There are many words in the English language that reflect the state of being on your own: loneliness, solitude, isolation. They are often listed as synonyms, but each is a distinct mood and film songs have a way of capturing these different shades.
Not all songs about being alone are picturised in shades of blue-grey. Not all of them contain a long shot of a man walking by the sea. Not all have music that tugs at our heartstrings. But something about the particular combination of lyrics, visuals, and music evokes the feeling. Which is probably why when we are in the grip of a powerful emotion we don’t have the words to describe, we still manage to seek out the perfect song that resonates with us.
Here are six Malayalam songs that feature characters on their own, some of them by choice, others by circumstance; some revel in their aloneness, even seek it out, while others suffer within invisible walls.
#1 Olichirikkaan vallikudil (Aranyakam - 1988)
ഒളിച്ചിരിക്കാൻ വള്ളിക്കുടിൽ ഒന്നൊരുക്കി വെച്ചില്ലേ
കളിച്ചിരിക്കാൻ, കഥ പറയാൻ, കിളിമകൾ വന്നില്ലേ
To hide away, I readied
a little hut of creepers.
To sit and play, to swap tales,
there came a little bird…
This song features the 16-year-old protagonist Ammini (played by Saleema). In many ways, she is a lonely kid that no one pays attention to. She spends the days in her uncle’s tharavadu wandering around the nearby forest, which becomes a reflection of her own rich inner world.
In this song, she goes on to address the cuckoo and the treepie, flowers and the mimosa plant, declaring how she loves them and wants to be among them. In her expressions and gait, there is an air of escape and contentment, of mischief and triumph. As you watch Ammini wade through streams and squint up at the canopy, you realise that perhaps she isn’t really alone. She has found quiet camaraderie in nature.
#2 Varuvanillarumee (Manichitrathazhu - 1993)
വരുവാനില്ലാരുമീ വിജനമാം എൻ വഴിക്കറിയാം, അതെന്നാലും എന്നും
പടിവാതിലോളം ചെന്നകലത്തെ വഴിയാകെ മിഴി പാകി നിൽകാറുണ്ടല്ലോ
പ്രിയമുള്ളൊരാൾ ആരോ വരുവാനുണ്ടെന്നു ഞാൻ വെറുതെ മോഹിക്കാറുണ്ടല്ലോ
There’s nobody to come down
this deserted path of mine.
Yet I wait by the gate, extending my gaze
hoping someone beloved will come…
The protagonist here is the sensitive Ganga (Shobhana) who carries secrets in her subconscious. Just like Ammini, she has had a lonely childhood. But she has since found solace between the pages of books rather than amidst the trees.
In the movie, and particularly in this song, Ganga displays an air of self-containment. She is married to a kind man, yet she longs for something more. Her longing is not consciously suppressed—it is simply not expressed even to those closest to her. She is surrounded by family, yet distanced from all of them. In a crisis, it is inwards that she withdraws, and the complications that arise thereafter form the crux of this movie.
#3 Perariyathoru nombarathe (Sneham, 1998)
തങ്കത്തിൻ നിറമുള്ള മായാമരീചിയെ സങ്കൽപം എന്ന് വിളിച്ചു
മുറിവേറ്റു കേഴുന്ന പാഴ്മുളംതണ്ടിനെ മുരളിക എന്നും വിളിച്ചു
പേരറിയാത്തൊരു നൊമ്പരത്തെ പ്രേമം എന്നാരോ വിളിച്ചു...
This enchanting, golden ray of light—
someone called it a daydream.
This wounded, weeping bamboo shoot—
someone called it a flute.
This pain that has no name—
someone called it love.
At first glance, this may seem like a song of heartbreak. But it’s no garden-variety “love failure” song. Pappan (Jayaram) has donned the mantle of family patriarch since a young age initially seems sure of his position. As the story unfolds, his life unravels and what he loses is more than his childhood sweetheart.
His biggest loss is his faith in a world that is no longer familiar or certain or comfortable. In this song, he goes through the expected motions in a daze, a man who has realised with a shock how utterly alone he is. Has his family become strangers or was he always a stranger to them?
But the song does show us a glimmer of hope—the girl at the window whose heart goes out to him. But just now, Pappan has no room to process anything except his suffocating isolation. Like a bewildered, wounded animal, he seems to ask, “Oh world, how cruel you are!”
#4 Kanneerpoovinte kavilil (Kireedam, 1989)
ഒരു കുഞ്ഞുപാട്ടായ് വിതുമ്പീ
മഞ്ഞു പൂഞ്ചോലയെന്തോ തിരഞ്ഞു..
ഒരു പാഴ്കിരീടം മറഞ്ഞൂ..
The misty valley of flowers
sobbed a fleeting song
The wind wandered for days,
Like a golden ripple in the breeze,
a worthless crown disappeared.
Like Pappan, Sethumadhavan (Mohanlal) too has had his life suddenly upturned. But unlike Pappan, he is in exile, banished from polite society. One impulsive decision, one slip of the hand—that has cost him everything.
In this song, you see the sting of exile on his face. He walks along familiar paths, eyes cast down, avoiding curious, fearful gazes. He hides behind a tree, watching his lover marry someone else. His home is right there, yet he is no longer welcome. He wanders the streets and sleeps crouched on shopfronts. To him, loneliness is an undeserved punishment.
Interestingly, he is not the only one who is alone. While Sethu’s mother (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) grieves for her son, his father’s (Thilakan) grief is one part anger. Their past choices and present helplessness have raised walls between them and each is alone in their sorrow.
I cannot move on from aloneness as exile without talking about the song 'Pulare poonkodiyil' from Amaram (1991). The protagonist is Achootty (Mammootty), a fisherman on a self-imposed exile from society. All he has left in the world is his infant daughter and in choosing to raise her by himself, he turns his back on the world. Every other frame in the song shows his friends trying to help him, but his reluctance is evident.
Someone takes the baby from him but seconds later, he takes her back. He holds her close as he goes about his work, even when he goes out to sea. Whereas Sethu from Kireedam is aching for connection, Achootty prefers his state of exile.
#5 Oru ratri koodi (Summer in Bethlehem, 1998)
പുലരാൻ തുടങ്ങും ഒരു രാത്രിയിൽ
തനിയെ കിടന്നു മിഴി വാർക്കവേ
ഒരു നേർത്ത തെന്നൽ അലിവോടെ വന്നു
നെറുകയിൽ തലോടി മാഞ്ഞുവോ
As night turned to day,
I lay alone and wept.
A tender breeze came kindly
and my forehead, lightly swept.
In this movie, we hear about Aami (Manju Warrier) from her family before she appears on screen. She is the proverbial wildchild, the life of the party, and her arrival is eagerly awaited. But when she does show up, everyone—including the audience—is surprised. This is a girl sullen and preoccupied. She barely cracks a smile and is short with her cousins, who are all, understandably upset. You can tell that Aami didn’t want to be here and now that she is, wants to be left alone.
But that is just what she is not allowed to do. In a transformative scene, you see Aami raise her hands to her face, wipe down slowly and deliberately, putting on a mask of gaiety. She harbours a secret that she cannot reveal to her family. Aami has to pretend, for their sake, that all is well. But she also has to get away from time to time, for her own sake, to wallow in the despair that’s eating her. Her seclusion is self-imposed.
As the story progresses, you see how her mask slips now and then. It’s as if there are two Aamis—the exuberant, happy, well-loved girl and the moody, anxious, desperate one. This song beautifully captures the duality.
An honorary mention must be made for the song ‘Akashagopuram’ from Kalikkalam (1990). It features con man Shankar/Anthony/Tony Louis (played by Mammootty) going about his life. As a con man, he cannot afford to let anyone get too close and has to guard his secrets like Aami. The song captures how alone he is even in the middle of a throng and at one point, he literally puts on and takes off a mask!
#6 Pularikalo sandhyakalo (Charlie, 2015)
എൻ വിടമലരിൽ തൂ മധുകണമായ്
On my bloom, a honeyed dewdrop
Every moment, a butterfly
my soul filled with song!
Tessa (Parvathy Thiruvothu) has run away from home to avoid an arranged marriage. Her rebellious streak asserts itself in her choice of temporary accommodation: a dilapidated house with a view of the backwaters.
At first dismayed at the condition of the house, she quickly rallies. In this song, she goes about cleaning up the place, simultaneously asserting her personality on the house and discovering things about the mysterious previous occupant: A wall of coloured glass bottles. A pliers-holder forming the antlers of a deer. Vibrant wall graffiti. Black and white sketches hung up to form a kind of dreamcatcher.
This song is a celebration of aloneness as a realm of magical possibilities. Tessa has made a tough decision and she has no idea what will happen next. But right here, right now, she is looking forward to finding out. Life seems full of possibilities and she is ready to explore. Her sense of wonder and anticipation twangs in every frame of this song.