Daily Recco, April 5: Ulladakkam, the multi-layered mind
A fitting tribute to the writer, director and actor P Balachandran, Ulladakkam explores his prowess as a script-writer of creating a psychological thriller that is realistic without being schlocky.
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The mind, they say, is multi-layered. If there were a possibility of charting a journey into the deepest recesses of one’s own mind, we would find ourselves trapped in an infinite maze — an abyss, in which we would be lost forever, past the point of no return. And there could be no better opening scene than this for a movie delving into psychiatry. The psychiatrist wakes up in cold sweat from a dream of being trapped in one such maze. Welcome to Ulladakkam.
Malayalam cinema in the past has been the pinnacle of stimulating, intellectual and strong content that has consistently pushed the barriers and raised the bars high. Great writers and directors, besides some brilliant actors, have contributed to this and one such was P Balachandran, who passed on today.
One of his first movies as a script-writer, Ulladakkam (1991), explores the phenomenon of transference. The aforementioned psychiatrist is Dr Sunny, essayed by the Mollywood giant — Mohanlal. The other cast members are no less doyens from the film industry — from Amala (Akkineni) to Shobhana.
Composed, reflective and cool-as-cucumber Dr Sunny in Ulladakkam is the diametric opposite to the eccentric psychiatrist Dr Sunny (again, Mohanlal) in another psychological-thriller and all-time hit Manichitrathazhu. In Ulladakkam, he runs a psychiatric hospital and one of his patients is Reshma (Amala), who happens to be his best friend’s sister. This brings in an element of personal interest in the case. Reshma has transient psychotic episodes and Dr Sunny probes the triggers and delves deeper into the probable causes, which is revealed to be her mother’s death - her mother who died when she was a child.
Further exploration reveals that the sea is one of Reshma’s strong triggers and has something to do with her missing boyfriend, Arun. The story comes tumbling out after hypnotising her: Arun was killed by a mafia group on a beach and as Reshma watched helplessly, his body is washed into the sea. In both cases, Reshma’s psychosis is a portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Reshma’s road to recovery is a long and complicated one as she develops dissociation and avoidance of the two deaths. She gradually recovers from the dissociation and develops an attachment to an inmate (essayed by the veteran actress Sukumari) whom she sees as a mother figure. Eventually, as Sukumari is discharged from the hospital, Reshma's unconscious mind seeks a replacement for Arun. She finds the replacement in Dr Sunny and begins clinging on to him.
One of the many flaws of such emotional dependence is that not only does Sunny not reciprocate Reshma’s feelings (it would be unethical to do so as well), he is also already in love and engaged to be married to Annie (Shobhana).
The beauty of the script is the way it portrays the relationship with no blame, no shame and no judgment. As Dr Sunny beautifully puts it, “Reshma’s behaviour has a definite basis in psychiatry. However, it has no justification in our social set-up and is only subject to misunderstanding.”
The treatment and therapy progress well and an ostensibly cured Reshma is discharged from the hospital. This proves to be Dr Sunny’s undoing. The movie reaches an unexpected climax that will leave you shocked and shaken.
The movie is regarded as one of the career-bests for all those involved — Mohanlal, Amala, Shobhana and director Kamal. And the lion's share of the credit goes to the tight and splendid screenplay by Balachandran.
As Malayalam cinema stands bereaved and the mourn the death of Balachandran, watch one of his earliest works and be dazzled by the marvel of his script-writing. Ulladakkam is streaming on Amazon Prime Videos.