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Polandine Patti Episode 15

Last updated on April 16, 2023

This is the first episode in a series on the Supernatural in Malayalam cinema.  Today, we look at the beloved classic film Manichitrathazhu, directed by Fazil.

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Episode 15 Highlights:

Spoiler Alert! We try to remember to alert listeners to spoilers, but just in case, know that we talk about the films in-depth, so be sure to watch them first if you’re concerned about spoilers!

[00:00:15] Manichitrathazu is based on the Alummoottil family and Manorama did a story about the their ancestral home in 2019.

[00:00:50] The real-life house is a spooky as the film portrays though the murder is an inheritance issue.

[00:01:26] Supernatural does not just mean horror to Katherine, but also things that have unseen, unexplained origins.

[00:01:58] Katherine does not see Manichitrathazhu as a spooky film. Harsha does.

[00:02:14] Scary movies can often be split into those that have a mental illness origin and those that have a demonic origin.

[00:02:29] Harsha brings up Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House as an example of a scary movie with mental illness origins.

[00:03:02] Manichitrathazhu offers a mental illness explanation for its supernatural occurrences.

[00:03:11] Katherine rewatched all the remakes in addition to watching the Malayalam original for this episode.

[00:03:41] The film is about newlyweds who have arrived from Calcutta to Kerala. They are modern in their belief system, which is a contrast to the husband’s extended family.

[00:04:13] The newlyweds, Nakulan and Ganga, want to stay in their mother’s ancestral home, which everyone opposes because of a belief that women from other families become disturbed in that house. The couple believe this is superstition and choose to move into the home.

[00:04:50] Ganga starts experiencing issues like the family warned. The movie plays around with the idea of whether this is a haunting like the elders believe or a psychological issue.

[00:05:34] The film represents the modern take of this being psychological through the character of Dr. Sunny, played by Mohanlal.

[00:05:42] Initially, some of the strange events in the home are blamed on Sreedevi, played by Vinaya Prasad, a divorcee who is Nakulan’s murappennu.

[00:06:38] The family believes Sreedevi’s divorce is Nakulan’s fault as he refused to marry her. As her marriage outside the family turned out badly, she has reason to be jealous of Ganga’s presence and resent them.

[00:07:46] Among the remakes, Katherine thinks Bhool Bhulaiyya is the closest, which was directed by Priyadarshan, a second unit director for Manichitrathazhu.

[00:08:18] Harsha calls Priyadarshan a Malayalam supremacist and thinks he makes Hindi films only for the money.

[00:08:45] Katherine found the Tamil version, Chandramukhi, too Rajinikanth-focused.

[00:08:53] Having watched the Kannada version Apthamitra, she thinks a lot of the problems in the Tamil version started in Kannada remake with the doctor character introduced from the start.

[00:09:15] Rajinikanth who plays the doctor also portrays the cruel king in Tamil, which undermines the filmi logic of how, in her unstable mind, Ganga projects onto her husband the lord’s cruelty that keeps her from her true love.

[00:10:32] While we understand people wanting things in their own language and culture, in this case, we recommend sticking with the Malayalam version.

[00:10:54] To keep Nagavalli’s true identity a mystery, two different dubbing artists dubbed for Shobana; Bhagyalakshmi for Ganga and Durga Sundarrajan for Nagavalli.

[00:12:52] Nagavalli is capable of things Ganga is not capable of such as superhuman strength which we are willing to fanwank away because of our love for the film.

[00:13:54] Katherine has gained an even bigger appreciation for the film after having watched all the remakes in quick succession, especially the subtle shifts in Shobana’s performance based on perspective.

[00:15:29] Harsha hasn’t seen the Tamil version but is familiar with the kitschy lit-up eyes on Jyothika during the climactic dance. Hindi does voice distortions for that scene, which still does not let the actor show off their craft.

[00:16:53] The film has an excellent background score by music director Johnson that carries so much of its tension.

[00:17:26] Belief in the power of story is an important theme in Manichitrathazhu and its thread through multiple characters.

[00:18:25] For those interested in the Golden Age of Malayalam cinema, this film shows how the superstars of the industry are willing to play supporting characters for the story.

[00:20:01] Even when Mohanlal turns up, it is an effortless performance. His kooky character helps the movie reckon with what is madness and how does it manifest in this particular cultural milieu.

[00:21:44] Sreedevi might be Harsha’s favorite character because of her practicality and steadiness in the face of social stigma, which also might be what attracts Dr. Sunny to her.

[00:23:42] Dr. Sunny thinks the best way to help Ganga is to combine modern psychiatry and the traditional beliefs that formed her in childhood.

[00:25:44] No wonder Dr. Sunny has a Gold Medal from America!

[00:25:50] Thilakan plays a Hindu priest and Mohanlal plays Sunny, one of his most common onscreen names.

[00:26:28] Harsha remembers reading in a Vanitha interview that Fazil gave Shobana a huge budget for sarees.

[00:27:33] Part of the movie’s charm is Shobana’s dance. Ganga has no dance training but becomes a beautiful dancer in her mind as Nagavalli.

[00:28:22] Sridhar, a professional dancer, performs the iconic climactic dance with Shobana

[00:28:49] As a dancer and dance teacher, Shobana would know the subtle differences between a beginner and a skilled dancer in terms of how to hold one’s arms and facial expressions.

[00:29:32] Vidya Balan is not a great dancer and Bhool Bhulaiyaa uses cuts and edits to make her seem like a good dancer opposite Vineeth.

[00:30:20] Harsha’s mini lecture on South Indian classical dances.

[00:31:34] Shobana is a goddess! She’s the standard to live up to in Malayalam cinema.

[00:32:40] Her dignity and charisma is compelling to watch onscreen. When she does comedy it’s a big transformation from her reserved offscreen persona. Check out our discussion of her previously in Thira.

[00:33:50] We have also previously discussed her talent for physical comedy in the cursed film Hitler.

[00:34:15] Manichitrathazhu is the first of our supernatural films, all of which have some element of the tension between supernatural and modern mental health origins for their spooky stories.

[00:34:46] Coming up, we will discuss Ezra, remade as Dybbuk in Hindi, starring Emraan Hashmi.

[00:35:27] Folklore will play a big role in the supernatural films.

[00:35:44] The power of stories is what draws Katherine into this series.

[00:36:19] Hear what Harsha’s grandfather had to say about yakshis and jasmine flowers.

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  1. Nikhil R Nikhil R

    Enjoyed the episode. I was 11 or 12 when I watched ‘Manichithrathaazhu’ in a movie theatre and I remember having difficulty going to sleep that night. It was spooky enough for me, apart from being really enjoyable overall.

    It was also about 4 months after the release of the movie. That’s how long hugely successful movies used to run in theatres in those days of course. So we did know that Ganga is the one with the problems by that time going in to the movie, without knowing the details. Even with that knowledge, the change in perspective that the movie shows and that Katherine mentioned really resonated with me.

    Also remember Sudheesh being more noticed after the tremendous success of the movie, even though his is a minor role and his character is made fun of a lot. ‘Minnal Murali’ played on that fleeting Sudheesh celebrity status nicely if you remember (he was the chief guest at the function where the kids’ show happens).

    My parents with whom I watched ‘Manichithrathaazhu’ were less than impressed though. They both being doctors were like that’s not how this kind of mental disorder works. And for me, it was like who cares? 🙂

    Also, the whole Ganga character was fascinating to me especially when I would re-watch on the numerous occasions it would play on TV during the 90s. Being an extremely introverted kid and teenager who spent most of his free time reading, I found the whole theme of the power of stories really interesting.

  2. Katherine Katherine

    I know that coming in to classic/older films means that I don’t have the same perspective as someone like you who saw it when it came out — I think child me would have been very spooked out by Ganga, for sure, and I appreciate both you and Harsha expressing how you did find the film scary. Thank you for stopping by to comment and sharing details to fill me in, I always love learning more.

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