“Memory is the diary that we all carry about us.” -Oscar Wilde
Who are we?
Are we the accumulated residues of our pasts…our yesterdays?
Are we defined by the family and friends we have spent time with, the social and professional roles we have played, the places we have inhabited, and everything else that we hold in conscious memory?
If memories define us, then who are we, in the absence of those memories?
Through the plot of this movie, Padmarajan successfully shakes the very foundation of our beliefs pertaining to our identity in the mortal world in which we live. We find ourselves transported to that thin line that separates fact and fiction, life and existence.
The movie opens our eyes to the fact that the only footprints we leave behind in this mortal life are the memories we create in the minds of the people we have touched. These memories are the only proof of our existence…the only proof of moments that have transpired.
The movie unfolds with disturbing scenes of rescue operations following a bus accident in a remote village on hilly terrain. As victims are taken to the only private hospital in that village and successively pronounced dead after futile attempts at restoring their lives, we are introduced to a middle-aged Dr Sandhya (Sri Vidya), who looks at her blood-stained hands and sighs in despair.
Dr Sandhya is a dedicated doctor who runs a hospital in the village (property she has inherited from her deceased father), with the assistance of her son, Sharath (Jayaram). Sharath, an MBBS drop-out, is the manager of the hospital.
Just as they believe they are through with the victims of the accident, a young girl (Shobana), whose body is discovered further downstream by some villagers, is brought to the hospital in a comatose state. Dr Sandhya and her team manage to save her life.
The very first glimpse of this young girl is shrouded in mystery. As she lies in coma in a hospital bed that is alien to her being, blissfully unaware of the deep tragedy that has befallen her, we find ourselves haunted by a series of unanswered questions.
Who is she? Somebody’s daughter, perhaps. Or somebody’s wife. Where is she from? Where was she going to? Is there somebody waiting for her?
As these questions haunt us, we watch the young girl slip in and out of coma…in and out of spells of deep sleep. And eventually, when she wakes up to reality, it is to discover that she remembers nothing of her past…not even her name.
In the course of our carefully woven lives, none of us would perhaps imagine such a situation. A situation wherein we woke up one day with no memory of our past. Not even a memory of the name that defined us until yesterday. No memory of the faces that were integral elements of our life until yesterday. No memory of a home that instilled in us a sense of belonging until yesterday.
No memory of all the memories we formed until yesterday…the yesterdays that defined us.
The young girl is in turmoil. As she desperately tries to unveil the mist that blankets her past, hoping that she might discover some imprint of that past in the vestiges of her mind, Dr Sandhya and Sharath watch helplessly. Desperation and recurring nightmares give way to hopelessness and mute silence.
A consultation with the psychiatrist puts an end to this quest for a memory trace.
A case of hysterical amnesia. Rather disturbing, but nevertheless, leaving behind all the learnt skills intact. The memory loss predominantly involves people, places and events. However, if you have learnt a language, you will retain that ability. If you have learnt music, you will retain the ability to sing. You will know what a cinema is, but you will be unable to recall a single cinema that you have watched.
You are a normal person for your cognitive ability is intact. You should find your strength in that. Look at the amnesia as the price you had to pay for coming out alive from a major accident. You must now accept this as your reality and come to terms with it.
Sharath finds a name for her.
“Maya. I like the name. It suits my current predicament.”, she responds.
Sharath talks to her and advises her.
“You have no access to your past. That being the case, think of your past as something that no longer belongs to you. It belongs to a different Maya. Instead of trying to gather fragments from a life that has passed and that no longer belongs to you, make plans for the life that lies ahead of you and that belongs to you.”
Padmarajan’s character Maya is a beautiful young girl. This makes the predicament more challenging on account of the safety issues that she must face. With nowhere to go, and with several opportunistic men waiting to take advantage of her hopelessness, Maya is saved from further anxiety by Dr Sandhya and Sharath, who take a humanitarian stand and decide to keep her under their protection until the time a guardian rightfully claims for her.
Maya is moved from the hospital to a little house that belongs to Dr Sandhya, and an elderly lady, Rahelamma (Philomena) is appointed for her care. Maya is also appointed as a teacher at a primary school owned by Dr Sandhya. And thus, Maya starts building a new life…
A life severed from its yesterdays...
The palpable solitude of the village and the background music sensitize us to Maya’s predicament. The trees, birds and the breeze bring with them the fragrance of an unknown nostalgic memory from a distant past…a past that is no longer accessible to Maya. The song ‘kannil nin meyyil‘ does justice to Maya’s predicament as it poetically looks at her perception in the light of lost memories.
As Maya slowly builds a new life with the support of Dr Sandhya and Sharath, the attachment for Sharath intensifies. Sharath and Maya fall in love and albeit with much hesitation due to anxiety over Maya’s unrevealed past, Dr Sandhya formally announces their marriage. The movie takes a twist with the entry of Dr Narendran (Suresh Gopi), on the scene. Narendran, a PhD holder in Physics, arrives at Bombay, to investigate the missing of his wife, Gowri. The movie subsequently takes us through Narendran’s memory of Gowri- of how they met, of their quiet wedding, and of their brief life of blissful togetherness, and the subsequent parting as Narendran leaves to the United States. He recollects Gowri’s zealous tone when she had discussed her plans of a pilgrimage trip to South India- an opportunity to step into a land to which she belonged, but that she had never visited…an opportunity to thank the Gods for this treasure life had gifted her after all her years of emptiness. He looks at the postcard that was last posted to him by Gowri- a card from Tirupathi.
He had not known then that this was the last token from the beautiful life he was building with Gowri.
Investigations take Narendran to the village where Maya is leading her new life. Narendran arrives at the village, thrusting Sharath and Dr Sandhya into deep anxiety.
The climax of the movie is haunting- a classic Padmarajan climax. As Narendran comes face to face with a woman who is Gowri in physical appearance, but whose amnesia has erased Narendran’s face from her mind, Narendran finds himself in deep conflict. The few moments that transpire make us deeply anxious as we wait for his reaction.
Narendran stuns us by putting back all the evidences he has brought to prove that Gowri is his wife- their wedding photographs, their marriage certificate and other documentary proofs.
He awakens us to the realization that these physical pieces of evidence have no value in the absence of the memories…for memories alone have the ability to breathe life into matter. In the absence of those memories that defined their relationship, these documents are lifeless bits of paper.
Narendran leaves without revealing the truth, much to Sharath’s relief. Sharath believes that Maya is not the Gowri Narendran was looking for, and he celebrates this moment of relief, unaware of the truth, and oblivious to the future.
Padmarajan’s portrayal of retrograde amnesia is in close alignment to the clinical presentation of this condition. Retrograde amnesia can occur without any structural damage to the brain, as is the case in this movie. Maya’s brain scans and other tests are reported as normal. Primarily referred to as psychogenic amnesia or psychogenic fugue, it often occurs due to a traumatic situation that individuals wish to consciously or unconsciously avoid. As a sensitive young woman who is an orphan, and who has lived a life of emotional void characterized by the absence of family and close companions, Narendran’s entry into Maya’s life sprouts new life in the arid desert of her mind. The marriage seeds hopes and dreams in the emptiness of her life. It is quite natural for such a personality to experience deep denial towards the trauma that threatens to dismantle a life that she has just begun to weave. And thus, Maya’s mind rejects the reality of the accident.
The onset of psychogenic amnesia can be either global, wherein the individual forgets all aspects of the past, or situation specific wherein the individual is unable to retrieve memories of specific situations. In this movie, Padmarajan portrays a case of global amnesia, wherein Maya has no memory of her past.
People experiencing psychogenic amnesia have impaired episodic memory (memory of life experiences), instances of wandering, and acceptance of a new identity as a result of inaccessible memories pertaining to their previous identity. In many patients, their personality remains the same. Semantic memory, that is general knowledge about the world, is usually unaffected. Maya, true to the clinical manifestation of this condition, easily comes to terms with reality, and begins to accept her new identity.
As is the case with this condition, her memory does not recover from a narration of the details of the bus trip or accident or from an exposure to elements of her past. Memory can be and usually is recovered spontaneously in these individuals.
And that leaves us with the lingering question…
What if she regains her memory of the past? In that event, it is likely that she will be amnesic to the events subsequent to the accident. She will transform into Gowri, with no memory of Maya, or the elements that defined Maya’s life. Sharath and Dr Sandhya, her life saviours and guardians who helped her through a major crisis and gave her new life, will be erased from the reality of her life.
And thus, the movie emphasizes the role of the human mind in the perception of reality. The movie highlights the fact that our minds are far beyond us, and the reality of our lives is at the mercy of our minds, over which we have little control, contrary to what we commonly assume.