Anandabhadram: An Intermingling of Mythos and Supernatural
This paper attempts to make a foray into the relationship between myth and supernatural in Malayalam film industry. Anandabhadram, one among the recent Malayalam supernatural movies, directed by Santosh Sivan is taken as a model for study. The whole film from the very beginning to the end is an amalgamation of myth and supernaturalism. Everytime we look into Malayalam film for instances of supernaturalism, there we find a blend of both supernaturalism and myth.
Supernaturalism from the word itself is easily comprehendible that it refers to things which are beyond natural happenings. It is true that this is only a literal explanation to the word and the word supernaturalism includes a lot more. In Hollywood, French, Italian and other large scale film industries, supernaturalism occurs in numerous forms and varieties. When we categorise Malayalam film industry alone, most supernaturalisms tie up with myth or legends except with some exceptions like Moonnammatoral, Aparichitan etc. Through this paper, I don’t intend to create an image of Malayalam supernatural films circling round myths and legends for their stories just like how a moon revolve around earth. The simple argument is that mallu films have a slightly more inclination towards myths, stories, legends and cultural background than any other film industry.
Anandabhadram is an easily identifiable mallu movie which depicts supernatural happenings within a mythical context. The location where the story happens is Shivapuram, a mystical place, where one overhears stories of spirits, ghosts and blackmagic. Even in the air of Shivapuram, a smell of something beyond natural is felt. The movie opens with an introduction scene of little Anandan (role played by Prithviraj) to whom Gayathri, his mother (role played by Revathy) is telling about her family history. This scene itself makes it clear that the story is supernatural. The opening scene is so powerful that it inculcates into the audience an image of watching a fantasy-thriller.
Gayathri is telling to her son Anandan that she is a descendent of the Sidhayogi family, who are responsible for safeguarding the nagamanikya and taaliyolas kept inside a magical cave. Nagamanikyam is a heavenly precious stone which decorates the serpent’s head. It is so powerful that it is said to be the soul of nature. All these are not scientifically proved truths, rather beliefs or myths which rule the life of the people of Shivapuram.
The concept of ‘yakshi’ also shows her presence in the film. The first appearance of yakshi in the film is when Gayathri reveals the story of her history to her son. She tells that it is an yakshi who protect nagamanikyam from Digambaran’s (role played by Manoj K Jayan) black magic. Also an yakshi is shown in the screen on Anandan’s first way to Maadambi, through Shivakavu. But this is only an illusion to create an ambience of fear and curiosity among the audience. This enhances the supernatural image of the film.
Woman is considered as devi (goddess), according to the beliefs and myths of the house of Maadambi. A woman adorned with the title devi is denied a chance to marry. It is with the help of a virgin from Maadambi house that one is able to grasp nagamanikyam. This ordinance shows how important is a woman in that family. But this is in a way a restriction towards women of that family from chasing their dreams. Gayathri (Revathy) escapes from her fate of becoming devi through her marriage and later migrates to US. The next victim is Subhadra but she vanishes on the day of adorning the title devi. Later in the film it becomes clear that Digambaran falls in love with Subhadra and accidently Subhadra dies with Digambaran’s hand. Then comes another great instance of supernaturalism and black magic. Digambaran keeps the body of Subhadra in an oil tank in the magical cave. Through his black magic he plans to give the life of Bhama (Chemban’s sister) as a sacrifice on the day of amavasi to retain the life of Subhadra. Bhama’s soul is a medicine to cure Subhadra from the ultimate, i.e, death. All these ideas are not digestible for a simple human mind. These are beyond natural thoughts and hence can be classified as supernatural.
The superstitious belief of worshipping snake and uttering hymns praising them are seen throughout the film. This is associated with the myths and legendary stories of Kerala. In this God’s own country, there are characters who still worship snakes, cows, sun etc. When asked about his inspiration for the film, Sivan said he "derived a great deal of inspiration from our arts. We have a rich visual culture and even in Ananthabhadram, I have used certain aspects from Theyyam dancers and Kathakali to create the wizard Digambaran's image. The color, long nails, kohl-lined eyes and so on were inspired from Theyyam and Kathakali." The film also uses Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art of South India, for the fight sequences between Digambaran and Chemban (Kalabhavan Mani). The director used three paintings of Raja Ravi Varma—Damayanti and the swan, Lady in thought and Girl carrying milk tray—as inspiration to picturize the song Pinakkamano (acted by Prithviraj Sukumaran and Kavya Madhavan). The life and soul of Kerala culture is used throughout the film to ensure a sublime touch of supernaturalism to the film. All these pinpoint to the fact that the supernatural fantasy thriller is a blend of myths and culture practiced by Malayalees.
Another important aspect of the film is the death of Sreeni, an youngster who had the courage to question the activities of Digambaran. He is killed by Digambaran when he tries to interrupt Digambaran’s witchcraft. After Sreeni’s death the film marks the death of Raman Jyotsyar, who is also killed by Digambaran. Digambaran conducts all these murders with the help of his blackmagic. He is after blackmagic and witchraft inorder to attain nagamanikyam and to become more powerful.
A scene of Anandan and Bhadra viewing nagamanikyam is very much impressing. The scene is beautified as it is cast within the magical cave. One cannot find the authenticity of nagamanikyam and thus this is the core supernatural element of the film as the whole film circles round nagamanikyam. A piercing image of light is shown as a symbol for nagamanikyam representing goodness and optimism. In reality, there exits nothing like nagamanikyam but when shown in the film the viewers are deeply attracted and involved into every shot of the film. The success of Santosh Sivan lies here.
Digambaran, in the film is the embodiment of everything dark, negative and cruel while on the other hand Anandan is the quintessence of truth, light and hopefulness. It is with the arrival of Anandan that the people of Shivapuram began to dream a day out of the magical power and witchcraft of Digambaran.
Digambaran now plays his witchcraft on Anandan. He uses Anandan as a medium for his cruelities. Through Anandan, Digambaran kills the SI of police (role played by Suresh Krishna) and later Sivaram (role played by Biju Menon). By the method of parakayapravesham (one’s self is replaced by another) and Shavapooja Digambaran enters into Anandan’s body and Anandan becomes inactive and the negativities of Digambaran starts to work in Anandan. Anandan is a mere plaything in the hands of Digambaran. This happens when Digambaran dives into the oil tub in mantrikapura or magical cave.
In the song ‘minnayam minnum kaatte…..’ all forms of supernaturalism like kolam, mantras, kaavu etc pictures its appearance. The character of Kavya Madhavan tells that eventhough science develops upto the skies, in Earth there exists roots of beliefs and myths. This simple statement is an evidence to prove that supernatural is associated with beliefs and stories.
The theme of fear also appears in the film. Fear is a major aspect of supernaturalism as supernaturalism normally deals with spirits, ghosts and witchcraft. At times, we see the frightened image of Anandan and at this crucial juncture he finds shelter under the blanket. This is a method told by his mother to get rid of his anxiety. There is an illusion of a hand with long nails when Anandan rescues himself under the blanket. This is a deception and with that scene the director tries to impart a fear within the minds of the audience.
Towards the end of the film Bhadra came to know about the changes happened in Anandan and she is ready to sacrifice her life for Anandan. The final part of the film is taken in the mantrikapura and each and every shot is quite marvellous. Bhama takes away the virginity of Digambaran and he becomes powerless. His aim of obtaining the nagamanikyam through Anandan becomes a failure. Digambaran and his blackmagic thus come to an end in the magical cave. Anandan fulfils his dream of lighting thousands of lamps in Shivakavu as per the desire of his mother Gayathri.
In a film industry like Malayalam, the stories will be round some specific focuses. In case of supernatural films, Malayalam film industry has more to tell about myths and legends as the Malayalam culture is all about such substances unlike any other culture and society. Film is a medium of representation of life. Therefore, the life history of Kerala community can only be interpreted according to the beliefs and tastes of the community. This is the central reason why we find a blend of mythos and supernatural in Malayalam movies such as Manichitratazhu, Anandabhadram etc. This in turn becomes giant success because the audience relate these films to their life.