Dasharatham: Pain, Pathos And Paternity

What can be said about Mohanlal’s performance that wouldn’t make this piece sound like juicy fanboying?
Dasharatham: Pain, Pathos And Paternity

An eccentric millionaire, a mother forced to give up her newborn child, an impassive husband and all the trappings of a pulpy melodrama. But the movie elevates itself to something infinitely more magical. Its themes of surrogate motherhood and single paternity might be well ahead of its time. But there is no social commentary here, no moral dilemma. Dasharatham remains a deeply personal journey of a flawed father-to-be.

In the late '80s and early '90s, writer AK Lohithadas was at the top of his game. His collaboration with ace director Sibi Malayil yielded some of the finest tragedies of Malayalam cinema. Their movies focussed on a working-class, good-natured hero and his affectionate family grappling with an unexpected appalling agony. The yarns they spun have the remarkable quality of being deliciously re-watchable and attaining more potency with every watch. Thaniyavarthanam, Kireedam, Bharatham, Kamaladalam, Dhanam, Chenkol – take your pick for 2 hours of avant-grade heartache.

But unlike the above gems, Dasharatham featured an affluent, fallible, playful lead. Rajiv Menon (Mohanlal) is not instantly likeable. He is a raging alcoholic, a spoilt rich brat who burns through his inheritance. Perhaps his fondness for children is his only redeemable quality. He has no qualms in confessing that he can't understand relationships and family. Hence, his head-on spiral into pathos is a lonely affair. It is also arguably more painful. Around him is a cold, misty, picturesque tea plantation and warm, relatable characters. There is a perpetually inebriated best friend, a loyal manager who becomes an unwitting father-figure, a former football player desperately in need of money for his treatment and his wife who reluctantly agrees to become a surrogate mother. The plot moves along at a relaxed but determined pace, an unregistered trademark of the confident craftsman behind the camera.

The music by Johnson is condensed to a single picturised melody, which doubles up as a haunting background score. 'Mandaara Cheppundo' is an earworm that you can't exorcize despite 32 years of tuning, whether you prefer the nostalgic MG Sreekumar original or the recent resurrection by Thaikkudam Bridge.

And what can be said about Mohanlal's performance that wouldn't make this piece sound like juicy fanboying? It is probably the thespian's finest hour. The eyes brimming with hurt in the scene where Nedumudi Venu rejects his unusual request, the childlike retort when Karamana Janardanan Nair threatens to quit as his manager, the unbridled joy at the birth of his child and the now iconic trembling fingers on Sukumari's shoulders in the gut-wrenching climax. Mohanlal infuses the ungainly Rajiv with innocence, dignity and an occasional irresistible restraint.

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