In this post we’re going to clear some doubts about Manichitrathazhu. Most people who have seen the film have wondered about one or more of these points and have criticized the film for the same. So I will try to answer them based on what I have understood from the film.
If Ganga wanted to kill Nakulan, why did she wait until Durgashtami to do so? And if her intention was to kill him on Durgashtami, why did she try to poison him earlier?
In one of the earlier scenes of the film, when Ganga and Nakulan have newly arrived at the Madampally palace, the aunt tells Ganga the story of the court dancer and the King. She tells Ganga that after the King killed Nagavalli, Nagavalli’s spirit returned in the form of a witch on Durgashtami to kill the King. So when Ganga transforms into Nagavalli, she too plans on killing the King on Durgashtami day. Dr. Sunny learns of this plan one night when he goes to the King’s room while Ganga is dancing in the next room and pretends to be the King.
We have all got it so far. But if Ganga will kill the King on Durgashtami, then why did she put poison in his tea before Durgashtami day? Unfortunately, the film does not explain this in a very clear way. I think that Ganga did this to shift the attention to Sridevi. After the arrival of Dr. Sunny at the palace, Ganga’s second personality Nagavalli fears that Dr. Sunny will somehow ruin her plan of killing Nakulan. When Ganga heard the family saying that something might be wrong with Sridevi, she was actually happy that the attention was on Sridevi. She encouraged the thought that Sridevi is mentally unstable through several actions. For example, when Alli is chased, faints and then awakens, she says that she went upstairs to look for Ganga. Sridevi had told her that Ganga was upstairs. Sridevi had told Alli the truth, but in order to make Sridevi look like a liar and place the blame on Sridevi, Ganga says that Sridevi had seen her going downstairs for bathing. Similarly, when Ganga puts poison in Nakulan’s chai, it is again Sridevi who is framed for the incident.
This of course is not a perfect explanation either because Nakulan could have died. I don’t think that Ganga could know for sure that someone would notice the poison and prevent Nakulan from drinking the chai. And if that happened, Nagavalli’s revenge certainly wouldn’t have taken place as she had planned. But I do think that the whole reason for this incident is to frame Sridevi and once again direct everyone’s attention towards her.
Why was Dr. Sunny’s character so comical and his treatment method so unusual?
Despite liking the film, many people seem to have a problem with Dr. Sunny. Some of the audience feels that Dr. Sunny’s comedy was over the top or irritating and ill fitting for a psychiatrist. I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed Mohanlal’s Dr. Sunny performance immensely. I felt that the comedy worked well and was much needed for the film. I also don’t see any issue with a psychiatrist acting kind of silly and funny.
There is actually a reason why the Dr. Sunny character was written as it was. First of all, let’s keep in mind that Dr. Sunny has been called to Madampally to diagnose and treat a patient with a mental disorder. He doesn’t know who is ill or what the illness is but he needs to observe everyone and the incidents at the palace to find out. Dr. Sunny acts the way he does because he does not want people, and especially the patient, to take him seriously. If you see Geethanjaali, the spin-off of Manichitrathazhu, Dr. Sunny does the same thing there. Because if a doctor arrives somewhere all serious and ready to ship someone off to a mental hospital, don’t you think that the patient will see that as a threat and thus hide herself by acting normal? This is why Dr. Sunny not only carries a light-hearted, silly and slightly stupid demeanor, but he also intentionally labels someone who is not ill as the patient. The goal is to divert the attention of the real patient so that he can determine the illness and the best treatment.
I also think that after years of treating and dealing with patients who have mental imbalances, some psychiatrists act this way not only to relieve stress in their own life, but also to have a positive effect on their patients. So I did not find the Dr. Sunny character over the top or unrealistic. I quite enjoyed Mohanlal’s performance and I think that his scenes along with the other comedy scenes gave much needed relief for an otherwise serious and dramatic film.
As for the treatment method, a true psychiatrist can analyze and criticize it best. But Dr. Sunny himself says in the film that he will “break all conventional concepts of psychiatry.” So there is no doubt that the treatment, which is a combination of exorcism and hypnotism, is highly unusual. The interesting part is that Dr. Sunny knows that Ganga is suffering from a multiple personality/split personality disorder, but instead of telling her the illness, he proceeds to remove “Nagavalli’s spirit” from her. Towards the end of the film, Ganga understood that she is ill, but she was never told what it was. If we think about it, if Ganga was told of her illness, even if she was cured in that situation, subconsciously she might convince herself that she will become ill again. In a way, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But telling Ganga that she was bothered by Nagavalli who is permanently removed from her and that she will never have this illness again cures her forever. So although unusual, Dr. Sunny’s method is not entirely illogical as per the story. And as Dr. Sunny said to Nakulan, conventional treatment for such a disorder would consist of medications that would turn Ganga into some kind of zombie, whereby Nakulan would lose his wife as he knows her.
Who or what threw stones into the kitchen, broke the clock and plates late at night?
Another controversial scene of the film is the scene where Nakulan is awakened by Sridevi at night because the maids have seen something in the palace and are very frightened. Nakulan, Ganga, Sridevi, Chandu and the maids are in the kitchen and Nakulan is questioning the maids about what happened. Suddenly an earthen water vessel is broken by Nakulan. Ganga is shocked and so are the others. Nakulan goes and looks outside suspecting that someone threw a stone towards the house but sees no one. Ganga first comes out with him and then goes right back into the house. Next, Nakulan goes inside at the sound of broken plates. Ganga says that someone pushed them down. Nakulan looks at a maid suspecting her. He then tells the maids not to make up stories. Meanwhile, Ganga is looking around her distressed. Sridevi is looking down and wondering how this all happened. Ganga, Nakulan, Chandu and Sridevi move out of the kitchen and Nakulan is telling Chandu to tell uncle to change the maids. There is an old style clock on the wall. Nakulan walks to the right as he talks and the camera, which was previously showing all four, follows Nakulan leaving others out of the picture. At that moment a stone comes and breaks the clock. Ganga gasps in shock with her hand over her mouth. Sridevi’s eyes widen in fear and Nakulan is confused. Ganga looks flustered and afraid at the same time. There is no one else in the room. Ganga goes over to Nakulan for comfort and Nakulan stares at Sridevi, this time suspecting her. Everyone returns to bed. Ganga is still shaken and afraid. She falls asleep hugging Nakulan’s arm.
The film never really explains who or what was responsible for these mysterious incidents or how they happened. One theory is that Ganga, in an altered state of mind, was able to cause objects to move with mind power and break things. Another theory is that due to her illness, Ganga’s brain was functioning differently than normal and she could calculate things that normal people couldn’t. Dr. Sunny had said that Ganga has great strength in that stage of illness. For example, Ganga knew when her husband would wake up and how deep his sleep was. Similarly, it could be argued that Ganga could calculate the effort and time necessary to throw and break things without any one in the room noticing it was her. And yet a third theory is that there really was ghost activity in the palace.
I’m not sure which theory is correct. I wish I could ask the writer and find out. But one thing to keep in mind is that in that scene, Ganga is truly and visibly shaken, surprised and afraid. If it was really her doing it, wouldn’t she have a calmer attitude? Or if she was transforming into Nagavalli in those moments, wouldn’t her facial expression give her away as it did when she poisoned Nakulan? Or was Ganga changing so quickly between her alter personality and true personality that she herself was not aware that it was her doing everything? This is possible since at this point in the story, Ganga has newly developed the Nagavalli personality and this personality is not yet fully activated. So it is moving slowly from the dormant stage to the active stage.
Since Ganga was not shown in any of the moments where objects were breaking, the filmmakers seem to encourage the idea that Ganga was responsible for them. Yet they never say for sure, they leave it to our imagination. I actually think that this was a wise decision. I mean, after 21 years, we are still talking about it and wondering about it. Is that not brilliant film making? In the remake Bhool Bhulaiyya, Priyadarshan added a scene at the end of the movie actually showing that the Ganga character was throwing those objects very quickly before anyone noticed. But the fact that this was not explained in Manichitrathazhu was not a loophole, at least in my opinion. I think it was intentionally left that way to create a lasting curiosity in the audience about the film.
Was there trouble in Ganga and Nakulan’s relationship?
Another point that Manichitrathazhu fans often wonder about is the relationship between Ganga and her husband Nakulan. Was Ganga dissatisfied with her relationship with her husband and did this have any role in her illness?
Although the film attributed Ganga’s illness to psychological problems she experienced as a child, there is no doubt that Ganga was not able to spend as much time as she would have liked with her husband. Nakulan, despite loving his wife, is very busy with his work. We can see this in the scene where Ganga calls Nakulan to bed and he tells Ganga to sleep and continues to work. This is also seen in the song Varuvaanillarumee where Ganga strolls around the house all alone, busying herself with poetry.
The other scenes that make me suspect that Ganga is not satisfied with her marital life is the way she looks at Mahadevan and his house. When Alli tells Ganga that her husband to be, the poet and professor Mahadevan, lives in the house next door, she longingly looks toward the house as though she is mesmerized. She asks Alli for a room facing the mango orchards to keep her books. Coincidentally, that room would also be facing Mahadevan’s house. When she opens Nagavalli’s room, she frequently opens the window of that room to look at Mahadevan and sings “Someone is going to come this way one day, I know that. A dear one will come this way is what I always wish for…. I know there’s no one to come, yet I wait at the door. Without knowing for whom it is, I wait inside the door expectantly.” Is this not a declaration of her loneliness, sadness and her need for companionship?
Is Ganga behaving this way only because she is fond of Mahadevan’s poetry? Is she interested in his home because it was also the home of Ramanathan, Nagavalli’s lover? Or is there another reason? I think that there is something more to this because when Ganga found out about Mahadevan living next door, her alter personality Nagavalli did not exist because she had not yet heard Nagavalli’s story. So her longing looks toward the house and towards Mahadevan could be a sign that she is not receiving enough affection and love from Nakulan. Or maybe it was just an innocent crush that turned into something else after Ganga heard about Nagavalli’s story, opened Nagavalli’s room and started spending a lot of time by herself at the palace.
In the last scene of the film, Ganga cries and talks about how she could never repay her husband for loving her so much. Whether Ganga was unhappy with her marital life or not, it is definite that her illness brought her and Nakulan closer together. She was able to understand and feel his love as a result of these unfortunate events.
How did Ganga speak Tamil and dance Bharatanatyam without ever learning either?
The explanation given in the film for this phenomenon is that due to her illness, Ganga is able to do things that she wouldn’t be able to do in a normal state. I suppose in psychiatric terms, it could be said that Ganga is accessing information in her subconscious and using it while in her alternate personality.
I can actually understand Ganga dancing Bharatanatyam without never being trained in it. She must have seen Bharatanatyam performances many times on TV, in films and elsewhere. It should not be too difficult for her to mimic those movements that her brain had recorded previously. This point is actually emphasized in the climax dance performance of Shobana in the film because Ganga, who has transformed into Nagavalli dances in a sloppy manner and without real awareness of her movements. Of course Shobana is such a fantastic dancer that even her “sloppy” dance ended up looking professional.
I cannot however understand how Ganga could learn to speak Tamil as well as she does without her knowledge. Can someone subconsciously learn a language just by hearing it? Doesn’t the brain have to make an association with something that is familiar, just as it happens when we learn a language through a language that we already know? Or when we learn a language by spending many years in a culture where that language is spoken? I can listen to a language all day but if I am not told about the meanings of the words I’m hearing, how can my mind ever use that language, and that too perfectly? Can the super-human powers of Ganga’s brain really do that?
In the Hindi film Karthik Calling Karthik, which is about schizophrenia, Karthik’s mind records a subconscious message about the self-messaging system of a phone while paying attention to something else. Then, his alternate persona uses that information to leave messages for Karthik. This is a much more realistic example about how the subconscious part of the brain can play a role in mental illness. This part of Manichitrathazhu is a bit weak, albeit not entirely impossible.
How did Ganga not realize that she is killing a doll and not Nakulan at the climax of the film?
This is actually quite easy to explain. If you look at the climax dance song Oru Murai Vanthu Parthayo, you will see that the song goes back and forth between two different segments. The first segment is reality where Ganga is dancing by herself with messy hair and makeup, a trans like glance and slightly sloppy movements. The other segment is Ganga’s imagination, her split mind belonging to her second persona, Nagavalli. This is made obvious by the slight blurriness of the scenes. In that segment, Ganga’s hair and makeup is neat, she is wearing more beautiful outfits and her lover Ramanathan is dancing with her. This is what Ganga thinks is the reality.
When Ganga is brought to the exorcism area and when Nakulan is brought to her, she doesn’t see her husband, she sees a man with golden hair and mustache, her idea of what the King looks like. So at this point, Ganga is completely Nagavalli and she is seeing everything from that split mind. Thus, it is not difficult to understand that when Nakulan was replaced by a doll, she would continue to see the King there. Moreover, Nakulan was changed with the doll at the blink of an eye during which Ganga was not looking because of the fire blown by the priest.