Children are the most wonderful creations in this world. They perceive the world sans any judgement, any prejudice or any hatred. Their love is pure. Their hearts are naïve. They give endlessly. For them, the world is filled with nothing but love and laughter. And this is beautifully conveyed through the poignant and moving 2008 Malayalam film, Manjadikuru. Manjadikuru is a beautifully woven tale about love, loss, friendships and, most importantly, family. It delves into several complex dynamics of family and relationships all through the eyes of a ten-year-old Vicky.
At the outset, we see that Vicky and his parents are arriving at his ancestral home in the heartlands of Kerala from Dubai after receiving news that his grandfather has passed away. Thus we, the viewers, are able to achieve an independent and an 'outsider' point of view of the proceedings at his house given that Vicky is also an 'foreigner' in many ways to that house (referred to in the film as Kousthubham). Vicky meets a host of characters ranging from his uncles, cousins, friends and aunts to even the house help. Through his stay of 16 days at Kousthubham, he (and in turn we as viewers) gets exposed to the intricacies of relationships between spouses, between parents and between siblings.
The beauty of Manjadikuru lies in its layers. The film is sprinkled with several layers that are peeled one after the other through the course of its 140 minute duration. Just like every other family, everything seems peaceful at the core. Everything seems radiant on the periphery. But as we journey with Vicky, we understand that each member of the family bears their own set of insecurities. Each character is fighting a battle internally and failing. Writer-director Anjali Menon beautifully etches out flawed characters that we may have come across in our very own house; she effortlessly manages to make each character relatable yet distinctive in their own way. However, Manjadikuru is not just about a boy's journey of discovery about his family; it is about so much more. It is about the strength and innocence of childhood friendships; it is about the inherent patriarchy that lies in every house; it is about the dynamics between siblings and the effect of time and maturity on them; it is about the unhappy marriages and the subservient wives that we come across; but personally for me, it is mainly about the loneliness that each character is fighting with internally. Kousthubham is a palatial house, but beneath the sheen and charm of that vast house lie broken individuals filled with disdain, discontent and regret. They project their anger and disappointment on each other. This is beautifully mentioned in one of the best lines in the film: 'The most angry people are the most helpless'.
The screenplay is enriched with several beautifully moving sequences, from Vicky's interaction with his cousins to the sequences bearing the wonderful Murali playing the role of an estranged son who had left the house for his pursuits. However, in my opinion, the most heavy and beautiful sequence of them all is the one right before the intermission, between Rahman, Bindu Panicker and Jagathy Sreekumar; it shows the helplessness that an uneducated housewife feels in a patriarchal household. Kousthubham has a large family and an even larger extended family, and yet there are only a handful of members who have a genuine interest in the sacrosanct concept of family. One is reminded of Mario Puzo's quote on family – "The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, lies in its loyalty to each other".
The production design and set decoration deserve mention. All the props, costumes and the milieu created for this film is on point. Right from the plates and glasses used to the gifts that Vicky and his parents bring from the gulf (Axe Oil, Kit Kat, Tiger Balm, etc.), they are evidence of the extreme detailing that has gone into the making of this film. Undoubtedly, one of the most scintillating aspects of the film is the acting. With a host of veteran actors such as Thilakan, Murali, Urvashi and Jagathy Sreekumar, this film is a bounty of some fantastic acting performances. Bindu Panicker has some commendable scenes and performs with absolute finesse. However, it must be mentioned that Urvashi pitches in a superb performance as an egoistic and arrogant NRI housewife. I'd like to point out Praveena also, who sinks her teeth into any role given to her; she does her part quite competently in this film. However, none of this would have been effective had the children in the film not played their roles effectively. Child actors Siddharth and Rijosh (essaying Vicky and Kannan) are both brilliant finds and their eyes convey their innocence and excitement very charmingly.
Manjadikuru is about the fragility of familial relationships and the beauty that lies beneath that fragile façade. As Prithiviraj narrates in the final reel of the film, "We often go for what is shiny and beautiful, but in fact, it is the dark, stained and unnoticed that is the more reliable and shows signs of growth and maturity."