Sunday, July 30, 2006

Before Omkara, there was Kaliyattam (M)!

I have not seen any new movies. But I do want to see Vishal Bharadwaj's 'Omkara' - for several reasons. Both 'Makdee' and 'Maqbool' made for some engrossing cinema (though I did find the former a tad amateurish, but the director more than made up for it in the latter), and IMO Vishal is certainly a talent to watch out for. In his latest venture, the director has managed to assemble a bunch of talented actors (yes, I do believe Kareena is talented - watch her in 'Chameli' and 'Dev', for instance). Most of all, I want to know whether Vishal surpasses one of my own favourite movies - 'Kaliyattam', an attempted by ace director Jayaraj (who is no staranger to Shakespeare adaptations, btw).

A bit of history about the title first: the Malayalam word 'kaliyattam' is actually the name of an art-form that is often refered to as the predecessor of Kathakali (which, I hope, needs no introduction). Kaliyattam is a temple art-form performed in front of temples - mostly owned/managed by celestal homesteads in the time this art-form used to flourish - as an inaugural function, and also as a kind of annual pooja for social and/or familial safety. Each character is the staging of a kaliyattam is called a kolam (form). To distinguish between the type of character (heroic, wicked, comedic), each kolam employs special styles of face-painting. Of course, being a temple art-form, the chief kolam is usually the god/goddess of the temple. Rumour has it that at the time of performing the kaliyattam, the spirit of the god/goddess enters into the person assuming the kolam. Hence the person who assumes the lead kolam, so to speak, has rigorous processes to follow and is held in great esteem by everybody.

Jayaraj places Shakespeare's 'Othello' into this religious & artistic milleu. Othello, of course, is the person who enacts the chief 'kolam'. In a masterly performance, Suresh Gopi enacts the insecurities of Othello with masterly command. However, Lal (a popular director, forced into acting by Jayaraj in what would prove to be a stroke of genuis) as Iago steals the honours right from under Gopi's nose. As the scheming, ingratiating and evil Iago, Lal gives a performance of a lifetime. Manju Warrier plays Desdemona straight, with none of her usual quick repartees that the audience of Kerala had come to love by then (indeed, IMO she is one of the finest young actresses to have graced the Indian screen). The rest of the cast perform competently.

I read in a recent interview with Vishaal that he had opted not to put in the song that Desdemona songs on the night that she is killed. Bad decision, I think. In the Malayalam version, this is a beautiful number that goes ennodenthinu pinakkam...(Why are you upset with me...) that has gone on to become an immortal song for Kerala cine-goers. Bipasha's items numbers currently blaring on screen haven't really impressed me much, but let us see whether Vishal manages to upstage Jayaraj.

Update: There is now an article 'Kaliyattom' on Rediff. Click here to read it.


Anonymous said...

Same Old Anon: I would certainly agree with you that "Kaliyattam" is a rather good adaptation of Othello.

It was refreshing to watch Suresh Gopi, Manju Warrier and Lal churning out magnificient and yet different performances.....

And yes, my advanced wishes for your wedding.....


saumya said...

dont think any of the hindi guys can do half a good job as the mallu ones -
mallu films are a class apart - but since this is an adaptation of othelo and not a copy of kalliaatam i guess it would be way better than hera pheri and the others - despite the fact that they were made by a mallu film maker - the hindi guys just cant act - except paresh rawaal

nway - wont c ya at the wedding coz - sydney is way too far- me parents shd be there tho

Ranjit Nair said...

@Same Old: Yes, 'Kaliyattom' was pretty good alright. But my personal Jayaraj favourite is 'Paithrukam'; now that was one helluva movie!!

@Saumya:I can't stand the Mallu remakes Priyadarsan churns out. 'Hera Pheri' was the only decent one, and that too 'coz of Paresh. On the acting front, I think some of the current lot (Devgan, Aamir, Manoj Bajpai, Irfan, Kareena etc can act, Konkona is phenomenal) are better than the new Mallu guys (Dileep & co). Of course, not a patch on Lal, Thilakan etc in their heyday!!

Swanima said...

Nice write up. I watched Omkara . Good movie..but not good enough to match Kaliyattom.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to get hold of Kaliyattam but though I gather a DVD exists all the sites I can find ship within India only. Does anyone here know where I could buy one for shipment to the UK? Perhaps you have a copy you'd be willing to sell?

I'm also looking for the following Indian Shakespeare adaptations:

Hamlet (1954, Kishore Sahu)
Do Dooni Char (1968, Debu Sen)
Hamlet (1989, Sendhil Nathan)
Mr Romeo (1996, K. S. Ravi)

I'd be grateful for any help. Thanks!