Thursday, October 13, 2005

Vanaprastham(Last dance) - 1999,Malayalam

Vanaprastham produced by mohanlal's pranavam arts is an exceptional movie.Movies of this kind are rarely made in india. This is a movie that is a beautiful mix of great acting, technical excellence combined with good/realistic story that shows the indian society in its complexity, beauty and ugliness.

This is a complex and interesting story told in a beautiful way.Iam not giving out anything in the story, here is a skeletal story line. The movie is the story of kunnikuttan(Mohanlal), a poor kathakali dancer's search for identity and recognition. He comes across subadhra(suhasini maniratnam), the daughter in law of the travancore diwan. The line between reality and dream blurs for subadhra.Like "Subadhra" of the mahabharath character who falls in love with the mythological character arjun,this subadra falls in love with the arjun of the kathakali play, kunnikuttan.This leads to various complexities and with kunnikuttan's drastic moves the movie come to a crashing climax.

The movie is an ode to kathakali.The story is beautifully woven around dreams and reality. kathakali enables the story to cross the reality line and move into a fantasy world. Mahabharatha's character's Arjun, subadhra, abhimanyu all become part of the story.The story is an extension of those characters from mahabharatha.
shaji's view on the mahabharatha characters.Arjuna for me is someone who isn't aware of his abilities, but is used by others for those very abilities. For example, Krishna. But the battle of Mahabharata was won because of him. So there is an identity crisis there. Vaanaprastham

And though Arjuna was married to Panchali, his relationship with Subhadra was different. It had a deeper, philosophical element to it. Though Subhadra and Arjun had never met each other, they knew each other through letters, through people. Both were exceptionally intelligent. Subhadra, for her part, was a woman with a strong concept of right and wrong. The two deeply respected each other. Their son, Abhimanyu, was immensely intelligent, too, having heard the story of the Chakravyuh while still in the womb. Intelligence, here, had a philosophical connotation which appealed to me. more

A little bit of awareness of kathakali would also make you enjoy the story more. Kathakali the traditional dance of kerala, it is mainly staged on various episodes of mahabharatha and the important characters are identified with their costumes. The famous green face is the arjun, other characters like duryodhana, dushasana all come up with different set of costumes with weapons and strange sounds, hanuman with a white cap etc.


You cannot find fault with mohanlal's action in the movie, not even in a single frame. He does his part to perfection. He portraits kunnikuttan a deeply wounded, alcoholic artist, who is unrecognized both as a son and as a father. This depressingly sad character who carries a world of sadness, comes alive when he puts on the kathakali costumes.From a man who cannot control anything in his life he becomes the all powerful arjun who can stand against an army all alone. Mohanlal does not do much of an emotional outburst but the sadness of the character seeps out in every frame. You are left to wonder how did he make himself into kunnikuttan in every frame. How much trouble he must have undergone to bring the pain of that character through out the movie.

He was well supported by suhasini maniratnam as subhadra.


The photography in this movie is of high quality. The cinematographers for this movie are santhosh sivan and Renato Berta.The photography is pleasing, kathakali the most colorful of all indian traditional dances is enhanced many folds by the photography of this pair.

And off course the much of the credit goes to the director shaji karun. Shaji who shot to fame with his movie piravi, which swept all the major awards at the 1988 national awards. He came back to assert his position in indian cinema with this movie.
The Cannes Film Festival committee declared '500 names that made Cannes' so far and Shaji shares the honor of being one among the names along with three other Indians - Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Sashi Kapoor. He was once listed in a Cannes cataloged as one who provided the late Indian director Aravindan with unforgettable images in the latter's cycle of mythological stories set in the State of Kerala.

In recognition to his contributions to the world of Cinema, the French Government has conferred on him the Chevalier dans ordre des arts et lettres (knight of arts and letters). Shaji is only the third in Indian filmdom, after Satyajit Ray and Sivaji Ganesan, to get the award.


Music was by the table maestro Zakir hussain.Apart from the traditional kathakali music the maestro has used a melancholic theme music and has enhanced various scenes as needed.

Awards & Recognitions:
It is pathetic that the committee responsible for sending indian movies to the oscars always falters.They send 'Jeans' instead of "Bandit Queen" and "Earth" instead of "Vanaprastham".This movie deserved it, but was pathetically brushed aside for the oscar nomination because some moron thought otherwise.

Vanaprastham might not have made it to the oscars, but it did make it to the cannes and it made it in style.Shaji karun whose all 3 movies including vanaprastham were screened in cannes, got the honor of making it to the 500 directors who made cannes and was awarded the 'Chevalier dans ordre des arts et lettres'.The movie did well in the art film circuit.
Shaji's words.It was screened in over a hundred theatres. You know, a Frenchman I met in Austria told me that he had seen the film in an Austrian village. Can you believe an Indian film running for 10 days in a European village? People are passionate about all art forms in Europe.

Actually, Vaanaprastham has been to more festivals than Piravi. It has gone all over Europe, Brazil and Mexico. It is going to the 65th film festival next month. Visually, too, it is different from other Indian films, as we had more finance at our disposal. So we had an opportunity to show the world that we are not lagging behind in technology.more

shaji N Karun

Mohanlal who plays the character that never gets recognized, got his recognization at the national level.The movie bagged Mohanlal the Best actor National award in 1999, He also received the award of Best picture for producing the movie.But the award wasn't an easy one.It was actually one of the well fought awards.

1999 was a great year, some excellent movies came out including vaanaprastham. Mohanlal and vaanaprastham had to compete with so many worthy contenders both at the nationals and the state level. It was the year of Kamal hassan's "Hey ram", Buddhadeb Dasgupta "Uttara", Rituparno Ghosh's "Bariwali", Aparna sen's "Paromitar Ek Din". Apart from the national level, mohanlal had to fight with another great performance in his home state itself. He had to compete with kalabhavan mani, who gave a stunning performance as a blind man in "Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum".In Tamil it was again, another stunning performance by vikram in Bala's "Sethu".

Vikram in sethu

Kalabhavan mani a former auto rickshaw driver turned actor. Did small roles in movies and sang folk songs. Things totally changed for him after his stunning performance as a blind man in the movie "Vasanthiyum Lekshmiyun Pinne Njanum".But the finest hour of this unrecognized actor was stolen by the well established super star of malayalam cine industry, bharath mohanlal. As fate put him against one of the best performance of mohanlal, He had to bow out. But Kalabhavan mani's performance did get the notice of the jury though.He was given the Special Jury Award for his performance in "Vasanthiyum Lekshmiyun Pinne Njanum".

Kalabhavan mani in Lakshmiyum...

With vikram it was a different story.His life story itself is a cinematic one.Vikram debut movie in 1989 was a flop.With that movie his fate was almost sealed.He didn't get any chance, he survived by giving dubbing voices. He went through an accident and was not able to walk for 3 years, with that and other personal crisis he had to wait for 10 years for a break.His sheer determination won at last and he got to star in director Bala's sethu.Vikram gave his soul and body for the movie.Every day he walked for miles, survived on meager food and went down half of his body weight to fit into the role. The change in his body was staggering in the movie.This and his acting combined with a strong story line made the movie a hit.Since then he has grown to become a commercially successful actor only second to rajinikanth, the superstar of tamil cine industry. Vikram fought all the way to the nationals, again unfortunate for him, his finest hour was stolen by mohanlal. Supposedly he lost the best actor award by one vote. But he didn't had to wait for long.He bagged the national award for best actor in 2003 for his role as a grave digger in another Bala's movie "pithamagan".

What would have been 3 best actor awards if they would have been released on different years, were all made to compete on the same year.Vikram and kalabhavan mani lost to a worthy winner.Mohanlal was simply superb in this movie.Whether it is dancing as a kathakali artist(his eyes, eye brows and the body movements match any good kathakali player) or carrying the burned of his birth in every scene that he appears, or the way his face lights up when he sees suhasini or his daughter he was just awesome in the movie.If i have to pick one scene i would say the scene where he talks with his father.There is hardly any movement or facial expression, the way the eyes are slightly lowered, voice modulation in uttering his words all indicating his bottled up sadness, anger and respect.How could such a feeling be emoted without much emotional outpour?.You have to feel the character completely and that is what exactly mohanlal has done in the movie.

The english translation of Last dance has nothing to do with the title vanaprastham.In Indian Philosophy, 'Vanaprastham' is the third of the four ashramas or stages in a man's life - Brahmacharya or bachelorhood, Grihastha or married life, Vanaprastha or retirement to the forest and Sanyasa or renunciation of all wordly interests.

The problems of the vanaprastham
shaji karun official website
vikram interview
vikram in week
Kalabhavan mani
know more about kathakali

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