Storytelling is so full of possibilities to tease, engage and surprise viewers. Following up on the foreshadowing piece, here we look at another super-popular cinematic device: The MacGuffin.
Now if you’re a Tarantino geek, you’ve probably heard him say it a few times in his interviews about Pulp Fiction: “The suitcase in Pulp Fiction is a MacGuffin.” If you’re a fan of the classics, “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane is deemed a MacGuffin as well. For the contemporaries: the Rabbit’s foot in Mission Impossible III is also a great example. What really is a MacGuffin, you wonder?
This plot device was introduced by English screenwriter Angus MacPhail and popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s. The most popular definition remains Hitchcock’s version, which goes (not verbatim): Something that the characters in the movie deeply care about, but the audience does not. These objects motivate the actions of characters, but do not have an active role to play in the plot. In fact, a MacGuffin could be replaced with almost zero impact on the story!
Sounds tricky and weird, right? Well, more than a tease for the audience, it’s a writer’s tool to focus elsewhere; rather than give an object prominence, they may want to develop the story of how the characters are motivated by that object. Some people say a MacGuffin is simply something that the characters are hunting for; so all films that involve some kind of a search, do have them. Here we look at a wholesome mix of Malayalam films that have MacGuffin-like objects.
The Queen’s Necklace in Vettam
All Gopalakrishnan cares about through the first half of Vettam is the necklace he stole, which happens to get trapped in Veena’s bag. It is because of his attempts to retrieve the necklace from her that they stick together as one unit through the film. The iconic hotel subplot of the second half is built on the condition that Veena would return the necklace to him only if he helps her with her beau situation.
Neelakoduveli in Aadu
We are introduced to the exotic herb Neelakoduveli, right in the opening sequence of the film. Given its legacy of bringing good fortune to its owner, some gangsters in Bangkok are plotting to smuggle it. This plant becomes the connecting link where the subplots of the Shaji Pappan gang, the Dude gang, Sharbat Shameer, Satan Xavier, P.P Sasi and many others converge.
Crown in Akkare Akkare Akkare
In the third instalment of our favourite buddy cop series, Dasan and Vijayan are sent to the USA. The investigation kicks off as a search for a valuable gold crown that has been stolen from India. (When the film ends, ee ‘saadhanam’ avarude kayyil und. xD)
The Gold Chain in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum
The conflict begins when Prasad steals (read swallows) Sreeja’s necklace, and is caught red-handed. The incident triggers a bigger drama that unfolds in the police station.
The Bullets in Unda
Ironically enough, Unda is not really about the bullets. It’s a sociopolitical commentary. It talks about the idiosyncrasies of the Indian bureaucracy. It talks about crucial communication gaps. It talks about alienation of Indians within their own country. The prospect of the arriving bullets is just a layer that keeps the police unit motivated as the days pass by.
Dosa in Salt N’ Pepper
The one incident that sparks off the Kalidasan-Maya plot is when Maya dials Kalidasan’s number by mistake and orders a plate of thattil kutti dosa. Initial hostilities aside, the two bond over time, over their love for food. Much like the tagline of the film, it’s essentially a “dosa undakkiya kadha”.
The ‘important objects’ of many films happen to fall under a questionable grey area. However, there are certain cases where we can say for sure that the objects are NOT MacGuffins. They are cases where an object motivates a character’s actions at some point in the movie, and at a later point, the objects become crucial to how the rest of the plot pans out, by revealing secrets within themselves. These are termed Plot Coupons. In Leela, Kuttiyappan wants to fornicate against the trunk of an elephant. The trunk would have been a MacGuffin if it hadn’t paved the way for a gory climax. In Three Kings, the nidhi (treasure) would also have been a perfect example if it didn’t form the basis of the twist: that the whole ‘treasure hunt’ was a secretly shot reality show.
We’ve tried our best to make a legit list of Hitchcockian MacGuffins, but we’re not infallible, so..do comment if you think any of the above entries doesn’t make the cut. Also, do let us know your guesses, and let’s make this list awesome-r!
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