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Scream Stream: HERE's why Fazil's psychological thriller Manichitrathazhu remains a masterpiece and no remake can ever match up to it!

Manichitrathazhu starring Shobana, Suresh Gopi and Mohanlal is a cult classic churned out by the Malayalam film industry

Scream Stream: HERE's why Fazil's psychological thriller Manichitrathazhu remains a masterpiece and no remake can ever match up to it!
Stills from Manichitrathazhu

Last Updated: 09.05 PM, Oct 23, 2022


They say when it comes to thrillers, the moment you know the end, the film loses its charm. However, one film that has defied the rule is Manichitrathazhu (1993). It's been almost three decades since Fazil's psychological thriller hit screens but even today, that too, after repeated viewing, the moment you hear the words,  'Thekkini' and 'Nagavalli', it sends a chill down the spine. The film has been remade into multiple languages over the years, with each version customising the film to the needs of its respective audience. It became Apthamitra in Kannada (2004), Chandramukhi in Tamil (2005), Rajmohol in Bengali (2005) and Bhool Bhulaiyaa in Hindi (2007). But any ardent fan of Manichitrathazhu would agree that none of the remakes come even remotely close to the original.  

So, what's special about Manichitrathazhu? The title Manichitrathazhu translates to ornate lock. The film's star cast includes Shobana, Suresh Gopi, Mohanlal, Nedumudi Venu, Thilakan, Innocent, KPAC Lalitha and Vinaya Prasad. The plot revolves around a couple Ganga (Shobana) and Nakulan ( Suresh Gopi) who move into their ancestral home Maadampalli in Kerala. Their decision to stay at the house doesn't go down well with the rest of the family as they believe that something is really wrong in the house.

Ganga is someone who loves listening to folklore. She is entranced by the story of a dancer from Tanjore, Nagavalli, whose love interest Ramanathan was murdered by landlord Shankaran Thambi, as he wanted Nagavalli to be his paramour. The tharavad believes that the spirit of Nagavalli lives in Maadampalli and that it would bring its wrath to members of the family.  

As Ganga empathises with the distressed Nagavalli', we are soon made to believe that her spirit has possessed Ganga as the curse is said to fall on the women marrying into the family. Soon, strange incidents begin to occur in the house and we constantly juggle between the rational explanations by Nakulan and the superstitious beliefs of the other members of the house. Things soon go out of hand. Enter Nakulan's psychiatrist friend, Sunny (Mohanlal) who tries to salvage the situation in a unique manner.

What's impressive is that everything aptly came together for the film- be it the star cast, art department, music, costumes, editing or locations. But one of the highlights of the film was the mind games it played with the audience. While one minute we would empathise with the rationally thinking Nakulan and Ganga, the next minute when you see a hand on the rails, it would send a shiver down the spine. Is there a ghost or not?  

Eventually, we realise that Manichitrathazhu was never really about a supernatural power. The film didn't need any garish VFX or CGI to induce fear in the minds of the audience. All it needed was Ganga to appear on screen, and adeptly and effortlessly switch to Nagavalli in seconds. When Nakulan provokes Ganga and stops her from going out, she transforms into a superhuman and lifts a heavy cot with one hand as if it was a piece of cake. She looks terrifying as Nagavalli. There is no makeup or additional lighting effects for the scene and Shobana shines in the moment. Her rage wears down the very next moment, and you feel sad for her. The scene is hauntingly beautiful. It is later revealed that Ganga has Dissociative Identity Disorder.  

The song Orumurai Vandhu Parthaya is also one of the most terrifying songs in the Malayalam industry. As Shobana switches between Ganga and Nagavalli, her dance movements vary. While one moment we see a graceful dancer, the very next moment we see a distressed woman dancing in devilish frenzy. The icing on the cake is her piercing eye movements that are filled with love one moment, and with rage on the other. All credits go to Shobana's acting and dancing prowess. Suresh Gopulan as Nakulan provides the perfect balance to Shobana's volatile personality.

But Manichitrathazhu is not all horror. There are some really funny moments when Sunny (Mohanlal) arrives in the house. Be it the scene where he says 'Vellam' (water) and Kuthiravattam Pappu jumps across the road, the kindi scene with Chandu (Sudheesh) or the mundu scene with Bhasura (KPAC Lalitha), they are etched for eternity. 

We also get to see the battle between superstition and rationality. When tantric expert, Brahmadathan Namboothiripad tells his shishyas not to consume anything at Maadampally, you feel petrified. Later, we see both Sunny and Brahmadathan working together to come up with the solution.   

Even the background music and the songs - Pazhamthamizh pattu and Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaya continue to evoke the same emotions even today after three decades. The cinematography and editing are excellent too, keeping the tone shifting between rationality, humour and horror. If there is one film that has aged like fine wine, Manichitrathazhu surely makes it to the impressive list. And no remakes can match up to this fine piece of work!