In a career spanning over 3 decades, over 31 films, Fazil is one director who has simultaneously made inroads into Malayalam and Tamil cinema. One of the most important directors of the late 80s and 90s, Fazil’s heroes were flawed, heroines were quirky with a mind of their own and he made stories that invariably revolved around love, broken families, lonely childhoods and heartbreak.
The lonely hurt child
Some of his most popular works turned around children—those from broken families or simply disturbed children.
NokkethadhoorathuKannum Nattu’s (1984) bubbly, spirited Girly (Nadia Moidu), despite an affectionate father, had a lonely childhood. Her backstory is that of an unstable teen who missed having a mother around. While the grand mom lives a grumpy and lonely life lamenting about her lost daughter and husband.
ManivathoorileAayiramSivarathrikal (1987) has at its core a tender love story between two lonely souls—Dr Vinayachandran and Neena. Neena has had a lonely childhood, having lost her mother at a very young age, while Vinayan misses his father. History repeats itself when Neena dies and her daughter too feels the same pang of loneliness; the void left by her mother.
Considered one of his path-breaking works, Poovinu Puthiya Poonthennal (1986) follows an unusual crime thriller narrative pattern. The hero Kiran (Mammootty) is perpetually drunk, mourning over his dead wife and child. Into his abject misery enters a petrified mute child, who is witness to the murder of his parents and together they forge a strange, emotional bond. Fazil, who also scripts all his films, weaves an intricate man-child bond in this otherwise grim thriller. The climax, where Kiran is shot dead and the little boy sits next to him crying helplessly, remains a haunting lingering cinematic memory.
Fazil has created some deeply emotive moments whenever children have been the protagonists. To this day, it’s difficult to remain impassive when little Mamatikuttiyamma cries out to rescue her from her mentally unstable biological mother in EnteMamattikkuttiyammakku (1983). A couple that has lost their only daughter, a darling orphaned child, a harrowed husband worried about his wife who has lost her mental balance worrying over her child born out of wedlock. Faasil leads the characters and story in such a way that in the end we empathise with the adopted parents.
Appoos, in Pappayude Swantham Appoos (1992), is the poster boy for lonely children in Malayalam cinema. The poor little rich boy, who played old videos of his mother singing lullabies for him as a baby. He tries to find his mother in other women. Again, despite a busy but loving father, there is a huge void that could only be filled by a mother in the boy’s life. In fact, most of his stories hinged on the presence or absence of mother in an individual’s life.
EnteSooryaputhrikku’s (1991) Maya, is very similar to Girly—the same mischief, effervescence and sense of rebellion, that stems from an insecure childhood. When taunted for being an illegitimate child, Maya takes it upon herself to establish her legitimacy and win back the man she loves. But the tender mother-daughter bond is unfortunately short-lived.
ManatheVellitheru (1994) explored the mother-son relationship at a psychosomatic level. A young man who worshipped his mother is obsessively stalking a pop singer as her music reminds him of his mother’s. Of course, it’s an interesting thread, but ends up as a badly staged costume drama.
In his most feted work, Manichithrathazhu (1993), Ganga’s past is that of parental neglect.
Says journalist Krishna R, “That’s probably why I have always been able to find a tenderness in his storytelling. They were all linked closely with the mother or father and their relationship with children.”
Lonely, ordinary, quirky men
His men were quintessentially men, and largely loners—mostly out of circumstances. Either grieving over a lost spouse or mother or living in their memory. They love with abandon, are stuck in adversity and seem reluctant to make a fresh start. Kiran (PoovinuPuthiyaPoonthennal), Balu (PappayudeSwanthamAppoos), Dr Vinayachandran (ManivathoorileAayiramSivarathrikal) are all essentially stuck in similar stages of loneliness, lost without their loved ones.
These are men who promise to steadily hold on to their women, even in the most adverse situations. Dr Srinivas (EnteSooryaputhrikku), Nakulan (Manichithrathazhu), Prem Krishnan (ManjilVirinjaPookkal) and to a certain extent Dr Sunny (Manichithrathazhu) are idealistic lovers in that respect.
Spunky, fiery, funny women
ManjilVirinjaPookkal’s Prabha walks out of her abusive marriage for another man. But her moment of empowerment is cut short when she gets killed by her husband. Similarly, one of the most powerful celluloid female characters in Malayalam cinema remains Nagavally, the alter-ego of the docile Ganga. Written by Madhu Muttam, the two women have contrasting sketches—the submissive, homebound, dreamy Ganga versus the vindictive, strong and independent Nagavally. Typically, the “mad woman in the attic” is eliminated to give way to the traditional ‘Ganga Nakulan’ who declares undying love for her husband.
The women are always at extremes and boxed according to stereotypes—between the spirited, modern Girly, Maya, Meenakshi and Bala and the sari clad Ganga and Sindhu (LifeisBeautiful).
In hindsight, Srividya’s Vasundhara Devi (EnteSooryaputhrikku) is far more bewitching and multi-layered than her modern daughter. Despite being an unwed mother, she attains the peak in her singing career and seems determined to stay at the top. Yet she is also strangely forgiving of the man she loved and lost. Sethu (EnteMamattikkuttiyammakku), on the other hand, is all about motherhood—she isn’t explored beyond that role play. Ditto for Kunjunjamma Thomas who is bitter about having lost the opportunity to love her daughter. Srividya’s moms in both Aniyathipravu and EnnennumKannettante are cut from the same cloth. Motherhood is an obsessively manipulated role in his films. The mothers are mostly forgiving, lovable and one-dimensional.
Faasil’s idea of romance never dared to go beyond the precincts of the family. Love invariably remained unfulfilled unless it passes the parental scanner. Aniyathipravu, about two college-goers from different castes who initially brave family opposition but later decides to “maturely part ways” are eventually rewarded when their families give their green signal.
The protagonists in two of his most popular teenage love stories—Aniyathipravu and EnnennumKannettante (written by Madhu Muttam) are strikingly similar. The shy, silent, traditional girl and the upbeat love-struck boy. The conversations can be extremely corny and it has been a sore point in all his scripts.
He was far more convincing with post-marriage romances, though a few bordered on the regressive—ManivathoorileAayiram Sivarathrikal, Life is Beautiful, Pappayude Swantham Appoos, Manichithrathazhu.
Humour and Tamil terrain
Though his films aren’t known for their humour quotient, the ones that exist are understated. So it seems ironic that one of the most charming comic setpieces in the history of Malayalam cinema was in his NokkethaDoorathuKannumNattu.
Faasil remains one of the few mainstream Malayalam filmmakers who simultaneously made inroads into Tamil cinema and all were remakes of his own Malayalam films (PoovePoochoodaVaa (Nokketha Doorathu…), PoovizhiVaasalile (Poovinu Puthiya…), EnBommukuttyAmmavukku (Ente Mamatti…), Varusham16 (Ennennum Kannettante) and KadhalukkuMariyadhai (Aniyathipravu).
Varusham16 had two established actors (Kushboo and Karthik) playing the lovers unlike the Malayalam version which had newcomers. That also meant the naivety which was the calling card of the original got lost in translation. Besides being regressive.
Stalemate in conclusion
Fazil, like most of his peers, failed to keep up with the changing grammar and terrain of Malayalam cinema. His last few works, LivingTogether (a done-to-death romance), MozandCat (a bizarre tale of a man and child), Kaiyethum Doorathu (an uninspiring romance that marked the debut of his son Fahad Faasil) and Vismayathumbathu (badly executed film despite a very novel theme)fell flat at the box-office. That he was struggling to stay afloat was evident. All said and done, he will remain a vital name in the annals of Malayalam cinema—his films, more than being about craft and technical finesse, was an integral part of growing up for every kid from the 80s and 90s. And of course, he will remain the one who gave us the greatest cult classic — Manichithrathazhu.
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