Authored by Indu Poornima
Directed by cinematographer Venu, based on a screenplay by the short story writer Unni.R, this 2014 Malayalam movie explores the intricacies surrounding the human mind in perceiving the ideas of freedom, crime, and punishment. Through the life events of the protagonist C R Raghavan (played by Mammootty) and a junior freelancer Anjali Arakkal (Aparna Gopinath), the movie steadily unfolds itself to question subjective interpretations regarding ‘real freedom’ and nihilistic tendencies set within the modern capitalist framework.
The movie begins with Anjali, as a struggling new entrant to journalism agrees to ghostwrite the autobiography of a retiring jail superintend, Ramamoorthy (played by Nedumudi Venu). On a visit to the jail to meet the superintendent, she comes across Raghavan, who despite having finished his official term for the double homicide of his wife and female boss, continue to live in the jail. The first chord of curiosity is struck in Anjali with Raghavan’s constant but calm denial of him being a killer even after having served 20 odd years in jail. For the young journalist, the mysteriousness surrounding the protagonist accelerates after she gets access to his writings. Through probings like “Are there bulbs which can be switched on to bring darkness in a room filled with light just like how you turn a bulb on in a dark room to bring light?” and “Light and truth are alike, just because we don’t acknowledge it at times doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”, Raghavan presents his view of the world, only to further arouse the inquisitiveness in Anjali.
Eventually, Anjali writes a feature about him in a popular magazine, which she titles ‘Brain behind the Bars’. The article gains applaud for her as a freelancer along with proposals from publishing houses to launch a book on Raghavan’s biography. The good money came with these offers from corporate houses with Anjali finally being content about having received her first big career break. For the purposes of the same, Anjali proactively takes initiatives to release Raghavan from the jail and asks him to write more about his life events and own interpretations which would, in turn, form the flesh of the biography. The movie proceeds with various desperate efforts from Anjali’s side to make Raghavan write, which he relentlessly fails in doing. As a last resort, Anjali moves Raghavan to an undisclosed, secluded area so as to infuse some creativity in him. Finally, when Anjali realized that none of her tactics were working, she gives up her mission. She makes her mind up to settle the deal with the publishing house in the court of law. When she goes to meet Raghavan one last time, to release him from the house where she had confined him, Raghavan gives the full script of what he was asked to write. In a bewildered state, Anjali hurriedly goes through the manuscript that he had handed over to her and with every passing page, tinges of surprise, fear and panic start to overwhelm her. The film ends with Raghavan killing Anjali with a rod, in one swift blow, just when she finishes reading and looks at him with eyes of dismay and terror.
The questions that the film leaves through its open-ended closure are myriad. On a second watch, one understands how each scene right from the beginning was in fact cues thrown at the audience leading to the impending dark scenes that form the climax. The major themes emerging from the movie are as follows:
The protagonist in the movie is portrayed as having multiple layers, with his own rational explanations guiding his actions as opposed to the reasoning of others. While the mainstream sees him as being ‘abnormal’, ‘different’ or ‘too philosophical’ (in the words of Ramamurthy), he stays indifferent to such comments, and find bliss through his own understanding of the world. For when Anjali suggests that ‘he would be happy once he is out of jail’, Raghavan, as calm and composed as he replies, “But I am not unhappy in jail”. Raghavan thus doesn’t believe in values of freedom, loyalty, happiness, truth or reason in the sense as understood by others. He, therefore, exhibits traits of nihilism in believing in nothing, devoid of moral, or metaphysical convictions. He is quick to remove anything that comes in the way of his definitions, even if it meant the killing of the journalist who came in the way of him and his notion of ‘freedom’, which he enjoyed by being in jail. Throughout the movie there are subtle references to his extreme pessimism, a trait generally found among nihilists. For instance, when Anjali tells Raghavan about how happy he would be leading a new life post-jail, he is quick in replying that, there is nothing called ‘old’ or ‘new’ in life and proposes that life is nothing but a struggle unto reaching death.
The nihilist in him doesn’t consider his acts of killing three women, including Anjali as being wrong a deed as there is no existence of the concept of moral righteousness, loyalty or justice in his worldview. Perhaps this explains his constant denial of the crime he is convicted of since the beginning of the movie. In the beginning of the movie, there is an image of a dead lizard being moved by a group of ants. Although the ants might not be directly responsible for the death of the lizard, they are definitely participants in the act, as agents of destruction of its dead body. A parallel to this is drawn in the protagonist’s case, in his claim of innocence for not having killed his victims. Rather, the nihilist sees the death of the two females as being preordained and perceives himself as being a mere agent of implementing the already decided fate. This notion also perhaps explains the relevance of the title of the movie, Munnariyippu, meaning premonition in Malayalam.
Idea of Freedom
An overarching theme that is being questioned and countered throughout the movie is perhaps the subjective interpretations of freedom. While the general perception is to think of jail as a metaphor for isolation, or a correction cell for the ones transgressing justice and laws of the land, for Raghavan, it is bliss, his ultimate door to freedom, where he lives in at most joy, despite the end of his jail term. Towards, the end of the movie, to Anjali’s question of whether he decided where he wanted to be dropped, with his ever-so-innocent smile Raghavan calmly responds that it is to his cell room that he wished to go back, before hitting her head with the rod.
The reasons for his intolerance of the world outside of jail can be varied. The movie shifts the notion of ‘confining space’ from jail to the larger public spaces in modern settings. Perhaps it in the outside of jail, in the public sphere that Raghavan faces the more disciplinary control on his actions than in its inside. This can be understood through the Foucauldian notion of Panopticism, wherein disciplinary surveillance enables the observer to view the actions of the observed and keep the latter uninformed of them being observed. From jotting down whatever random thoughts that came to him, whenever he wanted to, to being subjected to Anjali’s constant surveillance on his day-to-day activities and pressures on meeting deadline the writer in Raghavan is suffocated, faces writer’s block and eventually loses the interest to write. There are repeated statements in the movie made by Anjali suggesting that the protagonist was ‘under her custody’. The movie uses metaphors such as the isolated house, Anjali forcefully locking Raghavan inside, dictating him on what he has to write etc. as instruments of surveillance imposed on him by the modern public space. Anjali, herself a representation of a generation cobwebbed in profit making pursuits, fails to respect the private space erstwhile enjoyed by the writer, as a consequence of which she pays dearly in the latter part of the movie.
Thus, the movie also throws light upon the capitalist mechanisms that commodify creativity and reaps profit out of it. While Anjali’s portrayal is one in affirmation to such a mentality as seen in instances like of her indulgence in ghostwriting with the pure aim of making money. At the other end of the spectrum, Raghavan as a writer loathes the public space, he is exposed to after 20 long years in jail for its overt and covert controls over behaviour. His writing is now being interrupted by external forces, trying to mold it into patterns of their choice, in an attempt to sell it for profits. The nihilist in Raghavan grows intolerant to these and ultimately chooses to return to his safe haven, where he enjoyed at-most liberty.
A crucial turn in the movie is when Anjali slowly begins to confide in Raghavan’s claim of not having killed anybody. Throughout the first half of the movie, there are little reasons as to why Anjali should not believe Raghavan’s words of not committing the crime. Elegantly poised and composed as he is, Raghavan portrays the demeanor of perhaps a well-read philosopher or author than that of a murderer. On the one hand, she develops a genuine sympathy for this man for having lost 20 years of his life as punishment for a crime that he did not commit. On the other, in her own pursuit of etching a name for herself in the field and make good money, she conveniently overlooks the possibility of Raghavan being a murderer, thus falling prey to his feigned innocence.
In conclusion, the most important message that Munnaryippu attempts to leave in the minds of its audience and for larger public debate is perhaps the credibility of the correction mechanisms imposed through jail imprisonments. Despite having spent close to twenty years in jail, the murderer in him doesn’t cease to exist, only to be aroused by another woman, whom he perceives as being an impeachment upon his personal liberty. The last scene sums up this attitude in its peak when Raghavan is seen to be enjoying a good night’s deep sleep beneath the trophies of his crimes that he treasures- photographs of all three of his victims.
More about the author of this blog post, Indu Poornima, an avid reader, imaginative photographer and a forced gym visitor could be found here: https://www.facebook.com/induandinduonly