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Exploring conflict at different levels

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Lal as a practising Pulluvan Gurudasan in Ayaal.
Lal as a practising Pulluvan Gurudasan in Ayaal.

Film: Ayaal

Director: Suresh Unnithan

Cast: Lal, Iniya, Lena, Lakshmi Sharma

Love in different shades, rituals and superstitions in different colours, and life entwined with the sociopolitical conflicts of the time (1950s) form the body of ‘Ayaal,’ a Suresh Unnithan film that comes after a break of 12 years from the director.

‘Ayaal’ does not deal with a present-day story. Instead, it takes us to the life of a practising Pulluvan, Gurudasan (Lal), who lived in a Kuttanadan village over half a century ago.

Dasan, as he is called by his village, is believed to have something divine about him and his songs. He is said to be capable of invoking celestial solutions to most of the problems faced by society through his soulful singing.

An artist with attributed powers of divinity, the middle-aged Dasan, however, has his flaws, if at all these can be termed as flaws, such as compulsive infidelity, habitual drinking, and smoking. He not only keeps two wives, but also gets involved with others’ spouses as he is on the move continuously, singing.

He loves his wives, his myriad partners, and his only son, but also has a sense of detachment about them. His wide acceptance and fame, however, take a beating when he has an affair with Devaki Antharjanam (Lena), the wife of a village landlord, Pravarthiyar Thirumeni (V. Venu). And that turns the whole story around, raising questions about right and wrong, love and possessiveness, faith and superstitions.

‘Ayaal’ in a way is about the archetypal conflict between nature and culture where society wants the fulfilment of carnal instincts to be confined to the framework of marriage, while Man always wants to go beyond it. Dasan does not believe in “limiting” his love to certain of his partners. “It’s an inner flow, which one shouldn’t obstruct by some outside restrictions,” he says to his first wife, Janaki (Lakshmi Sharma) on one occasion. The film is also about a superstitious belief system that once existed, or rather still exists, in society about the supernatural powers that snakes possess, which is integral to the storyline.

Despite having three important women characters, the film, as the name suggests, focusses on the character of Gurudasan. From a different angle, ‘Ayaal’ can also be viewed as a film produced for its possibilities of featuring a range of visually rich performing/ritual art forms.

With a time-tested style of story-telling, rich and sensuous visuals with special care given to lighting, ‘Ayaal’ is a watchable movie.

Jabir Mushthari

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