Ozhimuri, Madhupal’s latest film that reaches the marquee today, is a documentation of the aftermath of separation – of a region, language, culture, people and families.
Scripted by renowned bi-lingual writer and scenarist Jeyamohan, Ozhimuri, the writer’s first film script in his mother tongue, narrates the far reaching changes on Malayalis living in Kanyakumari district, when the region, once an intrinsic part of erstwhile Travancore, became a part of Tamil Nadu.
“Malayalis living there were left in the lurch, not sure of where they belonged to. Since Jeyamohan himself has gone through that period of confusion and identity crisis, his story, which is partly biographical, paints a clear and realistic picture of Malayalis there,” explains Madhupal, who is directing his second film, almost four years after his directorial debut, Thalappavu, which garnered accolades and awards for its director and actors.
Madhupal, a long time friend and admirer of Jeyamohan, approached the author after reading biographical sketches written by him that were published in Bhashaposhini. That was developed and published as Uravidangal, on which the movie is based.
“My parents Vishalakshi Amma and Bahuleyan Pillai committed suicide following years of marital discord. After my father killed himself six months after my mother’s death, I wondered what would have helped them avoid such an ending? What could have helped them reconcile their differences…? That is the story of Ozhimuri,” says Jeyamohan. He explains that gradual erosion of the matrilineal system and the social and economic set up accentuated the problems of many Malayali families in the district.
“Even the language we speak is restricted to these areas. I doubt if it exists in Kerala anymore. Certain works, idioms and usage have become specific to this community,” he adds.
Lal, Shwetha Menon, Mallika, Bhavana and Asif Ali essay the lead roles in the film that covers a period of three decades. Some of the best talents in Malayalam cinema come together to recreate the large canvas of the film that delves into the fine nuances of relationships and familial ties.
The dour Thanu Pillai is enacted by Lal while Shwetha Menon essays the character of Kali Pillai, Lal’s mother. Lal had won the Kerala State film award for the best actor in his previous outing as a troubled cop with a guilty conscience in Madhupal’s Thalappavu.
Lal admits that he has invested a great deal in his character to portray the many shades of Thanu Pillai. “I give my best to all my characters. But for this role, I have travelled that extra mile to get into the skin of this cantankerous man who is unable to express his finer sentiments. We had put time and effort in order to get the correct dialect and pronunciation of the dialogues. This is one character I hope that will get noticed,” admits Lal.
In an earlier interview Shwetha had also remarked on the effort she took to breathe life into the domineering and manipulative Kali Pillai. She explained that since the dialect and slang were completely unfamiliar to her, she did not dub for the film, as just giving life to Kali was difficult enough.
Madhupal is all praise for his actors – for their involvement and hard work to portray this moving but realistic essay of a community. “Through the characters of Kali Pillai, her son 71-year-old Thanu Pillai, his wife Meenakshi (Mallika) and their son Sivan Pillai (Asif), we tease out the intricate, intriguing and intimate ties that bind generations– the complicated, bitter-sweet relationships within a family. Even the fact that Sivan prefers to be called Saratchandran has a story behind it,” explains Madhupal.
To give it a realistic local flavour, Madhupal has chosen several actors who hail from that region or are familiar with the peculiarities of the language.
Cinematographer Azhagappan has filmed the story in locales in Marthandam, Thiruvattar, Thuckalay, Thengapattanam and Colachel.
The title song of Ozhimuri itself highlights the dual identity of the characters. Written by Jeyamohan, the song, a combination of Tamil and Malayalam, is a delightful amalgamation of the cultures of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Music director Bijbal’s score for the lyrics does justice to the lyrics and theme of the film.
Produced by P.N. Venugopal, Ozhimuri is at once an ode to the place and the people as well as a documenting of a society that is in the throes of change.