This review is also published at: https://www.filmcompanion.in/readers-articles/malayalam-movies-innale-hotstar-looking-at-padmarajan-s-remarkable-oeuvre-shobana-jayaram-suresh-gopi/
The other day, while going through a customary lockdown morning run of the Malayalam TV channels searching for something palatable to watch, I came across the closing scenes of Padmarajan’s Innale. Now Padmarajan is a popular name in cinema circles of the state as someone who, in the eighties, along with a bunch of other talented auteurs, brought forth a wave of parallel and thought-provoking cinema that was reasonably successful commercially as well. However, he is probably the one who is remembered the most fondly these days, partly because of an output that hasn’t aged badly and still asks pertinent questions in today’s social milieu, and also because of his untimely demise at the age of 45. This has helped shine a brighter light on the movies he did in his limited time and subject them to detailed analyses in film critics’ and fans’ minds. But when I look back at the Padmarajan movies I’ve seen, what strikes me the most is that one of the reasons his work endures and finds a place in the hearts of movie lovers across generations is because of the simple ways it touches our heartstrings. His films make us feel deeply for the characters, irrespective of the genre. And from gently sad tales of abandoned matriarchs and lost grandsons (Thinkalazhcha Nalla Divasam, Moonnam Pakkam) to beautifully romantic stories and tales of celestial beings (Thoovanathumbikal, Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal, Njan Gandharvan), he covered quite a bit of ground in his limited time. In fact, my personal favourite of his oeuvre is one which is not usually associated when speaking about his best work: the underappreciated Season, a spare thriller set during the Kovalam of the eighties, when it was a precursor to what Goa would become, and starring a similarly brilliant Mohanlal. Even in an action thriller, he managed to make us empathise with the characters and think about them long after the lights came on. A couple of years ago I had heard that one of the current superstars, Prithviraj Sukumaran, wants to remake this in current times. Looks like I’m not the only fan of the flick.
But, back to Innale. My first memories of watching this movie are from back when I was a primary school kid, on an old Sony television, at the time ubiquitous in the Middle East. Though there weren’t any cinema halls in Jubail, the Saudi port city where I was at the time, we used to get a regular stream of the latest Malayalam movies from one of the many VHS video cassette suppliers in town. Every night there was a limited period set apart for watching these videotapes and through these we managed to pretty much keep up to date with the movie scene back home. Most of those films are a blur when I think back now, with a few scenes and actors sticking out in my memory over the years. One of those was the closing portions of this film. And this is what I came across, decades later, in the morning on a lockdown day in Bangalore.
The basic premise of the movie is simple enough. A road accident leaves a young woman (Shobana) with partial amnesia. She comes into the lives of a young man, Sarath (Jayaram), and his mother in a hill station and slowly endears herself to them, while still not able to recall anything of her past. However, eventually, as with all things, life moves on and she slowly immerses herself in this new life. The young man has now become her fiancé, and they love each other dearly. But another one of those pesky attributes of life is its ability to throw curveballs at one when one least expects it. And that’s what happens in the life of Sarath, as one day the past of the woman he has come to love intensely appears in the form of her supposed husband. But will Maya/Gouri recognise this link to the life she led once or will it prove to be a false alarm?
The character of the husband, Narendran, is played by a pre-superstar Suresh Gopi, and here he shows the genius restraint he has in his performances that do not play to his loud superstar aura. It is in fact this character who haunts me the most in this film. As with a lot of great movies, it affects one quite differently at different stages of one’s life. When I first saw this as a kid, I could not for the life of me figure out why he didn’t push his claim when it seemed but obvious that she was his beloved who had been on a pilgrimage to various temples when the accident that changed their lives happened. Why let Sarath have her when it was with him, Narendran, that she should be returning?
But by now I’ve realised that, while love is a constant emotion at different stages of life, its form changes. Intensity, passion, selflessness, lust, hate. All of these come into the picture in various degrees and forms and shape the very core of our being. And affect our decisions too. In my mid-thirties, when watching this, I realised the sheer helplessness facing Narendran. Padmarajan’s aim seemed to have been to capture the ambiguous nature love and life take sometimes. Maya is now happy in her new life as is obvious to Narendran. After recovering from a trauma, does he want to put her through another one by reminding her of what she is leaving and whom she is unconsciously betraying? Even if he does, will he ever get the same lady back or will she now live, ironically, in a sort of pining for the loss of her recent life? The life which she remembers now as defining her. Was it the ultimate act of love and loyalty that forced Narendran not to push himself into the new little cocoon that she had found for herself? Or, the cynical mind would think, was it just because he knew she was with another man now and it hurt his ego to accept that she was his once upon a time? Padmarajan’s works have dealt with a lot of complexities in relationships, but at the heart of most of them is the sense of genuine care that the protagonists have for each other, and in this case I would prefer to believe in the former reasoning.
Innale is not even one of my favorite Padmarajan works, and yet the feeling and thoughtfulness that even a part of it evokes is a reflection of the work of a master. What would someone like Padmarajan have made of the current generation of brave and beautiful filmmaking that is happening in the Malayalam industry? Would he have gone on to make even better masterpieces than the ones we already savor? Would he have provided succor with his movies during the barren period of creativity in the late nineties and early noughties? Of course, we will never know. Meanwhile, let’s keep enjoying the classics he did leave us with.