Shaji N. Karun’s Swapaanam, with Jayaram and danseuse Kadambari in the lead, tells the story of a chenda artiste whose genius was never acknowledged when he was alive.
Inside the majestic Varikkasseri Mana near Ottappalam, the rhythmic beats of the chenda sync with the tinkle of the chilanka (an anklet worn by dancers). An unusual experiment is happening here – a Mohiniyattam dancer is matching her steps to the beats of a chenda, instead of the traditional edakka. It is the location of director Shaji N. Karun’s Swapaanam, with Jayaram and well-known Odissi dancer Kadambari facing the camera.
“An artiste is like a lighted candle. He or she lights up the lives of people around, but no one really bothers about the candle when it burns out. The lives of geniuses such as Mozart or our own John Abraham could be cited as examples. As they dabble with their own illusions, others may be eager to brand them as eccentric. In Swapaanam, Unni’s (Jayaram) innate talent is not known to the world until much later,” says Shaji, who has made widely acclaimed films such as Piravi, Swaham, Vanaprastham and Kutty Sranku.
The film begins with Unni suffering severe burns in a mental asylum. The narrative unfolds when the story of his life flashes through his mind before he succumbs to the burns.
“Unni is the youngest of three brothers, all of whom are percussionists. He is the most talented of the lot but he has always been sidelined by his brothers. Unni, however, takes it all in his stride. In this particular scene, Unni has taken up a challenge posed by Nalini, a Mohiniyattam dancer, to play the chenda in tandem with her dance steps and the two come up with an unusual combination. They discover each other’s talents in the process and develop a liking as well,” explains the director.
Sporting a rather scraggly beard (that was designed by make-up artiste Pattanam Rasheed), Jayaram says he is living a dream. The actor has been learning to play the chenda for a while now and feels that he is “privileged” to play such a character as Unni.
“I’m a director’s actor. I always insist that the director explain each and every shot. Once, when I asked Shaji sir what expression he wanted on my face as Unni makes a mark during his initial days as a performer, he suggested that I mould my mannerisms on an elephant! That just blew me away,” says Jayaram, with a laugh.
Bengali dancer Kadambari plays Nalini. She is reluctant to talk about her character though. “I prefer my performances to speak for me,” she says.
Noted dance guru Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, who is choreographing the dance moves, chips in: “Initially I had a problem accepting this experiment of performing Mohiniyattam accompanied by the chenda as it against tradition. But I found it interesting and Kadambari has done hard work to make her character look good on screen.”
A few hours later, the camera is focussed on Siddique, who, with buckteeth and spectacles, looks totally different from his usual style. He plays Nalini’s brother, Narayanan Namboodiri.
“It’s a complicated character. There is a certain continuity while doing any other character but this man breaks it all and changes quite abruptly. He may congratulate a person even as he scorns him in his mind,” says Siddique.
Swapaanam is being produced under the banner of Horizon Entertainment. The script has been written by Harikrishnan and Sajeev Pazhoor, based on Shaji’s own story. Cinematographer is Saji Nair and the music has been composed by Sreevalsan J. Menon. Stills are by Prasad.