1982)

Annie attends Manu’s wedding. She plays the perfect host to the guests, her face belying the chaos within. She exhibits dissociation, wherein she desperately focusses on playing host, in order to escape from the unbearable pain within. And yet, it hits harder and she bursts into tears. Manu’s wedding signifies to her a permanent loss of her relationship. The loneliness and emptiness is suddenly frightful. Unable to contain the negativity of her emotions, Annie finds her ultimate escape route. Like a human being who would rather jump out of the window of a high-rise apartment that caught fire and die than endure the flames, Annie prefers suicide to the negativity of her emotions. That is her final impulsive act.

This movie beautifully portrays borderline personality traits. Borderline personality disorder ( BPD ) is well known for its association with suicide; the suicide rate is 8-10% in this class of people. People with BPD are highly sensitive to rejection and fear of possible abandonment. They display unusually intense sensitivity in their relationships, have difficulty regulating emotions and are impulsive. They feel emotions more easily and for longer than normal people. They are emotionally unstable due to repeated “re-firing” or re-initiation of an emotional reaction. They are exceptionally idealistic, joyful and loving. However, they are overwhelmed by negative emotions – they experience grief instead of sadness, humiliation instead of embarrassment, rage instead of anger and panic instead of nervousness.

Efforts to escape from these intense negative emotions accounts for suicidal behaviour in them. They are aware of the intensity of their negative emotional reactions, but are unable to regulate them. They also depict emotional lability with mood swings. They express intense joy and gratitude at perceived expressions of kindness and intense sadness or anger at perceived criticism or hurtfulness. Their feelings towards others shift from positive to negative- from idealization to devaluation. They exhibit a strong desire for intimacy, but tend towards insecure, avoidant or fearfully preoccupied attachment patterns in relationships. They often exhibit dissociation in response to a painful event, thus directing partial or full attention away from the painful event. Most have a history of childhood trauma- particularly loss of caregivers in early childhood.

I think Annie’s character in this movie identifies with the core features of borderline personality. The beauty of the movie is that it takes us through the inner journey of her mind, and helps us empathize with her need for intimacy and her dependence. It gives us insight into such a personality trait and creates in us the desire to be more empathetic to people.

Chaithram Chayam Chalichu from Chillu  (1982)

24 thoughts on “Chillu (1982) | Of Fragile relationships and frightening escape hatches.

  1. Hi…i chanced upon this when i was reading up on borderline personality disorder (BPD). Your review about the film is spot on, and the write-up quite measured and balanced. Very impressive and crisp review.

  2. Excellent write up. Never watched this movie, was always fascinated by the beauty of its songs. Your write up made me decide to watch it today…

  3. Vidya,
    Excellent write-up and this is an unforgettable movie as it reflected a very realistic situation, and all the characters are good; LR is one of my all-time favorites of Malayalam directors, and the unit will be thrilled to see your review!

    Regards,
    Chandrakumar

  4. Dear Narayan,
    I couldn’t contain my excitement when I read your note. It is a small world! I do hope Lenin Rajendran will read this! I wonder what his version of Annie would be. Nothing more exciting than getting to hear the original version of what went intothe making of this movie!
    My favourite Lenin Rajendran movie is ‘mazha’. I think the story was based on kamala das’s novel.
    I haven’t watched ‘vachanam’. Now that you mention it, i want to.
    Thank you for the note🙂

  5. Dear Sajit,
    Glad you liked the write-up.
    Music has been an important ingredient of the older malayalam movies. Not just the songs, but the background music as well. I remember someone mentioning in an interview that directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan would actually recommend specific ragams to music directors for the songs in their movies. And why not? After all, music contributes powerfully to creating specific moods- a fact that our directors brilliantly used in order to take us through the varied moods associated with the story progression. In this regard, the bgm played a more important role than did the songs.
    Lenin Rajendran’s movies have also given music its due importance. Mazha is another movie where the ‘nilambari’ transforms into a crucial element of the movie.
    Charukeshi and chakravakam are ragams that appeal to me immensely and that create similar moods- an overpowering feeling of something that is far beyond human..of something divine. In this regard, chaithram chayam (chakravakam) and kripaya palaya (charukeshi) are favourite compositions. It is tragic that today, we have no match for such songs- neither in terms of melody nor in terms of lyrics!
    Vidya

    1. Vidya
      Thanks for your detailed note on the BGM side and am really delighted to know that your favourite ragaas are Chakravaakam and charukeshi – ragaas Stimulating feelings of sorrow, sympathy and devotion. Lot many songs in these two ragas are there in malayalam songs. Chaitram Chayam is a typical chakravakam song. Expect more write ups from you

      B Sajith

  6. Yesterday I had been to my Senior’s residence for Iftaar- and we had a pleasant surprise. Director Lenin Rajendaran was one of guests. I told him about the discussion going on about CHILLU Over here and requested him to check out OMC. He was amazed that Chill is remembered even more than 30 years after its release. He asked me whether it was my favourite film directed by him…and I said the truth. Though its a good movie my personal favorite Lenin Rajendran movie is VACHANAM and the song “Neermizhi peelikal…” is simply awesome (an who can forget Charuhasan

  7. The songs have touched me most emotionally in those days, the movie came up in Doordarshan during late 1980s, as I was in my early teenage, this had even created a mind of romance in me, a boy of 16, thanks for the posts and the write-up,
    Santhi Krishna captured the imagination of many teenagers and youth during those days

    1. Dear Sen Joseph,
      Thank you for the comment. Shanthi Krishna was someone I adored on screen. Most of the movies she acted in, are unforgettable. Vishnulokam, savidham, chakoram- these are personal favourites.

  8. Vidya
    Thanks for your article about the film which we all saw towards the end of our college days. Chillu, i feel is the second film of Lenin Rajendran after Venal. Today, the songs of this film are remembered. However, you explored the psychological angle of the theme and it was really delighting. Chaitram Chayam Chalichu, Oru Vattam Koodi and Pokkuveyil are regarded as exemplary compositions of M B Sreenivasan. I still remember the title music of the film which was really a new treatment. Typical M B S style.

    Sajith B

  9. This is my third time commenting…
    I knew there was a reason why I didn’t watch this film earlier. Thank you for reminding me not to give in to my DVDwala if he tries to persuade me up one way and down another that this is one film I should watch.”

      1. Vidya, I react very badly to films that deal with psychological issues.😦 I don’t know what it says about me but films like Sadayam, Ulladakkam even Nidra (which I liked actually).

        1. It says you are like me, anu..i dont know if that is good or bad. I guess we live the character in the movie as we watch it. I guess the fear of such movies left me to some degree only after i learnt to analyze these movies. Someone once taught me that unpleasant feelings are always trying to say something and we need to carry them until they decode themselves into thoughts. And yet, a movie like sadayam, i still dread to watch!

  10. Vidya
    A very nice analysis of the movie which brings out the complexities of Borderline Personality Disorder. Shanthikrishna was very popular at that time, and a great actress. Looking forward to more.

    Susie

    1. Dear Susie,
      Thanking you for dropping by.
      I think movies sometimes do a better job at portraying these complex ‘disorders’ than do texts. Textbooks are often a little more rigid in their definitions while movies are borrowed from real life and therefore touch upon the variance that is seen in these disorders. After all, the route taken by each of our minds is unique and does not necessarily conform to a specific pattern. It is interesting as to how these movies shape our attitude to the very concept of mental illness. In fact, I even hate to use the word ‘disorder’. How can you, after you have lived Annie’s character in your mind?
      Lenin Rajendran and his team were surely not even thinking of ‘borderline personality disorder’ when they made this movie. All they had done was study a character borrowed from life and portray it brilliantly on screen. And thus, we saw BPD unfold quite naturally on screen. In my opinion, this is where ‘Thanmathra’ failed. Here, a movie was made based on the facts that qualified Alzheimer’s disease. To me, it appeared as if the character in that movie was trying to live upto Alzheimer’s disease.
      Shanthi Krishna was quiet ideal for the character of Annie- a silently grieving woman in all her beauty.
      Vidya

  11. Chillu- this movie holds a special place in my heart…its a part of my childhood- i was around 4 or 5 when the shooting of the movie took place in Trivandrum. one of the locations was a house just behind our house (then house- rented one) at Kukiliya Road, Jagathi, trivandrum. i saw the hustle and bustle of the shooting….and Venu Nagavally became quite a familiar name then. My mother tells me that at that time i knew the names of only 4 Malayalam actors – NazeerSukumaran (it took another 2 years for me to realize that these are 2 different people), Jayan and Venu Nagavally.
    And as always…an exceptionally good article

    1. Dear Narayan,
      Thank you for that note. Though I have hardly met any of these artists in real life, they are more real to me than the people in my real life🙂 I can totally relate to your sentiments as you dwell upon the time when the shooting of this movie took place in your neighbourhood. I remember this time when I came face to face with Sukumari; she smiled at me and to this day, I am thrilled at the memory.
      And the bit about Nazeer Sukumaran! Our childhood perceptions were so naïve and when I think of it now, immensely beautiful and pure🙂
      Vidya

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