Making a new imagery for death needs an inspiring script handled with passion by a director, crafted in detail by a cinematographer-sound designer-production designer combo.

Elippathayam to Sadayam Eight terrifying death imageries in Malayalam filmsScreenshot from 'Ee.Ma.Yau'
Flix Mollywood Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 13:41

By Prahlad Gopakumar

“Death: You won’t get off that easy.” (The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman, 1957, Sweden)

Death has always been a repetitive motif in cinema. The imagery of death is culture specific; it’s always related to the script of the film and thus to the director’s understanding of language and culture. The Hollywood image of a group wearing black suits and dresses standing in an organised manner and giving speeches are alien to Indians. In India, each region, language and state has its own interpretations of death. The objects, locations and the reactions of the actors used to signify the experience are far removed from the Hollywood ‘way’.

Making a new imagery for death is different from and more difficult than making something look good. It is the ideal concoction of an inspiring script handled with passion by a director, crafted in detail by a cinematographer-sound designer-production designer combo and edited in such a way that its meaning is heightened. For most people, the experience and memory of death is traumatising and as the experts say, from great trauma comes great cinema. Many directors have triggered the right note to recreate this (their own) traumatising experience for the audience.

Chidambaram – Death of Muniyandi (Dir: G Aravindan, Cin: Shaji N Karun)

The way Muniyandi’s suicide is revealed is itself a shock to the audience. The director chose to cut from a mid-shot directly to a long shot of the person hanging from the rafter inside a cow shed. The chilling dead body turns around while even the cows are not moving much. The onlooker informs that Muniyandi has killed his wife too out of suspicion and was found by the milkman. Shankaran opens the window and looks at Muniyandi with a sense of disbelief and guilt, which is accentuated by the terrifying sound of the old wooden window and an extreme close up of Muniyandi. Shankaran in shock, runs through the thick forest while the camera unnervingly follows him. The objects in the frame – cows (Muniyandi looks after cattle), the milkman’s vessel, the creaking window – everything adds to the image. The entire scene, with minimal dialogue, creates a sense of shock.

Ee.Ma.Yau – Father’s dead body (Dir: Lijo Jose P, Cin: Shyju Khalid)

This is an entire film about the practicality of death. But the image being referred to is that of the father’s dead body being bathed. At the end of the process we are shown the body in a wide angled, handheld shot where the camera moves behind and downward to reveal a close up of the legs of the dead body. Then it further moves back and the curtain falls in between the camera and the leg, giving a wild shadowy effect and forming an image for the entire film.

Moonam Pakkam – Grandfather’s nightmare (Dir: P Padmarajan, Cin: Venu)

A grandfather’s dream about his dead grandson. The grandson drowned at sea. The dark images he sees are amazingly visualised with a handheld camera as though it’s the point of view of a person. The culturally rooted image of an old house and its lock, a deformed coconut tree and the head of his grandson drowning in sand. This could be the deadliest nightmare in Malayalam cinema.

Elippathayam – The first death (Dir: Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Cin: Mankada Ravi Varma)

Everyone is trapped inside the Rat Trap. The film shows the systematic decay of the feudal system. The first one to die in the process is the rat who lived in the house. The scene, shot through the trees, where the rat is carried and submerged in water becomes a leitmotif in the film as it’s repeated with the departure of other characters in the film. The nerve-racking soundtrack accompanying the shot adds to the bizarre nature of the scene.

Sadayam – The moment of killing (Dir: Sibi Malayil, Cin: Anandakuttan)

Surreal imagery, used to convey the psychological state of a character, is an often-used language in cinema. Here the character is an artist and in a confused state of mind he is in the process of killing three children. The traditional instrumentation of the music combined with the close-up of the painting which gradually gets smeared with blood ends up being another disturbing sequence. Although his rationale for killing could be questioned, the scene transports the audience into the psyche of the killer.

Kutty Srank – Daughter’s hatred (Dir: Shaji N Karun, Cin: Anjali Shukla)

The reason for the daughter’s hatred for her father is a memory from the past. She relives that moment in a wild cut of flashbacks supported by amazing sound design. The grilling sound of an electric saw, the splash of blood on the face; it is all convincing enough to understand her hatred. Adding to the imagery is the symbolic usage of horse and bird.

Ulsavapittennu – The suicide (Dir: Bharath Gopi, Cin: Vasanthkumar)

The protagonist plays with the children while the director makes sure the audience is positioned from the point of view of the children. As the scene progresses, the protagonist requests the children (that is, the audience) to cheer for him while he performs a trick. He uses the rope of a swing to commit suicide. The sequence is shot so thoughtfully that the main act of suicide is not revealed, but as his legs swing in front of the lens the audience is left to imagine his death.

Ponthan Mada – His master’s funeral (Dir: TV Chandran, Cin: Venu)

The death of his master affects Mada so much that the director reveals it for the first time in the film with a long shot of Mada jumping from one palm tree to the other. There is something poetic about this shot that makes the audience identify with Mada’s grief and sense of loss of a dear friend beyond the obstacles of caste and class. This image from the villages of Kerala is unforgettable for someone living in 2018.

Prahlad Gopakumar is a cinematographer and short filmmaker.

This article was originally published on The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.

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