Self-doubt, transformation and acceptance both beautiful and heartbreaking… here are a few diverse examples of the ‘mirror’ shot to understand how Malayali filmmakers are using it to convey deeper meaning without relying heavily on words.
One of the reasons why one can argue that Prithviraj’s Lucifer is more than just any other mass film is how it uses visual elements to add layers in a story about a man’s slow descent/reveal into darkness. Stephen Nedumpally’s wardrobe, which begins with plain white shirts and mundu, gradually turns completely black as he becomes Kureshi Ab’raam—this is that rare bit of detailing we seldom see in star vehicles. The other transformation (a hat tip to Thevar Magan) in the film is another example of how you needn’t use words or dialogues to show a character ‘switching’ personalities. Prithviraj uses several mirror shots (Manju Warrier’s character even gets a reverse mirror shot) to show us how an NRI outsider gets whitewashed to become the heir to his father’s ‘image’. It begins with Jathin Ramdas (Tovino Thomas) shaving his stubble. His PR team, which comes with its own makeup artists, then uses brushes to remove/add blemishes to ensure the similarities are uncanny, before a streak of grey gets painted onto his hair. A thorough search for the identical pair of spectacles later, the transformation is complete. Throughout this stretch, the reflection on the mirror, rather than the man in flesh and blood, is in focus. Add Murali Gopy singing ‘Varika Varika’ in the background, and the hypocrisy that goes into the creation of an image in politics becomes evident.
A lot has already been written about Shammi’s introduction scene in Kumbalangi Nights; it is another mirror shot, where we first meet this ‘complete man’ in action. But it’s this very idea of masculinity that connects a character like Shammi to that of Sachi (Shane Nigam) from Ishq. Sachi too gets a mirror scene that invokes his inner Shammi, but here, the man in him is awakened after a night of emasculation. As he drops off his girlfriend, he asks her if she has “sacrificed anything for both of us”. When she refuses to answer, he tightens his grip on her wrist and says, “I am a man. I need to know.” She replies by saying, “I didn’t see any of this manliness last night, Sachi”, forcing him to let go, as he walks back to his car, driving past her in needless hurry. What we see next is Sachi’s face slowly emerge from a cloud, as he smokes right in front of the mirror, his eyes half closed. He doesn’t pick her calls and he shouts at his mom like he has never before. He probably finds it difficult to look in the mirror anymore, at least until he has had his revenge and reclaims his “manhood”.
One of the ‘moments’ in this feel-good teenage romance in when Jaison goes to watch a Vijay film with his friends after he realises that Keerthi, the girl he likes, is being curt and indifferent to him. Before the film begins, in the Gents Toilet, Jaison stares at himself in the mirror and asks his friend (the camera pans left to his face) Benny if he looks good. Benny replies by saying, “You look okay, even though you don’t look as good as me”. You feel it’s going to be a scene that makes fun of Jaison’s appearance, until he checks with Benny if girls will ever find him attractive before asking why Keerthi doesn’t like him. He continues to look in the mirror to reveal a moment of great vulnerability and self doubt. Everyone in this age goes through this ‘Am-I-good-enough?’ feeling, while dealing with these new changes, long before realising that physical appearance isn’t everything.
Uyare is a film that uses mirrors extensively, with the narrative tool forming a part of several significant moments from Pallavi’s life. We first see it after Pallavi and Govind make love, after which the latter slips a ring onto her finger before she leaves for pilot training. We then see her fixing her hair in front of the mirror as she’s getting ready by wearing the pilot’s uniform. The discussion here then veers to Pallavi cursing her hair for its length, and saying she will cut it soon. Her friend then chimes in by asking if her boyfriend Govind will ever her give her “permission” to do that, foreshadowing the conflict that will soon unfold. But, it’s the scene where Pallavi sees her face first after the acid attack that’s truly heartbreaking. Even here, what we’re seeing is the reaction of a person who feels her dreams have been dashed; beyond her face, she also stands to lose her dream of becoming a pilot. There’s no shouting, no screaming. Just a person struggling to come to terms with her truth as the focus shifts from her image to the face of her helpless father.
Geethu Mohandas gave us one of our best self-reflective mirror scenes in last year’s Moothon. Where does one begin to describe what Akbar (Nivin Pauly) must be going through as he looks in the mirror here. It’s as though a person is going through the ecstasy of seeing who he really is for the first time. There’s no need to hide anymore, not just from others, but also from oneself. In Ameer (Roshan Mathew), Akbar has not only found his first love, but also himself. As he cries these tears of joy, years of self doubt slowly disappear and Akbar finally begins his journey towards acceptance. The writing, the direction and the acting, everything comes together perfectly to give us an example of a purely cinematic moment that does far more than what voiceovers or dialogues ever can.
What are some of your most favourite mirror scenes in Malayalam cinema?