Writer-Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Cast: Manju Warrier, Sonith Chandran, Bhupendra Khurana
When we talk about movies, we usually begin by saying a bit about the plot. In Kayattam, the plot is basically about a bunch of people meeting at a base camp before they climb up a mountain. But it’s not the entire plot — it’s just an excuse to get to the real plot about Maya (Manju Warrier). Until the end, no one is really able to figure her out — whether it’s the characters in the film or whether it’s us, the audience (and that’s a really good thing). Just like her name, she is an illusion.
This is Sanal’s most woman-centric film, and it’s also his gentlest. Usually, the women in his films are preyed upon. But here, Maya is the predator, if not in the physical sense, then certainly in the psychological sense. Take the scene where Maya has an encounter with a man who says he’s seen her somewhere. He’s so convinced because he’s the kind of person who can draw pictures of people from memory. But Maya is the kind of person who does not even like to have her photograph taken — it’s almost as if she’s a spirit or something. She doesn’t want to leave her footprints, anything tangible that people can use to physically remember her in the real world.
So, what happens when a woman who does not even like her photograph taken meets a man who says he can draw her from his memory? I can’t reveal it, but by the end, all I can say is that this man has even forgotten where he is from in India, and that is what I meant when I said that Maya is not the prey, but the predator.
In the story, this man actually is part of a group that is going up the mountain, and that’s the basic story. But you could also say that this is a movie about people moving away from civilization and into nature, where their own purest nature or self is revealed.
The scenery is absolutely spectacular and as the group keeps climbing up, more and more things keep happening. But nothing super dramatic happens, except, maybe a fire or two. But it’s all psychological. One of the constants in Sanal’s films is the (psychological) ugliness of the Malayali male. Here too, we find people talking about Maya and the young man that she’s with (Gaurav Ravindran). They wonder who the man is and how he could satisfy the older woman. Do they sleep in the same tent or in separate ones? Does Maya have a husband? Does he know about all this? Is this younger man the latest of a series of young men that Maya likes to go out on exotic camping trips with?
Sanal gives no answers, but none are needed. Because the mysteries of women is what this film is all about. In the midst of these normal people speaking languages like Hindi and Malayalam, Sanal introduces a group of musicians who are a bit like hippies or pagans who worship nature. They gather around the fire and say things like ‘thank you for your warmth’. What’s special about these songs is that they are in a language developed especially for the film. It’s really interesting that their songs are not understood by the other characters in the film except for Maya, of course — because she’s Maya. (We understand the songs because of the subtitles.)
Manju Warrier is simply spectacular. It doesn’t look like she’s acting at all. It’s like watching the real-life Manju Warrier go on a trek with a friend.
And without much acting, she really evokes the spirit of this mystery woman. At one time she says she is from Alappuzha, and at another point she says she is from Thiruvananthapuram, but where is she really from? All we know is that she is the freest of free spirits, and could be from anywhere.
I usually prefer Sanal in his narrative mode in movies like Sexy Durga or Chola. But even in his experimental mode, he is fascinating, like in Kayattam or the recent Unmadiyude Maranam. The fascination is in the many interpretations that the movie keeps offering us. I think one part of the movie is about the cycle of life, another part is about shedding your past baggage, even your most valuable possessions and being reborn, and it’s also about never being able to know the real mysteries of women, never being able to really own them in the way many men hope to.
So, who is Maya? This film is still traveling to various film festivals, so you may not have gotten an opportunity to see her yet.
‘Kayattam’ is also called ‘A’hr’ which refers to a language specially created especially for the songs in the screenplay.