Danny has been in the making a long time. T V Chandran, who sees cinema not solely as business, has taken pains to bring into his latest directorial venture, much more than plain narration, says HAREESH BAL
Mammootty and Vani Viswanath in `Danny
His last movie was a rebuke on the set codes of morality and about woman asserting her domain. Susanna, in its strife with the Censor Board coming out with an A certificate and five major cuts, brought in its wake bouquets and brickbats to its director, T V Chandran.
Mr Chandran's recent release, Danny, came with much hype about the performances of Mammooty and a strong portrayal of the male protagonist (All his previous movies, let alone a Ponthanmada, had women characters occupying centrestage).
Danny is certainly a score over Susanna with the biography of an
unknown person (as Mr Chandran puts it; he prefers to call him unknown rather that fictional), well crafted with a strong screenplay and laudable performances.
Mr Chandran remarks that the moderate success of Susanna urged him to work in earnest with this genre of films. Mr Chandran has ventured into producing the movie apart from working on the story, script and direction and has found the backing of a good distributor in Shogun films. The film is made on a low budget, with Mr Mammooty reportedly working free.
The film captures the many moments of despair and dejection of the protagonist, Daniel Thomson or Danny from a youth to a septuagenarian. Mr Chandran indulges in no dilettante trifling nor does he attempt to offer lofty themes.
The film has a direct non-linear narrative almost in the same vein as his previous movie, Susanna. The period film shuttles to a flashback to the late 40's where Danny is a professional mourner, singing his own compositions.
His drone in `aunty die, uncle crying, people watching' annoyed relatives, after which Father Simon decides that Danny would play the Saxophone rather than sing with the guitar. His first love meets with disappointment and Danny himself played the sax
at the girl's wedding.
His stint in running a repair home by the sea shore soon comes to an end. Danny's bosom pal, Freddy (played by Siddique) plays a decisive role in his two marriages to come, first with that of Clara, who bears him a daughter, Lucy Ann. In 1951, the same year which saw the dismissal of the EMS ministry , sees Clara forsaking Danny, giving no explanation, taking little Lucy with her. Nine years later Danny, along with Freddy, visits the neighboring village to provide musical accompaniment in the church festival.
In a toddy shop, they meet Chavoro Muthalali, who is delighted to learn that the young men belong to the Latin Catholic Community. He sees in Danny a prospective groom for his daughter, Margaret (played by Vani Viswanath), a college lecturer who is with child from her affair with her lover.
Danny is lured into the marriage by Freddy who sees the alliance to be a stroke of fortune for Danny. On the wedding night Margaret declares that she needs a father for her child, but not a husband. The day dawns to see Chovoro Muthalali reason having hung himself. Nobody knows the reason.
The family shifts base to the city where little Robert is born. Danny turns out to be a misfit in Margaret's social circles and she reprimands him often.
He ends up in a destitute home where he meets Bhargavi Teacher, played by Mallika Sarabhai.
The film is noteworthy for its political parallels drawn against the predicament of the individual; and its leftist leanings. In 1964 as the Communist party sees a split and President's rule is imposed in the State, Danny starts taking his English classes and moving with the whims of Margaret as the latter tightens her grip over him.
It is a parallel to the political situation. The situation worsens in 76 during the emergency as Sanjay Gandhi's despotism reigns, Margaret comes harsher on Danny, not permitting him to attend his daughter's marriage. In 84 which sees
Mrs. Gandhis assassination, there is molestation attempt on
Margaret by a fellow professor. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and bombing of Babri Masjid comes the tyranny of Anna on Danny.
In 1998 March, with the death of EMS and non secular forces taking power in India, it is the end of an era for Danny as well and he is by force taken to the nursing home.
Danny's character is etched out with a flaw in the personality that results in his desperate plight. His lack of assertiveness lets other people impose their decisions on him. Father Simon who decides his vocation for him, Freddy who is instrumental in his two marriages, Margaret who inhibits his personality, all decisions are made by others for him.
Other than Bhargavi Teacher who is compassionate towards him, even the lowest characters treat him with indifference. The only two points where Danny stands defiant is when he declines to play the sax for Margaret's colleagues, as it would be to demean his art, his whole self; and when he confronts Professor Narendran after he tries to molest Margaret.
Danny is impulsive and child like in his awkward behaviour like on the wedding night with Clara when he asks her permission to hold her hand.
Mammooty who excels as Danny, sports a wig and French beard in his youth, later adopting the well groomed look in his 40s and then, the old haggard look. Through out these stages the character retains his innocence, sense of humour and the raw dialect of the sea folk, thanks to his good old Amaram days.
Various dramatic techniques are brought to effective use. When Chavoro Muthalali's suicide on the wedding night is baffling, it is the impersonalisation of Danny whose life from that day with Margaret is suicidal.
Strong symbols and images are used not starkly but in line with the narrative. An image of Freddy playing the drum outside the police station is a premonition to the impending heart attack that is to strike Danny, it is also a sneer at Danny's helplessness. Danny is shown as playing the Sax at various points, an announcement of an impending disaster that awaits him.
The music by Johnson, who is Chandran's choice for most of his movies, is in keeping with the plaintive mood that pervades the whole movie. This is further complemented by Nemam Pushparaj's effective art direction.
Again there is the theme of the woman having an edge over the man in marriage. This comes across in the relationships between Margaret and Danny, Anna and Robert, Doctor Ranji and his Punjabi wife and is more pronounced when Bhargavi tells Danny that she had the upper hand in her marriage with her husband.
Mallika Sarabhai as Bhargavi teacher is dignified. Why Mallika? The role could have been justified by any mature and competent actress. Mallika who was Chandran's first choice for Susanna, has a competitor in Vani Viswanath, who of course has got the better share as Margaret, with her intense performance and going for her own voice, hoarse, tough and masculine.
The strange and beautiful relationship of Danny and Bhargavi teacher is beautifully portrayed. The cinematography of the landscapes with the two pacing the meadows is one reminiscent of the visuals in Megha Daka Tara of Ghatak.
K G Jayan's camera, which captures the bright rich frames in black against a dressed up Danny playing the sax; and against the sea as backdrop are remarkable.
Editing by Venugopal brings forth the rapid movement of the events into a marvellous whole. With films of quality like MT's Oru Cheru Punchiri and Mankolangal by Subramoniam Santhakumar struggling to break even, with very little backing from KSFDC, Danny is a successful production that may find acceptance with viewers.
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