Monday, December 27, 2010

Electra Review

The pellucid veil of mystery that shrouds Shyamaprasad's spectacular new film 'Electra' rustles every now and then, to disclose the intricacy of the human relationships that it tries to explore. The sporadic revelations do not make things any easier, since the characters in it, are themselves hopelessly lost in a swamp of emotions, and in their fraught struggle to crawl out of it strangle each other, digging their nails deep into each other's throats.

The intensely shadowy tone that encompasses the entire film is a pure metaphor to the complex mechanisms of the human heart, where light and shade play games, often making the illusory appear real. There is no doubt that 'Electra' tells a tale of deception, but the deceived and the deceiver keep changing shapes ever so often that eventually, they start resembling each other in alarming ways.

It rains the day Abraham (Prakash Raj), returns home after a long stint at Jaffna. The war has taken its toll on him, and the man is tired. He fondly rejects his daughter Electra's (Nayantara) appeal to stay in the rain, and heads straight for his bed, where his wife Diana (Manisha Koirala) waits to tell him that she has finally found another man whom she truly loves. As the day breaks, Abraham is found dead. Edwin (Skanda), Abraham's son is yet to arrive from Jaffna, and Peter (Biju Menon) who has been getting the casket ready, is all puzzled about a muffled voice on the telephone that told him that the man was murdered.

There is an entire deconstruction of the familial structure in 'Electra' where each player in the household vies with another to get a sturdy foothold. Allegiances are drawn, and unspoken agreements made. And then follows a duel where they fight it out ferociously, before getting drowned in the deluge of guilt.

It is easy to take sides in 'Electra', and even be judgemental about those people whom you despise in it. But the sharp writing does nothing of the sort. It's inevitable though that you reach out to one among the lot, and start seeing things from their eyes. Which is why, there is reason to believe that Electra in Shyamaprasad's film has much more to do with Freud than with the Argive princess who avenged her father Agamemnon's death by slaughtering her mother Clytemnestra.

For, in this tale that focuses on a torrid betrayal, I'm all with Diana, the woman accused of deceit. The insanity that plagues her lonely self is nurtured by an intense desire to live, and in her stubborn attempts to finally break free from the shackles that have been pinning her down, she finds refuge with a man who prompts her to seek vengeance on those who had left her feeling miserable, all through her life.

Electra on the other hand, is ridden with the guilt that she feels for being hopelessly in love with her dad, and is ferociously envious of her mom who bangs the bedroom doors on her face. She connivingly convinces Edwin, her Orestes, of his mother's sins and sees to it that retribution is sought. The frost that gently creeps into Edwin's heart doesn't get any warm even as Electra rubs her soiled clothes clean and assumes a fresh self. It steadily wraps itself around her clogging her breath and trying to haul her down with him into a bog of remorse.

Shyamaprasad's film offers a raw slice straight out of life, all red and coarse and sans all the garnishing. It's difficult to look at, but the more you do, the more you find yourself drawn into this terrifying and truly tragic drama that is emotionally appalling and quite severe. There is an almost deliberate abstinence from the use of vibrant shades in the film, and often switching between brown and grey hues, the deconstruction is visually sustained and the volatility of adherence further emphasized.

Nayantara as Electra cautiously combines the right amount of hurt and respite into her portrayal of the embittered daughter of the house, who would stop at nothing until she has clawed out the last drop of her mother's blood. She has quite a potent contender in Manisha Koirala who plays Diana, and who through a remarkable performance rules the stage even as the spotlight shines on Electra. The supporting cast that has such names as Prakashraj, Skanda, Sruthi Menon and Biju Menon, is simply brilliant as well.

The irreconcilable and contradictory meanings that could be read into Electra are bound to confound the viewer and the interpretations that are drawn should be dissimilar. The blood stained mythology is transformed in Shyamaprasad's film into an annular drama to probe into questions of certainty, identity, and truth. Hence, the intriguing equations that it sketches down in the course of this rich character study ultimately become a deliberation on the quirks and whims of the human heart.