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Dasharatham – Man-Child-Man

September 14, 2017 by Guest Author

The Lohitadas-Sibi Malayil-Mohanlal trio has given some of the finest movies for Malayalam cinema (‘Kireedom’, ‘Bharatham’, ‘Kamaladalam’ and many more) but even in their terrific resume, ‘Dasharatham’ stands out.

This post was triggered from a question by a friend of mine (thanks Uthara!) — what is your ‘favorite’ Mohanlal movie? Sounds like a vague question but what she actually meant was — what is one movie that comes to your mind the moment I say ‘Mohanlal’? Although I was spoilt for choices, ‘Dasharatham’ occupied my mind not only for the answer but for the rest of the evening.

Nothing, practically nothing in the Lohitadas-Malayil career prepares you for ‘Dasharatham’. By that time, they had made ‘Thaniyavarthanam’ and ‘Kireedom’ building a strong reputation for tragedies that make you cry your heart out. Tidbit: Many Malayalam movies of the eighties that I’ve seen start in a very happy setting (with a lot of good humor) and later slowly slip into tragedy multiplying its effect on us. But ‘Dasharatham’ goes beyond this humor and the resulting tragedy. It subconsciously affects us in ways that can never be described.

The story has to do with Rajeev Menon (played I-don’t-have-a-word-to-describe-this by Lal) wanting a child for himself (without a wife) and his journey towards getting one. No, forget that. ‘Dasharatham’ is about desperation. Period. It is about Annie (Rekha) and Chandradas’ (played nicely by Murali) desperation for money for the latter’s surgery. He was a star footballer and is now bedridden, thanks to a back injury followed by a bunch of wrong medications. It is about Manager Pillai’s (Janardanan Nair) desperation to bring Rajeev back to good ways (the first time we see hear of him, we think he is just another rich and spoilt brat). More importantly, it is about Rajeev’s desperation for love. Isn’t this desperation present in all of us?

Rajeev manages to convince Annie for an artificial insemination. At first, it all looks like a fair business deal: Rajeev gets the child, Annie (she literally sees it as a 10-month load) and Chandradas get the money. But ‘Dasharatham’ shows us that human feelings are much more complicated. The motherhood changes Rajeev: he gives up his hedonistic lifestyle and spends all his time learning about childbirth. It changes Annie: what she saw as a load now seems to be the one she is willing to give up even her marriage for. Unexpectedly, it changes Chandradas too: he hates the child and sees it as something that doesn’t belong to him. Rajeev desperately wants the child, Annie doesn’t want to give back the child and Chandradas doesn’t want the child. Where does this all lead to?

Interestingly, the ending turns out to be the most stunning part of ‘Dasharatham’. Though Annie wins the custody of the child legally, Chandradas feels that they have betrayed Rajeev by taking money and depriving him of the child. Annie is left with a dilemma: keep the child putting her marriage at stake or return it to Rajeev, making Chandradas happy. But both of them ignore the fact that Rajeev is no-longer a man-child!

Even amidst brilliant performances (especially by Sukumari), Lal’s performance touches extraordinary heights. We have definitely seen a lot of man-childs in Indian cinema (say Karthik in ‘Gokulathil Seethai’) but nothing like this one. When we hear about his broken family, we feel sympathy for him and realize why he is this way. But he keeps making us reevaluate our feelings. Take the scene when he gets angry when Chandradas tells he has some responsibilities over the child or the one where he instantly bonds with Kariyachan’s (Nedumudi Venu) son Thomman or his impatience after the insemination sample test. Lal gives an intricately layered performance and still makes us buy his transformation to a mature adult when he gives back his child to Annie and asks Sukumari if she could give him a mother’s love. I have seen actors stealing the screen but Lal steals hearts.

– Sai Vikneshwar