Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Let me start with a confession – I walked out of the theatre in quite an ambivalent state of mind after watching Siddharth Bharathan’s Nidra. I suppose I was kind of upset and angry but still unclear whether the anger was with the movie or with what the movie told me. Some movies talk to you consciously – they tell you things on the face and make you react instantly while some others work at a sub-conscious level – you don’t necessarily know what the movie meant to you, atleast initially. Probably Nidra has such an impact…

I haven’t watched Bharathan’s original Nidra; in fact, not even heard of the movie, so there are no comparisons that I can make. On second thoughts, it is not even needed – every movie has to talk for itself and not for it is supposed to stand for. Nidra is about a man’s descent into a world of insanity, watched helplessly by his wife and the society as it looks at him half in jest and half in bewilderment at a condition that they don’t understand or even don’t want to understand. It isn't an exploration of what drives him into this quagmire but an observation of how he sinks continuously into it with no support.

In the initial scenes, we are told that Raju (Siddharth) has had a past where he suffered from a mental illness after the death of his mother. The doctor Vijay Menon (who played Raju in Bharathan’s original movie) explains it as a feeling of extreme paranoia where the character is extremely fearful of everything around him and cannot trust anyone. He sees his brother and friends as aggressors who interfere in his activities and don’t allow him to live life the way he wants to. He is intelligent and talented but there is no one who understands or appreciates him; his scholarship abroad or money spent on projects are only to ensure that he does not go berserk.

Aswathy (Rima Kallingal) enters into this world - maybe as a substitute for his mother – and is at once sucked into the vortex of this issue. Now, I did wish that the movie explored the mother-son relationship more so that we can try to understand his anxieties more but it leaves that idea to our imagination. Raju needs love to protect him from the outside world that his mother may have provided for earlier and now his wife hoped to do but she’s alone in shielding him from emotional taunts of the society. They share a passionate and sensuous relationship and her support helps him to sail in the boat of normalcy for some time. She throws in a cloak of protection on a couple of occasions and hopes against hope that things would change, but they go worse till it hits rock bottom.

She realizes that Raju lives in a different world in the bed of Nature, away from the human population. Raju’s idyllic land is an allegory for a place where Man and animals live together and there is no fear of each other (even a snake is seen as harmless in his eyes) unlike the real world where he faces being hounded by hundreds of eyes all gunning from him. It’s probably true that there is more to be afraid of the human world with all its avarice and terror than the rest of the universe which goes about its life obeying the laws of Nature.

Raju is ultra-sensitive, which is a disqualification in a world that puts a premium on being tough and street smart (killer instinct as we take pride in saying). Every glance or remark is interpreted by his muddled mind as an attempt to chain him down and push him further into a state of madness. But there is a thin line between sanity and insanity and at times, it is difficult to separate the two and then the mind asks the question who is truly insane – someone who seeks to destroy the tranquility of Nature forest or somebody who protects it and finds peace within it. In one of the scenes, when his anger reaches a crescendo, he is even willing to kill but even then a part of his sub-conscious mind prevents him from doing so.

The movie largely operates from his view point and so everything is mostly seen as a violation of his freedom. His piece of land which is decorated with books and his inventions is far away from human existence and the only place where he can find his peace of mind. Through Sameer Thahir’s lens and Prashant Pillai's BGM, Chalakudy is exotic but there is a deliberate attempt to shoot Raju’s world in all its romantic colours to magnify the rift between his house and the world that he seeks refuge in and also raise a concern towards environmental degradation.

There are two worlds in the movie and in Raju’s mind – his sane secure free world and the insane greedy world inhabited by the rest of the populace. There is a stretch of water that separates the two worlds and the twain can never meet; eventually, when his place is being ripped apart, the dam of emotions breaks loose and it comes to a point of no return. There is bound to be an element of ambiguity and lack of clarity when a movie deals with a subject that it cannot totally explain and I'm willing to give benefit of doubt to Siddharth when we find ourselves lost at times in the movie.

Siddharth looks and plays his part as the mentally-disturbed Raju but I think he has the makings of a better director than an actor and the audience may connect to the character with a better performer. He is raw and angry inside but I was searching for a sense of fear and insecurity that I did not find in him. I wanted to empathize with Raju but could not get myself to do that – the repeated bouts of insanity and our necessity to rationalize every act makes it difficult to take that extra leap of faith, I suppose. Rima shakes off her normal urban sophistication and gets down to playing an anxious wife, unable to handle her husband’s frequent outbursts. She pleads, cajoles and compels him to listen to her and make him understand his follies but the panacea is not so simple.

Even though the film plays out through Raju’s viewpoint largely, it does not isolate the rest of the cast as negative. His brother and relatives do not get along with him well but there is a concern that is shown between them and we are not looking at a black-and-white divide between a man and his greedy family. They try to help him out at times and are tolerant of his unusual behaviour but are equally weary about it. The family is helpless and after a point of time desperate to turn its back towards him but this is also due to their inability to handle the situation – after all, it is not just the patient who struggles but also his near and dear ones in these circumstances.

Mental illness is a theme that people are not very uncomfortable talking about – maybe if you paint it as a melodramatic piece as Blessy's Thanmatra did, they find it easier to handle. If you can manipulate the audience and get them to sympathize with the character and get a good actor to play the part, most of the work is done. But if it is raw, disturbing and inexplicable, we don’t want to face it; we want to rationalize it but putting on a logical cap in a world where logic has no role to play makes it difficult to appreciate the problem. No one really knows for sure what causes mental illness, and why it happens or what is its cure. Is it genetic, social, circumstantial, sheer grit or something else?

From an audience perspective, the deal breaker is their lack of emotional investment in Raju's character. In Thanmatra, we are exposed to Ramesan Nair's aspirations and are involved at multiple levels with his family, his work and his attempts to get his son to fulfill his dreams. In Sibi Malayil's gut wrenching Thaniyavarthanam, we relate to Balan Mash's victimization as he is pushed to the edge of his sane self (remember the poignant scene where the students are scared of him in the school) and we root for him in all his suffering.

Or think of Lohithadas' brilliant debut Bhoothakannadi where Vidyadharan's mind, within the
claustrophobic walls of the prison, is unable to differentiate between the real world and an external fantasy. We know his fears are exaggerated and irrational but the tragedy plays in our minds too as we sense the wilderness of his mind. There are defining moments in these movies that we hold close to our heart, enabling us to transcend their state of mind. But to many of us watching Raju's agony, he comes across as a remote figure with little sense of his emotional upheaval and the trials and tribulations in his mind - maybe it is deliberately done but I think you can only empathize with the character when you know him sufficiently enough.

As someone who has seen mental illness from a very close range, it is difficult for me to look at the issue in its entire sense of objectivity. There are memories that play back to and froth and it is difficult to express that anguish on the wider lens and it is understandable why people find it difficult to sit through a movie like Nidra. There is no redeeming factor and no prescription for the issue and you could argue that it is pointless to indulge in self-flagellation. It’s difficult to say what I felt about the movie even now – maybe it was disturbing is a good enough thought - and I don't expect too many people to warm themselves to it….

PS: Also sharing a few thoughts here on mental illness that I had written a few years back as I observed it from close quarters….

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -


  1. I don't like remakes. Having said that, and not having seen this particular film, I would strongly recommend the original. I saw it at an age I shouldn't have (think middle school), and for the longest of time after that, I was haunted by images from that film.

  2. Don't fancy remakes either but remaking classics is the latest fad in Malayalam now! Unfortunately, had not heard of the original till this remake was proposed and now that I have seen Siddharth's version, it should be interesting to see his father's version of the movie too...
    at an age I shouldn't have - that is just like the Anu I have come to know:)

  3. Pradeep, the number of movies that I've seen that 'I shouldn't have' is astounding. :) Sometimes I wonder that my parents (especially my mother) didn't worry about what was age-appropriate. It was the same with books - actually, more so. Nothing I could read was out of bounds. In one sense, it freed me to make my own views about a lot of things, and to see things for what they were - instead of looking at them as the forbidden fruit, which I had to rebel against my folks to see or read.

  4. The main difference between Nidra and other movies of its genre like Thanmatra and Thaniavarthanam is that here the movie starts after somebody had a nervous breakdown and trying to rehabilitate himself to normal life.As in the case with leprosy or say AIDS nobody around him believes that a mental illness is curable and the very same people who are his well wishers push him to same status again and again, and finally to no return.No wonder why many people wont empathize with the hero since they think it is incurable and it will end only the way it has ended.But having been in a similar state years back, I felt anger and helplessness for stuffing out such an innocent life..Nidra was certainly disturbing to me from that angle..

  5. Achcha, The comparison wth the movies is to primarily say that if the audience can connect with the character, it makes a powerful impact. The audience can empathize with him if the director were to let us into the character's background more, allow us to engage with him, his family and make him a character that you can root for and not just observe analytically..

  6. It's wonderful that your parents were open enough for you to explore even the 'inappropriate' especially in those times; too many forbidden fruits even now in our society that we are asked to avoid studiously. Would have made it easier for you to allow your children to probe their curiosity than suppress them in the name of parental discretion...

  7. Anu, It's wonderful that your parents were open enough for you to explore even the 'inappropriate' especially in those times; too many forbidden fruits even now in our society that we are asked to avoid studiously. Would have made it easier for you to allow your children to probe their curiosity than suppress them in the name of parental discretion...

  8. Anu, It's wonderful that your parents were open enough for you to explore even the 'inappropriate' especially in those times; there are too many forbidden fruits even now in our society that we are asked to avoid studiously. Would have made it easier for you to allow your children to probe their curiosity than suppress them in the name of parental discretion...

  9. Ya..from a box office point of view a more elaboration of Raju's Character would have been better,esp. when the other two brothers look ,down to earth compared to this dreamy character.Well, then each director ( or I dont know whether this was the reinterpretation of the script writer) has their own style of story telling, and here the director was more or less a bye stander or may be this is the problem when you act as well as  direct.In spite of that too,the movie had an overall raw intensity through out ,never letting you relax even for a moment.In fact, like a continuous river flow, each incident followed the other, and there was no place for character building..I felt that even the so called normal viewer is also like the other characters around Raju who felt no sympathy for him and thinks that he met an end he actually deserves.For me I was the victim and you all were mere observers..

  10. When I said connecting with the audience, I am not talking about the box office point of view - that dumbs down the need of the director to talk to his audience. If the movie only works for somebody who has gone through a similar problem, then it still does not satisfy the rest of the cine goers who are involved with it seriously. 

    The 'normal' viewer (maybe in the context of the state of mind of the protagonist) is unable to relate to Raju's fall but that does not mean that he thinks that he deserves the end he gets. He feels a tinge of sadness or maybe even a bit of indifference but is certainly not glad to see the way Raju goes - it is upto the director to also indulge discerning audience like me who know before hand what the movie is all about but still decide to have a go at it.

    For me, I was the victim and you all were mere observers - all I can say is that while it is true that the person in the midst of the problem is the main sufferer, it does not appreciate the agony that the people around you have gone through in those times.

  11. I think it was because my father was truly open to letting me read and see what I pleased; and my mother didn't want to engage in a dialogue about any questions I may have had. :)

  12. Either way, good for you! Now this is a situation that I envisage may happen in our family in future! Actually, should reserve my opinion on this till I realize what's in store for the two of us as she grows up..

  13. Anu, in the new Nidra, we sympathize with him but I think the feeling is more analytic than emotional, more objective than first person experience. We know less of the man and his background, his feelings, his emotions and so our perception is constricted. 

    Thaniyavarthanam also had the added advantage of a fantastic set of actors...

  14. Nidra compared to old Nidra is technically bright but not actingwise, Siddarth can never match up with Vijay Menon who made Kerala audience spell bound and soon got trapped in such mentally unstable character. Such was the powerful rendition of that character in 1983 that even now in 2012 Vijay menon is forced to do same characters. An intellectual but little zany.

    In earlier version Shanthi Krishna presented the character Aswathi which now Reema played. Definitely Shanthis character was better. Reema tried her level best, at least in some parts she is very expressive.

    But I doubt why Siddarth chosen this film to remake, why not Chatta or Lorry. Forgive my imprudence, but I think Siddarth used the film to make more liplocks with Reema than whats required for that character.

    After one or two incidents viewer loose the sympathi with the mentally unstable character, same type of situations are created and same type of violence is the outcome. So what was you trying to tell to viewer, mentally unstable characters better take suicide? No meaning.

    The essence of this film has been  taken out and represented many times by Lohithadas in Thaniyavarthanam and Bhoothakkannadi. Other than this film photography is good there is nothing much to Siddarth to boast off. The snake owl etc which reside in Rajus paradise (which were not in old film) definitely look like sore thumb. Because in nature you cant see such snake or owl.

    There is not much story, theme, situations to capture heart of a viewer in this, after some time we just get bored.

    Suppose if Aswathi had killed her husband to save him out of this cruel world, suppose the big brother was trying to woo her unstable brother's wife, Santhosh Echikkanam never thought about possibilities or value additions (definitely I am not asking for doing on these lines, an author has various options of rework before them), never attempted. Some dialogues are just cliché.

    Sorry Siddarth this is just a depressing movie, perhaps worked in 1980s when young generation were more insecure and people mind were narrow towards mental sick people but now, ?

    I didnt like the movie

  15. Thanks, Gym Khan (unusual name:)) for visiting the blog and then giving such a detailed impression of what you felt..I haven't seen the original movie, so will not draw any comparisons with it.

    1. Agree with the acting front - as mentioned above, a more consummate actor could have made quite a difference in helping us feel his pain, possibly to the extent that the director allows us to feel it. Reema was decent enough and a lip lock being or not being there hardly affected my perception of her and I scarcely think that this was an incentive in making such a movie. Surprising that Siddharth chose such a dark subject for his debut and it is a courageous endeavour to pick up a not so audience friendly theme to start his career - a matter of debate, ofcourse, whether he succeeded or not. Quite true that Vijay Menon did get stereotyped in many of his roles - now that you mention, it maybe because of his success with Nidra.

    2. The new Nidra is a matter of fact retelling of what a mentally unstable character goes through, especially without adequate family support, but if you are unable to relate to the character, the entire premise falls flat and this has a lot to do with the director's inability to engage us with the character. As I had mentioned, it looks like a logical rather than an emotional approach to the issue, making certain sections of the audience un-interested in the narrative.

    3. Maybe as you say, if movie had deviated from the original story by creating other parallel plot lines, it would have been radically different - makes you wonder why directors want to attempt remakes when there is no new value addition that they intend to do. I don't think that the Nature angle was forced since it did act as a contrast between the 'real world' and his world almost asking us the question as to who or what is actually normal in this world. 

    4. Perhaps worked in 1980s when young generation were more insecure and people mind were narrow towards mental sick people but now> - Strongly disagree with that perception. With nuclearization of families, lack of strong support structures and growing consumerism, the insecurity is higher now - not financial but definitely emotional. As somebody who has seen mental sickness from close proximity, I really don't think that impressions on mental illness have changed much. The social stigma is too overbearing and with greater media attention, our perceptions on it may alter slowly but this will definitely take time.

  16. I have seen Nidra and as many viewers opinion it has a flow of scenes and never loose in any moments,but i think the casting of Raju failed here.Sidharth played his best ,but it was not enough for the film.Reema shows her best performance,Camera work also won the honour.
    Why all these Kiss scenes and lip locks I could not understood.It is more than enough for the movie.Sidharth have a great future in directing,but he should be very cautious in selecting themes.

  17. Thanks, Shihab for dropping by...I agree that Raju's casting was (in my opinion) not the brightest speck in the movie. If there would have been actor to whom you could relate the illness to, there could have been quite a difference in the final product. Hopefully, Siddharth will go on to make his father proud in future - the signs are all there...