After watching the Lal Jose's last few movies I had actually started looking forward for his movies - just like the way with Sathyan Anthikkad & Kamal's. So his "Neelathamara" was obviously present in my wishlist and the curiousity grew up when I learnt it was actually a remake of old MT Vasudevan Nair's script or the same name, released in 1974, launching the illustrious career of Ambika. But I got a chance to see it last weekend only and the expectations were half fulfilled, why it was so I'll discuss at the later part of this post. Lal Jose's movie was visually stunning, and the scenes moved almost with a lyrical quality but the question was whether the story that worked in 1974 would have been contemporary after 34 years.
The movie opens with Kunjimaalu visiting Malu Kutty Amma, an old lady in whose home she worked. There she meets Ratnam, the wife of Malaukutty Amma's son Haridasan,to whose charm she had fallen for but Haridasan beds with her and chucks Kunjimaalu out of his life. There is no animosity between Ratnam and Kunjimaalu because both had moved on in their life and living happily settled now. The story moves back and forth with the flashback scenes. The theme of a maid falling for her rich boss is something that had been beaten till death and throughout the movie, Neelathamara kept reminding of another movie which was so similiar in treatment, scenes but surprisingly better than itself. I'll write about that movie later.
What works with Neelathamara is its subtlety, brevity and the guts it stayed away without cashing on its possibility of degenerating into a mindless tear jerker. Haridasan sweeps off her with his witty charm in just few scenes and a song and when realised that she had been used for his "basic" instinct, Kunjimaalu quitely moves away picking up her life with an optimism. But in the process of being concise a couple of characters are left under developed - Sharada Ammini who we doubt whether she is a maid or a spinster and the so called mentally retarded Bhagavathar. On deep pondering about the movie we realise that those characters actually play a role in building the Kunjimaalu's resilience, which is brought out in the casual conversations between Kunjimaalu & Sharada Ammini.
Infact all the female characters with a starking contrast adding refreshing tomes to the story. Sharada Ammini is the one with shattered dreams of having a prince charming but her decision later actually symbolises the grief tone of her conversations through out the movie. On the other hand Ratnam is the one with a mind of own who doesn't take things lying down by confronting her hypocrite husband but is neither judgemental towards Kunjimaalu and infact so sympathetic towards her that there is no animosity when she meets Kunjimaalu after years. Instead she has a bonding of love for Kunjimaalu and offers the unposted letter to her. Now comes the Kunjimaalu who is the pivot of this movie. Kunjimaalu is so meek that she accepts to go with the flow of life even offering reasons to why she shouldn't expect a life for her but optimistic enough to leave the bitter past behind and move on. Time is the best healer and she even visits the ailing Malukutty amma.
Vijay Ulakanathan's pristine cinematography and Vidyasagar's music helps in transporting this movie to the bygone era with an elan. The art direction with tape recorder, camera and the ghazal song during the love making scene between Haridasan and Kunjimaalu makes us forget that we are in 2009 but living in 70's. The song "Anuraga Vilochanamayi" not only looks lush, but also best utilises the Shreya Ghosal's vocals for background. Shreya had done a wonderful job with decent Malayalam accent and this girl is a chameleon when it comes to linguistic skills.
Debutante Archana Kavi, as Kunjimaalu, is innocence personfied and emotes well in the scenes where she swallows the bitter realitya and moves on while Kailash (He resembles actor Suresh a lot - Akila's comment) as the smooth manipulator gets his acts right. Rima Kallingal just manages to make her presence felt but becomes a victim of under developed characterisation. Samvrutha walks away with the best moments because of the bold and assertive characterisation. The elder cast Parvathy (grown up Kunjimaalu) resembles so well with the Archana Kavi almost to the level of perfection.
On the whole "Neelathamara" is having its moments and Lal Jose had reworked it to smell mint fresh now. But as said earlier I feel a sense of inadequate satisfaction because of its resemblence to another best movie that came in early 2001. It was Ranjit's "Nandhanam" that had Navya Nair as innocent maid Balamani falling for her charming prince Prithviraj, who debuted with that movie. There are so much of starking resemblence between "Nandhanam" (example - In "Neelathamara" a blue lotus blooms in the pond as an acceptance of the wish whereas in "Nandhanam" the lamp lits at the Guruvayoor Krishnan's image) and "Neelathamara" that I started comparing even the camera angles in those scenes. My personal opinion is that "Nandhanam" had more better moments than "Neelathamara" because of the extra strong characterisation of Balamani and the movie had almost lengthier than it was needed giving ample time for building up the characters. Whereas "Neelathamara" had a running time of just 107 minutes which was so pithy that a lot was left to audience for pondering over. Unfortunately with the current lifestyle and daily chores we hardly have time to ponder about why certain characters behaved in certain way on screen, so we lose a lot of hidden subtexts.
If you hadn't watched "Nandhanam", then "Neelathamara" may be a short poem but I always feel that a discerning viewer must watch "Nandhanam" atleast once. Go for it's starcast and a splenid chemistry between Prithviraj and Navya Nair that actually set tongues wagging for a possible affair between them!