Bramayugam: The Perfect Companion Piece To Get Out

Its obvious usage of horror to explore systemic oppression aside, Rahul Sadasivan and Mammootty’s brilliant Malayalam film complements Jordan Peele’s vision
Bramayugam: The Perfect Companion Piece To Get Out
Bramayugam: The Perfect Companion Piece To Get Out

When Jordan Peele’s Get Out was released in 2017, it was unanimously catapulted to American horror classic status. The Oscar-winning film follows a young black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) who experiences the benevolence of racism at his white girlfriend’s countryside home. Like Peele’s other films, Get Out was a social thriller, which was also one of the first such incisive productions about black identity to be released in the deeply political Trump era. In a social thriller, the bad guy is society, Peele told Vulture in an oral history of the film. “These things that are innate in all of us, and provide good things, but ultimately prove that humans are always going to be barbaric, to an extent.” More than seven years later, the celebrated film gets a worthy companion piece in Rahul Sadasivan’s Bramayugam (now out on SonyLIV).

This is a genre that Rahul Sadasivan perfects in Bramayugam — the Malayalam horror film details the horrors of a folk singer (Arjun Ashokan) who opens doors to caste oppression by a feudal lord (Mammootty) and chaathan folklore in 17th century Kerala. Keeping the seeming inability of the lead protagonists to escape the respective mansions aside, the two films — as different as they are with Get Out’s critique of post-racial America and Bramayugam’s commentary on India’s entrenched caste dynamics — find commonality in their unique vision. Some films are better watched in their individual form. And then there are films like Get Out and Bramayugam, which take brilliant new forms and perspectives when paired up. Let’s parse key moments and frames to see how these films are interconnected in their mission.

Potti Manor and Armitage House

In both films, the houses — we see the two mansions in a wide-angle shot even before we see their owners — have their own role to play. In Bramayugam’s case, the Potti manor is a dreary, dingy nightmare where dreams and lives come to slowly rot — the rooms are unkempt, creepers engulf every inch and if you’re silent, you hear a slow but persistent dripping of water making its way through the house. The Armitage house, on the other hand, is a beautiful illusion that packs in layers of terror within. Unlike the Potti house, the ominous energy isn’t apparent through interiors, but subtle cues. When Chris enters the house, his girlfriend Rose’s dad immediately gives him a tour. “It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture,” Dean (Bradley Whitford) says, his words rich with irony, as Chris notices that the “liberal white” family has two conspicous black servants.

The house has eyes in Get Out
The house has eyes in Get Out

Oftentimes, the camera in Get Out doesn't move with its characters, but is a mere observer from a distance mimicking the house, reminiscent of an animal looking out for its prey in silence. This is especially apparent in the first and last scenes in the ominous house, which exists to enslave Black identity. 

Thevan and Chris

Thevan and Chris aren’t just united by their identity in the prejudiced social system, but also through their brewing resilience. One is a young black man who navigates racism and the grief of losing his mother, while the other is a singer from a lowered caste, who escapes his fate in the hopes of meeting his mother one day. But they are divided by the degree of struggle and the time they find themselves in. In 17th century India, Thevan isn’t just battling caste prejudices, but also the colonial Portuguese, and as a result, homelessness — Chris enters the Armitage house out of love for Rose, but Thevan, out of desperation. This raises the stakes for a different kind of horror in Bramayugam: the things you do out of desperation.

But the way these two men are lured into the houses are through a false sense of equality they’re made to feel. If Rose does this by defending him in front of a bigoted cop, Koduman does this by dismissing the cook’s (Sidharth Bharathan) casteist remark and pretending to imbibe a progressive outlook where “a lowborn or a noble man” is welcome at his home. 

Like Rod, the TSA officer and friend who is wary of Chris meeting his white girlfriend’s kooky family, the cook warns Thevan to not get too attached. But the two of them are often led by their heart. This can be observed if you look at the scene that precedes their entry into the mansion in both films. While a slowly dying deer in the forest is a portend for the future events in Chris’s life, it is the Yakshi, who unnerves Thevan in the forest. 

Parallels can also be drawn between the Varahi (the boar that gets a prominent appearance in Potti’s drawing room) in Bramayugam and the deer in Get Out — both animals that caution the two protagonists to quite literally get out. 

The ring and the teacup

As much as the two films are about the fight of an underdog — a black man is often always the first to die in a typical American horror film, something that Peele wanted to subvert — they also explore the insidious nature of power. And the characters with most power in the films are Missy (Catherine Keener), a hypnotist who controls the black men and women that her daughter brings home through her teacup, and Potti, a Brahmin lord who gets his power through his ring (in a lovely easter egg, the ring is the first that we see of Poti, perhaps Sadasivan’s way of informing us that it is not him, but the ring that contains his power). 

While the ring’s significance is mostly left for us to understand in Bramayugam, the teacup’s malignant presence is established early on in the film, when Missy prods Chris about his past. All it takes is a clink on her bone china to toss Chris into the sunken place, a space where the victim’s consciousness is entrapped, his existence continuing only as a passenger in his own body. This is also how older white people inhabit and take control in a black person’s body in Get Out, a service that the Armitages provide with prestige. 

An equivalent of this in Bramayugam is the fact that the slaves (aka Thevan, the cook, and the other workers that came before him) forget their own names, with the mansion working overtime to erase their identity. But Thevan does go into his own sunken place at the peak of Potti’s torture — in its climax, Thevan is captured in a growingly small space with no reprieve in sight. 

The chaathan metaphor and the climax

A big differentiator in the two films, however similar their themes may be, is what the sinister force at its core tells us about. In Get Out, the Armitages are inherently evil (the inconspicuous-looking Rose topping the list, with her bedroom featuring pictures of her victims like medallions). In Bramayugam, though, the Chaathan isn’t necessarily evil — it merely inhabits the mind of its vessel, which in this case are the bigoted Pottis. The Chaathan is a spirit that’s caught in the midst of human pettiness and greed, with human intervention leaving it both a slave and a master at the same time. This brilliant duality is something that Get Out doesn’t explore. 

The chaathan and Potti in Bramayugam
The chaathan and Potti in Bramayugam

Thevan, like Chris (who saves Georgina, a black servant inhabited by the Armitage matriarch), is thrown into a moral conundrum when he fights the cook who wants to continue the cycle of oppression by wearing the ring in the climax. But only one of these protagonists survives. If only Thevan had his own personal badass TSA agent Rod to be his guardian angel. Perhaps the Chaathan, who has now inhabited the body of the kind-hearted Thevan, will be his protector.  

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