Yakshi is a 1968 Malayalam horror directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan. It is regarded as the first psychological thriller in the Malayalam film industry. For the uninitiated, it is an adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel of the same name written by Malayattoor Ramakrishnan. The screenplay was penned by Thoppil Bhasi and the central character is portrayed by the legendary actor Sathyan. It includes an ensemble cast of Sharada, Adoor Bhasi and Sukumari in prominent roles. An in-depth analysis of the central character can provide a better understanding of this classic.
Sreenivasan (Sathyan) is a college professor who researches about yakshis. His life changes drastically after a serious laboratory accident. The accident leaves him as a disfigured man and everybody continuously avoids him. This creates mental trauma in him, so he decides to move to a new place where he meets a young woman Ragini (Sharada). They both marry. But soon he discovers that Ragini has gone missing. The climax reveals that Sreenivasan was schizophrenic. Because of that, he kills Ragini thinking she was a yakshi!
We can use the Psychodynamic theory of Psychology to explain Sreenivasan’s behaviour. Psychodynamics is a branch of Psychology that studies unconscious thoughts, wishes, and dreams. The Austrian Neurologist Sigmund Freud put this theory forward. According to psychodynamic theories, mental disorders arises when there are unresolved conflicts within oneself. The mind always tries to deal with these conflicts. But when it fails to do so, it affects one’s reality, resulting in abnormality.
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Sreenivasan had hallucinations and delusions (thinking his wife was a yakshi) that were cemented in his unconscious mind. The “unconscious” is the part of our mind that lies below the conscious level and stores hidden wishes and fears. It can get expressed in our thoughts or behaviours without our conscious control. This expression is not always problematic. However, it can be problematic when it gets expressed due to an unsuccessful coping with reality. Sreenivasan’s character is a result of such an unsuccessful coping mechanism.
Initially, Sreenivasan was an extrovert and enjoyed the company of others. But his character changes drastically after the accident. He is continuously exposed to humiliation and discrimination. This radical change is something unacceptable and traumatic for him. He is not able to escape this condition and his perception of reality is affected. Thus, he becomes a socially inhibited person with anxiety issues. This character change provides a valid reason for his insanity.
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Sreenivasan was researching about yakshis, so his mind had exposure to supernatural concepts before the accident. After the accident, due to extreme trauma, his mind unconsciously started projecting unacceptable thoughts to an external object. This resulted in hallucinations and delusions. According to psychodynamics, these are restituted attempts by our minds to deal with extreme anxiety. This led to Sreenivasan’s unconscious mind creating an altered reality, making him abnormal.
This is how we can provide a valid reason for Sreenivasan going insane. Since the film doesn’t provide the development stages of the character, we have formed the analysis based on the behavioural patterns that were depicted in the movie. The film deserves a lot of appreciation especially for the complexity of the plot. Bringing psychopathology in movies is not a great thing, but doing that for the first time is. Moreover, presenting it with scientific accuracy is a rare feat. The makers of Yakshi have succeeded in both these aspects.
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