The monsoons are upon us, and how! I’m currently in Delhi, and the rains here are not as torrential as in Kerala. And when rains don’t wreak havoc on people’s lives, they are apt occasions to romanticize and philosophize. And what better companion for philosophy than some good music? (I even made a Mazha Spotify playlist last year from all the romanticizing.) And one of my all-time favorite mazha songs is Oru Narupushpamaai. The actual reference to rain comes only in the second stanza (“Mazhayude thanthrikal… “) but the song just drenches you from start to finish, probably owing to the raag it is composed in – Megh Malhar (Legend goes that Tansen once made it rain by singing this raag!) I was listening to the song on loop recently, and it suddenly dawned upon me that I knew next to nothing about the film it’s in – Meghamalhar (2001) – except that it featured Biju Menon and Samyukta Menon as the leading pair.
Intrigued, I looked up Meghamalhar on Wikipedia. Directed by Kamal. Written by Iqbal Kuttipuram. Music by Ramesh Narayan. Editing by Beena Paul. I knew that each of these technicians played a significant role in making some of the most memorable films of that era. Then, I checked the plot summary (the one that comes underneath the Wikipedia link on the Google page; the two-liner that every film’s marketing team tries to make as interesting as possible.) It said, “When a happily married Nandita meets her childhood sweetheart Rajeevan, who is married to Rekha, the two get intimate. However, they are forced to part ways owing to their respective marriages.” Badly written summary (gives away the ending, what the -?) but held promise nevertheless. This crew couldn’t possibly make an outright bad film. At worst, it would be mediocre, which was a bet I was willing to take. And so, I went to YouTube and began watching Meghamalhar.
Some 100 minutes later, I sat there, blown. I had just watched one of the most poetic Malayalam films I’d ever seen. For a film that was released in 2001, Meghamalhar still feels very fresh. And while every department does a splendid job, what really stood out for me is the writing of the leads – more specifically, the thinking nature of the leads, in this largely romantic film.
When Rajeevan and Nandita meet initially, they are fairly settled into their personal and professional lives, and have no reason to think this friendship could affect them in any way. And so the both of them spend time together, and while discovering their common interests, begin to enjoy each other’s company. Their relationship is just a healthy adult friendship. There’s nothing too complicated.. yet.
But you begin to see a hint of longing in Rajeevan’s eyes. You wonder where he’s going with this feeling. (Avihitham vibes? Please, no cliches!) That’s when, in a scene where he’s at a coffee shop with his friend, he acknowledges that he does feel a connection with Nandita.
“Entho oru aathmabandham. Athinappurath oru ishtam.”
When his friend opines that romantic attraction is always either love or lust (“Platonic relationship ennoru international thattip ippo vannittund, aa paripponum ivide vevulla”, he says) Rajeevan disagrees. He is clear that he will not let this feeling cause disarray in his or Nandita’s lives, yet he wishes to explore the feeling and understand why he feels the way he feels.
And this is where Meghamalhar peaks – in letting us into the psyches of two people getting intimate.
Nandita, though, understands quite early on the reason why she enjoys Rajeevan’s company so much. During a trip, when Rajeevan mentions how one of her short stories eerily resembles a story from his childhood, she realizes that this is the very same boy – her childhood sweetheart, in essence – who helped her get through a major childhood trauma. She begins to delve into those nostalgic memories, and meeting Rajeevan becomes a sort of portkey into that world. She does not tell him this, however – being the romantic she is, Nandita waits for him to find out the connection himself, always hoping for this exchange to transpire when they meet.
In a sequence that feels a bit outdated today (Rajeevan calls Nandita to the beach on multiple occasions hoping to confess – today, it would all be through Whatsapp), Rajeevan is seen as fairly hesitant to express his feelings. He knows that there is no going back once the words are out of his mouth. (Or is there?) After much deliberation, he tells her one day, only to see her walking away, disappointed.
Weeks later, when Nandita’s book is published, she is prodded by her friend to send Rajeevan a signed copy of the book. On this, she hints at their past connection, and Rajeevan immediately realizes the reason for his feelings. He realizes that the qualities of Nandita brought in him the pangs of a long-lost first love, and this was why he felt that feeling of familiarity and closeness. He wasn’t a philanderer, after all. He was just nursing a broken wound.
When the two of them come to Trivandrum (for professional reasons), Rajeevan goes up to Nandita, apologizes, and vows never to meet her – or even recognize her in a public space – ever again. Nandita, who did not expect this reaction, is taken aback by Rajeevan’s rationality. She feels safe enough to ask him to accompany her to Kanyakumari (where they spent their childhood) for a day’s trip. They spend time at the beach, reminiscing past memories and contemplating their current situation and future. They finally decide that it’s best they leave this relationship right here, where it all started. The arcs are complete. They go back to happily leading their lives with their respective families. Until one day, many years later, when an aged Rajeevan comes across an aged Nandita – the screen cuts to the closing shot, featuring a hitherto calm Kanyakumari sea, which is suddenly shaken up by a turbulent wave. Told you it was poetic!
I realized I’ve laid out the plot here, but again, it’s not the plot that makes Meghamalhar so special. There are a lot of things to root for – be it the naturalistic dialogues, the understated performances, or the soulful Hindustani background scores that we don’t get a lot down here…and above all, once again, the quiet, almost-cerebral romance of Nandita and Rajeevan.