This is not a top-to-bottom review of the movie in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tribute to the super cool filmmaking of Padmarajan.
It’s never an easy thing to tell a story that centers so much on female sexuality, let alone tell it through the events in the lives of two adolescent girls. In Desatanakkili Karayarilla, Padmarajan invites viewers to delve into the unexplored territories of homosexuality with a cautious subtlety unheard of in the Malayalam movie industry of those days.
Padmarajan’s approach to depicting homosexuality in the film may seem a bit too subtle on the surface. But it is way ahead of its time in its understanding. In what is a testimony to padmarajan’s controlled storytelling, movie contains neither direct, nor veiled suggestions about homosexuality. What it does contain are wistful expressions of a free-spirited girl who is often seen concealing her desires, presumably for fear of being labeled a freak. Though it could easily pass for a movie about sexuality or troubled adolescence, in its heart and soul Desatanakkili Karayarilla is a movie for the more mature age, created by a man in the prime of his craftsmanship.
If watching movies of Padmarajan has taught me anything, it’s that a good movie is like an important historical document that is out there in space and time waiting to be discovered by you so that it can obligingly enrich your life. His movies strike you as the work of a man who is in a constant process of regeneration. A prolific filmmaking career that spanned 16 years was full of artistic ingenuity, producing classics such as thoovanathumbikal, Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal, and my personal favorite Desatanakkili Karayarilla.
His films can hold you spellbound with their offbeat storytelling, leave you open-mouthed at the meticulous attention to detail, and even treat you to the most mysterious experience. Mystery, heartbreak, identity crisis are abound in Desatanakkili Karayarilla
, a coming of age drama about two teenage runaways. Story starts with a series of events at a girls’ school where Sally (Shari) and her reluctant partner in crime Nirmala (Karthika) are running rampant defying authorities. A glum-looking Dhevika (Urvashi) is their teacher cum arch enemy who, for the most part in the movie, comes across as a sulking loose cannon.
Having found themselves at the receiving end of some severe disciplinary punishment (rightly so), the two girls in an act of defiance elope during a school picnic. As the girls start looking for place to spend the night after their field day in city, Padmarajan cleverly pulls out his Hitchcock-eque trope. (It is sort of reminiscent of the famous Cop chasing the guilt-ridden woman scene). An inquisitive, well-meaning police starts following the girls in the dark only for viewers to later learn that his intentions were those of voyeurism.
Girls find proper jobs to keep them busy, thanks in no small part to a speed talking, sly Sally. One day while loitering in a cafe, they draw the attention of Harishankar (Mohanlal). Then you see a perceptive and witty Harisankar playing the two girls like a fiddle as he tries in vain to extract some truth from them. As the story progresses, Harisankar and Nirmala are in a relationship which is equal parts playful and romantically ambiguous. It is far from clear what Harisankar sought in Nirmala. What Nirmala is looking for, we discover, is the archetypal male figure that was never there in her life. A lover, father-like man and guardian all rolled into one person.
When juxtaposed with her sophisticated imagination and brains, the details of Sally’s character remain sketchy. Her runaway friend by contrast, apart from the indecisiveness, naivety and fickleness associated with teens, is just a normal girl. Karthika does a wonderful balancing act of playing a teenager you believe a matured Harisankar (Mohanlal) would be infatuated with, while also showing her unmistakable immaturity. By telling us as little about character’s background as possible, Padmarajan cleverly adds another layer of mystery to the narrative. He persuades you to dig deeper into the narrative and dig up facts. The type of facts that may not even be present there.
The deeper we get into the repressed emotions of Shari, the more Padmarajan manipulates our perception of character’s sexuality. Much of the effect this movie has, be it gratifying or incomplete, comes from being able to sit and think about what it is trying to tell you. Perhaps, Padmarajan’s greatest achievement in the movie was to capture the nuances of adolescent psyche within a clearly defined framework of conventional narrative. He artfully manages to incorporate many intricate details into the story without disrupting its normalcy.
The premise of the movie is not straight forward. It has several compelling, if not equally important, characters, each of whom leaves their mark on the story. As they drift in and out of focus, Padmarajan injects into each of them just enough mojo to keep you engaged. At no point in the movie does it feel that a character is single-handedly carrying the weight of the plot. There are scenes in the movie where he leaves just the right amount of ambiguity that is compelling enough for viewers to come back and take a closer look at. When the movie reaches its climax, a part of you is upset about the loose ends, and a part of you wants to admire Padmarajan’s daring decision to leave things to viewer’s imagination.
From unrequited love, identity crisis, to heartbreak and pathos, movie sheds light on many issues with the foresight of a visionary, and objectivity of a seasoned philosopher. Because my knowledge of 80’s ethos is skimpy at best it is very challenging to contextualize and locate film’s real place in director’s oeuvre. But I’m nevertheless convinced that in over three decades since its release, the film has transcended its then context and has evolved into a universal commentary on the trials of adolescence.
For all those who enjoyed the movie with the exception of the climax, here’s what I say to you; a movie that fascinates us so much with its mysterious elements should never try to tie up its loose ends. On my second viewing of the film, I was reminded of this famous quote by Rene Magritte, “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see”.