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Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam Is  A Semi-Awake Meditation On  Identity



Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam 

After having achieved  everything there  is to  achieve as  a mainstream Malayalam superstar Mammootty  at  70-plus, is all set to explore an  experimental arena of cinema. In  his latest   film outing Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam ,he assumes two characters. James is  a tetchy Catholic visiting a  Tamil  religious town with his  wife and son. On the way back  he alights from a bus into a small Tamil  village  and  starts behaving like  a local named  Sunderam with  a blind mother who ‘watches’ Tamil sitcoms  and allows Sunderam to  rest in her lap.

The visuals  are a stream of eccentric montages.

This is a strange situation. And indeed,  this  a strange  film. Strange  and intriguing, filmed  in tableau form that  could be  a  problem  on  the  OTT screen. There are  hardly any close-ups of any actor not even the mighty Mammootty who is  seldom  caught in  closeups  walking through the  lanes of the desolate village that he has  decided he  belongs to.

But will the  villagers reciprocate his  overtures? The  narrative  takes great pain and some  perceptible pride in exploring Mammootty’s dual personality.He is far less  grumpy , much more  sociable as  Sunderam while James is  a bit of a sourpuss.

In  Sunderam we see everything that James lacks specially warmth.  Not that James is  an undesirable  presence. Nothing is that  simple  here. At the  same time, I couldn’t help wondering  if  the  director  Lijo Jose Pellissery  and writer  S.Hareesh  are trying  to make  the  plot unnecessarily complex.

Is the  identity crisis real, or is it  a dream? If  the latter, then at what point do we stop worrying about Sunderam who it seems  left his family  one fine day never to return(like Sreeram Lagoo in  Mrinal Sen’s Ek Din Achanak) and resume  our rapport with his  doppelganger James?

Who between the two is  real ? Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam  plays  on the mirror-image  metaphor,  harping on the dual-identity crisis just long  enough to  let us have a peep into the  heart  of  two men who are divided by their duality, but conjoined at  the hip for the same reason.

The  film has  no  room or patience for intimacy  with any  of the characters, not even the two parts played  by Mammootty. Far from playing the superstar,Mammooty scarcely gets  a closeup from cinematographer Theni Eswar who  captures  the  mood of the village rather than the impulses of the  individuals. The first  closeup  Maammotty gets is when he gazes into the  mirror wondering who he really is.

The  audience  is left wondering the same  till the end. We are left with the knowledge that Mammootty’  Sunderam avatar was a dream. But what if  that explanation is  being offered by an unreliable  presence ? What if James is the  made-up character  and Sunderam  the  reality? Or, what if  James and the busload  of  fellow-pilgrims were part of a street play in a Tamil village where  James played Sunderam?

The what-if  mode  of  narration in  Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam is  both its  greatest strength and  its biggest weakness.  If you believe that somewhere there exists  a person with your face leading another life,this film mesmerize you. But if you are a staunch believer in individualism , this  Malayalam-Tamil film  may just  bewilder  you.

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