The elements of nature and human lives have an intricate and symbiotic relationship. The endless cycles of birth and death, day and night, rain and sunshine, meteors and bursting stars in the galaxy have a benevolent scheme of karmic existence. The creation and destruction we percieve as mere mortals might just be an infinitesimally insignificant plot, however nature, humans and their astral destinies are inextricably intertwined.
Watching Indian-malayalam movie Piravi(1988) presents a realization of this cosmic vision. The director, Shaji Karun perhaps made the most stunning debut with this film after Ray's Pather Panchali. His experience behind the camera with the charismatic Aravindan often reminded another great swedish director-cinematographer duo Bergman and Sven Nykvist. His works for Kanchanaseetha, Oridathu, Chidambaram were stunning.
Piravi(Birth) is based on the real life incident of a missing architecture engineering student and the travails of his grieving family coming into terms with its social and spiritual aftermath. The plot revolves around the engrossing presence of his airy spirit in and around the house and almost kafkaesque disposition of the political and bureaucratic systems. What endears the viewer is however the dense and sensitive portrayal of rain in its contemplative moods juxtaposed alongside the characters. Treating rain beyond the limits of a metaphor enables the movie take on the eclectic questions of life and death in an intimately personal setting.
At the beginning of the movie, you find Raghava Chakiar starting his endless repetitive wait at the bus station for his son, Raghu who failed to come for his sister's engagement. Raghava Chakiar comes to know from newspapers that Raghu was taken into custody by the Police for political reasons. He travels to the capital and meets the higher Police officials. But they feigned helplessness as there is no proof that Raghu was taken into custody. Raghu's sister realizes that he probably would have died in police custody after being tortured, but cannot bear to tell this to her father. The old man's grip on reality slowly slips and he starts dreaming that his son is with him.
The movie embellished this linear tragic story with an outpouring of blissful cinematic expressions on deliberations on the karmic cycles of father and son, sibling relationships, longing for the lost, organic symbiosis of nature and human, the house as a refuge and a haven for concepts of architecture and dreams... Everything unreels for the viewer in a quiet relentless flow of images, voices and silences piling on each other: boatman and the river, last bus arrivals, lightning, thunderstorm, the rain drenched landscape, the wintergreen and the different moods of rain underneath the sky and the conversations between Raghu and his sister. Such is the mastery of Shaji on the medium that each image, nuances of cinematic technique would grow on you in silence taking its time.
Raghu never appears in the movie except for a brief flashback when he was very young. His presence looms large in the movie and the hearts of his grieving family, like the rain that loomed over the horizon in the beginning, drizzled for a little bit and steadily became the downpour of pain and memory, and still reminds you that life still holds key to the crossed destinies of nature and humankind.
At a different level, Piravi strikes at the core of state oppression and the indifference and cruelty of its various manifestations, especially police brutality. The ominous presence of Orwel's big brother amongst the life of ordinary folks is prevalent. Yet another level, the movie has a lot in common to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' No One Writes to the Colonel (1961). The images of the Colonel's endless waiting at the post office for his pension to arrive, losing son during the time of volatile political uprising and the ship that brings mail across the river evoke a similar perspective on the vicissitudes of the world.
Shaji, trained in the school of Aravindan inherited his deep understanding of indian philosophy went beyond the premises of Marquez to etch the poignant story of an old man in search of his missing son. I must mention about the actor, Premji who was 80 when he portrayed the father responded with a preformance that was brilliant and astonishing. He internalised the elements of the movie in total and pushed the limits to perfection.
Watching Piravi is a timeless affair, and you know that rain is not just a metaphor.
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