Parallel track Cinema

Intense encounters

A still from 'Velutha Rathrikal'   | Photo Credit: special arrangement



Generations of readers, writers and filmmakers all over the world have been inspired by Dostoevsky’s life and works. One of the bestselling novels of all times in Malayalam, Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s Oru Sankeerthanam Pole was based on Dostoevsky’s turbulent love affair with Anna. The dark resonances of Crime and Punishment, The Possessed and Idiot can be found in many works, literary and cinematic.

One recent Dostoevskian inspiration in Malayalam cinema was Amal Neerad’s Iyobinte Pusthakam, based on Brothers Karamazov, that evocatively presented its epic characters and ethical dilemmas through a series of haunting visual tableaus and dramatic scenes. Dostoevsky’s White Nights, on which Razi’s debut film is based, has also inspired some of the legends in cinema such as Visconti (White Nights) and Robert Bresson (Four Nights and a Dreamer).

In his film Velutha Rathrikal, Razi, instead of strictly following the text, subverts it to make it both ‘local’ and contemporary: the central characters here are Chelli (Smitha Ambu), an Adivasi girl from Attappady and Manu (Disney James), a wanderer-painter. They accidentally meet near a bridge and during following nights, engage in passionate conversations about their lives, loves, and hopes, which unfold their past. Manu, while studying in Baroda had a traumatic love affair and had left the town following riots, losing trail of her. Chelli’s life is a series of tragic events – death of parents, divorce of her sister and later herself, abuses at college…. In college she falls in love with another girl, Jyothi (Saritha Kukku, whom Razi casts in the role of both their lovers) who later leaves her, promising to return and live with her. She is desperately waiting for her love to return when Manu meets her at the bridge.

Most of the film consists of night scenes, and long conversations between them, with many key dialogues taken from the original text. But the film’s contemporary relevance is on account of the Adivasi girl at the narrative centre. That too, not as a prey or victim, but as a woman who makes hard, emotional choices in life.

Through her and her surroundings emerge a very stark picture of tribal life, livelihood and culture. Both characters come from two different milieus representing different sites of social crisis. She is from a remote tribal village torn by poverty and injustice struggling to survive, and he is a city man and artist, driven away by communal violence. So theirs is a dialogue across history and human condition, self-narrations that force the viewers to introspect upon love, care and sacrifice in our times. Their love is not realised in the end, but when Chelli leaves him to join her girl friend, he is a changed man: their brief but intense relationship was ennobling and transformative as his evident in his last lines addressing the starry sky: ‘Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man’s life?’

(A fortnightly column on cinema that veers away from the commercial format)


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 11:25:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/velutha-rathrikal-an-independent-adaptation-of-dostoevskys-white-nights/article8413492.ece

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