Deus Ex Machina in Malayalam Cinema

“…This particular blunder is known as deus ex machina, which is French for “Are you fucking kidding me?” ― Howard Mittelmark, How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

Before we get to what a deus ex machina is, we should address why it exists in the first place, and why it continues to be a regular in umpteen works of fiction. 

Story-writing is a tedious, long-drawn process; the writer invests dollops of his heart and soul into the ‘product’ he’s building, aka the story. And most times, writers tend to get indulgent. They may push their WIP product to unexplored territory – they may push their characters into exciting spaces to see what transpires next. And oftentimes, these plot points reach a dead-end. The buildup to this dead-end is extremely gripping, and so the author wouldn’t want to take a reverse here. Rather, he does some jugaad, and tries to bail the plot out of the dead end. And the biggest lifesaver for writers stuck in this situation is a plot device that originated in the plays of Euripides – Deus ex machina. 

Deus ex machina (a Greek word) literally translates to “God out of a machine”. It involves the introduction of a character/object, or the unspoken trait of a character/object, in order to resolve an otherwise difficult situation in the story. It is often considered a “lazy writer’s tool” by many, and understandably so – imagine watching a sequence that takes you to the edge of your seat, only to witness a payoff that (in most cases) dampens the insides of your spirits :/

Also read: MACGUFFINS IN MALAYALAM CINEMA

Anyway, we thought of extending this theory to Malayalam cinema and over the last couple of weeks, compiled a list of instances which seem to be in this “deus ex machina territory”. Read on!

Narasimham – Enter Nandagopal Maarar!

The film was stuck in the third act, with the false allegations stacked up against Induchoodan’s dad. There was no way that there could have been a resolution outside the legal domain, so Mr Shaji Kailas pulls off the mother of all deus ex machinas by conveniently introducing a top lawyer as Induchoodan’s friend and getting him to seal the climax. (We’re not complaining though. What a kickass cameo that was!)

Vikramadithyan – The ‘Chance Encounter’

Adhityan (Dulquer) is heartbroken when he finds out that he was played by Shenoy and his mother. Unable to contain his grief, he disappears from town, boards a random train with suicidal thoughts. But the film had to be wrapped up in 20 minutes with a happy ending, so why not place a character in that train who not only saves Adhityan but also reforms him by moving in with him and preparing for UPSC together? Ahh, the convenience of it all! 

Varathan – Yevan Puli Aanu Ketta!

Only when the villains come knocking on Abin (Fahad)’s door, one is introduced to his mass skillset of constructing powerful home appliance hacks to keep unsolicited visitors away. The film becomes Home Alone (but more gruesome) and at the end you’re left wondering: Iyyalk ee budhi korach mumb upayogicha mathiyarnille?

Nandanam – The Timely Elopement

Manu and Balamani are in love, but Manu ends up getting engaged to a family friend. There was no way that a happy ending could be achieved within this film’s universe, without people breaking character: Manu would not settle for an elopement, causing hurt to his mother. In fact, he had already accepted his fate. Balamani, with the help of her new neighbor, was in the process of forgetting Manu. So how can the writer bring the two together at the end? Rope in a last minute olichottam…from the other end!

Unnathangalil – God’s Plan

Saving the best for the last. LOL. At the climax of the film, Mohanlal arrives as – wait for it – God Himself, and rescues Lal from a deadly accident. And then he goes on to give Lal a TED talk about finding purpose in life. Anyone order a literal deus-ex-machina?

While the trope is most commonly seen in a negative tint, it is sometimes purposely used to create a light, absurd moment in films. For example, how in CID Moosa, the car turns out to have an arsenal of its own. This ‘twist’ is a characteristic of the car that’s never talked about earlier, but yet the viewer isn’t struck by disbelief; they enjoy the chase sequence more, thanks to this weird development! 

Now, a lot of sequences may seem Deus ex machina-like. For example, how the girl Nivin is set to marry in Om Shanti Oshana, conveniently elopes with Aju Varghese right before the climax. Or how the police appear out of nowhere and save Sai Pallavi from the thug in Kali

But these do not fall under our zone, because these plot elements are not as random as they seem; they are foreshadowed in some way or the other. Take the Om Shanti Oshana case. We first see David Kanjani (Aju Varghese) standing near the bus stop, ogling at Meenakshi (the girl he finally elopes with).  In the case of Kali, the police are summoned by a witness at the tea shop who sees the thug going after Sai Pallavi and suspects danger. 

So an easy hack to avoid a blatantly out-of-the-box solution is to drop hints earlier in the narrative, so it becomes more palatable for the viewer. 

Also read: CHEKOV’S GUN IN MALAYALAM MOVIES

Apart from the instances we’ve mentioned, which other Malayalam films do you think have this plot device in action? Let’s discuss in the comments section!

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