It’s been 23 years since Manichitrathazhu’s release and as a film, it has changed the scenario of thrillers in Malayalam cinema. Even today, people will watch this film with same enthusiasm when it comes to television. TRP ratings have increased whenever the film was telecast in mini-screen. Most dialogues are by-heart for the audience and some of them have created a trend in mimicry, parodies and internet memes.
In a way, memes are more popular than the movie itself. 😛 People use the dialogues in real life as well. Manichitrathazhu is considered as one of the all-time great Malayalam films ever released and resulting impact it was able to create in the minds of the audience is what created its legacy.
The movie takes place in Madambi tharavaadu, the ancestral home of Nakulan (Suresh Gopi) He comes to his native place with his wife Ganga (Shobana) and settles in Madambi until his architectural work project is done. His superstitious uncle Thampi (Nedumudi Venu) objects to his decision but gives owing to the beliefs of city people. Ganga opens a room that was apparently locked by a manichitrathazhu lock covered with sacred threads and mantras, which was used to seal in two spirits; Nagavelli and ancestor Sankaran Thampi. Nagavelli is a dancer, who was brought from Thanjavoor as Sankaran Thampi’s concubine. She was in love with a dancer named Ramanadan who lived near Madambi. After knowing about their affair, Sankaran Thampi kills her. Her spirit is said to be haunting the palace ever since. After this, supernatural occurrences happen in the palace and Nakulan suspects it as the deeds of his cousin Sreedevi (Vinaya Prasad) who previously had a history of mild depression as she was dumped by her husband. He asks his psychiatrist friend Sunny (Mohanlal) to stay in Madampi to treat her. Sunny digs deeper into the mystery and finds the result which leads to shocking revelations.
The movie has every flavor that is seen in a typical used in Malayalam; comedy, song sequences, a little bit of melodrama and location in native Kerala. In 1993, the filming process itself was quite endearing as the movie was shot in 2 different locations, Padmanabhapuram palace in TVM and Hill palace in EKM, shown as a single palace. The movie has a peculiar structure where the POV shifts from one character (Ganga) to another (Sunny) resulting in a completely different scenario by the second half. Not to mention, the hero appears only after an hour in this movie. With comedy, drama and art blended within the suspense thriller, Manichitrathazhu presented a theme that is different from a typical Malayalam masala movie. The movie deals with psychiatry and each supernatural occurrence that is perceived by each character is explained with respect to science. Great priest Brahmadattan Namboothiripaadu (Thilakan) concurs with Sunny’s scientific explanations, thus reducing the gap between the science and religion in a way. Manichitrathazhu can be enjoyed as comedy, suspense thriller and a musical. Another memorable aspect is the casting. Each and every character is unique in their respective roles. Other than the leads, even minor people like Dasappan (Ganesh Kumar), Alli (Rudra) even Vaidyar who plays aksharaslogam with Unnithan (Innocent) will be remembered. Mohanlal is adept in his role. He has established himself as a versatile at the time of the film’s release, not to mention, this was during the golden age of Malayalam cinema which introduced new talents into the mainstream. His portrayal as an eccentric yet brilliant psychiatrist is fun to watch. However, the presentation has flaws. For eg: a psychiatrist does not make fun of their patients or insult them. Yet, Sunny is shown attacking a person calling him a “vattucase” and, the famous (or infamous) “vellom!” scene. As a doctor, he was shown in a bad light though the comic timings will make one laugh. That was the one objection I had in terms of his portrayal otherwise he is apt. The way he transcends from his eccentricities to seriousness is adroit highlighting Mohanlal’s versatility. Suresh Gopi stuck to his standard although he looked off at times, but his sincerity and unconditional love towards Ganga is a positive streak. The one who rules the movie is Shobana whose astounding portrayal contributed to the film’s cult status. People watch this movie in order to witness Ganga, notably the famous “Vidamaatte?!” scene. Her grace and ease in acting makes Ganga who she is and added more than 100 cents as the “other person”. Shobana received a well-deserved national award for her performance but the authenticity is something that needs to be questioned as Ganga’s voice is dubbed by Bhagyalakshmi and Durga. The vocal performance is as important as the physical and facial acting so giving awards to dubbed performances is a huge question. Half the credit in “vidamaatte” scene should go to Durga for her vocal performance. Vinaya Prasad is a highly underrated actress. Her performance as Sreedevi likable. She is bold, calm and loyal, in a way making hers the best character from the film, as she was ready to sacrifice her image for Nakulan’s sake, although presented in a subdued manner. Nedumudi Venu, K.PA.C Lalitha, and Innocent were great as usual. Innocent dominates the screen with his comic timings and he makes a fantastic pair with K.P.A.C Lalitha. Sudheesh makes an adorable presence.
Another peculiarity is the direction which makes the scenario look different in each situation as the second unit directors are established in their work. Fazil’s direction along with upgraded camera work and editing is apt. Massive improvement in technical side is seen, the background music is creepy and it is dissolved in the situation shown. We see montages which match the emotions of the character; for eg: the kathakali scene where Ganga goes missing and the fast beats of the drums emphasizing Sunny’s tension. The song sequences are shot well,my favorites being “varuvaanilaa” and “oru murai”. Although, personally I feel that the song “pazhathamizh paattu” was unnecessary. The scenario itself was too cheesy; Sunny sits down to sing a song amidst unenthusiastic group after locking a screaming woman up in a room. Why was the song was even put there? Why did he have to sing it out loud? The story is structured such that we won’t have any more questions left. The film has twists, turns, and a clever build-up. People, especially today, will end up questioning the superstitions of the circumstances and the methods used by religion to cure psychiatric illness. Above all, on how Sunny chose to treat a patient by targeting the person psychologically instead of giving medicines and on why he kept it a secret from everyone. The argument that can be brought is that it is a thriller and thrill lies in the anonymity.
Manichitrathazhu is a film I have watched countless number of times owing to the different flavors and to watch performances; notably Shobana, Mohanlal and Innocent.
Featured image: youtube.com