Directors: Fazil, Priyadarshan, Sibi Malayil, Siddique-Lal
Writer: Madhu Muttam
Cast: Shoabhana, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi
A young couple, Ganga (Shobhana) and Nakulan (Suresh Gopi), arrives at Nakulan's ancestral home, knows as Madampalli, for a vacation. Hailing from a family that follows tradition and superstitions, Nakulan's uncle Thampi (Nedumudi Venu) objects to the couple's idea of moving into the allegedly haunted mansion, which they ignore. The couple moves in, following which seemingly supernatural events begin to happen.
Film can be best classed as a Psychological thriller and is widely considered as one of the best Malayalam films of all time. We Malayalees, exhibit a lot of superiority complex and generally see rest of India (Bengalis are an exception for some reason, maybe communism) as how Developed nations perceive under-developed ones-be it in the economic sense or when it comes to art and culture. So Manchithrathazhu, which came out in early 90s, is often cited as another one of these justification for this sense of superiority because it is a film which was much ahead of its time for general Indian audience and the fact that it was made in Malayalam and was a huge success in Kerala even as early an in 1993 kind of justifies our awesomeness. Also the fact that it was remade into several other languages a decade or so later but they still had to add a lot of unnecessary things to make it palatable for those audience as a commercial cinema, strengthens our conviction that rest of India is so behind.
All the above xenophobia aside, what makes the film such a beauty is that it has all the elements that are required from a commercial point of view but it does it in such a way that it respects the intelligence of the audience. It is a film which satisfies all kind of people but I was shit-scared when I saw it for the first time in a theater as a seven-year-old. I remember saying special prayers before going to bed (those were the days) and since I was living in an old 'Tharavadu' like house in those days, we had designated a guest room as our own version of 'Thekkini' from the film and used to not go there after that. I really had seen it then as a horror film and it took me a second viewing some 5 years later to realize that there is nothing supernatural about it.
Even though Fazil is given credit as the director of this film, it also credits Priyadarshan, Sibi Malayil and Siddique-Lal as second unit directors. That itself shows the ambition of the film since all of them were leading film directors in Malayalam Cinema during that time. It can be a recipe for disaster but their output in the film is seamless. The water-tight screenplay from Madhu Muttam is the biggest reason for its success and I guess all the directors involved would also have contributed to it, especially for the comedy parts. I am really interested in a documentary interviewing all these people behind the camera to describe how this collaborative effort happened and what was the level of contribution from each of them.
What stood out for me during this watch was the level of detail involved in the film and how well they manage to convey it without feeling like expositions. I had watched 'Back to the Future' recently and its script is held up as some sort of perfection for how well every detail of it in the beginning has a significant bearing later in the film. I am not really a big fan of that since it is also some sort of convolution. I like it when the film have things in it which doesn't have anything to do with the plot per se but adds minor but really cool things to it in terms of world building and fleshing out supporting characters. 'John Wick' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road' from recent times are good examples of such films. In Manichithrathazhu, there is a ten-minute sequence in the beginning through which the dynamics of relationship between the different families in it is established in a neat fashion. The tension between Nedmudi's and Innocent's families is not really a necessary detail for the plot of the film but such small details are really great to have. Also, almost all the characters from the film are so well developed, without having to dedicate much time on an individual basis, that you can really describe what kind of personality they have and why they behave like they behave when put in the larger family relationship context. I am talking about characters played by Nedumudi, Innocent, KPAC Lalitha, Sudheesh and characters like 'Alli' and 'Sreedevi'. All of this is done with minimum fuss. The sequence in which KPAC Lalitha is seemingly coming on to her husband character played by Innocent and both of them gets embarrassed when 'Sreedevi' enters the room is a case in point. That scene can be purely seen as a comedy one but it is a nice little detail that the spinster, Sreedevi, is the third person involved in it and it kind of adds to her status as a tragic figure in the family. Of course, we get more details regarding her relationship with Nakulan only later on in the film, but these are just nice little things that you notice on repeat watches regarding how intelligently this film was made.
The film won National Award for 'Best Popular Film for Providing Wholesome Entertainment' and Shobhana was awarded National Award for 'Best Actress'. It broke the record to become the Highest Grossing Malayalam film of all time then and I suspect if you adjust for inflation and calculate, it might still be holding that record. It is a really a worthy one to hold that record because I think no other films from Malayalam have managed such a fine balance when it comes to making a film that is so commercial yet so intelligent. I have embedded a youtube link for the film with English subtitles for those who are interested to watch it in all its glory.