Nilavu Ariyunnu surprises the staples of Hindi TV
by N Narendran, The Indian
"Television is turning out to be a temporary shelter
for unsuccessful film-makers who have no genuine interest
in the small screen. They make films of absolutely no
artistic value", says Shyamaprasad. In his case it
wasn't quite true. In his Malayalam tele-film Nilavu Ariyunnu
(The Moonlight Knows It All), which won the Onida pinnacle
Award for best Telefilm (apart from four others), commercial
success and artistic excellence have never been better
Based on a short story written by Sara Joseph in the wake
of the Bombay riots, the film pits an individual's psychological
plight against the psyche of our socio-cultural structure.
Fortunately, it is not yet another superficial interpretation
of the sombre communal reality aided by technical virtuosity
- sounds familiar?
Unnikrishnan, the protagonist (played by debutant actor
and producer MG Sasi, is returning to his village from
Bombay with his helpless wife. Alagappan's haunting camera
work helps us witness Unnikrishnan in the act of cleansing
all his possessions of imaginary blood: currency notes,
the paper he writes on, his shirt, all are subconsciously
related to violence and evil. He washes even the idol
of Ram as his bewildered family and the superstitious
but concerned villagers watch. The ancestral beliefs and
engulfing paranoia throw Unnikrishnan into a fatal tailspin.
He dies groping for water under a moonlit sky on the parched
bed of the river Nila that once flowed by his home.
Shot on the banks of Bharatapuzha, in Deshamangalam and
Thirumittakodu, Sara Joseph says the river is a central
character in her short story. "As I watched Shyamaprasad
shoot, the nature of each shot, the beauty of each frame
told me that he himself was deeply moved by the river.
It was like finding a kindred spirit," says Joseph.
But the director Shyamaprasad, finds the film depressing.
"I do not want to watch the film again, nor do my
friends and family" But it doesn't stop him from
literary adaptations. Trained at the Pune Film Institute
and Hull University in Lndon, Shyamaprasad, who has worked
at Channel 4 and Yorkshire Television, is an ardent lover
of Andrei Tarkovsky's films. His previous ventures have
been based on works by writers ranging from Vaikkom Muhammad
Basheer (Vishwavikhyatamay Mookku) to Kamal Das (Venalinte
Ozhivu) to the French existentialist write Albert Camus
(his film Uyirthezhunnelpu was based on Camus' play The
In fact the director of the Thiruvananthapuram Doordarshan
Kendra banned Shyamaprasad (who is production assistant
there) and his team from receiving teh State Government
awards ostensibly because they were Central Government
employees. Shyamaprasad received the award by defying
the order and it is now awaiting disciplinary action.
"Doordarshan initially rejected the script for Uyirthezhunnelpu
on typical box office grounds. The authorities rejected
the script as it tells the story of a group of tormented
revolutionaries. They were not ready to accept a theme
which was hitherto not attempted in mainstream media",
says Shyamaprasad. Finally he submitted several scripts
of the same film, each written from a different angle,
and waited patiently for over six years to start production.
When the tele-film was ready for telecast, the Doordarshan
director suggested several changes in order to make it
more 'patriotic'. Shyamaprasad did not budge. "Still
I believe that only Doordarshan could have produced a
tele-film like Uyirthezhunnelpu", says he.
He goes on to add, "Those who control television
are only too anxious to preserve the idiot box identity
of the media. Yet TV is the only alternative, with the
art of film-making crumbling under the weight of money-mad
film-makers." Though Doordarshan has produced a number
of films by serious film-makers, Shyamaprasad cites only
Govind Nihalani's Tamas as having done justice to the
medium. All the others, he says have utilised Doordarshan
funds for making self-conscious movies.
"I feel that I am incompetent to make a film based
on a story written by me. If I depend on a story which
is already familiar to me, I can concentrate my whole
energy on filming it," he says. He refuses to conform
to the view that literature is a constraint on good cinema.
"It offers a better base for the film."
For Joseph, Shyamaprasad's interpretation has been done
with great care. "In lesser hands my story would
have lost its strength and beauty. Of course, MG Sasi's
extraordinarily sensitive depiction of Unni (fr which
he too won an Onida Award) and Alagappan's haunting camera
work have also contributed to making the film an immensely
rich experience. I was always confident that Shyam would
never fail me for I had viewed his two earlier works,
Venalinte Ozhivu and Uyirthezhunnelpu."
Joseph says Unnikrishnan's tragedy is the fate of every
honest youth doomed to suffer in the knowledge of the
rot around us. Says she, "My attempt in the short
story was to explore the different planes of that torment.
Unni's delirium and suffering are two different perspectives
offered by my story. His delirium is a problem that concerns
himself; he has to be exorcised of the devil or be treated
by a psychiatrist. As for his suffering, the problem lies
entirely with an afflicted world."
A world depicted with detailed sensitivity in Nilavu Ariyunnu.