“Elektra”, a film by Shyamaprasad Rajagopal , had not been released on the big screen because of some technical reasons. From the first frames onwards, as I watched it on Amazon Prime, I kept wishing it had.
The first thoughts that came to mind as the titles rolled on through the slow moving, fleeting images of a tiny puddle of water in a woody glade, the criss-crossing branches overhead, the tips of thin bamboo branches bending over the stream, the patches of brown wet earth around the closely growing trees, a barbed wire across which hung a few sprigs of tender green leaves lit up by the sun and others full of holes and hued with age, was how the element of music can imbue a scene with the emotions chosen for them, to set the mood so to speak.
Alphonse Joseph’s background scores definitely added a sense of sombre foreboding right from the very beginning.
Arrangements were being made for Abraham’s funeral. There is a mystery around his death as there had been, we learn , surrounding the deaths of many, many others in the “Amaram” tharavad, through their years of wealth and associated power. He had just returned from his estate in Jaffna, where he was rumoured to have a parallel life of love and lust, knowledge of which left his wife Diana cold and unresponsive to his intimacy on those occasions he chose to return to her. It also left her longing for love and a not so veiled anger towards her daughter Elektra, who adored her father and seemed to sponge away whatever tenderness he carried with him when he was with them. Diana’s resentment to both is accentuated by her strong feeling that they had been in complicity in sending away her son to Jaffna to be with Abraham. The son’s attachment to his mother, had been her sole rudder and with his going away, she felt closed in and drifting at the same time, hopeless and filled with longing to find an anchor in the swirling currents of despair.
That Diana finds release from the darkness of her existence in that huge sprawling house, which seemed to carry shadows of the inglorious deeds of its past occupants, in a secret affair with a cousin of Abraham, who had been kicked out of the family , creates further fury in Elektra’s mind, already seething with jealousy in having to share her father’s affections for her, with her mother.
The scenes go back and forth giving peeks into the disturbed mental frames of the mother and the daughter and for much of the time, the viewer is actually left guessing as to what is the truth of what they say and what is a figment of their illusions. Did Diana kill her husband towards fulfilling her aching desire for freedom and love? Did Elektra cause her father to have a heart attack by revealing the details of her mother’s extra-marital attachment?
Later , even when Abraham is interred, the complexities of the family he leaves behind, find even more bleak outpourings in words and acts. Elektra convinces her brother, who has returned from Jaffna , about his mother’s amorous trysts and about her suspicions of their father’s murder by Diana, by administering sleeping pills instead of his medicine for his heart problem. The scenes of that night are explicitly shown , but the audience is still not sure. Which of the versions is the truth? Did he die naturally of the agitation caused when Diana determinedly told him about her affair? Did she indeed hasten his death by giving the wrong medication?
The Amaram household , in spite of its grandeur, is covered in all shades of grey and black with very little light pouring in. The tones and filters used in filming the scenes ensures that the desolateness of the minds of its inhabitants seeps into you without respite. Demons lurk in all their minds.The daughter’s confused love for her father sets her mother in her perturbed psyche, as th enemy. Her attempts at winning over his confidence in her the story about their mother’s misdeeds, their complicity in the murder of her paramour, Diana’s suicide thereafter, the son’s complicated attachment for his mother which then finds its way through incestuous hints towards his sister in perhaps a kind of transference, his tragic death …everything that follows adds darker and darker shades to the story .
You feel tense and sad with the awareness of the darkness that can take hold of human hearts in their longing for love, and their distorted perceptions of reality . You wonder about the extent of suffering each such individual goes through in the process and despair that their existences carry no chances of redemption , at least in the cases of those whose journey ends in the middle of those stretches of darkness.
There was another film by Ingmar Burgman I had watched long ago, about which i had written in an earlier blog.
I went back to that blog after watching the film, to the conversation between the father and son towards the end of the film. That gave me some relief.
Shyamaprasad’s films always touches upon all kinds of shades of human psychology and the myriad complexities of relationships. I have found almost all of them very, very interesting, urging one to reflect and review our roles of the judge.
Nayantara as Elektra and Mainsha Koirala as Diana, were superb.
Biju Menon’s character as the police officer , who is also close to the family, did not leave any imprint , but raised a lot of unexplained doubts .
Who was the caller who told him about Abraham’s death being a murder early that morning? It couldn’t have been Elektra because she didn’t seem to have left the house that night or early in the morning after her father died. And she needn’t have gone out to telephone . She could have called him from the landline in the house. If it was Diana’s lover, why ? What did he stand to gain ?
The poor chap, the officer, who does nothing that he should have done to check on the suspicion of murder, wasn’t even given enough scope to dwell on his secret affections for Elektra or may be the Director decided to go slow on that aspect lest the spectator gets swamped.
And of course it is such a pleasure to take note of my friend Sakhi Elsa’s costume designing for the film. Loved them all.
The film has English subtitles.
And now i am waiting for Shyamaprasad’s next film based on the book of Anees Salim,”A small Town Sea”
I have already read the novel , but keenly waiting to watch the story unfold on the screen with the favourite Director’s stamp on it.