Movie - Neelathamara (Malayalam)
Director - Lal Jose
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - MT Vasudevan Nair
Producer - Menaka Suresh Kumar, Suresh Kumar
Cast - Archana Kavi, Kailash, Suresh, Rima Kallingal, Samvritha Sunil, Sreedevi Unni, Parvathy and others.
Music and Background Score - Vidyasagar
Cinematography - Vijay Ulaganath
Art Direction - Gokul Das
Editing - Ranjan Abraham
Lyrics - Vayalar Sharat Chandra Varma
Costumes - Kukku Parameshwaran
Make-Up - Sreejith Guruvayoor
Release Date - 27th November 2009
The movie has a very tried and tested storyline, of a vulnerable young housemaid falling in love with the young son of her mistress. What happens after that forms the rest of the story. This story may not have been a common one, back in 1979, but we have seen lots of similar stories after that, the most recent one being Ranjith's Nandanam(2002). But MT and Lal Jose make sure that the cliched story does not appear that way through their treatment. In fact, the movie has a completely refreshing feel to it. Watching the movie is like reading one of MT's short stories which would make you smile and feel nostalgic. This movie takes us back to a village in the 1970s and recreates that era beautifully and tells an interesting story of a helpless girl Kunjimalu (Archana) who falls for her mistress' son Haridas (Kailash). She also has a friend in her neighbour Ammini (Rima Kallingal). But what happens when Ratnam (Samvritha Sunil) and Appukkuttan (Suresh) come into her life? The movie is about that and also about the tale of a peculiar flower that blooms in the neighbourhood temple called Neelathamara.
Kailas, as the law graduate Haridas whom Kunjimalu falls in love with, is smart, handsome and again, confident. He carries off his role extremely well and does very well in the romantic portions. He is a great addition to the industry which has a huge scarcity of good newcomers. Rima Kallingal is extremely natural as Ammini and plays a credible supporting role. She looks very pretty too. But the abrupt conclusion to her character created some confusion among the viewers. I guess MT left the reason for that incident to the imagination of the audience. Samvritha Sunil shines the most among the lot. She gets some really nice lines and scenes in the second half of the movie. Her character is very mature, educated and sensible. But still she has all the basic emotions of a woman as well. Even for her older part (played by a new actress whose name I didnt get), she has given her voice, and has done a good job in that too. Sreedevi Unni, who acts as the mother of Haridas, is wonderful and consistent throughout the movie, even in her older version. Suresh as the ruffian Appukkuttan is decent. Thekaranavar, the aalthara aashaan, etc. are competent. A presence of a Bhagavatharis felt throughout the movie with keerthanams floating in the air everytime night comes. But the ones who dont perform well are the (really) old ladies - Kunjimalu's grandmother and the other housemaid. Kunjimalu's grandmother is supposed to have difficulty in walking, but she appears to be very cool and healthy while she walks. And also, her lips does not move at all when she says dialogues. The dubbing was out of sync at a lot of places for her. Even the other housemaid's bad acting got a few laughs from the audience.
Lal Jose has narrated the story in a short, simple and sweet way. His handling of the romantic portions deserve special mention. The Talat Aziz, Yesudas and Jagjit Singh songs that play from Haridas' tape recorder create a great ambience. The songs also indicate the passage of time in the movie. 'Jalte hai jiske liye' is played at an earlier stage of the movie, whereas 'Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho', which is a relatively newer song, is played during the latter part of the movie. The idea of using Yesudas' song 'Zid na karo' along with the lovemaking scene was a great touch. It also made sure that the voice of Yesudas is not missed in such a movie. :) That particular sequence has been shot extremely well by Lal Jose and is one of the very few such scenes which have been taken well in our Malayalam Cinema. MT creates some peculiar characters and instances like the bhagavathar, the aashaan at the aalthara, Ammini and even theNeelathamara, which stay in our mind long after the movie is over. The movie is less than 2 hours long which is a very good thing, as the story was a very short one. Many people are complaining that there was no major turn of events in the climax. But I felt the climax was done very well. In fact, it couldnt have ended in any other way. There was no melodramatic crying and cliched dialogues and all that. The characters deal with the situations with maturity and react as they would do if they were caught in such situations in real life. The movie ends by giving you a good feeling. Very few Malayalam movies have been able to do that recently.
The music is the major attraction of the movie. Vidyasagar has bounced back with an amazing soundtrack. The track by V Shreekumar and Shreya Ghoshal,'Anuraga Vilochananayi' has become a rage all over Kerala. No other song has become such a huge hit in the recent times (maybe after Kolakkuzhali Vil Ketto). It is the ring back tune of every other person now(including mine :)). And the song got an amazing response in the theatre. I was so sad that the other wonderful song 'Neelathamare' was used only as part of the titles. I wanted it to be there in the movie as well. 'Pakalonnu' is a slow, ghazal type song picturised wonderfully by Lal Jose. Vidyasagar does an extraordinary job with the background score of the movie as well. He creates the right ambience and mood for the entire movie. The tunes used in the background during the romantic portions are exceptionally good.
Cinematography is another highlight of the movie. This film was supposed to be the debut of cinematographer Vijay Ulaganath. But he suddenly had to do Madambi in between and that became his debut film (he did good work in that too). But he touches a new high with his work in Neelathamara. He has shot the movie in different colour tone which gives an old world feel. The night shots are shot remarkably as well. Editing by Ranjan Abraham is perfect. Art direction by Gokul Das recreates the entire time period of the 70s with precision (including Cuticura powder, Brut perfume, calendars from old Saaree shops and many more small touches which are not very obvious). Costumes by Kukku Parameshwaran stay true to the time period. Make-up by Sreejith Guruvayoor is excellent. The sound department has also done a great job.
On the whole, Neelathamara is a beautiful picture which takes us on a nostalgic trip back to the 70s. To tell such an oft-repeated tale effectively is not such a simple task. Lal Jose gets full marks for making this story interesting for the new generation as well. The movie has opened very well thanks to the great marketing by the team. The name MT Vasudevan Nair should bring in the elderly people as well, including the people who have seen the original Neelathamara. Neelathamara is a strong reinforcement that our cinema hasnt totally deteriorated. And as I have mentioned in the title, thank God for giving us Lal Jose. He has constantly been giving us good cinema which is a mix of both entertainment and artistic value. Many other senior directors in the industry have been expressing their strong desire to direct a script by MT, but the legendary writer chose Lal Jose to direct his script. That itself is such a great honour to the talented director, who is certainly the best director in Malayalam Cinema at present. As far as we have people like him around, we need not fear of a decline for our industry. In short, Neelathamara has to be watched - for its simplicity, the nostalgia, the romance, the songs, the performances, the camerawork, the dialogues, the emotions, the characters and most of all, the great feeling it gives you while watching it.
Rating - 4/5