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10 June 2015

Ore Kadal (2008)

Directed by: Shyamaprasad
Music: Ouseppachan
Lyrics: Gireesh Puthencheri
Starring: Mammootty, Meera Jasmine, Narain, Ramya Krishnan
I bought the DVD of Ore Kadal way back in 2009 or 2010. It stayed on my shelf, unopened, all these years, because I'd this idea that it was a very depressing film. It was obviously not right for a Sunday evening. We kept saying we would watch it on a Friday so we could recover over the weekend, but that weekend never came. Until week before last, when I decided that Sunday or not, we were going to watch it. I still put it in rather hesitantly though. But my reservations were unwarranted. Ore Kadal is a lot of things, but 'depressing', it is not.

Based on Sunil Gangopadhyay's Bengali novel, Hirak Deepti, Shyamaprasad delves once again into man-woman relationships, and their co-relation to social mores as he did in his debut film, Agnisakshi. And once again, the emotional resolution, such as it is, is not a completely happy one. In fact, the ending leaves us with as many questions as the characters ask of themselves and others in the movie.

When Dr Nathan (Mammootty), a prominent social scientist returns from work one day, he overhears a young and harried housewife, Deepti (Meera Jasmine), talking to her husband on the phone in Malayalam - their son is ill, and she's run out of money. 
Even though he makes no move to make her acquaintance then, and indeed watches her exit the elevator with indifference, the remembrance of her harried demeanour does not let him concentrate on his work. An undefined impulse prompts him to take her and the child to the hospital. He also gives her some money to pay the doctor and for the medicines, and takes her leave. 

Though he claims to be busy, it is to his friend Bela's (Ramya Krishnan) restaurant that he goes to. He is disturbed by his aunt's impending death, though he has no plans of visiting her before she dies. Bela smiles - she understands him. But if that is not the reason, why is he so disturbed? Nathan explains that he had just taken a child to the hospital. Not out of charity, or any generous impulse, but purely for academic reasons.
Back in Deepti's home, her husband, Jayaprakash (Narain) has returned from Bangalore. His week there was a waste, he explains; if they had that money, they could have spent it on food. As it is, they haven't paid the rent for two months. Deepti offers to look for a job; their neighbour has said there's a vacancy in her daughter's primary school. Jayaprakash scoffs; who does she think will look after their son when she's at work? Him? Deepti's face falls. 

The next day, she visits Dr Nathan. Hesitantly, she offers him a pair of gold earrings. If he could lend her Rs3000 against them? She needs to pay the rent and buy food for the house. Nathan is rather abrupt but he lends her the money (and returns her earrings at the same time - he's not a pawn shop) all the same. A relieved Deepti returns to her home and gives her husband the money. (He had sent her for it.) As he mentally apportions the money, Jayaprakash wants to know whether Nathan had misbehaved with his wife. Deepti is indignant; he was working, it was she who disturbed him. Jayaprakash's contempt is barely veiled; every time he's seen the man, he's been sozzled. 
Deepti couldn't care less. Dr Nathan has a kind heart, and that is more important than his perceived arrogance. The next day, Jayaprakash gets some money, a commission from a small contract. When Deepti wants to return Nathan's money, Jayaprakash demurs, but she  persists. It is not fair to keep him waiting; Jayaprakash should go and return it to him with thanks. Her husband, however, thinks she should go; after all, it is she who knows Nathan, not him. And perhaps if she asks him, Dr Nathan could get him a job? 
A reluctant Deepti makes her way upstairs again. She finds Nathan in a slightly inebriated state. He is in a mood to celebrate he tells her - someone very dear to him has died today. And the last bond that shackles him lies broken. He is free. And as he talks, his demeanour changes, and the change makes Deepti uneasy, though she cannot explain why. As she steps back, Nathan's mood changes again. 
She is free to leave but something keeps Deepti rooted to the spot. And though she demurs (Nathan once again tells her to leave), she doesn't stop Nathan's advances. And the inevitable occurs. It changes Deepti in ways she never envisioned.

Nathan has pulled the necessary strings, however, and Jayaprakash has got an insurance job he was angling for. He is grateful to his wife, but he wonders how she impressed a man such as Nathan. And that man's such a boor, he tells Deepti; remember how abrupt Nathan was when he had gone to thank him for the favour? 

A month has passed since Deepti last met Nathan, and this spurs her to visit him the next day. He greets her casually; it doesn't appear that their tryst has left any impression on him. When he makes another pass at her, Deepti is torn between her desires and her fears. She confesses that she'd often wished to come and visit him but... Nathan is amused. Why didn't she?  

But as the conversation progresses, Deepti is more and more distressed. She is deeply in love with him by now, and it is made very clear to her that Nathan doesn't feel the same way. It also becomes very clear to Nathan that Deepti's views of their relationship are very different from his. When she asks him why he got her husband a job (implying it was because she had sex with him), Nathan poses a counter-question: Why did she not leave that day? Was it to ensure her husband's job?
Before a distraught Deepti can answer, Nathan tells her that even if she had left, he would still have helped her. His abrupt change of manner (and the entry of one his students) sends Deepti away.  And when Nathan comes down to her flat some days later, telling her that he needs something from her, she sends him away angrily. 

Soon, however, Deepti realises she is pregnant. When she goes to visit Nathan to tell him of this new development, she finds out that he's not in town. While her husband is pleased at the thought of being a father again, Deepti is turning more and more inward. Months pass, and it is only when Jayaprakash sees Dr Nathan's picture in the newspaper one day, that Deepti learns that he is now a visiting professor in a university in England, and that his latest book has been published. 
And then, one day, Nathan comes back. Now that he is there, though, Deepti finds it difficult to tell him her news. Nathan seems to have forgotten their last meeting; at least, it doesn't seem to bother him any more. Then he suddenly notices that she is pregnant. How many months, he asks her. Deepti cannot bear it any more. 'How many months has it been since I last saw you,' she tells him sorrowfully, hoping against hope, perhaps, that he would understand. And while he laughs at her for behaving like 'someone in love', it appears for a moment, that he does.
But it doesn't last. His seeming callousness breaks Deepti's heart. As she leaves, his last words set the seal on the end of her hopes - 'Do you need money?' 

A mentally disturbed Deepti returns to her house. Days pass, and she gives birth to a baby girl. As her husband celebrates the birth of his child, Deepti's guilt begins to surface, and as she watches him caring for the child, her turmoil deepens. Until one night...
This is just the beginning. Not knowing where to go or whom to ask for help, poor Jayaprakash approaches Nathan for help. The doctor who had examined Deepti said she had suffered a mental shock. Perhaps if Nathan could talk some sense into her? 
Reluctantly, Nathan agrees. But the results are not what either of them hoped for, or imagined. 

A guilt-stricken Nathan, who's pointed out the obvious by Bela, helps Jayaprakash admit Deepti to a psychiatric hospital. Jayaprakash and the children move away. And Nathan tries to drown his conscience in liquor.

Years pass, and one day, Deepti is discharged. Not soon afterwards, Jayaprakash runs into Nathan again, now a ghost of his former self.

Fate has come full circle bringing the three players together again. What does she have in store for them now? Deepti is still emotionally fragile. What will seeing Nathan do to her? And Nathan - will meeting her be his redemption? Will he finally be able to quiet his conscience? Jayaprakash, oblivious to all these undercurrents - what about him? And Bela? 

Ore Kadal is a morality play with four characters - two protagonists whose actions set the plot in motion, and two strong supporting characters, one of whom is closely affected by others' actions.
Meera Jasmine, one of the finest actresses in Malayalam (and one of my favourites), turns in a powerhouse performance as Deepti, the naïve young housewife, who is complicit in an illicit one-night stand, and faces more consequences than she ever dreamt of. Deepti's innocent interactions with Nathan, her honest appraisal of her own intellectual inability to understand him, the awe in which she regards him (which she makes no effort to keep hidden) - they are all brought out effortlessly by an actress who appears to have made the character her own. Meera's Deepti is a joy to watch, as she unfolds from a slightly scared-of-everything drab woman to someone who can scarcely understand the depth of her own desires, illicit though they might be. 
Her initial assumption that Nathan's demand is a quid pro quo, her slowly awakening desire, her disgust at discovering that Nathan sees her only as a physical presence to quench his desires, her humiliation when she realises that she is one among many, her anger at what she sees as his culpability giving way to her own unexpressed and anguished desire - the actress brought out each and every nuance of her character's emotions with a seasoned maturity that belies her years. 

Deepti is a glowing presence in the drab surroundings in which she lives, and the director carefully frames her that way. She lights up the screen every time she enters the scene, and it is easy to see why she attracts Nathan's attentions, even if he is honest about his intentions.  In one of the finest scenes in the film, Deepti angrily shuts the door of her flat in Nathan's face; as he dejectedly moves away, and the camera follows him through the corridor, Deepti opens her door. But Nathan has already gone, and Deepti stands alone, peeping from behind her door, a stray ray of sunlight lighting up her face. 
Her remorse at her actions, her desire for him all flit across her face, emotions in conflict chasing one another, and in that one moment, she encapsulates all that she is, or was - she had a rather fey-like quality in the beginning, which has now vanished, leaving behind a woman who is warring with herself and the world she thought she knew.

Meera is the perfect foil to veteran actor Mammootty, who should be proud to have this film, this performance, on his résumé. His Nathan is a man who loves his liquor and women in equal abundance. Emotionally distant, he sees both as escape routes from his loneliness, a loneliness that he protects defensively.
His relationship with Deepti is not exploitative in the literal sense, though it appears that way at first. When she returns, flinging an accusation that he is uncaring of her, he makes that very clear. His reaching out to her was not in return for the favours she requests. It is an extension of who he is - a man who loves the company of women, but who has nothing much to offer them except the quenching of their mutual desires.
Nathan is self-absorbed, even selfish, in his quest to live life as honestly as he can. A social scientist, he believes it is only economics that drives life. And he is not beyond using Deepti and her husband as a case study in his new book. 

Mammootty infuses Nathan with all the intensity of emotional undercurrents; one cannot help but be sympathetic to the character, even if he appears to be an unlikeable one. Nathan is an intellectual, more comfortable with his economic theories than with human relationships. He has deliberately shut out the pain that comes in the wake of personal relationships, and the only one whom he can open up to, without fear of judgement, is Bela, a woman who has known more loss and betrayal than Nathan can even comprehend. 

As he deteriorates into an alcohol-fuelled haze after Deepti's breakdown, you are not sure whether his conflicted grief is due to his guilt over Deepti's condition, or because, for the first time in his life, he is beginning to love another person, and dealing with her loss. In Mammootty's able hands, the dichotomy between Nathan's carefully crafted unemotional exterior and his inner turmoil is sensitively drawn. 
Narain is, as I mentioned in my previous reviews, an actor whom I deeply admire. I wish he was offered better roles. Here, he does justice to the shiftless Jayaprakash, who is not above asking his wife to take advantage of  Nathan's generosity, even as he contemptuously refers to him as an alcoholic and a misanthrope. As the film progresses, Jayaprakash changes from being a slightly opportunistic and oblivious husband to a truly caring man who brings up both children while his wife is away, and who is hard put to understand her emotional/mental turmoil when she returns.

Bela is the voice of Nathan's conscience. A slightly jaded, cynical character who is Nathan's part-time lover, Bela hides her emotions behind a hard outer shell. Ramya Krishnan is an actress who, when she first came into Malayalam movies, was slotted into the 'westernised' (read: 'bad') role, often the vamp or the other woman, or used only for item songs. It is a shame, since she is an excellent actress who deserves a lot more than that. Here, she infuses Bela with a vulnerability that, though encased in steel (she is a successful restaurateur), often escapes through her wistful eyes. 
It is she who is the repository of Nathan's confidences, she who understands his eternal conflict, and she who can castigate him for his obliviousness. Ramya plays Bela with quiet empathy, holding up a mirror to Nathan so he can see the things that he refuses to acknowledge for himself.

One cannot also discuss this film without discussing Ouseppachan's music - both songs and background - which deservedly won him the National Award. The background score is unobtrusive, and perfectly complements the mood of the movie. The songs, likewise, are gentle, sombre melodies that evoke the characters' emotions, and blend seamlessly into the narrative. As in most Malayalam movies, none of the songs are lip-synched on screen. Similarly, the camerawork (by Alagappan) is exemplary. The palette of the movie is mostly blues and greys and browns, and yet, he lights up the scenes with barely visible technical wizardry. This is not a 'technical' film where one gasps in awe at the camerawork, and it takes great skill in framing the exquisite visuals without overpowering the senses, keeping it natural and realistic.

Ore Kadal is a brave and honest attempt at chronicling the battle between middle-class morality and human desires and relationships. It is also a disturbing film, and when initially released, courted controversy because Shyamaprasad doesn't judge his characters for their morality, or lack thereof. He leaves his audience hanging - while two of the characters achieve a fragile resolution that may or may not work in their lives forward, one major character has his narrative arc left unfinished, unexplained. What will become of him? The script doesn't answer, and there is a sense of discomfort. Are we (the audience), by accepting the ending, condoning the protagonists' actions? Should there have been redemption, restitution for wrongs committed? Or is that beyond the purview of art, whose only responsibility is to chronicle the events as they happen?

One can discuss and analyse this film to bits, tearing apart the morality of its characters and arguing for or against each of them. Or we can, as an audience, accept that this is also reality, and that sometimes life is not quite as tidy as we would like it to be, and we do not get to have everything handed to us tied up in neat bows. What Ore Kadal does do is encourage discussion, even if only within ourselves, and force us, if we are the analytical sort, to explore our own biases and our notions of right and wrong.


  1. This sounds like one of those films which one must be in a particular frame of mind to watch (at least that's how it is with me. Junglee or Dekh Kabira Roya is the sort of film I can watch any time; Pan's Labyrinth and Stray Dog are the sort of films I need to be in certain mood to see. :-)

    One remark in your review in particular caught my attention, Anu: "when initially released, courted controversy because Shyamaprasad doesn't judge his characters for their morality, or lack thereof". It's sad, isn't it, that even in this day and age, the majority of most Indian audiences seem to lack what I only call an emotional maturity, the sort of maturity that allows one to accept a work of art for its sake? I've had people tick me off on my blog for appreciating a film even though its lead was amoral or immoral - but what's wrong with a story like that? It's not as if the film maker is out to teach moral science to little children.

    Sigh. Rant over.

  2. I waited and waited to be 'in a certain mood', Madhu, and finally put it in because that 'certain mood' just wasn't happening. :) I'm glad I did. It is serious, and it deals with emotions that people generally tend to keep hidden, but it wasn't depressing. And the acting was excellent all round.

    It is sad about the lack of emotional maturity - actually, I think it is more about moral policing. In an interview Shyamaprasad was asked about his exploration of the man-woman relationships and he had this to say (paraphrased): I don't think that I'm doing anything extraordinary. I think movies in the 60s and 70s (in Malayalam) dealt with far bolder themes than we do today. Would anyone dare make ---- and ----- today?

    And that, to me, is the crying shame. I agree with you completely about appreciating a film for what it is, rather than what you want it to be. If you feel that strongly, go make your own film. I don't want my films to be teaching me morals. If it offends you, don't watch it.

    Sigh, and what is worse is the people who presume to lecture you on how you should react to a film. I hear you!

  3. Anu, the way you talk about the movie makes me want to watch it. It sounds very interesting, and I would have watched it, in another time and age, but now, I don't think I want to watch this one. I want an inane movie which does not require me to think or feel or do anything other than chew the scenery. Sorry, Anu! Your review is great as always, and this sounds so mature but ... what can I say?

  4. I understand totally, Lalitha. There have been many days that I have felt the same!

    This is a serious film, yes, but it is not depressing at all. But as Madhu said, it does require one to be in a particular frame of mind.


  5. So true. Moral policing is the reason.

    One rarely goes into a film - whether in a theatre or at home - with absolutely no idea of what to expect. You'd have read or heard at least something of the plot in order to be wanting to watch the film, right? And if you're the type to get so easily offended by what other people do, then perhaps it's best to stay away from films that could offend.

    Seriously. I can't understand this desire to always be so judgmental about other people's morals. (Incidentally, Delhi is going through a total nautanki right now, which could actually be a good plot for a satirical film: AAP MLA Somnath Bharti, who led a notorious late-night raid on some African women, dragging them off in a mob to the police and accusing them of drug- and sex-trafficking, has now been accused of domestic violence by his wife).

  6. ...perhaps it's best to stay away from films that could offend.

    Yes, it is a wonder that that doesn't occur to them, no? They are offended, therefore we should be offended; at least, they will get offended on our behalf! Why don't they do their due diligence before taking their Chunnu, Munnu, Tunnus to the theatre?

    I used to find that argument even more specious when applied to the TV - damn it, you can turn off the TV in your home, right? :(

    Re: the AAP chap: It doesn't surprise me at all to hear that, Madhu! Actually, apart from their suspect 'moral values' it is their mealy-mouthed hypocrisy that disgusts me! I was reading about this social activist who, according to her statement, '...went looking for Sunny Leone's website, because she 'had heard' that Leone was leading youth 'astray'. So she 'went looking', found the website with its photographs and videos and has now filed suit against Leone for a host of civil and criminal offences. I mean, really? She considered this a good use of her time? Policing the internet?


    (In any case, if you do get a chance to watch this sometime, do watch. I would be very interested in hearing what you think of this film.)

  7. Thank you! I was planning to ask if you could review an inane movie for me!

  8. "Re: the AAP chap: It doesn't surprise me at all to hear that, Madhu! Actually, apart from their suspect 'moral values' it is their mealy-mouthed hypocrisy that disgusts me! "

    Anoooooo! Come to my arms!! My girl, this is just what really gets my goat about this party. They have this holier-than-thou attitude (one which carries over to most of their supporters as well), and anything that emerges against the party is summarily blamed on the media.

    Sickens me.

    Anyway, I am now looking forward to your next post (saw your comment to Lalitha).

  9. It's not 'inane' exactly, but it is one of my favourite go-to movies when I just want to relax.

  10. *laughing* (((hugs)))
    Honestly, though, what is it they say about pointing a finger at others, while ignoring the four that are pointing in your direction?

    And everyone, everywhere, is looking to take offence. Not just on their behalf, but on behalf of others as well.

    Next post, when I manage to get the screenshots. I always end up having to watch a movie twice, one to actually watch it, and the other to get screenshots. And sometimes, it is WDIGTT? :)

  11. Did you know, Meera Jasmine missed out the Best Actress National Award for her role? (should I say nominated?) Here is a reliable source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/others/news-interviews/Jothika-missed-national-award-by-a-whisker/articleshow/4986306.cms :)

  12. Yes, I did know.

    And I'm not the one who requests reliable sources so the link was redundant.

  13. I didn't mean it that way, but was supporting my claim!

  14. No, I realise that - I just couldn't resist. :) Because unless your claim is totally false, why do I need validation of it?

    *Ah, Disqus ate my previous reply!

  15. Anu, your readers might have trust in you, but not necessarily in me. :) Well, this is my first comment on your blog since the Parinayam post. And what a comeback for me!


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