Mahanadi watchal happened yesterday, after what must be eons. The depth in screenplay, class in constructing scenes and elevating what is already a powerful scene is what is striking in the screenplays of Kamal in the early 90s, something that is evidently lacking in the last few years. Mahanadi falls in the former category. A lot of things might be pretty evident in the film. This post could hence be clichéd for a few, but to know if you already know what you are going to read, you would still have to read.
Kamal has a fascination for names. This is rather evident from the way he names his films after the protagonists. Anbe Sivam, Manmadan Ambu and Vishwaroopam (becoming redundant, yes) now are proof. In Mahanadi also he obsesses on names in his inimitable way. Right from “Krishna’s” daughter introducing herself in front of his friend’s camera; “My name is Kaveri, like the river Cauvery. My brother is Bharani, mother is Narmada and grandmother is Saraswati Ammal; we see references to rivers which are rather direct (not so in the case of Panjapakesan, who introduces himself as Punjabi; Punjab, the land of 5 rivers. He is never again called by his name, leave alone Punjabi. He is simply referred to as Iyer). We see Suganya as Yamuna and the prostitute and her daughter in Songachi as Ganga and ‘Jala’ja.
The life of the protagonist mirrors a river too by starting out adventurously (some beautifully audacious background score here), unafraid of challenges, foolishly speedy, bouncing over, eventually going down with an almighty thud and mellowing down with twists and turns. This could be a stretch but it’s easy to show the protagonist being kicked and thrashed out rather than visuals that render themselves quite fluidly for such plausibility that it might not be a stretch.
What I find striking is after he has sketched the protagonist’s journey to reflect a river; the film gives the quintessential Indian humanness to rivers through the songs, Cauvery to be precise, calling her a woman with water as an apparel. This quite reminds one of Kalki’s portrait of Cauvery where she is in her journey to the groom’s place (sea), her arms growing multifold in delight as she nears him (a wonderfully imaginative picture of distributaries). References to rivers continue through songs from Tagore in Bengali, followed by Tamil, the former calling out to the villager to set his sails in the river and go about his life for he has wasted his time idling away so far (a precise reflection of the protagonist’s life till now).
We see Kamal’s pet theme of atheism quite apparently coupled with the irony of being asked to read Bharathi to cultivate patience who fuels Krishna’s righteous anger all the more. Kamal the script writer also paints a wonderfully deep canvas to depict human nature in a frankly realistic manner. To elucidate, Sundar, Krishna’s friend, a typically loud mouthed rich guy, mentions inappropriately about Krishna’s wife passing away and realizing that the damage has been done, tries to salvage the moment by calling Bharani a “sweet fellow”. This one sequence packs a lot, from telling us that Krishna’s wife passed away during childbirth to a little peek into the nature of people and also gives the audience a poignant moment, all in a few seconds. The poignancy is more an afterthought here. Similarly, we see Poornam Viswanathan, a character with ulcer who suffers a whole night without food in the jail telling Thalaivasal Vijay that he is to eat only once that day. These sequences don’t judge people as much as reflect what is apparent in a rather subtle way, Kamal style. Beautiful ‘moments’.
Ilayaraaja is in sublime form too with his background score. He conceives a wonderful score for Krishna-Yamuna’s platonic love in the jail which he repeats whenever Krishna and Yamuna are together (this scene being my favorite where a bespectacled Iyer asks Yamuna to find his glasses to make sure the unmarried couple don’t go too far) and a different yet equally lovely score for Krishna’s wife and daughter. However, he doesn’t bring the Krishna-Yamuna score but fits in Krishna’s wife-daughter score to underline that Yamuna has become a part of Krishna’s life when Krishna ironically kisses Yamuna goodbye.
I think Kamal is on his own trip here and other than Raaja, he pretty much completely owns the film. The story on the exterior is like every other sad melodrama but what makes it so beautifully realistic is the handling. I just wish he writes more like this.