Saturday, February 16, 2008
If irony,love,simplicity and satire born from sheer experience can together form a movie,we get 'Mathilukal'.
This 1989 directorial masterpiece of Adoor Gopalakrishnan takes us through a brief episode in the life of Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer-the celebrated storyteller of Malayalam.Mathilukal or walls ,is based on an autobiographical novella of the same name by V.M.Basheer.
The movie is about Basheer who is serving time in the Travancore jail for,as he puts it,desha droham(anti-national activities).So this political prisoner,in the pre-independence era,walks across the gates to his cell and adeptly settles in the dreary abode.His relentless humor and philosophical frankness helps him befriend everybody,from the inmates to the warden.
Simple details like his softly adamant nature in pursuing 'theyyila' tea leaves,how he meticulously uses his limited supply of beedis and matchsticks(which he readily gives away to a prisoner who was going to be hanged,as an act of condolence) and how he walks down the corridors imitating the siesta-time snoring of fellow prisoners,are well brought out by Adoor.
When the short period of his sentence is prolonged,Basheer falls into deep despair.He did not get his long-awaited freedom for which he planted rose bushes and waited.All the other political prisoners except him were released.The Beypore sultan(as he is fondly called),however, grins and bears it and feeds his disappointment to the paper through ink.
It is not long before his solitude is romantically punctured by Narayani,a voice from the other side of the insurmountable wall facing his cell which separates the female prisoners.The blossoming love is portrayed through sensuous dialogues and exchange of little nothings thrown across the wall.The only media of communication are their voices,which walls cannot bar, and the dry twig which Narayani throws up in the air as a signal to Basheer whenever she can steal a few moments to talk to him.
The movie takes us hand-in-hand with Basheer literally because we see it through his eyes,we see only what he sees.The inmates are never shown unless he is there talking or looking at them.Even Narayani and the other side of the wall is not displayed.He never meets his lover and so do we.
Thus love makes even the bleak prison homelike for Basheer and he looks forward to everyday there.But as the lovers plot to somehow meet,fate steps in and hands Basheer his release order.Instead of being happy,he is torn by the irony.
"You are free",says the warden.
"Freedom!Who wants freedom",retorts Basheer.
Thus telling us that freedom is when we are allowed to choose.
And so he is forced to leave Narayani behind without even the mercy of a farewell.The poignant tale of love ends with a scene showing the dry twig going up and down against the sky from the other side of the Mathil(wall).
Kudos to Mammooty for the excellent portrayal of Vaikkom Mohd. Basheer and to KPAC Lalitha as Narayani-this would be the only movie in which an actress has acted so well, solely through her voice.The hilarious dialogues portray deeper meanings and makes the movie a gripping watch.The other members of the cast like Thilakan,Murali,the late Karamana Janardhanan Nair,Ravi Vallathol etc gave commendable performances for the limited screen space they had.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan wanted Basheer to be there at the first screening.What an immensely touched Basheer told after the lights came on stands true for Mathilukal.......
........"Not a dull moment".