July 24, 2021 8:14:47 am
The popularity of Malayalam cinema has been on a surge for more than a decade now. Their popularity has gone beyond Kerala, as new audiences across the country appreciate its novel themes and innovative narrative styles, which a new generation of directors, actors and technicians have transformed.
The roots of this popularity can be found in the history of Malayalam cinema. The old masters have left behind a strong foundation on which the current young crop of filmmakers has built its new wave of realistic cinema.
Take, for instance, Nivin Pauly, who played a gay gangster in Moothon; Fahadh Faasil, who essayed the role of a cunning narcissist in The Kumbalangi Nights; and Tovino Thomas, whose character’s masculine pride was reduced to a trembling puddle in Kala. They have boldly treaded where the stars of their stature in other languages won’t even dare to step. If the young actors and directors take risks and explore a variety of stories and emotions that seldom finds a place in mainstream cinema of other languages, it is because they draw courage from the great works attempted before.
Mohanlal, who does ‘mass’ films, where he tackles a 200-kg tiger with his bare hands (Pulimurugan) or plays a kingmaker who can reshape a state’s political landscape (Lucifer), has also done several non-glamour roles. One such film is Sadayam. Despite the Malayalam audience’s evolved taste in cinema, they failed to recognise the significance of Sadayam immediately.
The 1992 film was helmed by Sibi Malayil from acclaimed writer MT Vasudevan Nair’s script. It is MT’s very intimate story about the cruelty of fate, combined with eroding values of our society. So dark and tragic that it could give Greek tragedies a run for their money, Sadayam reflects on the cruel gag of fate, which inspires greatness in people and when they begin to aspire for a better life, it ruins everything.
Mohanlal plays a deranged killer named Sathyanathan, who has shocked the people of Kerala by gruesomely killing four in cold blood, including two children. No, he’s not wrongly accused, he has indeed taken four lives, including those of two young children. The tradition of superstars playing such offbeat characters has been thriving in the Malayalam film industry for a long time now.
We are introduced to Sathyanathan as a brutal killer, who doesn’t deserve mercy of any sort. He is resigned to his fate and prepared to die without any regrets. When Dr K. V. G. Nambiar (Thilakan) confronts Sathyanathan and asks whether he feels guilty of killing his son, the killer says ‘no’ without even a pause. But, Sathyanathan’s response to that question changes over time. And he, who couldn’t wait to die, feels a renewed urge to stay alive.
The discipline with which MT moves the story forward is exemplary. The slow pace of the narration gains rapid momentum in the last 30 minutes. And it sets up the stage for Mohanlal to deliver a disturbing but memorable performance. Until then, Mohanlal’s character remains a spectator. His actions aren’t decisive or heroic. He is like a fly on the wall observing everything quietly.
Sathyanathan has disowned his mother, who we are told was a sex worker. He grows up under the care of Father Dominic (Nedumudi Venu). He temporarily moves into a new house and finds out that the house next door is a den of vice. He meets three girls ranging in age from 20 to 12, who are abandoned by their mother, and are being prepped by their aunts for the flesh trade. While others in the neighbourhood feel disgusted by the girls, Sathyanathan sees innocence in them that needs to be saved.
So Sathyanathan becomes the guardian angel for Jaya (Maathu) and her two little sisters. He sends the little ones to school and helps Jaya get a job. He even thrashes the pimp who’s after the three girls. And things start to look up for everyone. Sathyanathan is attracted to Jaya and he even wishes to marry her one day. But human nature is innately flawed and is vulnerable to vices and greed.
MT with the skill of a great tragedian explores the moral bankruptcy of society that seems determined to destroy all things that are good in people. We see people who are more deranged than Sathyanathan. But, they all hide in plain sight, take a moral high ground and condemn Sathyanathan.
Sadayam is available on Amazon Prime Video, Sun NXT and MUBI.
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