Saturday, September 10, 2011


Can an individual love two different persons at the same time? What does the word ‘love’ with its several connotations mean when one touches the autumn of one’s life? It is apt that a greying state discovers that romance exists beyond youth and so Pranayam follows a movie like Salt N' Pepper – from middle aged romance to old aged romance.

Pranayam is set in an urbane backdrop where a married woman meets her ex-husband after several years and then she and her husbands (current and ex) forge a relationship that enriches and heals their lives. The protagonists are all well over the hill physically but they carry the same pangs of emotions that youngsters have. The presence of two men and a woman does not make it a triangular love story; yes, there are hidden tensions and jealousies which however evaporate quickly enough because of the progress of time.

Achutha Menon (Anupam Kher) is a lively and childlike character who takes joy in small things in life but considers himself a loser, both professionally and personally. He lives a lonely, almost nomadic life with his son Suresh (Anoop Menon) throughout his life. They both find emotional solace in each other but Menon is never able to overcome the void created by his divorce. Meeting his wife Grace (Jaya Prada) after several years touches a raw chord and sets the ball rolling for a relationship which acts as a healing for years of suppressed emotions. It is a quiet little performance and the gracefulness and chirpiness that Anupam brings to the character makes the audience largely root for him; however, I did think that Rizabawa’s dubbing seemed a little heavy at times for Kher.

Mathews (Mohan Lal) is bedridden and needs his wife’s help on a day-to-day basis to accomplish most tasks but their love is just as robust as ever. As a retired Professor of Philosophy, he is a man of words and this gives the director the opportunity to give him the best lines. He is an intellectual who immerses his life in books and music after he suffers a stroke that paralyses him one side. He is less despondent than Menon and believes in living life to the fullest and has a sense of self-assuredness, despite his disability. A lesser actor may have been easily carried away and gone overboard but Lal is marvellously restrained as he achieves a delicate balance between the dramatic and understated overtones of his performance.

Grace’s silence and eyes speak more than her words which are measured and uncertain. She is unsure of her emotions and is caught in an inner turmoil at being in a situation between the two most important men in her life. She is an unblemished beautiful woman with vulnerabilities who tries to balance her conflicting sense of emotions. She is just about comfortable going along with the flow of life with the knowledge that the love of Mathews will ensure that she is on the right path. The quiet, unassuming dignity which goes along with the pain and guilt of a tortured soul that Jaya Prada brings to the character makes it a fabulous performance.

The first half is raw and lingers aimlessly at times and it is only in the second half that the movie settles firmly on a saddle. The younger generation romance of Menon and Grace does not fit in with the scheme of things; considering that Blessy does not take pains to explain the real marital conflict that they faced, this phase of events has no real meaning in the movie. The younger generations get a raw deal and their characters are undermined at the expense of the protagonists, something that could have been avoided.

Blessy actually does well in not trying to get into the nitty gritties of the past – all the conflicts of the past have no meaning now as they live life in the twilight zone. The only hints that we get at the problems that they had reflect out of the assessment of the characters at different points – like Mathews saying that Grace is always enthusiastic at the beginning of every venture but unwilling to take it to completion or Grace remarking that it is so typical of Menon to make much of a fuss about things which later on turn out to very insignificant.

The relationship between the three characters is fascinating and a courageous one for the director because he steps into an area infested with social taboos. But the script ensures that the sanctity of marriage and the thought of love outside marriage do not come into conflict with each other (something that Mathews reminds Grace when he says Alassam​ayi thurannitt​a vaathililo​ode pranayam ariyathe kadannu varum).

There are no simple solutions to past mistakes but hard truths that need to be accepted – something that the three of them slowly accept but the society finds difficult to understand. However, the battle lines, so as to say, are initially drawn – the first time Mathews meets Menon, he clearly asserts his role by conspicuously exhibiting affection towards his wife which she reciprocates later on when she refuses to accompany Menon to a place without her husband.

Guilt is a critical feeling that drives the plot along with the emotion of love. Menon carries the guilt of taking away his son from his wife and not doing enough to sustain their marriage life while Grace shares an equal sense of despondency at having lost her family. In a brooding moment, while throwing stones into the sea, Menon explains that the second throw always goes further than the first because there is a determination to better the first throw the next time – a nod to the success of Grace’s marriage.

Mathews understands that while his wife remains faithful to him, she cannot overcome the truth of Menon being the first man in her life; there is a small pain that he carries (manassil oru karadu) that he wishes to heal when Menon re-enters their lives. The movie ends on a sad and surprising note; was it the sudden outburst of long held pains and emotions or a sense of guilt or a sense of relief that brought about the sudden finale? The cynical side of me was asking whether the ending was a throwback to the 70s and 80s when deliberate tragedies were the hallmark of Malayalam cinema.

There is a genuine absence of melodrama which helps Pranayam convey its emotions very delicately to us without taking any sides. When Grace and Menon meet each other, there is no avalanche of words or music; it is a quiet gentle talk between two persons who have suddenly run into each other after years of running away from each other. It is due to the maturity zone that they find themselves in that any talk about the past or current situation is without any rancour or anger – it is an almost peaceful understanding that things need not have been this way if only…Even when there is a demise at the end, the emotions remain under wraps and quite subdued (echoing Mathew’s comment that death is not an abrupt end, but rather a gradual progression towards an inevitability where we die every minute).

The script however stutters when it deliberately tries to elevate their love for each other by drawing our attention to the next generations. Blessy goes ballistic in his treatment of Mathew’s daughter and son-in-law who seem to be present in the movie only to create a sense of anger of tension, even when there is no room for it. The need to create an antagonistic environment just to justify certain actions is unwarranted and does not jell with the rest of the mood of the movie.

Watching Pranayam reminded me of MTs Oru Cheru Punchiri where the ripening of old age is celebrated by the small quarrels and dialogues between the old couple in the movie; by contrast, Blessy invests less in the dialogues and focuses on the visuals that accompany Mathew and Grace in their relationship. Their body language, touches and affectionate gestures also drive a similar point but with a greater visual impact; even physical intimacy is conveyed which is rather unusual for Indian filmmakers who shy away from bringing the thought of sex after a certain age.

Even when Grace and Menon come together, there is just that slight degree of discomfort which submerges slowly into the wave of emotions that drives the two people. Towards the end, even when they hug each other, it comes across as a natural gesture without creating any guilt in anyone’s mind.

Love, old age and death are central themes in Pranayam and in unison they create a silent melody that lingers along for most of the movie. At a social level, the movie tries to understand love at multiple levels – between a man and woman, husband and wife, son and father and one man and another. Sadly, the word love has such a superficial presence in our vocabulary that we limit its boundaries and restrict it. Does every relationship need to be limited by coining a word for it? Can love not exist simply in absolute terms as an abstract emotion that we will never fully be able to comprehend because of the narrowness of our vision?

Pranayam is arguably Blessy’s most accomplished and ambitious movie so far. An unhurried plot that sweeps gently along with fabulous performances makes it a treat. Nevertheless, I reckon that the movie would have a very polarizing set of audience - for or against types and is not everyone's cup of tea.

P.S In an interview, Blessy mentioned that when the story was narrated to the 2Ms, Mammootty was keen to do Menon’s role while Lal was interested in Mathew’s role!!! Interesting thought that..


  1. I agree with most of your comments,except the treatment of youngerr generation by Blessie which u didnt like.I do not see anything unusual about it as this is how the younger generation might have acted since at that age prestige takes an upperhand over love.Except I didnt like the way the sonilaw was projected and he also seemed to have a roving eye the way he was shown while talking to Anoops daughter.Blessy also contrasted nicely with the state of love affairs between the present and the old where in a physcical touch is not considered unusual in the present status.I liked the hairdo of younger menon and the bldy Menon later, and while meeting Grace he keeps rubbing his bald head wanting her to make a comment on that.The only odd thing was Jayaprada's nostlgia of a romantic scene of yesteryears when menon was lying in ICU.I also donnot agree that the end was contrived to fit in to the earlier genere of Malayalm tragedy movies. It is most natural end where the ladys heart finally gives away having caught between the her first love and the her current marital staus .Through her love she mended the hearts of both the her lovers ( both surviving fatal heart attacks)but her heart gave away torn between both her lovers.The reason for her collapse could be due to her crossing the laxman rekha and allowed to be hugged by Menon ,or it can be due to the overjoy of meeting the mind of her first pranyam.Wah! what a movie ! A masterpeice from Blessy and the height of their acting careers for Lal, Anupam kher and Jayaprada..I would also like to complement Blessy for the brillaint screenplay, photo graphy and the songs which were apt for conveying the essence of the scene in question..For me this is a movie I carried in my heart for a long time even after leaving the theater, which has not happened to me for a long time.Thanx Blessy, and thanks the producer for such a moving love story of the old age !!

  2. Now.... I completely disagree.....
    I rushed to see this movie, the night before I leave to hyderabad for the second show, high on hunger (virtually hungry)and with a lot of expectations. The hall was half full and I thought that’s a good crowd for a second show...

    The story line:- Absolutely beautiful.. as always a very intense (Like kazcha,Thanmathra and Bramaram).

    Star-cast:- Sky high (On poster)..... But I thought the start-cast...just took away the flexibility out of the script. Just the reason Anupam Kher and Jayaprada cannot speak long intense dialogues took a beat on the character (atleast I thought so). When Anupam kher was talking I felt like I am watching a dubbed Hindi movie. I frankly think, we in our malayalam industry have much more versatile actors who could have made that character more beautiful. Like Nedumudi or someone. As Pradeep said, the role of Jayaprada strong (I thought strongest of all characters) but at the same time simple could have been better in hands of somebody like Sobhana.

    Script:- The biggest of allll the disappointments.

    It might be because the expectations are too high for a Blessy movie.. Always Blessy movies are VVVEEERRRYY INTENSE... When Thanmathra and Bhramaram comes on TV.. my first feeling is I dont wanna see it (any more)... because I dont wanna cry... and this bloody movie is going to leave its impact on me for coming couple days... but still I end up watching it all and cry like a child.. Here too the topic is Intense... but I think Blessy poured water on it with slow and scattered script...
    The first half as usual is slow (but this time slowwwwer). But then I told myself that "this is just the beginning of whats coming in the second". But to me.. The script lacked the details (in pradeep's language the nitty gritties). You remember the small small details that we saw in Thanmatha and Kazcha, like Mohanlal forgets his old song and the boy cries when he lies … those scenes, even though not an important scene, the prick it creates in our mind is unbelievable. An actor like Mohanlal, given with a SSSSTTTTTRRRRROOONNNGGGG character like Mathews, had a never a moment in the entire picture.. that is true for all the three roles.. None of them had any good scene to really perform. I felt bad for Mohanlal, because he is a terrorist when given roles like this in creating a real impact on the audience, being tied up by the script which didn’t allow it (even after Grace was dead). May be blessy didn’t want any one actor to take away the credit…

    May be my expectations were too much… I am a guy who loved for 10 years and after 7 years of marriage life with that girl, my pranayam has moved into a more matured one. When I went to this movie I was expecting to get my old Pranayam feeling to light up… but Blessy failed me…. (looks like blessy never had a good pranayam)…I again say… it never was Intense… (unlike the movie Womb, wherein a lady clones her dead lover within her womb itself , “NOT” to have his child but the lover himself..)….

    Underline……… Pranayam is a good watchable movie…. But not a Blessy movie…..


  3. Regarding the star cast, Anupam Kher does a nice quiet job but the knowledge of the fact that you are listening to a voice different from his natural voice makes it feel unnatural – a major peril of dubbing for established actors. Also, Rizabava’s voice was possibly a little heavy for Anupam. I don’t think that an inability to speak ‘long intense dialogues’ marred the script in that way; that does injustice to both the actors and the script. The script has a quieter narrative with visuals filling in for dialogues – an almost opposite that way to a Oru Cheru Punchiri that I had mentioned. Lal as Mathews helped in bringing a sense of dignity as well as majesty to an understanding character; credit to him for making it look so effortless. Jayaprada’s performance was fantastic and the complexity of the character was conveyed very subtly; not too sure whether anyone else may make it any better.

    But yes, I agree that Malayalam has enough artists to do challenging roles and I don’t know why other language actors are needed, especially when they look totally lost in Malayalam. However, all major directors (even the likes of Adoor, Shaji Karun) have been experimenting with other language actors.

    The movie is slow and any faster pace may mar it because it needed to loiter around in our minds and not rush into it and I was comfortable with it, especially in the 2nd half. If you were to approach the movie by trying to understand what the director intends to say rather than what you expect out of the movie, the experience is revealing. I was pretty critical in my review on Bhramaram; it was intense but the movie did not hold me till the end.

    All art is relative; while you did not feel any intensity; I and Sangeetha felt a sense of closeness while watching the movie and Achchan was also swept away by the surge of romance in the movie (despite our age gaps). There is no standard feeling of love which can be experienced by all; each has its own colour and complexion and it touches some while leaves others cold. Mathews is very different from Menon but Grace is still attracted to both of them – a gradual love borne out of responsibility and time in the first case and passion in the other, something that each of them may not understand.

    You become very judgmental by commenting that Blessy never experienced ‘pranayam’ merely by viewing it from your experience; we have all experienced it – some successfully maybe in its culmination as in your case and some others like a ‘mansail oru karadu’ that haunts them. Maybe if you were to experience the loss of love, the feeling is very much different. As a couple, we felt much closer after the movie and it has also helped us understand a few of our inner feelings…

  4. May be true.. I did not have a love failure... But that exactly is my point....

    In thanmatha you never needed to know about alzheimer's disease or even any affeted people (For somebody like that, the movie would have been more intense). In Kazcha the characers didnt have the felexibility of language even. The script took care of all those issues.

    This is what I meant when I said the script gave only overview of the imotions, it was left for the audiances to get the details.....

  5. Pradeep Ji and Priyan Ji.....i am no expert in  movie but  a  terrible , humble  expert in  romance and  love , yes as women. Blessy's stories  does makes you feel things  you are not aware of yourself about your heart body and soul. His  stories  provokes thought process which is not much much  relevant to salient hearts who thinks normal.Why did  the brake up happens between  anupam kher's  character and  jayaprada? if she  feels  such  strong intensity  after such  long gap and after a life with such  an understanding  caring and strong  person  like  mohanlal's character , why  does she falls back into those feelers of the old romance?? This is what  that is missing to make the  flutter of the butter flies in your  stomach  when you see a story , movie or romance of another  person? But being  an ardent fan of  Anupam kher , jayaprada and Lal sir......its  quite a fantastic  character  selection by   Blessy.It could be a true  story too.Glad to meet you greet you and read you in the blog world.

  6. Sapna ji, we are no experts in cinema ourselves, so feel free to comment.  There are questions that the movie does not address that you have rightly pointed out but I'd like to think that Blessy deliberately avoided answering such questions and left it to our interpretation. The fact that he's made us think on those lines is a small achievement of the movie. Personally, I was glad that he did not attempt to throw all his thoughts on to us - what brings 2 individuals together is a mystery that is difficult to fathom, so why the need to every time justify this emotion. Love, being an abstract thought, is beyond rational analysis...