February 23, 2013

[Movies] Aarohanam - On the highest Note!

When the cyclone Thane struck the shores of Chennai, there was an unexpected and unfortunate personal loss! It was the loss of catching a good movie, that was leaving theatres that very week. Although unexplainable at the moment of experience, time does have a reason for everything. A very good one, it turned out! Having heard a lot of positive reviews on the movie, Madhan and I were sad to let it go unseen. By a magical serendipity, we met the director of the movie, Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, in a mutual friend's wedding last week. How time orchestrates these things in a way, that only it understands! She was next in line in the queue to meet the wedding couple. Even if we were separated by two more rows, we might have missed them. As we had done in our earlier meetings, we started talking about Aarohanam and she asked if we had seen it yet. Hearing the reply in the negative, she asked if we wanted to catch a show on Tuesday organized by Dreams India. Absolutely, we said, delighted to be finally seeing the movie.

As the person who introduced the movie said, "Many people missed this movie, and sadly, many theatres too missed this movie."  This show was meant to be the means to let a few people catch what they wanted to, but couldn't. Luck was to give us an added bonus of interacting with the director, at the end of the movie. These few moments where people queried her about the movie and the fascinating details that thereby emerged made me thank Thane, for its mysterious kindness!

SPOILER ALERT - If there is even the slightest inkling to watch Aarohanam somehow, please stop at once and do come back, when you've experienced the movie.

The movie was narrated the way life whispers our own story to us. Normally, it doesn't neatly begin at A and plod along till Z. It has the habit of throwing random things at the random moment, that somehow explains a puzzling something from the past. Likewise, the story unfolded in jigsaw pieces, that the director seamlessly completed in your mind's eye, as the final credits ran. Although obviously coming from an affluent family, she has caught the essence of someone living a poor and wretched life, in minute detail. As Director Bharathi Raja, who happened to watch the movie with us, quirkily put it, "I simply refuse to believe this person has directed this movie, given the intricate details of the poor protagonist's life. A life has been captured deeply, penetrating through many layers", applauded one of the best film-makers of authentic Tamil Cinema.

The spotlight was positioned on a woman from a poor background with a mental illness and a husband who did not understand her. But in the periphery, there are also sad stories of other women from other worlds.  One might ask, what could possibly be tragic about a woman who has achieved it all in her business career? What might even be remotely sad about a wife, who travels around the country with her decorated army husband? Seems there is. The woman who has achieved stupendous success in her business career may have an empty home to go to. The woman who travels the country with her husband may have put away her personal dreams and aspirations, to be with the man she married. When the lives of these women are placed in parallel, there is perspective. You may have every advantage such as a rich family, a happening career and end up with a hollow feeling in your heart. Or, you may have every disadvantage such as poverty, abandonment, mental illness and still, emerge winning over the challenges in life.

Now, coming to the central theme in the film - a mental illness. Time and again, we've seen this topic being abused, misinterpreted, ending up horrifying the viewer. It is indeed hard to find a movie that balances creativity and authenticity in presenting a mental illness. In Aarohanam, we have a clear winner. Let me introduce the illness with scenes carved on the mind because of the picture-perfect performance of actor Viji. In one frame, the protagonist wears a bright saree, puts a big red kumkum on her forehead and is smiling so dazzlingly, full of happiness and confidence. In another, her hair is lying all tangled and messed up, tears streaming down and she stares blankly at the wall. In one scene, she arranges everything beautifully, keeps the house so neat and organized. In another, she doesn't lift a finger when the same is in a complete mess. In one moment, full of energy, she does the work of ten people in ten minutes. In another frame, she cannot even rise from her bed and can only sit and stare at the wall. In one moment, she dances for her kids, laughs with them and teases them like a friend. In another, at the slightest provocation, she throws a bowl of curry onto her kid's plate. In one phase, she is capable of securing a hard-to-get loan and starting multiple enterprises to become a vegetable vendor, an LIC agent and a house-cleaner. In another phase, she doesn't have the inclination or the strength to talk to a single person. Two different people, you say? The very same person, oscillating like a pendulum between these two extremes. The pendulum rests at various points in the interval but never for long and especially never at the neutral centre.

Know someone like that? Suffered because you were not able to understand or cope with the extremities of this person. If you haven't already been introduced, meet Bipolar Disorder. This is an illness, which makes the person who has it believe at points that they are not just in heaven, but are Gods themselves and at points that they are not just in hell, but the worst possible sinner there. A standing ovation for the sensitivity and the solid research behind this movie!

What about the people surrounding this central character, this ball of fire and ice? Imagine you have a stable mind but are constantly being provoked by the eccentricities of the person suffering. The director brings out the surrounding characters, in a realistic way. The daughter who stands by her mother so proudly and responsibly, understanding that her mother, in spite of her mental illness, has done more for her, than her father with a stable mind. The son who wants his father's affection, but cannot live without his mother. Most of all, the husband, who has used the excuse of his wife's illness to seek a life elsewhere. As he so indignantly declares in the movie, "When men are seeking other wives when their wife is perfectly alright, why shouldn't I seek someone else when I'm fated with a person like you?" Even more interesting in this movie is the other wife, who taken up by guilt or regret, comes to the support of the first and ill wife. Women and their various dimensions have been so beautifully captured in this movie. All you women directors, with dreams in your eyes and burdens on your shoulders, do come on and sensitise the world with your deep sensibility, as this director has.

In the interactions afterward, there was a psychologist, who deals with these issues every day of her life, who remarked, "Awesome job with this movie. So rightly, the focus here is on the patient. But, it is my request that sometime you must focus on the difficult and support-less life of the caregiver." It is indeed the care-giver who is the caught in the cyclone of this illness, without a shelter nearby. Made me think that the ill are treated, but for the pain of watching someone you love suffer, is there any medicine?

And why Aarohanam? The director illuminated that, "Of the two musical notes, Avarohanam is the one that falls and Aarohanam is the one that rises. Here I wanted to capture the rising phase of the illness in that one momentous night, where she touches many lives". So meaningfully apt to capture the positives of this up-and-down illness. The final note in the movie brought forth how some of the greatest human beings have made amazing contributions to society, in spite of all the lows of their mind. Kudos to this director from our shores, for shattering the stigma of mental illness everywhere.

Although her very first attempt at movie-making, so glad that this director understood that the most rewarding journeys in life are not to a new place in the world or even, the universe. But rather to an unknown recess of a mind. It's despair and it's hope!


  1. Your intrepretation was more touching than the film itself! What an expression! Truly touched... thank you! Will always endeavour to be honest in every attempt

  2. A great movie indeed !

    Congrats Director Madam. Your social responsibility is being reflected, not only in this movie, but everyday thro' Zee Tamil'

  3. Thanks for all your warm appreciation. All credit to the movie!

    Lakshmy Ramakrishnan - A special thanks to you. My words are but a mere echo of the way you have dreamt, felt and brought alive this movie. Looking forward to many more from you.

  4. Beautifully written.. will try to catch on the movie :)