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06. A Litarary Masterpiece On Celluloid
     The Hindu, Nov 20th, 1998, by Gautaman Bhaskaran

'Agnisakshi" directed by Shyamaprasad, will feature in the Indian Panorama slot of the forthcoming Film Festival of India, in Hyderabad. Gautaman Bhaskaran on the film and its maker.

Period cinema has always had a sweet flavor, and Shyamaprasad's "Agnisakshi" in Malayalam is no exception. One of the 16 selected for the Indian Panorama at the coming International Film Festival of India in Hyderabad. "Agnisakshi" is set in the 1940s, the years that saw the fire for freedom rage with unbelievable intensity.

But in the Namboodiri home that Shyamaprasad's camera takes one into, thought and action are enslaved in age-old tradition and practices, and for Devaki, who steps into this formidable fortress as the young bride of Unni, there seems to be no escape. As a husband, Unni does not lack love or devotion, but his passion lies elsewhere. He shuts himself, as his father and family would want suffocating beliefs .

If Devaki had to take the undesirable and harsh route out of this by renouncing her husband, her sister -in-law, Thankam, a product of 'sambandam' between a Namboodiri man and a Nair woman, is luckier. She forces her family to agree to her education and ends many shades happier than Devaki can hope to.

This, in fact, is the more positive and enlightening side of 'Agnisakshi', which unfortunately fritters away a good chance of being far more remarkable than what it actually turns out to be. Based on a story by Lalithambika Antharjanam, Shyamaprasad, despite a degree of sophistication and craftsmanship, falls victim to populist pulls. "Agnisakshi" could have been more visual than so vocal that it actually is. The beauty of silence has been given the go by, especially so by the background score that punctuates just about every sentence spoken. The movie calls for greater trimming as well.

If Rajit Kapur virtually gets into the role of a Namboodiri as Unni, and gives a classic and convincing performance, and Praveena as young Thankam holds out promise. Shobhana as Devaki is disappointing. There is a great deal of incompleteness in her characterization. Her transformation from a shy, eager bride, to a political activist to a sanyasin is more make-believe than cinema itself can be.

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