PADMARAJAN , who ?

Today, I am writing about Padmarajan and his film Innale, which is a Malayalam film released in the year 1990. Before I write about that, let’s talk about why I picked Innale and begin my first blog with it.

To answer this, I need to tell you something about me. I am an avid cinephile , so I often travel around the world through cinemas. Yes, you read that right. Funny? Not a problem. But it’s true that cinemas can take you anywhere you want , not physically, but you’ll be mentally transported. Through cinemas, I have visited  a lot of regional places of India and abroad. I have learnt about cultures, traditions, fashion, food, literature, dance, music, art and society of various places through this medium. You name it and it’s there. So, every once in a while, I get into a phase when I am always talking about cinemas of particular state or country. Presently, I’m into malayalam cinema for the past three months, for the third time in my life.

This year, my malayalam phase started with a recent film, Varane Avashyamund which rekindled my passion about everything malayalam , once again. This film made me focus on Shobana, whose charm then transported me to her 1990’s film , Innale , directed by the legendary film-maker P.Padmarajan.

Varane Avashyamund had the same pair – Shobana and Suresh Gopi, who worked together in Innale 30 years ago. Just that they didn’t have longer screen time in Innale as the film focused more on Shobana -Jayaram, but the impact that her pairing with Suresh Gopi had on people was profound.The way, director handled the subject of Amnesia so realistically in Innale is something you will not even find in cinemas of 21st century. Malayalam cinema and especially, Padmarajan was way more ahead of his time. That’s what I’ll talk about in this blog.

Basic plotline – Film opens with a bus accident in the middle of the night in a small rural settlement in Kerala. All the passengers died on the spot, except a few. Only one of them survived without any serious physical injury but suffered Amnesia. She is Maya. No one including herself knew who she was and where she was from. No one came to claim her despite the efforts to search for her identity. This film deals with how the girl with no past moved on and became Maya , with the help of Dr. Sandhya and her son, manager of the hospital, Sharath. There was a heartbreaking twist at the end when her husband from her past, Dr. Narendran appeared.

CastShobana as Maya/ Gauri ; Jayaram as Sharath; Srividya as Dr. Sandhya and Suresh Gopi as Dr.Narendran.

I’ll now dig deep into Padmarajan’s style and understanding of cinema using Innale as an example. Let’s break down this cinema into four aspects : Character’s Pyschology ; Storyline and Editing ; Acting and Detailing ; and, Sound and Music.

Character’s Psychology

When I say character’s psychology, I don’t just mean the main character’s psychology. I’ll talk about human psychology in general with respects to both major and minor characters in Innale . From what I observed, I think Padmarajan sir’s strength was in understanding emotions and behaviours .

 I say this because he not only handled sensitive emotions relating to the subject of amnesia without making it too dramatic but also shown a minor character like a poor native man unable to resist the urge to steal a woman’s jewellery while she lay unconscious by the waterbank, before taking her to a hospital. This scene of the native man is not of any importance to the main plot, but he added it to make the sequence of story seem realistic and smooth , not rushing anything. Had he not shown any natural behaviour from a minor character, it would not feel as real as it did when transitioning to next scene.

We also see in a scene post the accident, the dead bodies covered with sheets lay on the hospital floor , cut to next shot, where Dr. Gafoor trying to save a patient and Dr. Sandhya standing by the hospital window, her hand covered in medical gloves soaked in blood. He kept the frame on close shot in which we see Dr. Sandhya by the window , then camera follows her and zooms in on her face as she slowly turns around, her face looked pale and eyes hinting at her helplessness while she was coming to terms with her own realization of the fact that she has failed to save even one patient, out of all the 37 that was brought.

The main character , Maya , didn’t remember her name. Maya wasn’t her name. When she regained her consciousness and was able to stand on her own feet, she was given the name Maya by Sharath. She responded by saying that the name suited her situation. As soon as he left the room, she thought of poking once again into her memories so that she could learn something about her past. All she could find there was pieces of visuals from delirious dream  she had before regaining her consciousness few days back, other than the memories post the accident. That didn’t help, so she let it go once again.

Every scene was created and handled with utmost care in respect to the character’s emotions and behaviours, without complicating them. Unlike Padmarajan, most film-makers of his time had the tendency to complicate psychological dramas, making the genre prone to melodramatic effect. He made sure that his amnesia patient act like one, not remembering a thing from her past ever again, unlike similar characters of other people’s film where they would suddenly get their memory back just by looking at a tree or something.

Storyline and Editing

Padmarajan’s sense of sequencing the images in scenes are spectacular. There’s not a shot or a scene that will throw you off the track. It was that smooth.

He started the film with a scene where there was a chaos , villagers moving to and fro, in a pitch dark stormy night, helping the people in uniforms carrying the body from the accident spot to the ambulances, parked far away from the remote location . Just like Maya, we too don’t know what happened before the accident. Maya’s past is as much unknown to us as it is to Maya.

Maya’s unconscious body was discovered by the native settler the next morning, separating her from the other unfortunate passengers, making her the special character. From there onwards, we follow the story , empathizing with Maya, following her as she follows the cues her life post the accident offered her. Initially, she clung to her desire to find her past but in vain. No one came to claim her. Time passed by her.

 Her subsequent attachment to Sharath soon overpowered her longing for her past. Just as things started to look normal for her, Dr. Narendran, her husband , who lived in US arrived in India in search of his missing wife. Her past is revealed to us through Narendran’s eyes . It wasn’t much of a past . Her life before her marriage to Narendran was almost as meaningless as having  no past. Her name was Gauri. She and Narendran was married for only a month before the unfortunate accident. So, she wasn’t missing out on much. That’s when our empathy was slowly directed towards Narendran.

 He flew down to Kerala as soon as he found her whereabout to take her away. This is when you’ll be torn between who to emphatise with, at the end. When you think of Maya, you know she has finally learnt to let go of her quest to know her past ; there’s no point in telling her that she had a husband, who she will not remember but will be forced to think of him, leaving her newfound sense of belonging with Sharath, which helped her moving on. However, thinking of Narendran will make you understand that even though Maya remembers nothing from her past due to which she cannot deeply miss it ;  Narendran, who remembers everything ends up being the one suffering. Just like us, he too will feel the void but he being the kinder and wiser soul, decided not to reveal to her who he was and what he came for. He simply left his Gauri so that she could be Sharath’s Maya, an identity that’s a part of her recent past and present , which she created with her new memories. The film ended with him running off in a car , with Maya and Sharath looking towards the direction his car was heading. We see a perplexed Maya and relieved Sharath .  

Each and every shot focused on the emotions of the characters on the frame, which we understand from their behaviours. That’s how Padmarajan created a cinematic universe with each scene revealing something about the character’s intention, impulses, emotions etc. 

Acting and Detailing

First I’ll say that the casting was perfect. Everyone acted as realistically as they could. Out of them all, three actors has attracted my attention more so because of their detailing when it came to acting. I already knew that three of them – Shobana , Srividya and Suresh Gopi are terrific performers , but I have always thought their skills haven’t been properly utilised by majority of the film-makers. Padmarajan is one of the very few directors who had been able to utilize their acting skill to full potential.

There was a scene with Shobana as Maya ,regaining her consciousness completely for the first time , not recognizing anyone or anything. On waking up, she looked confused and kept on saying that she couldn’t recall her name. Her expression clearly portrayed the state of mind Maya was in. It looked as though her mind was blank leading to confusion followed by a mild agitation. It was so natural.

In one of the scene where Maya lay unconscious in the hospital bed, someone from the travel agency was called to identify her. He couldn’t identify yet wouldn’t leave easily once he lay eyes on Maya. This irritated Srividya’s Dr. Sandhya. Srividya, without uttering any dialogue, looked at her wrist watch and nodded her head subtly at Sharath to express her irritation at the fact that this man was wasting her time and Sharath should take him away, now. Perfect detailing once again.

Suresh Gopi’s Narendran , at the last scene, when he arrived at the place Maya was staying,  looked straight at smiling face of his Gauri, thinking that she recognized him until the very next second when she asked Sharath ‘ What took them so long to come ‘? instead of asking anything to Narendran , who she didn’t recognise. Subtle expression in Gopi’s face when his hope of sporting a broader smile was cut short by her question, suggested how his hope was shattered in that moment  he faced the harsh truth .

Sound and Music

I understand that sound and music is something that the technicians and composers deal with. But I have observed that Padmarajan’s cinema always have serene music , something that I like. That’s something I have noticed in his other film also. He surely had some say in the choice of music and sound he used.

This cinema , particularly had a beautiful background music in some scenes post the accident scene. It was a lingering music in the morning scene , which makes you feel dejected and helpless as if you know something worst has happened but you cannot do anything about it. So you go along with the sense of void in you. It gave that kind of feeling. Perfect pick.

That’s PADMARAJAN , for you !

P.S : I know I wrote more about Innale than about Padmarajan . It’s because there’s no Innale without Padmarajan. He was best known for his screenplays. It has always been full of cinematic storyline, dialogues and wonderfully developed characters. He was keen observer of human behaviour which was visible in his cinema.