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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Master of the Realm of the Senses

P Padmarajan - Master of Realm of the Senses

C S Venkiteswaran


I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages;

Let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded,

Whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom.

There I will give you my love”

- Song of Solomon, VII:10-12
















It is unbelievable that two decades have passed since Padmarajan left us! It may be because of the fact that he and the enchanting words and images he created never lost their charm and are still close to our heart.

Though his life was short, Padmarajan (1945-1991) was very prolific as a writer and filmmaker. He was one of the youngest authors to receive Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for his very first novelNakshathrangale Kaval at the age of 27. He went on to publish around 17 books of fiction, wrote as many highly successful scripts for filmmakers like Bharathan, KG George, IV Sasi and Mohan, and directed 18 films during the brief period between 1979 (Peruvazhiyambalam) and 1991 (Njan Gandharvan), apart from editing many of his own films! And even when he was busy making films, he continued to write till the end.

In literature, he belonged to a generation of writers who were in many ways the midnight’s children: born into a period of great hope they matured into a bleak era of utter loss of belief. Devoid of the baggage of ideologies or legacies, they vociferously quarreled with everything, though they were not sure about their dreams. In their works was a virtual and ‘literal’ explosion of sensuality. Padmarajan’s works of fiction like Nanmakalude Sooryan, Shavavahangalum Thedi, Manjukalam notta Kuthira, Prathimayum Rajakumariyum, Pukakkannada, Syphilisinte Nadakkavu andRithubhedhangalude Paarithoshikam belong to that tradition and charged with existential angst and carnal yearnings. Even the very titles suggest an earthy otherworldliness about them.


In the mid-70’s, Padmarajan started writing film scripts, and established enduring partnerships with directors like Bharathan, Mohan, and IV Sasi, whose films ushered in a new sensuality in Malayalam cinema. Even after becoming a director himself, he didn’t stop writing for others. Starting in 1975 with Prayanam for Bharathan, Padmarajan went on to write scripts for other directors till the end: his last script was Eee Thanutha Veluppankalathu in 1990 for Joshi. And all his screenplays invariably dealt with his favourite themes: desire, passion, memory, love, sex and violence.

He was basically a storyteller par excellence. Though apparently, his stories and films teem with ‘ordinary’ men and women, and very ‘local’ cityscapes and villages, these people and places are charged with a raw and explosive kind of passion and desire; they lie dormant within them and is aroused at the slightest instance: it can be the arrival from outside of a man or woman, an unexpected turn of events or an accident. At the centre of all his films is this sudden intrusion of the ‘real’ that leads to the eruption of tempestuous passions lying behind the placid surface of these lands and mindscapes.


His first film Peruvazhiambalam (1979), one of the finest films in Malayalam, is an incisive examination of how violence or totalitarianism works in our society that dealt with disturbing questions relating to masculinity and how people adore and dread it at the same time. Very few people resist it directly; some exile themselves in space, while others do the same in time, hoping for better times. It is the meek who are forced to resist and rebel, but once the act of violence is perpetrated, the mantle of ‘heroism’ is thrust upon them too, which is nothing but another invitation to domination.


In Oridaththoru phayalvaan (1981), which won an award at Asian Film Festival, it is the arrival of a wrestler that creates ripples in the village, and sets passions in motion. His towering body is an alien object that triggers desire, admiration, jealousy and also avarice. In the end, the village spits him out, and regains its calm, but in the process, several hearts have been wounded and minds set aflame. Both Kallan Pavithran (1981) and Arappattakettiya Gramathil (1986) are voyages into another world. While Pavithran, a smalltime thief is accidentally transported into a world of wealth and luxury, in the latter, the casual sexual escapade of the group of youth all of a sudden turns into a nightmare of sorts. Transgressive love is a recurring theme in Padmarajan. Both in Prayanamand Rathinirvedam (both directed Bharathan) love breaks the barriers of age and caste. In Thoovanathumpikal (1987) and Desadanakili Karayarilla (1986) Padmarajan explores the polymorphous dimension of desire, always placing the female at the centre of the narrative. In Thoovanathumpikal, one of the most romantic of Padmarajan films, it is Clara who enters the hero’s life like a rain and exits it as easily to break away and seek freedom. Similarly, Desadanakili Karayarilla deals with two school girls who elope from school to seek their own freedom – social and sexual. Though the normative, heterosexual regime catches up with both the eloping duo and Jayakrishnan in Thoovanathumpikal, the taste of freedom and difference is destined to mark their future lives.Namukkuparkkan Munthirithoppukal (1986) revisits the theme of sexuality in both its forms – that of inhuman lust and romantic love, weaving the evocative Songs of Solomon into its narrative.Innale (1990) deals with the ultimate male fantasy: that of the sudden gift of a dream girl sans memories; without a past, she can take any form that love wills.




In Padmarajan’s narratives, male and female sexualities, though fatally attracted towards each other, follow different trajectories, often to tragic effect. While male sexuality easily tends towards violence and aggressive possession, female sexuality is almost always enigmatic and mysterious, breaking out into freedom and exuberance. Characters like Clara or Shali, Sophia or Savitri, Chakkara or Gouri portray the wide spectrum of female desires that can never be pigeon-holed or cast into the moulds of male desire. They rebel and provoke, yearn and splurge, never afraid of taking control of their lives and destinies. It is men who come in the way, coercing them into violence, like in Novemberinte Nashtam (1982) and Koodevide (1983), or force them to run away to freedom like in Nombarathipoovu (1987) and Parannu parannu parannu (1984). More than relationships themselves, what Padmarajan films deal with is the havoc that these fatal attractions wreak upon the person. And it is female desire that stretches the narratives into a triangle, as they almost invariably break out of their prisons (Prayanam, Arappattakettiya Gramathil, Namukkuparkkan Munthirithoppukal, Thoovanathumpikal, Oridathoru Phayalvan). Aparan, Thinkalazhcha Nalla Divasam, Season and Moonam Pakkam are films that stand apart in his oeuvre; these films focus on death, loneliness, longing, old age, revenge and the fascinating theme of the double.



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