In Mayaanadhi [Mystic River], there is a shot of its protagonists – Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) and Mathan (Tovino Thomas) – sitting on the doorstep of her house at midnight, watching the rain. We see them from behind, her arm lazing on his thigh, a smile on their face. It is an instance when time is still, briefly suspended. She is soaked in the sheer joy of the moment, while he is certainly seeing something beyond it. A future when they would live together in a plush house where their children would grow up, and when he would finally live his life, not just survive it.
They dwell in different worlds which are slowly drifting apart. But at that moment, Appu and Mathan are just watching the rain, wrapped in the warmth of their togetherness.
Where does the real movie lie? Perhaps in moments such as these that are full of life, sometimes condensed to just a glance or a movement? Or is it in the totality, a fabric composing every element in the narrative? Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi is one of the few Malayalam films which could work in both forms. It is a gorgeous portrait of romance, loosely adapted from Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Aashiq, with the help of his writer duo Shyam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair, refashions the French classic into an intense tale set against the backdrop of Kochi.
On the surface, Mayaanadhi is the story of Aparna aka Appu and Mathew aka Mathan who were once dreamy-eyed lovers. Then, she was a student at an engineering college in Tamil Nadu and he was her senior. A flashback song sequence shows the couple drunk in juvenile love, bunking classes and roaming the city and the countryside. One day, he disappears from her life, swindling a large sum of money from her friend. Many years later, when he reappears in front of her, he is a criminal with the cops hot on his heels. She is a struggling actress, attending auditions, doing fashion photo-shoots and wedding compering for a living. “I have forgotten you,” she tells him bluntly. He waits. She then starts to warm up, slowly, hesitantly.
Appu and Mathan are irresistibly drawn to each other. You realise the intensity of it when you see either of them alone. The frames have a hint of despair, you sense the …incompleteness that the character feels.
The writing is brilliant, not leaving a loose end to any characterisation. Dialogues are drawn from real life, almost never succumbing to the temptation to make a statement. The way the flashback of the characters play out is interesting. It is through Appu that we learn more of Mathan and his tragic past. It is Mathan who tells us of the persevering fighter that she is. She hasn’t come out of the pain that he’d inflicted on her, and he understands. He waits. She is waiting too, for him to prove to her that he could be trusted. “Payyanaa (He is a kid),” she tells her room mate who suggests that she accept his proposal and settle down.
The subtle variations in the couple’s relationship are portrayed through mundane daily activities. For one, there is a scene in which Mathan joins Appu on her walk home from work at night. They share groundnuts that Mathan had nicked from a road-side vendor, and laugh over it. Like real couples in love. One of the most enchanting things about Mayaanadhi is the state of uncertainty in the couple’s relationship. It’s fascinatingly naive. Sometimes, they are miles apart, like strangers who have never met. And sometimes, they are an entity, inseparably tied to each other.
Aashiq and his team display a rare courage to be unabashedly millennial. Mayaanadhi belongs to the present. The characters are deeply imperfect, waging never-ending battles with family, and moreover, with their own emotions. And, it is told in the most human way. There is an endearing scene inside an apartment where Appu, her friends Sameera (Leona Lishoy) and Darshana (Darshana Rajendran) sip wine and talk about life. When talking becomes difficult, one of them starts to sing a beautiful tune. Years later, when they look back, the three girls may remember this night when they held each other close in the comfort of a song.
The romance of Appu and Mathan is quite realistic and hence, exquisitely sensuous. The song, “Mizhiyil Ninnum” in Shahabas Aman’s voice, is a lullaby for lovers. The visuals might remind one of “Ohm Namaha” from Mani Ratnam’s Geethanjali – images of two lovers reveling in their most private moments of happiness. The film also attempts to herald a conversation on casual sex.
The most striking accomplishment of Mayaanadhi is that it efficiently balances the plot-track of Mathan and Appu, with the sub-plot of the team of cops set out to avenge the murder of their colleague. The shootout inside a hotel and Mathan’s subsequent escape in the initial part of the film is fantastically shot. Harish Uthaman and Ilavarasu are effortless in their roles as crime branch cops from Tamil Nadu. The stony aloofness in the latter’s voice and body-language is spine chilling. It works wonders in the climatic portion which is quite affecting.
But, the meta-film portions in Mayaanadhi fall flat, effectively turning it into a comic hyperbole. Appu’s audition scenes may elicit some La La Land déjà vu. Dressed in pretty clothes, Appu escorts her friend, Sameera, who is a star actress, to studios and social events. Taking a little help from Mathan and drawing inspiration from her own struggles in life, she delivers a mighty performance during one of the auditions. Those scenes, Sameera’s apartment, and the film that finally lands Sameera in a soup – all look cosmetic.
Composer Rex Vijayan understands the movie perfectly. “Uyirin Nadhiye” has the gush of adolescence, while “Kaattil” is a mood-piece that sets the background to a gentle reconciliation between the couple. The images that Jayesh Mohan’s camera captures have an alluring poetic quality, never going over the top.
However, what really takes the film to an exceptional height are the performances. Aishwarya Lekshmi has an arresting screen-presence, and she delivers an impressive performance as Appu. There aren’t many actresses who have a face that works marvelously in close-up shots, gracefully registering even the tiniest emotion. She also has a great control over her voice. Tovino Thomas too, delivers a memorable performance. There is a poignant defenselessness in his demeanor.
Manchester By The Sea has a scene in which former lovers, Lee and Randi, meet on the street and try to talk. They are separated by the unbridgeable sea of tragedy and time. But, some strings of their souls are still bound together. She cries and apologises, he only says he wants to leave. It is one of the greatest scenes in cinema that reminds you of the frailties of humankind and the wounds that never heal. Mayaanadhi culminates on a note that can tug your heart in a similar way.
Why do some of us fall into the trap of damned romance?
The Mayaanadhi review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.