Mathilukal: Not Exactly A Movie Review

Growing up in Kerala, I always knew that Adoor Gopalakrishnan was a big deal but somehow, I never took out the time to watch any of his films. Mostly because I thought they’d be dry and beyond my comprehension. Interestingly, I once met Adoor Gopalakrishnan at Chaitanya Eye Hospital, Trivandrum when I was around 8 years old. He smiled at me and remarked to my mother, “Mon sherikkum vaayikum, alle?” (Your son reads a lot, doesn’t he?)

Recently one of my friends on Twitter (not exactly sure who it was, think it must have been Brutu) shared a scene from Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s movie ‘Mathilukal’. In the scene, Basheer (played by Mammooty) is informed that he has been released from prison and that he can return to the ‘free world’. Mammooty scoffs and replies with disdain, “What free world? You’re just shifting me to a bigger jail out there. Who wants freedom?” My curiosity was really piqued by just this one scene. I felt like watching more especially since those lines really seemed to hit home, given how we are all locked up at home right now because of the Corona pandemic.

In my opinion, one interesting aspect of the movie is how the character Narayani is never shown on screen. (Narayani is a female prisoner with whom Mammooty’s character strikes up a friendship (or a relationship of sorts). They have regular conversations with each other even though they are physically separated by the walls of the prison compound.) I think leaving Narayani to the viewer’s imagination is a masterstroke because the viewer creates an image of her according to his/her ideals of beauty. This reminds me of how some stage productions of Macbeth choose to have Macduff’s children killed off-stage to heighten the gruesomeness and depravity of their murders. In cinema and theatre, I’ve noticed that leaving things to the viewer’s imagination has a very strong effect if executed properly. Another scene that comes to mind is a scene from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, where a young Milkha Singh hears his elder sister being assaulted at the refugee camp. The act isn’t actually shown on screen, but we hear what happens. This is one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Bollywood movie.

While watching Mathilukal, I couldn’t help but wonder how absolutely endearing Mammooty’s character is. This caught me by surprise, because you would expect a prisoner who constantly receives preferential treatment would come to be hated by his fellow prisoners. But somehow, he manages to win them all over with his affable manner. To conclude, the movie is a delightful watch and I would highly recommend it, especially since the lock-down is in place.

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