Brilliant classic Malayalam film of an old man in Kerala
I saw Aranazhikaneram (pronounced ARA-NAAZHIKA-NAYRAM) recently on VHS video and I loved every minute of this deeply emotional film and since it brought back a lot of my fond memories of my younger life with my loving Granddad in Kerala, I went out and bought it. I don't remember seeing it in Kerala during my first 12 years there, and even if I did, it would not have appealed to me then. But I do believe now that the video is a real treasure to own. The film is in black and white and the video quality is not that bad either. I just hope, one day, these types of classic films will be transferred onto DVD formats. Enough about my dreams, now to the review .
STORY: 10/10. K. E. Mathai (affectionately known widely as Parappurathu) bases the film on the famous novel of the same name. The novel won the prestigious Kerala Sahithya (Literacy) Academy Awards way back in 1968, only a few years before the film was made, continuing the then trend of film following hit novel. The entire story is seen thru the eyes of an old man, Kunjochaman, masterfully played by the veteran Malayalam actor Kottarakkara. He is probably in his late seventies and it strike me now that the film is very reminiscent of Ingmar Bergmans 'Wild Strawberies' made 10 years earlier and set in Sweden. But this film is an exploration of typical issues and conflicts an old man face in rural Kerala, especially when he is integrating closely with his extended family members. Whereas Bergman's film concentrates on the old man who is forced to face his past, come to terms with his faults, and accept his approaching death, this film on the other hand, questions the life of his family members and the frustrations the old man has when he is powerless to resolve the issues for the people he loves. This is Kerala,India I suppose, so it makes perfect sense when you see an elderly person only worrying over others and not about their own needs. Its an interesting and different story because it presents the case of the old man and his environment, in its most basic form, whereas most Malayalam films, especially made during that era, hides the traumas and despair felt by typical people like the old man. So the story is perfect.
DIRECTION: 9/10. The direction is not faultless, but very good. The film is shot in a semi-documentary style format. I was seeing this is as a kind of world film, and for me, having seen many films of Sethumadhavan, I fell that this is the director's richest and most humane movie. The film shows the despair of the old man in the most direct manner and this is what I like, no camera zooming, no fancy shots of nature (like flowing rivers or leaves falling very slowly, for no apparent reason), just simple straight shots, and the technique hasn't dated in effect at all. Also there are no song n' dances. This is why this will always be a classic Malayalam movie.
ACTING: 10/10. Kottarakkara as usual, is just brilliant. I personally don't think anyone during that period could have delivered such a memorable performance. Possibly my favourites Gopi or Murali, in later years, could have done it, but what an effective 'facial and expressive' actor Kottarakkara is, you'll have to judge for yourself. I would go far as saying that he was the 'Sir Alec Guinness' of Malayalam cinema. Adoor Bhasi as a philanderer, with incredible comedic talent and flair (with his corny and suggestive poems for the old man) is handled with care. Nazir acts, as usual as ..er.. Nazir. I felt that Sathyans acting abilities ( BTW Sethumadhavans favourite actor) are somewhat not utilised fully at times. The actress Padmini ( I think ), who played Satyans wife and the old mans daughter-in-law delivered one notable performance (the expressions of pure quilt and deceit were excellent).
If you are the sort of person who is inspired and is inquisitive about the thoughts of wiser and older generations, who had direct experiences of lifes major struggles, then you will enjoy this film immensely. I warn you that its not an entertaining film but a very meaningful one. Now, having said that, it's also a film of incredible depth carefully rejuvenated on film from an outstanding, flawless and thought provoking novel. See it at least once in your life, it'll be worth it, I promise you. A few more fast moving stills and words, to explain the meaning of life, can only help, I'm sure.
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