When discussing mass commercial films in Malayalam cinema, the first names that come to mind are the out-and-out potboilers: the Narasimhams and the Spadikams. While these are fabulous in their ways, I personally develop more of a liking towards commercial films where there are some unconventional, creative choices. In that respect, I think Naran is one of the best films in the genre, hitherto made in Malayalam.
While the script is fairly template-ish, it gets elevated by great cinematography, music and performances. Looking at Deepak Dev’s music, the Naran album is a collection of chartbusters (party anthem “Vel Muruka”, main character energy anthem “Omal Kanmani”, and the mellow melodies “Minnadi Minnadi” & “Thumbi Kinnaram”). Today, I’ll be talking about one particular song that takes the film to, in my opinion, the high point of its runtime: Omal Kanmani, crooned by KS Chitra and Vineeth Sreenivasan, and written by Kaithapram Damodaran.
To truly appreciate this song in its audiovisual entirety, one must be prudent of the situation in the film where the song starts playing. Velayudhan has been beaten black and blue by Gopinathan’s men. The latter has also begun to harass Velayudhan’s childhood flame, the now-widowed Janaki. And to top it all, he killed his father-in-law, Valiya Nambiar, who functioned as the village chieftain and Velayudhan’s mentor. So, from Velayudhan’s POV, this is pretty much THE rock bottom point.
Around this time, the monsoons arrive, and Velayudhan, as usual, sets out into the river to retrieve the articles flowing in the rapid currents. This is where the flute prelude begins. The overall mood in this portion is very tentative, with villagers gathering around the banks with looks of concern for the bruised man who has taken the plunge.
When the lyrics begin (“Omal Kanmani ithile vaa.. “) you realize that Velayudhan’s Mother is singing the song – this could either figuratively mean the River, or, with a hint of magical realism, it could mean the spirit of his mother who lost her life in the river. In the following lines, the Mother encourages him to step up and get the reigns of his life back in order. An interesting allusion here is “Ann ozhuki kittiya Karnan aay.. “. The Karnan reference makes so much sense because, apart from the “adopted child” trope, there is also a constant “nallavana kettavana” (Is he morally right or wrong?) dilemma surrounding Velayudhan.
At “Kudil Meyuvan…”, Velayudhan, who was until then holding onto a tree and observing the flow, starts swimming upstream. The expression on people’s faces changes: from that of concern to that of jubilation. And as Velayudhan catches hold of his first log and climbs onto it (albeit with great difficulty), the hook line blares away: “Ohooo Naran..! “
This is a moment of catharsis: not just for Velayudhan himself, but for the villagers and us (the audience). And what better way to underline this catharsis than have a peek into what the hero is feeling? Vineeth Sreenivasan’s only contribution to the song is the two chorus lines which form Velayudhan’s mind voice, but it becomes the ultimate clincher. It completes the hero’s arduous journey and gives us a reason to hoot without abandon.
And If this is not mass cinema, what is?
Anyway, as (presumably) the other men in the village sing sonnets about him (“Irulin kottayil oru naran..”), Velayudhan fastens his grip on the log. Subsequently, all the villagers come together to pull it onto the shore. This is not just Velayudhan’s win. This is theirs too.
I’ve watched this song a million times. Still, when I saw it yesterday (for this article), I thought: What if the ‘log stuck in the turbulent river’ is a metaphor for the peace at Mullankolli, that’s come under threat due to Gopi’s hooliganism? Velayudhan becomes the saviour, bringing the log onto the shore, i.e., bringing peace back to the village!
If you think about it, this situation doesn’t demand a song. If it were any other masala film, the scene would have been accompanied by some vibrant BGM. I don’t know if it was Deepak Dev’s idea to “score” the scene using a song or whether it was in Joshiy’s head all along, but either way, there are very few instances in our cinema where the lyrics, the music, the visuals and the screenplay complement one another to perfection. Yup, this track is nothing short of a masterstroke.