The Prithviraj versus Mohanlal Debate

When I first saw Prithviraj on the sets of Nandanam, I was completely bowled over by his personality- elite, handsome, confident and assertive. It was his individuality and extroversion that captured my attention- something amiss in Malayalam cinema. He was a fresh face on the screen, perhaps giving voice to the youth of a new generation.
And then I heard all these squabbles over Prithviraj versus Mohan Lal.
Mohan Lal is an image that is deep rooted in my mind. To me, he represents the numerous versatile characters he has enacted over a span of several years- characters that are engraved in my mind for somewhere, they belong in the emotional realms of my mind. They are characters that represent fragments of familiarity, comfort and reassurance. They are characters in whom one discovers the ingredients of humanity that one constantly seeks in real life.
I do think it is baseless to ‘compare’ these two personalities. It would be more mature on our part to give Prithvi his due merit and restrict ourselves to constructive criticism on his performance.
However, such a squabble did set me thinking on these two personalities and the differences in them. I watched Prithvi’s interview shortly after his marriage and was impressed by the clarity of his thoughts and the ease/courage with which he put across his thoughts. The conservative malayalee will brand his individuality as ‘attitude’ or ‘arrogance’.
But then I ask myself-
I love him as an individual…do I love him as an actor?
Nandanam was a masterpiece by Ranjith. And the truth is that I was too much in love with the movie to contemplate on Prithvi’s proficiency as an actor. As subsequent movies unfolded, I found his acting lacked a ‘dropping of the self ‘- the ability to ‘feel’ a situation and give in to the feeling. He seemed to ‘think out’ a situation, rather than ‘feel’ it. In fact, there are a good many young actors in some Malayalam serials who outdo his performance any day- I always wonder why they don’t make it to movies. Prithvi is good at roles that demand assertiveness. But that is not what defines an actor. An actor is one who can effortlessly shed his own personality and get into the soul and spirit of the character in the movie- who can become one with the character and internalize the character and situation. It is in this regard that Mohan Lal and Prithvi differ. Lal is the product of a different era- he is the sum total of years of grooming and moulding by harsher personal and professional circumstances (the harshness that transforms events into experiences), a slow rise to fame that encompassed acting across a broad range of characters and situations, and of course, ingenious mentors. Perhaps, if writers and directors such as Bharathan, Padmarajan, MT, Lohithadas did not form the voices on which the foundation of Malayalam cinema rested, Mohan Lal may not have been so fortunate. Also, Lal’s personality is more contained; he ‘contains’ his emotions. He is not impulsive and assertive. It is these contained emotions that define an artist for they seep into the artist’s unconscious as emotions that could never be expressed and were contained in silence, and it is these emotions that are liberated in the artist’s art. Prithvi comes across as a character moulded by circumstances that were more conducive to free expression ( the fundamental reason why older artists are often richer when compared to the artists of today who have collected fewer experiences in the course of their lives). An assertive individual often dissipates emotions with impulsivity; he lacks the ability to contain emotions. Such individuals are unable to act from the contained emotions in their unconscious. To be a fine actor, one must have allowed oneself to feel and experience the range and depth of emotions that one wants to portray on screen. One must have in one’s mind the silence and solitude to allow these emotions to attain depth- to allow them to percolate and to mature. Prithvi’s personality lacks this silence and solitude of mind that is vital in shaping an artist. I think he would make a brilliant journalist.
When we think of Lal, all his characters come to our minds. There is very little we know about the individual, Mohan Lal. We know him and remember him as the sum total of all the characters he has brilliantly enacted; Lal is that raw. On the other hand, when we think of Prithvi, it is his own personality that comes to our minds- the individual ‘Prithviraj’, whose personality has spilled into all his characters. This is the primary difference between these two personalities that I love in entirely different ways.
It is true that Lal and Mammootty bring down their standards when they play characters that are absurd and superficial, but as Lal himself has put it-‘I am what the film makers make of me. Lal is not one person; he is the work output of numerous people who have stood backstage and gone into his making’.
I think the entire film industry needs a serious revision and redefining of standards. I can only wish that someone would somehow turn the key and we could go back to the golden era of the 90s when movies set standards for life.

Padmarajan: Malayalam cinema’s eternal loss

For me, it has been a week of Padmarajan movies. I have pushed aside all my preoccupations to escape into the magical sensory experience of his movies- Thoovanathumbikal (butterflies of the rain), Deshadanakkili karayarilla (the migratory bird does not cry), Moonam pakkam (the third day), Innale (Yesterday) and Njan gandharvan (Me- the celestial lover).

Padmarajan, to me, is the mentor I have never met. My mentor with respect to life as well as art. My dedication to him is an obsession.

To watch his movies is to truly liberate oneself from all entrapments in the real world. It is a trance- you unknowingly bare yourself of the burden of the conscious, entering effortlessly into the domain of the subconscious. And then you feel within you a cascade of emotions in their purest form- devoid of the corruption by the conscious…devoid of the burden of the conscious. Love, desire, affection, bonding, passion, angst- they all come alive within you in their most vivid forms. ‘You’ have ceased to exist- ‘you’ are now the character unfolding in the movie. When the movie ends, it is a spell that breaks. Your mind still holds on to it…it longs to linger to ask questions and to seek answers…it refuses to come back to ‘you’. You come out richer for the journey of the character in the movie has become a part of your own journey of life. That was the power of his movies.

His movies provided me with the courage I needed in order to liberate my sensitive self from the emotional entrapments of the real world and create a world of my own in the domains of my mind- a world that was free of barriers and convention. A world that is entirely the property of the subconscious…a world erected on emotions and instincts…a world ungoverned by social norms and stereotyped systems…a world with tremendous potential for beauty. It was the journey from vulnerability to strength…from the dependence I most dreaded in me to the fierce independence I see in me today. The existence of this world in my mind nullifies my dependency on people. Much as I continue to love people and bond with them, it is possible for me to detach at any point in the relationship…for there is a world that waits for me…a world to come back home to. And thus, I became incapable of being hurt in the real world. It is this freedom I cherish the most- the freedom within my mind and the freedom of being inaccessible to hurt. Sorrow can no longer generate hurt in me; it can only contribute to the beauty of the world within my mind.

To watch his movies was to see my own emotions coming alive in visible form. He defined for me themes such as love, family, relationships, woman, beauty and so on. My commitment is to my emotions- it is far more important for me to be able to experience my emotions in totality than to commit to real world relationships that corrupt the sanctity of these emotions. In that sense, these themes are more alive in my mind than in the world around me. In the real world, I experience bits and pieces of these emotions from different quarters- but it is in my mind that I put them together to reconstitute the whole emotion.

His movies taught me the art of inconspicuously entering the delicate and fragile minds of sensitive and ordinary people and gently making them aware of the beauty of their own minds. His movies taught me to fall in love with the ‘peripheral elements’ of society- the ones who are born from the negativity of their circumstances…the ones who have truly experienced the currents of life. His movies provided me with a deep understanding of the inner flights of the mind, often unknown to our conscious. His character sketches provided me with the range and depth I needed in order to understand human behaviour and its inner drives. His movies increased my understanding of the internal journey of my own mind and paved the way for my future. I have my career interests in psychology and I would say that his movies form the bible of my understanding of psychology- much more than all the texts I have read. To watch his movies was to watch life.

I am indebted to Padmarajan in more than one ways for having shaped the journey of my life…for having transformed it into a persistent and beautiful sensory experience…for having multiplied the passion for life. Padmarajan’s death is a personal loss that I mourn. Ironically, even his death seemed to carry the aura of his movies. His movies leave me overwhelmed- overwhelmed at the power of his creation…and then I burst into tears. My obsession to Padmarajan and his movies is a madness I cherish. Oh, the power of creation!

Deshadanakkilli karayarilla

Over the years, I have developed an extreme fascination towards psychology- towards getting into the minds of people…towards analyzing their behaviour….towards analyzing the peculiarities of my own behaviour and tracing it to a particular attribute of my past. This interest in the human mind has been chiefly sparked by two things- life and malayalam movies.
I sometimes wonder if any regional movies have provided us with the range and depth of characters as have malayalam movies. The proficiency with which each character is sketched in these movies is such a brilliant work of art that the line between movie and life disappears. This movie is a classical example of such a character sketch.
Sally and Nimmi- the 2 central characters of this movie have been deeply etched into my mind. Parental love and the security and protection that comes from it is vital to normal mental development of a child. Sally and Nimmi are two adolescent girls studying in a boarding school. Despite their strikingly different personalities, what binds them together into a deep-rooted relationship, is the background they come from. They are both offsprings from a loveless union. While the parents have moved on with their lives, the children have grown up in an unprotected environment where all they see around them is unhappiness, frustration, loneliness, hopelessness and hostility. Apart from the things money can buy, there is nothing positive in their environment. This commonality of their individual backgrounds forms the foundation for their inseparable relationship- a relationship where they understand each other perfectly through a language of unspoken words.
Quite naturally, both Sally and Nimmi have no expectations from society. Thus, they live regardless of society- of their peers and teachers, of the rules and regulations of their Catholic institution. They find pleasure in pranks and mischief. Consequently, they are the despair of their teachers.
Sally is extremely tomboyish in her ways and her mindset. The absence of a father-figure in her life might account for this almost gender-denial behaviour . She is fiercely independent and displays a degree of strength that is commendable. Her only weakness is the soft and vulnerable Nimmi, towards whom she is highly protective. Nimmi is more feminine in her ways and tastes. She is raised by her father and a step-mother. Emotional dependancy lies at the heart of Nimmi’s personality- there is a palpably infinite need for love and affection in her- a need that desires satiation. She looks up to Sally for everything. In fact, their relationship carries subtle tones of homosexuality, which could very well have such a psychological basis (I am not sure if Padmarajan intended this, but this is how I perceived it).
Padmarajan portrays these characters with so much sensitivity and understanding that we begin to love these social outcastes…we begin to feel deeply for them….quite contrary to the sentiments of their teachers in the movie.
Urvashi plays the ‘villain’. She is their class-teacher. She comes from a struggling background- her upbringing has taught her to understand the value of money and struggle, but her vision fails to see the emptiness in the lives of these two ‘rebels’. Consequently, her approach to their behaviour is criticism and punishment. She expresses hostility towards them because she fails to see beneath their external personalities, the trauma, scars and deprivations of their inner minds.
And thus, the antagonism between them eventually culminates in Sally and Nimmi absconding from school, in the setting of a picnic. Sally plans out their stay and finances and finds a temporary job for the two. Meanwhile, Urvashi is suspended and the girls rejoice at this news.
The story takes a turn with the entry of a new character enacted by Mohan Lal. In him, Nimmi finds emotional fulfilment. His personality seems to satiate the unfulfilled emotional need she has lived with all along. His presence makes her feel loved, protected and secure- a feeling she has craved for, all along. Unknowingly, she becomes emotionally dependent on him. He does not take her obsession towards him very seriously. He probably takes it as mere infatuation, which he believes would disappear in due course of time.
I shall not touch upon the individual sequence of events thereafter. But what is crucial is the haunting climax- a hallmark of Padmarajan’s movies. Just as the effect of Mohan Lal’s presence gives Nimmi the courage to set right her  life, he announces his plans of marrying Urvashi. From the close awareness of the comfort of the shore, Nimmi’s mind moves back to the turbulent waves of the sea…and this time, into deep sea. She fails to contain the emotional havoc in her already shattered mind.
Sally and Nimmi are migratory birds. They do not have their own niche in society. So when circumstances become more hostile, they fly to newer places, in an eternal search for the ‘one safe place’. They fly on, but they never cry.
And on that night, the two finally find their ‘safe place’.
The climax brings out Sally’s extreme commitment to Nimmi.