Like it happened yesterday.
Almost every music channel played the famous songs “Manassil..” “Aarum aarum” and “Karmugil varnente“, which also played a huge role in singer Chitra’s real life. Watching the cult film Nandanam helped me revisit my childhood days in a way.
The movie is about Balamani (Navya Nair), a young girl who is working as a cook and maid in “Amabalapaatu” tharavaadu, the ancestral home of Unniamma (Kaviyoor Ponnamma). She is loved by everyone around her. She is a talented singer and dancer; adored by Unniamma. One day, she sees the man in her dreams (literally), and falls in love with Unniamma’s grandson Manu (Prithviraj). However, eventually obstacles in the form of status and relatives come in between them and the rest of the movie deals with how Balamani overcomes all that.
Okay, I know that in a way I just spoiled the entire film with my previous sentence, but it is quite obvious. Malayalam cinema witnessed so many films that dealt with love, love between upper-class boy/girl and lower class girl/boy, heartbreak, parents opposing it etc. Nandanam is different from a typical love story, thanks to the unique plot, intense performances, great characterizations and the last 10 minutes of this film made it the cult phenomenon it was back then. Nandanam has the perfect touch of divinity, humor, and drama; making it an enjoyable ride for the family audience.
Plot is unique because we are introduced to the lifestyle of the typical upperclass family in Guruvayoor. The maids Parukutty, Karthiyani and Deshaminiamma is the comedy trio with apt and hilarious timing. Notable scenes are the ones where they bicker about Deshaminiamma’s massive appetite, conversations about the ghost and those cult scenes where Parukuttyamma and Karthiyaniamma argue about each other’s work. Nandanam introduced very good characters, Manu is an innocent extrovert young man who is vulnerable and in love with Balamani. Prithviraj delivered a good performance in his debut film even though he looks less impressive towards the second half especially in his combination scenes with Navya or Revathy. Unniamma is another one of my favorite characters, Kaviyoor Ponnamma is adorable and powerful in her role. One word from Unniamma silences everyone in her home. The only fault with Kaviyoor Ponnamma’s performance was the fact that she couldn’t get her Thrissur accent perfectly, at times Alappuzha accent comes in. Innocent shined in this film with comic timing and with good character performance as Keshavan Nair and is definitely the best character in this movie, a man who selflessly loved and stood up for Balamani in the face of adversity.
screenshot, Nandanam, AP International
The worst characterization is, unfortunately, Balamani, the lead character. Balamani is a cult character, Navya became a shining star because of her success through Nanadanam. Balamani is described as a gem, sweetheart and hardworking by the members of Amabalapaattu tharavaadu. Other than hardworking, Balamani is shown arguing with the other maids, talking gossip with her neighbor Janu chechi (Kala Ranjini), at times she is rude. Personally, I do like bold/rebellious female characters who stand up for themselves and who are able to be firm amidst those who exploit them. Balamani is shown unnecessarily rude and after that (all of a sudden) she becomes amicable. Everything else is up to the point, what cringes me the most is her attitude towards Kesavan Nair, her mentor. He loves her more than anything else, he expresses his care for her at one point by saying “A lot of people call me ‘mundan Nair’ (jerk Nair), if you say that then it makes me sad” to which Balamani replies coldly. Navya delivered a fantastic performance, no doubt about it especially in the last 10 minutes (my favorite part of the film) and Ranjit wrote down a good screenplay, he should have refined Balamani’s character little more. Also, some of the dialogues during emotional scenes are unnatural, especially in the scene where Manu confesses his love for Balamani to his mother. And there are abhorrent comedy scenes performed by Jagathy, Kalabhavan Mani, Jagadish and Mala Aravindan, that ruined the flow and charm of this film. If I get a chance to talk to Mr Ranjith, I would definitely ask why those scenes were added in the first place. Kudos to Ranjith for creating Unni Krishnan (Aravindan). Unni Krishnan and Balamani’s connection with him is the soul of this film.
Technically this film is only as good as the ’90s films with less camera movements, angles and pacing but it did capture the mood and settings this film was trying to convey. We do feel like we are in a Malayali household. Background music is either really good or really annoying. The songs by Raveendran are worth listening. Along with the movie, the songs made a huge mark in the audience members minds and hearts.
Nandanam is one of my favorite Malayalam films with a powerful twist in the end that is still well appreciated by the audience and critics alike. With little more refining it would have been a perfect film.
Featured image: Satyam audios, Nandanam official poster.