Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ayalum Njaanum Thammil

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2012 was a landmark year for Malayalam movies. Maybe it was the fear that the world was coming to an end that drove it, but some of the best ciritically and commercially acclaimed movies of Malyalam came out that year.  Anjali Menon’s Ustad Hotel, and Manjadikkuru, and Lal Jose’s Diamond Necklace and Ranjith’s Spirit all came out in a row. It was a privilege to know and speak the language, so one could really enjoy these movies. Of course, duds like Casanova and Shikari also were released, but maybe it was the law of averages catching up. Director Lal Jose had a hat-trick that year, and released three movies, and the most critically acclaimed of the releases that year was his Ayalum Njaanum Thammil.

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I enjoyed it immensely when it came out. And today, after a few years, I got to rewatch it. And I am blown away by the creative and technical excellence of this movie and its cast and crew. This is one of those rare gems you come by chance, and the challenge to bring to screen the story would have scared away many film makers. But in the hands of Lal Jose and his team, you can enjoy a hollywood-like movie taking place in Kerala. Undoubtedly Prithiviraj’s career best performance, and Lal Jose’s best work. The fact that the screenplay was by real doctors gives credibility and depth to the medical profession.

The movie was an intermittent flashback narrative. In the present day storyline, Dr Ravi Tharakan (Prithiviraj) is a renowned cardiac surgeon in a private hospital, but on a rainy night, an operation he undertakes to save a girl child, without her parent’s permission, goes horribly wrong. Inorder to save himself , he runs. The viewer/audience is lead to believe that he may not be a good or capable doctor, and the rest of the movie aims to redeem his true worth, through flashbacks to his younger days. The story goes back and forth through the flashback narrative, as new charachters are introduced in both timelines, sometimes the same charachter. And we learn that Ravi was once a careless, carefree, and irresponsible student of medicine. And at a certain stage in his life, he met his mentor, senior doctor Samuel, who’s relentless commitment to his patients and faith in Ravi transforms Ravi forever.

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Part of the flashback story is set in the picturesque hills of Munnar, where Dr Samuel is the only doctor at the only hospital for miles around. Here Dr Ravi will have to serve two years as an intern inorder to graduate for his certificate. Ravi hates the place, the patients, the distance from his native and girlfriend, and specially the strict senior doctor who constantly reminds him that in the medical profession, no amount of negligance can be permitted. A series of misfortunate events cause him to separate from his girlfriend, and when a chance of revenge presents itself, with the risk of hurting the life of a young girl, he takes it. Samuel reprimands him, and he stands to lose his license. But Samuel, who is know for his honesty, lies for Ravi in front of medical commitee, to salvage Ravi’s career, giving him a second chance to redeem himself. His first lie, Samuel says, is because of his faith in Ravi. This incident changes Ravi’s outlook and life forever, and he commits himself to his profession and to serve and save humanity.

The movie is about mentorship. Although it is set in the medical profession, the ideas and situations presented can be found in any profession. You can learn all you want from books and labs, but your learning only really starts when you are mentored by someone senior. I can relate to this, my own career is testimony that without the right mentors, I would have ended up in totally different part of this industry.  A mentor can break or make someone’s career. Dr Samuel is so committed to his patients, that his own personal and financial life is in a turmoil, he barely has the finances to bail out his own estranged son from the police. But he finds solace in the fact that every day he saves lives.

The movie also highlights some of the problems faced by the medical community, specially the challenges of running a private hospital for profit. And the role of media in propogating half truths. The private hospital buys expired medicine and equipments after being bribed, and the charity hospital in the hills has only a single doctor to supervise every patient.  Local politicians switch sides when issues arise. But there are two scenes which highlight the main charachters. They stood out for me.

The first is when a religious mother brings her injured son, who had an accident, to the hospital for medical care. She insists that she does not require the doctors to operate on her son. She beliefs in the power of her god, and only requires the nursing care of the hospital until god can treat her son. Dr Samuel believes they must do whatever they can to save the life of the young man. He secretly, without an explicit permission, operates on the young man, thus speedening his recovery. Nobody else in the hospital knows about this. And when the young man wakes up next day from his coma, his mother says praise the lord. 

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The other scene is Ravi’s apology to the young patient, whose life he had gambled to get his revenge. This is the scene:

 

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Gets me everytime.

But this is not even the most emotional scene in the movie. That hat goes to the late Kalabhavan Mani, portraying the father of the little girl, pleading with Dr Ravi to save her life. Mani, who started his career in movies as a slapstick comedian, shows raw talen in that scene. You can really feel his pain when he bows to Ravi and begs him for his sympathy. I doubt anybody else could have played a convincing ruthless (and possibly corrupt) police officer in one scene, and a loving, doting father to his only daughter in another within the same movie.

I doubt if this movie would ever be remade into another language. It takes guts, and commitment , to make such a movie. Like Dr Ravi, very few people out there have that kind of commitment.

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