A Conversation with T V Chandran on his new film Sankaranum Mohananum
C S Venkiteswaran
Your new film Sankaranum Mohananum seems to mark a fresh phase in your oeuvre. Compared to your other films, it seems to have a totally different take on life and death. If earlier films were about the all too real yearnings and desires of the here and now, this film is about them outliving death..
Yes. If you look at my earlier films closely, you can see that their narratives were always very much embedded in and sensitive to their historical and sociopolitical atmosphere. In Ponthanmada, Danny, Mankamma, Ormakalundayirikkanam etc you can see this. But in this film it is a sort of trip into the mindscape of a sensitive young man, Mohanakrishnan, whose life is loveless. The storyline goes like this: Sankaran, Mohanakrishnan’s elder brother, a school teacher in his 50’s, suddenly decides to marry his colleague’s young daughter, in order to help him. But once he gets to see Rajalakshmi, he blindly falls in love with her. Tragedy strikes when on the morning after the wedding night, he is bitten by a snake and dies. Though the official funeral is over and done with, Sankaran refuses to leave the world and appears before Mohanakrishnan in various guises, pleading with him to talk to his wife and inform her that he is still around. At first Mohanakrishnan is scared, but he slowly comes to terms with this strange situation. To add to the confusion, Sankaran is visible only to him and he has a tough time convincing others about his existence and his brother’s pleas. Their efforts to block Rajalakshmi’s re-marriage lead to various bizarre and hilarious situations in the film. Mohanakrishnan himself is a man living a lonely life, away and estranged from his wife and child. In the end, his brush with the undead brother and his travails lead Mohanakrishnan back to life and to look at it afresh..
What was the inspiration behind this theme about the dead haunting the living?
Actually, I wanted to do this film around 2000, after I finished Danny. At that time I even discussed the story with Mohanlal. But it didn’t work out, and I moved to other projects. Through years the film grew in me to take its present shape.
The film draws a lot from my personal experience, especially from the sudden and painful death of two persons who were very close to me, my elder brother Madhavettan, and friend and filmmaker John Abraham. Madhavettan, was my elder brother, but he was very much senior and like a father to me, also my guardian and guide. A lecturer by profession, he tried to ‘reform’ me in various ways, weaning me away from ‘bad influences’ and persuading me to pursue my studies. Later he went to Uganda and during a vacation time when his family was about to fly to meet him, he met with a car accident there and died instantly. We never got to see his body; he was cremated there. After that, Madhavettan began to visit me regularly in my dreams, telling me he is not dead, and also about a lot of other things. I could never come to terms with his absence and still can’t believe he is no more. Similarly, the sudden and accidental death of John Abraham was a shock to me. I just can’t imagine him as a dead man; he too appears before me from time to time trying to tell me something, and reminding me he is not dead. “People are lying I am dead” he says.
This film is my attempt to come to terms with the absence of these dear ones. In fact you can see the portrait of John in the film in Mohanakrishnan’s studio, when his wife asks him, “How did he die?” It is my question too: how did he die? Did he die at all? So, this film is also a homage to these two people.
The theme of absence and death is a universal one. Everyone around us will have someone dear who is no more, and about whose absence one has not been able to come to terms with. But the treatment of such a theme can be very bleak and brooding…
This is where this film differs from the usual style. Though this film deals with death and ghostly presences, the story is told in a humorous manner. Even though Mohanakrishnan’s various encounters with his dead brother are macabre in its essence, those scenes will evoke laughter in you. The film is structured around this dual presence - the visible and live Mohanakrishnan who only can see his brother and the invisible presence of Sankaran. There are a number of desperate attempts of Sankaran to make himself visible and present to the others, especially his young bride. But he fails in that and it leads to further and more desperate attempts. In fact, there is a long sequence where the duo plan and attempt to block the re-marriage of Sankaran’s bride that verge on the slapstick. That sequence ends with the image of Chaplin – from the famous poster of The Kid, where the face of Chaplin suddenly turns into that of Sankaran. Adding to the hilarious surface of the macabre undertones of the movie, is the presence of actors like Jagathy Sreekumar, Kalpana and V K Sreeraman.
Q The film also has a very interesting structure, it is like a letter to the undead..
Yes, the film is structured like a letter addressed to Madhavettan and John. It in fact begins my addressing them, and ends with the line from a poem, “it seems death never passed between us…” In between is the shifting and tumultuous mindscape of Mohanakrishnan. Jayasoorya has done a splendid job in the totally different roles of the brothers, with the dead one appearing in different guises and costumes. While one is real, the other is unreal and doesn’t leave any footsteps or traces behind. In one scene, we find them both trying to take a photograph. But the camera fails to capture Sankaran: he is just an absence in the picture. Jayasoorya lived up to the challenge playing these contrasting roles, that of the real Mohanakrishnan and the apparition of his brother.
Later in the film, he begins to see and hear the voices of several people who are dead and have many desires, needs, wants and yearnings, which they want to fulful through him. At the end, there is an indication of his return to the world of the living. We see the protagonist sitting below a peepul tree and gradually removing his make up. His image also gradually disappears from the mirror, and we are left with a make up box and a collection of spectacles – which Sankaran wore in his different guises throughout the film. So, there is a sense of exorcising the undead and a positive return to life and its affirmation at the end, all accomplished through a journey with the dead.
Q Like in your other films, this film also pays homage to your favourite authors, this time Saramago etc..
Later in the film, he begins to see and hear the voices of several people who are dead and have many desires, needs, wants and yearnings, which they want to fulful through him. At the end, there is an indication of his return to the world of the living. We see the protagonist sitting below a peepul tree and gradually removing his make up. The image of Sankarettan also gradually disappears from the background,
and we are left with a make up box and a collection of spectacles – which Sankaran wore in his different guises throughout the film. So, there is a sense of exorcising the undead and a positive return to life and its affirmation at the end, all accomplished through a journey with the dead.