K. Balachander’s 47 Natkal (1981) was a near-faithful adaptation of Sivasankari’s Tamil novel
Last Updated: 07.17 AM, Apr 01, 2023
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If trigger warnings were a norm in the 1970s and 1980s, Sivasankari’s novel 47 Natkal would warrant one. The story portrays the dangers and pitfalls of a commonplace social phenomenon in India – the allure of an NRI bridegroom.
Sivasankari went on to write the dialogues for the movie adaptation of the same name by K. Balachander.
In the book, we learn of Visali’s brother, Chandru’s discomfort about the alliance with the Chicago-based Kumar. Their well-meaning relatives who seek a better life for Visali than their own, dismiss his misgivings.
After the wedding, Visali leaves the familiar behind and travels with Kumar to the US (in the movie, it is France). Even before Visali reaches Chicago, we are aware of Kumar’s backstory of honey-trapping Dr Lucy Williams into a marriage that provides him with immense financial benefits. In Chicago, Visali discovers to her horror, that Kumar is already married. He has told his wife, Dr Lucy that Visali is his sister who is mentally disturbed after the death of her husband. Kumar tells Visali to fall in line and accept his bigamy so that he can continue to siphon off more of Lucy’s wealth. Being uneducated and cosseted, with no exposure to the outside world, Visali is dependent on Kumar in a strange country. Knowing only Tamil, she is unable to convey her plight to the clueless Lucy. Nor is she able to escape Kumar’s escalating abuse. Visali’s pregnancy throws Kumar for a loop, and fearing that this will ruin his plans, he tries to abort the foetus, but Visali is rescued in the nick of time.
The pace of the story, the matter-of-fact tone, and the shifting points of view in every other chapter heighten the tension in the novel.
While Balachander’s adaptation of the novel took few liberties with the original story, there is the added subplot of a pickpocket, and there is more exposition given to the original story.
Actor Saritha (playing herself) is to essay the role of Visali in a biopic. When Saritha meets the real Visali (Jayaprada) on whom the movie will be based, Visali thunders that she has experienced a lifetime of trials and tribulations in a marriage that lasted only 47 days.
In the flashback, we are privy to the deceptions of the France-based Kumar (Chiranjeevi) soon after the wedding ceremony, who exposes the wedding photo films, erasing evidence of the event. Kumar tells a travel agent that Visali is his sister, who has become mentally unhinged following the tragic death of her husband, and it allows him to procure Visali’s passport and visa without requiring her presence.
When Visali lands in France, and at Kumar’s house in Férolles, she comes across a photograph of a woman. Kumar tells her that the house belongs to Dr Lucy and that if they want to own it someday, they will have to live with her and make a good impression on her. The naïve Visali buys this reasoning, but when Lucy (Anne-Patricia) returns home from a trip, Visali becomes suspicious of the intimacy she shares with Kumar.
In the movie, we discover Kumar and Lucy’s relationship only when Visali finds their wedding photograph. Kumar initially lies about the picture but then hits Visali for the first time. He finally reveals that he is indeed married to Lucy but assures Visali that he was only biding his time to siphon off more of Lucy’s wealth so he could divorce her, and they could return to India. Visali feels guilty about Lucy but fails to convince Kumar to give up his plan.
Since they live in an isolated location, Visali’s attempts to escape either fail because of her inability to speak any language other than Tamil, or are thwarted by Kumar, who metes out punishments to her. Visali soon realises that she is pregnant with Kumar’s child, but keeps this under wraps.
Balachander brings in a sub-plot at this juncture. In Paris, we meet an Indian-origin pickpocket (Rama Prabha) who features in a song about being a street-smart Tamil woman but remains strangely unnamed. One day, at a restaurant, the pickpocket overhears Kumar berating Visali in Tamil, threatening to punish her if Lucy suspects anything. In the Ladies' Room, after hearing the whole story from Visali, the pickpocket uses a payphone to seek the intervention of a Dr Shankar (Sharath Babu) but by the time he arrives, Kumar has whisked Visali away.
When Lucy attends a doctor’s conference in Paris, Kumar accompanies her along with Visali. At the hotel, Dr Shankar, also attending the same conference, briefly recognises Visali and is determined to help her escape.
Just as in the book, Kumar finds out that Visali is pregnant, and decides to employ a crude way to abort the foetus. Visali tries to escape, and Kumar pursues her, but Dr Shankar intervenes just in time. And Lucy finally sheds her rose-tinted glasses to see Kumar for the sociopath that he truly is.
Visali chooses her freedom over her marriage with Kumar, but as Saritha asks her, has she considered a relationship with her rescuer, the good-natured Dr Shankar? And what about Visali’s pregnancy?
It is indeed a credit to the author that readers who regarded the book as a ‘turn-of-the-screw’ thriller thought the movie could have been tauter without the excessive ‘foreign location footage,’ and the three pace-slackening songs (even if they were written by Kannadasan and composed by M.S. Viswanathan). But K. Balachander’s keen understanding of the medium ensured that those who have not read the book found the movie adaptation riveting.
47 Natkal was made simultaneously in Telugu as 47 Rojulu, with minor variations. Interestingly, actor Saritha who appears as herself in the movie has lent her voice for Jayapradha for the Tamil version, as has Delhi Ganesh, a veteran character actor, for Chiranjeevi. Balachander’s present-day narrative device in the movie, where actor Saritha meets Visali, works well as a bracket to ensconce the main story. It portrays Visali as a world-weary cynic, with fleeting glimpses of the naive 16-year-old she used to be before her 47-day marriage to Kumar.
(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)
(Written by Saritha Rao Rayachoti)