What is universal is that all love suggests a new experience of truth about what it is to be two and not one. That we can encounter and experience the world other than through a solitary consciousness: any love whatsoever gives us new evidence of this…
Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love
What is it that holds two people together in a relationship? Love? Lust? Trust? Duty? Obligation to each other or towards one’s offspring? Fear of loneliness? The dread of social rejection? Or the sheer habit of putting up with each other and gradually ‘growing’ dependent on each other? What is it that one seeks in the other to sustain one’s passion? Sex? Warmth? Comfort? Ease? The sheer joy of being together? Does love necessarily mean relationship? Reversely, does relationship need love at all?
Many of Shyamaprasad’s films have grappled with such issues leading to and arising from human relationships, mostly love relationships. His central characters are not at peace with themselves, the others, or the world. Love, lust or desire, duty, responsibility or habit, overtakes their lives, driving them into tumultuous states of mind and unpredictable destinies. In his second film Agnisakshi (1999), the conflict was between callings of dharma and kama, sanyasa and garhasthya, between the awakenings of the soul and the flesh. In Ore Kadal (2007), the heroine Deepthi (played by Meera Jasmine) is a bored, middle class wife who dares to venture out of martial boredom and plunges into a passionate affair with an economist-intellectual Dr Nathan (Mammotty). But for him, it is a casual fling, one among many other such sexual escapades. It turns out to be a fatal encounter between two loves in one relationship. When she wakes up from her dream, and realises the abyss in their relationship, it throws her life into disarray, plunging her in guilt and madness. Elektra (2010) dwells upon the theme of love, jealousy and betrayal that tears apart family relationships. In Artist, (2013) the conflict is between the sacrifice that love, on the one hand, and art on the other demands, and the price a woman has to pay for both. Shyamprasad’s new film A Sunday (Oru Njayarazhcha), which won the Best Director Award at the Kerala State Film Awards 2019, pursues the theme of love, exploring the chasm between love and relationship.
The film Artist ends with the heroine Gayathri’s realisation that there are certain points of no return in life and if you reach there, you can only silently accept it and move on… She also realises that love alone is not enough in life and however sincerely you try, there are occasions when pain becomes inevitable in relationships. In a way, Oru Njayarazhcha takes off from this point. What makes viewing this film a riveting experience is the way in which the narrative meanders and weaves together events happening in one single day–A Sunday–in the life of two couples, all of them in love with someone outside marriage. While one pair, Devdas (Dr Satheesh) and Sujatha (Sally Kannan) are middle-aged, married and with children, the other duo, Ajit (Murali Chand) and Suja (Megha Thomas), are younger, and apparently have no kids. The film is about these pairs and their meeting on a Sunday, which turns out to be an encounter that takes unpredictable twists and turns forcing them to confront themselves and to reinvent their lives and loves.
Earlier, it was all about lust, guilt and internal conflicts, leading to the essential ruin of the family or the inevitable death of one of the lovers. But never before had men and women talked about their relationships as introspectively and intensely as in Shyamaprasad movies.
This transgression of the marital boundaries by women is something that has been dealt with in many Malayalam films especially during the heydays of so-called ‘Middle Cinema’ when filmmakers like Padmarajan, KG George, Bharathan and Mohan ruled the roost, making several films about infidelity, sexual awakenings, coming of age, sexual jealousies and the violence that follows etc. But what makes Shyamaprasad’s film different is the manner in which relationships and transgressions by men and women—to be precise, by upper middle class women—are portrayed and the sensitivity with which the complexities of love are rendered. Earlier, it was all about lust, guilt and internal conflicts, leading to the essential ruin of the family or the inevitable death of one of the lovers. But never before had men and women talked about their relationships as introspectively and intensely as in Shyamaprasad movies. The family is not the be-all and end-all here, but is revealed as a socially forced arrangement incapable of addressing the desires of human beings caught in its web. Maybe it is the particular milieu of the narrative setting—that of the upper middle class/caste milieu—that makes a ‘talkie’ about love relationships like A Sunday possible.
The body language of the actors, the way in which conversations are enacted and most importantly, its focus on the self-reflexivity of the characters, especially the women, gives it a certain emotional feel and contemporary charge. And the film asks many an uneasy question about man-woman relationship without offering any readymade solutions; nor does it comfort us with happy endings and definite closures. Instead, it prises open the wounds of love, dwells upon peaks of emotions and also chasms of betrayal—all that we carefully cover up in life by erasing ourselves through various kinds of monotonies.
The film revolves around two women, Sujatha and Suja, and the extra marital affair they have with their lovers, Devdas and Ajit. If Suja is always worried about the outside world and its prying eyes, Sujatha is hounded by her own conscience, the external world no longer seems to matter to her. The much younger Suja is living in a world of ogling men and surveillance: the co-passenger in the train ogles at her, the beach guard constantly pries into their intimacies, and she and her lover are constantly worried about stumbling upon some acquaintance or other. And the final scene where Suja is walking on the streets, the shot tilts down from the surveillance cameras pointing at all directions fixed atop the post. In the case of Sujatha, she is past all these, and her problems have much to do with the ghosts she has to fight within herself and her relationships.
Their experiences on that Sunday changes their perceptions, not in terms of something ‘decisive’ or ‘conclusive’ but more in terms of acceptance of the fragility of relationships and the need to re-invent it constantly. In the end, we find Sujatha back in her home, at the dining table with her family; the other three—her husband, son and daughter, are happily talking to each other, and she is left to herself. A pensive smile briefly illuminates Sujatha’s face when her daughter glances at her commenting about lack of salt in the soup, as if inviting her into the conversation or to make her feel part of the family. But that smile slowly fades away, as if in realisation of how irredeemable certain things are in life and how inconsequential one is in the scheme of things. Interestingly, on that same day, both the men in her life—her husband and lover, asks her to do whatever she wants with courage and conviction. But for her, life is not about conviction or courage but much else, and more. Still haunted by the feelings of guilt caused by the suicide of Dev’s wife, Sujatha now seems to feel the world, others, especially men, and relationships in much more deep and fluid way. As she says to her lover Dev, she is neither ending anything, nor starting anything new. What was there in a relationship, whether it be love, passion or lust, cannot also be wished away. So, she asks him hugging and kissing him: ‘What shall we do with the love we have for each other?’ Which is what the film is all about, in a way.
Suja, at the end of the Sunday, literally wakes up from the relationship, which she realises is calibrated more to his moods, needs and schedule, rather than hers. In the final scene, we find her walking confidently on the streets looking for the bus to return to her place. She seems to have come to terms with the physicality of her love—the pleasures it can offer, its attendant risks and also its limits.
These are two women at two points in their life who have ventured outside the confines of the family and social mores, and traversed all the different terrains in man-woman relationship—that of passionate love, sexual pleasure, marital boredom, clandestine escapades with all its thrills and risks, fear and guilt. Finally they seem to arrive not at any kind of transcendental ‘maturity’ or detachment from the world, but at a kind of deep intuition about life and love—a state of mind/body that doesn’t fully solve, satisfy or nullify any of the above enigmas, but is more sure of itself, or is closer to oneself or one’s self. To return to Alain Badiou, ‘all love that accepts the challenge, commits to enduring, and embraces this experience of the world from the perspective of difference produces in its way a new truth about difference’.