An old man walks into a palatial mansion/palace calling someone’s name. From the look of things, the building is undergoing renovation. He is shouting the name of the painter shouting instructions to complete the work. There is no answer from the painter and the man walks to the first floor. Suddenly he stops on the first floor lobby when he realizes that the person he is searching for is not present in the palace. At the same time, a big broom kept against the wall falls down. Nobody has touched it but the position was such that it could have fallen by itself. The man panics and is scared. He start to walks out of the house only to find the rocking chair near the door is rocking on its own. The man is terrified and he runs out of the house.
On watching the scene again, as the man walks into the house shouting the painter name, he stands near the door behind the rocking chair keeping the hand on the rocking chair. As he moves away shouting, he unconsciously rocks the chair but we do not notice it because we are concentrating on his dialogs.
The Malayalam movie, “Manichithrathazhu” starts with these scene to set the mood for a good horror psychological thriller. It was the movie which was remade as “Apthamitra” in Kannada. This movie was made as “Chandramukhi” in Tamil and revived the career of Rajnikant after the disastrous “Baba” and is remade again by Priyadarshan as “Bhool Bhulaiya”
Manichithrathazhu means the decorated lock. The story revolves around Nakulan and his wife Ganga who come back to stay in their ancestral palace. The palace has dark history which involves a landlord forcibly keeping a dancer who is in love with another dancer. The cruel landlord do not allow the two lovers to meet and the dancer vows revenge. After living in the palace, strange things start happening in the house. Everybody is sure that it is because of the spirit of the dancer, Nagavalli.
The husband Nakulan does not believe in ghost and believes that all the problems are created by his Uncle’s daughter who he refused to marry. He believes that she is mentally ill so to solve the problem he calls his psychiatrist friend, Dr. Sunny Joseph who is as eccentric as his patient.
The rest of the story is how the doctor finds out if there is indeed a ghost or is the uncle’s daughter doing all this due to some mental illness or is it Ganga who is possessed by Nagavalli’s Ghost?
The movie succeeds because of the story. The story shifts from horror to a psychological thriller. The director takes you on a journey and leaves clues along the way. Some of the clues are revealed in the climax. It deserves more than one viewing because then you catch the finer point of the story and the clues. Added to it the movie is shot in Kerala and is deeply rooted in Kerala’s history and culture. Nagavalli is a Tamil dancer and speaks in Tamil while the movie is Malayalam for other parts. The climax offers a detailed scientific explanation and not like any short story that you realize the efforts the writers have gone through to write the story.
The movie is directed by Fazil and Priyadarshan was the 2nd Unit director for the movie. I really don’t know what that means but it would be interesting to see how he adapts the story for the Hindi audience. As I said that the story has deep Kerala roots and a reference to its history and dance form, it will be interesting to see the same in Hindi. Fazil uses the story, music and props to make it haunting and scary.
The movie belongs to Shobana as Ganga and she had acted quite well. She is also quite scary at times. The body language, the eyes and language changes when she switches from being Ganga to Nagavalli. No wonder she won the National Award for the role.
Mohanlal plays the eccentric doctor Sunny Joseph and offers some good comic relief without making the story too heavy. I saw the movie with subtitles and still I think Mohanlal has a flair for comedy which was quite good. The scenes between Mohanlal and Shobana are worth watching especially when he explains the behavior in the climax.
Suresh Gopi plays Nakulan, Shobana’s husband.
The success of the movie is how the viewer is made to think it as a horror and then made to think on a total different aspect. At two and half hour, the movie is slow but perfect by Malayalam standard. The movie starts slow but becomes interesting as it progresses.
The movie is unique and worth watching even if you don’t understand Malayalam considering it was remade in three languages although the fine points of the Kerala culture could be understood by Malayalis more.