This movie revolves around two characters- Appu (Jayaram) and Devaprabha (Manju Warrier), both immensely attractive with regard to their take on life. While Appu has learnt the art of cleverly masking his vulnerability and taking life in its stride, it is the immensely vulnerable Devaprabha who surprises us in the climax of the film, demonstrating the ability to rise above the mundane. The movie draws an important inference:
Love is the sole negotiator in the equation of life. It caters gently to one’s vulnerability, unmasking the potential to rise beyond conventional expectations, defeating adversity.
Lohithadas leaves his imprint in the script. The script attends to the magnitude of struggle involved in the balancing act of our lives. In Appu’s words:
Life has this uncanny ability to push you into deep waters of the sea…without the slightest warning. It does not ask you if you can swim. It does not give you the opportunity to protest. You can choose to swim, or you can drown. And so, you just learn to swim.
The movie introduces us to Appu– the jack of all, master of none, happy-go-lucky character enacted by Jayaram.
Appu is a role-player- a volatile performer. This moment, he is in the garbs of a music teacher. The next moment, he has switched to the role of a percussionist at the sopanam, putting his heart and soul into the performance. We see him as an electrician, a plumber, an assistant at wedding sadyas…the list is endless. There is no role that Appu will refuse. His zeal, good humour and high-spiritedness cleverly conceal the fact that he plays up to all these roles for a livelihood. As a lawyer who is a novice with frugal earnings, and who has to cater to siblings who have endless needs to be met, he is left with no choice. To his mother who is concerned about her daughters, to his brother who aspires to become a doctor, to his married sister who turns up faithfully for financial assistance and to his younger sister who is to be married off, he never lays bare his tight balancing act. They are so conditioned to his role as provider that they never question the unfairness of it. Nor do they dwell upon the intensity of the struggle it involves. Instead, they express their dissent at the slightest lacuna on his part. And so, he fulfills the role to his best, despite the lack of sensitivity on the part of his family.
He is a character who asks little of life, and who holds his self-worth above everything else. This aspect of his character forms the soul of the movie.
Amidst his role playing, he finds solace in his relationship with the beautiful Sujatha (Sukanya) who is a skilled classical dancer and who takes dance lessons at Balan thampuran’s illam. His closest companion is Sujatha’s father, a fellow-percussionist and the housekeeper of all his emotions.
As we fall in love with Appu’s character and get a glimpse of his life, Devaprabha makes her appearance.
Prabha, as she is addressed, is the only daughter of Balan thampuran, and is much talked about in the context of a childhood tragedy that has deeply scarred her. As a 13-year old, Prabha loses her brother, with whom she shares a deep bond, to an accident in which she chauffeurs the car. The incident has a deep impact on her mind and her reaction is in the form of detachment. Instead of grieving and reacting, she withdraws and alienates herself. Her parents go to great lengths to pull her back to life, seeking the help of psychologists and psychiatrists, but the detachment persists as a failure to accept and come to terms with the loss, despite the passage of time. And so, the movie introduces us to this character whose vulnerability is perceived as a weakness by a conventional society. Prabha arrives at the village with her ever-compliant grandfather, who tries extra hard to keep her cheerful. The women who take dance lessons at the illam, label her as mentally ill and having passed this judgment, they are happy to alienate her.
Prabha’s first encounter with Appu is an important event in the unfolding of the plot. Appu carelessly rides his bicycle and narrowly escapes being run over, as Prabha slams the brakes of her car. For a brief moment, she is shocked and speechless as the event recreates in her mind the trauma of the past- the accident to which she lost her brother. But when she catches sight of Appu riding off hastily, his black robe fluttering like the wings of a bat, she smiles at the victim’s happy exit. And it is here that Appu earns his new nickname- Mr. Bat.
To the vunerable Prabha, Mr. Bat is the survivor in every sense.
Prabha finds herself immensely attracted to Appu’s personality. While the others label her as mentally unsound, she sees in Appu what they have never been able to see- his tight balancing act. She loves the appeal of this man who masks his vulnerability by refusing to take himself seriously, taking on all his roles in good humour, almost as if he were performing for a fancy dress. And thus, the vulnerability of Prabha captures the strength of Appu’s character. She discovers in his companionship a security she has never felt after the tragedy in her life. Appu displays the deep maturity of a man who has the ability to absorb the diversity of the personalities in his life, and his receptivity allows Prabha to unfold her personality in an unrestricted fashion. Appu is always guided by instinct in his relationships with people, and this works wonders for Prabha, who feels the relief of moving out of the umbrella of sympathy and resentment that she is constantly exposed to, on account of the fragility of her mind. It is a child that we see unfolding- zealous, happy, curious and high-spirited.
Manju Warrier handles with finesse the switch between vulnerability and strength.
Her family notices this change in her – the transformation from the withdrawn personality they had seen for years, and they realize that Appu has filled the void in her life, and achieved what psychologists and psychiatrists could not.
Meanwhile, Sujatha and Prabha enter into hostile zone. To the conventional Sujatha, Prabha is only a spoiled brat- the one and only daughter of Balan thampuran, accustomed to giving orders and being obeyed. She fails to see the fragility and vulnerability beneath Prabha’s tough exterior. Prabha’s father complicates the scenario by deciding to get Prabha married to Appu.
Jayaram delivers a brilliant performance in portraying the helplessness of Appu in this phase.
As Appu silently grieves, there is none who understands his predicament and feels his grief. His siblings only wound him further. The movie sensitively takes us through helpless moments in a man’s life- through paths we have all walked, hoping to be understood and comforted, but only being wounded deeper.
And thus, we are led to the climax, where the vulnerable Prabha shocks everybody with her perspective. Prabha describes the significance of Appu in her life and analyzes what he means to her. When she reveals that Appu fills in her life the void created by her brother’s loss, and chides her father for the selfish step he took in order to see his daughter happy, her father takes pride in her character- in her ability to defeat life and adversity.
Thus ends the movie, but Prabha and Appu linger in our minds…