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Meghamalhar: An Old Film, A New Take

Meghamalhar (Malayalam)

Had the opportunity to watch an old Malayalam film “Meghamalhar” recently. Starring Samyuktha Varma and Biju Menon in lead roles, the movie is a charming attempt at understanding the dynamics between two adults who once shared a deeply intimate childhood friendship.

Rajeev is a lawyer. He is married with two kids. Nandita is a writer/novelist/sub-editor living in the same city. Her husband works in the Middle East. She lives with her daughter and father-in-law. Rajeev and Nandita have a chance interaction at a local bakery when their respective orders get mixed up. Then they meet again at a hospital. By now, Rajeev has learned that she is a published writer. He chats with her about her work. Then they meet again at his office when she drops by with a friend who has an appointment with a fellow lawyer. Each interaction they share is pleasant and friendly. He begins to read and enjoy more of her stories.

One day, Nandita calls Rajeev to ask a favor. She needs an interview with a respected Kathakali artist and performer. This gentleman is also a friend of Rajeev’s, so she asks if he can provide an introduction. Rajeev agrees. The artist lives in a distant town, so they have to undertake a day’s journey for the interview. Nandita, Rajeev and a photographer make their way to the artist’s home. En route, Rajeev starts describing a story penned by Nandita that touched his heart deeply. He reveals that he has had a similar experience in his own life. As he begins to describe an incident from his childhood involving a dear friend Srikutty that mirrors the story, Nandita’s face changes. It becomes evident that the story is semi-autobiographical, and that Nandita is none other than Srikutty. It also becomes clear to her that Rajeev is her childhood friend. However, Nandita chooses to keep this realization to herself.

Life goes on. Rajeev finds himself getting more and more drawn to Nandita. He feels a deep sense of connection with her. One day, they meet at a beach where he reveals his feelings to her. She is shell-shocked. Speechless, she leaves. Rajeev is dismayed. He attempts to contact her multiple times to explain (or apologize) but she refuses to meet him. Another chance interaction occurs as they both travel to Trivandrum, a neighboring city. This time, Nandita is with a friend. Unable to face him, she asks her friend to pass Rajeev a copy of her newly published book.

On the first page, she writes,

“To my childhood friend Rajeev,
Yours,
Srikutty.”

As Rajeev opens the book, he comes to realize who Nandita is. He requests her to meet him one last time. When they meet, he apologizes for what he terms his “cheapness” and indiscretion. He promises to never contact her again. But he declares that he will never forsake the memory of his childhood playmate Srikutty. Nandita is visibly moved. She then proposes a short trip to Kanyakumari, the city of their childhood. As Nandita and Rajeev explore the beach where they played as children, they are forced to confront the fact that they are deeply attracted to each other. But, as Nandita explains, there can be no future to that feeling; they must part as strangers, she says.

Many years elapse. Nandita and her husband Mukundan are on a trip to Kanyakumari. As they check out of their hotel, a car pulls up. Rajeev steps out with his wife Rekha. It turns out that Rekha and Mukundan were classmates at college. They begin chatting and exchanging pleasantries. Nandita and Rajeev are introduced to each other. As their eyes meet, it becomes clear that the passage of time has not dimmed their feelings. They mutter “Hello” to each other and part to go their respective ways.

Phew. Typing all that was not easy.

I watched the film in two parts. I really enjoyed the first half. The story was developing so beautifully, I thought. It seemed like a mature attempt to show adults grappling with complex emotions. However, the second half felt like an utter letdown.

As I was describing the story to P, he wondered why I was in “psychoanalysis” mode. No, I wasn’t meaning to over-analyze or dissect the movie (it is a work of fiction, after all) but I felt like Meghamalhar lost a good opportunity to make a strong point.

The past can be a powerful player in our life. However, the truth is that it has no existence. Understanding this fact is vital to our peace of mind and happiness. Yes, Nandita and Rajeev shared a special bond in their childhood. However, that time had long passed by. Not to imply that the sweet tenderness of that bond should necessarily have changed. Meeting a dear friend is a joyful event. Instead of looking at that person and relationship as they existed, in the current moment, Nandita and Rajeev viewed their present situation in the light of their past. End result? Muddled emotions. Guilt, regret, pain… and so on.

The film has a couple of beautiful songs. Here is one.

Amaram, A Father’s Love

Amaram is a poignant tale of a widowed fisherman who raises his daughter with much love and devotion. She is a bright kid, and he dreams that she would be a doctor one day, saving the lives of women like her own late mother who died giving birth. Sadly for him, life has other plans in store for the family. The girl falls in love with the son of another fisherman, causing much distress to her father. He sees a bright future in store for her, but she only sees her lover. Nature takes a turn for the worse as a storm hits the seas, causing the lover to be lost at sea. The girl is distraught, she blames her father for everything. Finally, all loose ends are tied up although the ending is no typical happy one.

The film does not make for happy viewing but it has its beautiful moments. One of my favorite songs ever is ‘Azhake Nin Mizhineer Maniyil,‘ sung by Yesudas and Chithra in their golden voices, laden with meaning and emotion.

To me, this song is simply about the love of a father for his daughter. It is unconditional; it cannot but be otherwise. Yet, expectations weigh it down, causing the love to distort and lose its freedom and capacity for joy. A child can show us what it means to be totally and truly free, completely dispassionate and live in the moment. In a way, a child is an adult’s gateway to seeing enlightenment in action. Yet the parent’s love for his child can serve to bring him down, dejected and lost. That’s where knowledge comes in use. Yes, they are our children, but didn’t Gibran say that they are ultimately the children of God? By setting them free, we can experience freedom ourselves.

Easier said than done and no, I am not a parent. But I know parents who have walked this tightrope of love and freedom gracefully. Like my own.