Mothering A REVIVAL
Rajeev Nath ‘s Janani, an intense account of a brief affair between an infant and nuns at an old people’s home, holds the promise of infusing life into Malayalam films, says ARUN
JANANI is a small film, but it’s big on at least one 5 count — sincerity. The film also holds out the hope of Malayalam cinema rediscovering itself. It’s a love story with a difference, not in the breezy way most film-makers use the term. Rajeev Nath has never had any commercial hit in his chequered career, but even his detractors won’t accuse him of treading on travelled paths.
The film narrates the story of a brief love affair — between an infant and nuns at an old people’s home. The infant, found abandoned on Christmas eve, infuses a new lease of life into the old-age home, whose residents were simply waiting for death till the little one came along.
The film-maker is in no rush, thankfully, and his work moves at a gentle pace. The baby arrives and the mood changes. Ever so subtly, the director pays homage to motherhood. One finds mothers of myriad hues in the film —nuns brimming with maternal affection, one who thinks nothing of abandoning her child, yet another who’s crossed the line of sanity losing her newborn. In the end, the baby has to leave, “for it is not his home,” as Nath himself says.
All commercial gimmicks are given the go-by here and, in doing so, the director lends the final product an enchanting freshness. There’s no attempt to tell too many things in too little time and the story-telling is straight and simple, too. The screenplay, where Rajeev gets help from noted writer Zachariah, is crisp. The story is by Ranji Panicker, more known to Malayalam film lovers for the verbal pyrotechnics that pass off as dialogue in run-of-the-mill action films. And the photography by Suresh P. Nair, is brilliant, as are the performances by the cast.
Valsala Menon shines as the eldest of the nuns. In an array of good performances, including that of Kavitha Ramachandran, a newcomer from the United States who plays the young nun in the film, it is, however, Rosiline, a theatre actress, who stands apart
The film is dedicated to Mother Teresa, for obvious reasons, and to the late actor Soman. “I was very close to Soman. Once he took me to the school where he had studied. His old teacher behaved with him as if she was dealing with a found the storyline for my movie,” says Nath, relaxing in his home ‘Thanal’, which means ‘Shelter’.
The story, and the full script of Janani, were ready, but finance was one big problem, says the director. “The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) promised me Rs 20 lakh. I could have finished my film with that, but the money never came. So, I had to borrow from friends. The film has been made on a shoe-string budget.
“Copies of the script were given to all the technicians and artistes well in advance. We couldn’t afford retakes, so we resorted to rehearsals. There was literally no wastage of raw stock. Mainstream films go over the budget mainly because there’s an enormous amount of wasteful expenditure. There’s absolutely no planning.”
And the director is no stranger to small-budget films. Kadaltheerathu, which was screened at the Indian Panorama section in 1987 and was the Indian entry at the Alexandna Film Festival that year, was completed in an all-time low budget of Rs 6 lakh. Aham, which was released in the early ‘90s, cost just Rs 46 lakh, even though the cast included the Malayalam movie superstar Mohanlal. The ace actor wanted to be part of Janani, too, but lost out because Rajeev insisted on the “the virgin look”.
The director denies having made an attempt to glorify Christianity. “I had no such intentions. The story, in fact, could have been developed against any backdrop. But I cannot stop viewers from reaching their own conclusions. All I know is that mine is a sincere effort. After a film is made, one tends to take a detached view of the product, but Janani just refuses to leave my mind.”
The film, fortunately, has a distributor waiting. The few who have seen Janani are impressed, like P. K. Nair, former director of the Film Archives, who even took a VHS print for the Cannes authorities to take a look. And the way things are moving, 1999 could well turn out to be quite a year for Malayalam films, after nearly a decade of darkness. Apart from Janani and P. T Kunhumohammed’s Gershome, there’s Shyamaprasad’s debut movie Agnisakshi , which has a spellbinding performance by Rajat Kapur. The big one, however, is Vanaprastham, where Shaji N. Karun, of Piravi fame, joins hands with Mohanlal to tell the story of relationships, with kathakali as backdrop.