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Vanaprastham (The Last Dance) March 25, 2007

Posted by Sai in Malayalam, Movies, Reviews.

This Indo-French production is apparently based on a French story (by Producer Pierre Assouline) but it seems to fit perfectly in the Indian milieu. Mohanlal co-produces and stars in this film (written and directed by Shaji Karun) that won the National Awards for Best Film and Best Actor and generated a lot of buzz on the international film festival circuit in 1999.

This is an artistic look at a complex but uncomplicated story that could have been told in a far simpler manner. Director Shaji Karun takes his time to let the characters and the setting make their effect on the audience. You are transformed into a world where expressions speak louder than anything you that your lungs can let out. A world where social differences make a great impact on life. A world where art gets the respect but not the wealth. A world where an artist gets the adulation for his talent and the character that he plays but mistakes it as admiration/love for him. This world is inhabited by Kunhikuttan, who has more than he is happy about and wishes for that which he cannot be his, that which brings him immense unhappiness. That is the case with a lot of folks I guess and our world today isn’t all that different from his.

Kunhikuttan is a Kathakali dancer born to a lower caste mother and a higher caste father, who doesn’t acknowledge him and deprives him of the love that he longs for. When he gets the big chance to move from female characters to male characters, the king’s niece, Subhadra takes notice of his performance. Subhadra has been forever fascinated with the character of Arjuna from Mahabharata and his relationship with her namesake. She asks him to play Arjuna in the play that she is writing. He obliges and a relationship slowly develops between them while he neglects his wife and daughter. When this relationship goes to the next level and a child is born, Subhadra keeps away from Kunhikuttan. She tells him that she considers the child as Arjuna’s child and asks him to stay away from her and the kid. Kunhikuttan is devastated to realise that she only loves the character that he is playing and not him. He moves onto play angry characters to express his ire through dance. Unable to gain the love that he wants, diasllowed the chance to provide the same to his son and neglecting the wife and daughter that need his love, the sad story of Kunhikuttan comes to a climax with one last dance as Arjuna.

Vanaprastham apparently refers to the third stage of human life from among the four as described in the Bhagavad Gita. This is the stage after a man completes his duties as a householder. He is expected to free himself of materialistic attachments and serve the society with the ultimate goal of salvation in mind.

One can clearly see why Mohanlal’s performance won him a National award. Taking up the challenge of playing a Kathakali dancer, which calls for a number of performances that can be minutely observed on the big screen, says a lot for the actor and the confidence in his ability. Superb! Suhasini is an able Subhadra and supports Mohanlal quite well. Shaji Karun shows his capability and the use of Kathakali in the film is a brilliant idea. Zakir Hussain’s background works really well with the mood of the film. The make-up and cinematography (Renato Berta, Santosh Sivan) deserve praise too.

The film is very difficult to understand. There is so much said through mere expressions and a lot is said symbolically. The film maintains a lugubrious mood throughout without a single happy moment that I can recollect (though the little girl’s mirth at the beginning of the film was a gladdening moment) and it chugs along at snail’s pace. These should be enough to keep conventional audiences away.

Though the film made quite an interesting watch for various reasons, I wouldn’t say that I got the film completely or that I enjoyed it thoroughly. The film did have its moments but it didn’t satisfy me completely because there was a nagging feeling that it was unnecessarily complex and unreasonably slow. But then, a piece of art is supposed to be that way for the intellectuals to ruminate over a long period of time and interpret in ways that the makers themselves never imagined. Isn’t it?

Sarcasm aside, this film is strictly for lovers of art cinema.


1. Satya - July 19, 2007

I loved the movie. Especially the climax of the movie is heart touching.

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