Whom do I credit this masterpiece with? Should I thank Madhavi Kutty for her book ‘Nashtapetta Neelambari‘, on which this movie is based? For who else could have traced the internal journey of a woman’s life within the rigid framework of a society bound by convention, and brought it into narrative with this degree of perfection? Or should I thank Lenin Rajendran who gave a visual dimension to this narrative, unfolding for us on screen a character that every Indian woman with a free spirit would relate to? Bhadra, as a character, had a magical appeal to the woman in me.
The movie commences on the mesmerising notes of the Neelambari. To me, Neelambari was the soul of this movie. A symphony that reverberated with bitter-sweet nostalgia. A symphony that reverberated with the sanctity of a woman’s first love. Love that so often culminates in pain, only to be tucked away into some deep recess of her mind.
Bhadra, the female protagonist of the movie, is the only child of her parents. Her parents are affluent and she is raised liberally. The movie begins with the family moving from the city to Shivapuram – a beautiful village, where Bhadra’s father hails from. Although hesitant at the outset, Bhadra adapts with ease to her new environment. Her love for nature and music help Bhadra discover a new significance at this new place.
Love makes its entry into Bhadra’s life the way it often does – unannounced and phenomenal, planting the most beautiful dreams in the courtyard of her mind. In the dim – lit passage of a beautiful temple, Bhadra finds herself mesmerised by the Neelambari that seems to rise out of nowhere, making her pause in her steps, entranced and enthralled. She seeks the owner of the voice that seems to have awakened her very soul. Thus begins the romantic interlude between Ramanujam Shastri and Bhadra, a love story that seems to have captured the most poetic imagination.
The relationship between Bhadra and Ramanujam Shastri is evocative at multiple levels. It marks for Bhadra her first bout of self-revelation. As she herself describes in the movie, the first verses of a woman’s autobiography. The movie powerfully portrays Bhadra’s transition from childish oblivion to the passionately throbbing womanhood that thrives within her, rich with dreams and desire. Love colors Bhadra’s world in ways she could never have imagined. She finds immense beauty in the sights and sounds of that little village, for they seem to mirror her own state of mind. Bhadra discovers poetry as her emotions brew into a frenzy, seeking an outlet. And thus, the movie treats us to some beautiful lyrics and songs that weave themselves indiscernibly into this brief episode of the most beautiful love story one can conjure. I was floored by the ingenuity with which love was portrayed in this movie, for it was at a purely artistic and aesthetic plane, the way first love so often is – right out of one’s dreams. Love that is tender and passionate, so full with desire, and yet so devoid of lust. Love that resides in all the silences and unspoken words. Love that is soul to soul, oblivious to all the existing differences, barriers and constraints.
Ithramel from Mazha (2000)
As is the case with life, reality puts a harsh brake on one’s dreams. So it is in this movie, where Bhadra’s parents terminate the affair by arranging for the marriage between Ramanujam Shastri and his cousin, Jnanam- an obligation that finally claims itself. A heartbroken Bhadra watches on as Ramanujam Shastri ties the knot, while he subjects himself to the proceedings, helpless and mute. Bhadra returns home and moves out of Shivapuram with her parents. With the tragic end of her first love, Bhadra also bids goodbye to a part of herself- the part that she associates with her love. She gives up her poetry and the passionate being that she had discovered in Shivapuram.
Aaradyam Parayum from Mazha (2000)
Bhadra lives a conventional life, in touch with the harshness of reality. She studies medicine and becomes a sensitive, empathetic doctor, liberating her pain in alleviating the suffering of her patients. The second part of the movie introduces us to a Bhadra who seems to have come to terms with the bitter truths of life. She is now married to a rich and successful software engineer, Chandrashekhara Menon. Chandran is not perhaps a bad human being, but he represents the prototype of the Indian male, with an ego, groomed and conditioned by the male supremacy outlook of a conventional Indian society. His perspectives on the roles of a man and woman and their mutual expectations from marriage are very stereotyped and so, he fails to understand Bhadra’s emotional needs. This leads to frequent clashes between the two, and their marriage is an ocean that raves and rages, and then stills as they both attempt to prevent it from fragmenting, only to lash out again.
The specialty of this movie is that the storyline and the ending are of only secondary importance. The essence of the movie is Bhadra’s personality – a woman who awakens us to the fact that as women living in contemporary Indian society, we are vulnerable to the currents of life – far more than men in this society.Our lives might lie at the mercy of our primary caretakers and the men we marry, but our minds- we alone own possession of that mind. The movie highlights the fact that even within the rigid framework of this orthodox society, the mind is a free bird.
Varmukile from Mazha (2000)
In the movie, Bhadra is the ultimate survivor. Her reactions to tragedy are contrary to expectations. Upon the loss of her first love, Bhadra does not crumble, nor does she despise Ramanujam Shastri. She preserves him as an idol of worship in the temple of her mind, for it was he who gave form to her most precious dreams. She also does not ‘hate’ her husband, Chandrashekhara Menon. She is in acceptance of his personality and her fate, and maintains that emotional distance in her marriage that would stop her from expecting the intellectual and sensual chemistry that was integral to her concept of love. She preserves an independent identity all along, never attempting to own anything or anybody. For she is aware that she owns her perceptions and memories and her only commitment is to these perceptions that define love for her.
The message of the movie is clear. A woman’s mind is a sanctum sanctorum, within which she guards the most sacred of her emotions, the most beautiful of her perceptions. It is in this temple of her mind that she liberates herself, unrestricted. She, and only she, has access to this most beautiful of temples.
Samyukta was the perfect choice for Bhadra. Biju Menon and Lal played their roles to perfection. The movie was all in all, an aesthetic treat for the visuals were striking and the music was powerfully evocative. The dialogue delivery and the intended accent falter at places, but the overall impact of the movie made these insignificant.
Aashadam Paadumbol from Mazha (2000)