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"Sesham" ... a film in which Jayaram has put in his best.

WHICH FILM has captured life in a lunatic asylum better than `One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest'? This Milos Forman movie has been a template for many that came later. Director Priyadarsan's syrupy Malayalam adaptation of the classic, `Thalavattom', saw Mohanlal in his usual mainstream self. Had he seen the film, even Jack Nicholson would have been surprised: after all, the Hollywood actor has not mastered the art of running around trees.

Priyadarsan is now planning a Hindi version of `Thalavattom', with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead. Rajeev Kumar's "Sesham", featuring Jayaram in his first offbeat role, is the latest Malayalam film that zooms into the lunatic asylum and probes the tenuous realms that separate the sane from the insane.

Lonappan, the hero of "Sesham", is no McMurphy, fighting the Establishment. He is a complacent inmate of a lunatic asylum, whose life becomes the subject of the graduation film of a movie-school student (Geethu Mohandas).

As the social activist in her dominates the film-maker, she, with the help of her sub-collector fiance (Biju Menon), gets Lonappan released from the asylum and tries to find him a normal life. But Lonappan turns out to be a misfit in society.

Jayaram apparently thought that he should not be left far behind Mammootty (`Anantaram', `Mathilukal', `Ponthan Mada', `Ormakal Undayirikkanam') and Mohanlal (`Vasthuhara', `Vanaprastham') who have not wasted any opportunity to flirt with parallel cinema. The younger actor has put in his best, devising a particular gait and a few mannerisms, but he tends to imitate Kamal Hassan at times. Playwright P. Balachandran delivers a sterling performance as an asylum inmate.

The main problem of the film is that it flatly states the social problems it addresses instead of artistically hinting at them or subtly weaving the visuals around them. This aesthetic tact is what differentiates a work of art from a dry sociology essay. "Sesham" is not plot-driven. Such a movie would awfully suffer when it does not carry the strength of characterisation and richness of situations.

Like some film-school graduates out to make their first serious work, Rajeev Kumar cannot shake off the influence of a few masters and the cinematic formulae that international festivals feed on. The scenes of the asylum are reminiscent of the Forman classic and many of its clones. The subject of the young woman film-maker making her graduation film, reminds one of Andrzej Wajda's "Man of Marble", in which a film-school graduate probes the life of a Solidarity hero. Rajeev Kumar, however, has reasons to be happy. As for his craft, he has gone a long way from his previous alternative work, `Jalamarmaram' that toured several international festivals.


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