Shyamaprasad's 'Agnisakshi', a bold statement on the social
status of Namboodiri women, won the National Award for
Best Malayalam film.
Comparisons are odious. Nevertheless, screen adaptations
of literary classics are unfailingly matched against
Exclusive appraisal may not be uncommon for the Malayalam
feature film, 'Agnisakshi', directed by Shyamaprasad
for the literary classic by Lalithambika Antharjanam
on which it is based, has been the favorite of two or
three generations of Malayalis.
To the director's credit, the novel and the film are
not as like as two peas in a pod. The film is distinctive,
yet it dexterously conjures up the spirit of teh novel,
which documents a disturbing chapter in Kerala's social
history, and chronicles some of the heart rending incidents
in the claustrophobic Namboodiri illoms (houses). Antharjanam
had described her work as 'satyakatha' (a true story).
Shyamaprasad's work was recently selected for the National
Award for Best Malayalam film of 1998. Earlier, it had
won 8 State Awards (including that for the Best Director),
Asianet special prize and the Aravindan Puraskaram.
'Agnisakshi' is as much the story of the misdeeds of
the forward classes, disintegration of the feudal order,
nationalism and the rise of bourgeoisie after Independence,
as it about the complexities of man-woman relationship,
assertion of woman power, and the conflicts between
the temporal and the spiritual.
Running the entire gamut of social, political and inter-personal
issues is the transformation of the heroine (Sobhana)
of the movie from a progressive girl married into an
orthodox family, to a revolutionary who plunges into
the freedom struggle, and finally to a penitent in a
The evolution from Thethikutty to Devaki behn to Sumitrananda
has not been forced but rather effected by force of
circumstance. Witnessing these changes is Thangam (Praveena
- Sreevidya), her husband's cousin and her only companion
in teh cruel, compassionless illom.
Thethikutty finds her husband, Unni Namboodiri (Rajat
Kapoor), a personification of all virtues, but one with
a tragic flaw - of being obsessed with the other-worldly.
Her endless wait in her chamber, as her husband is closeted
from dawn to dusk in the puja room, drives her to desperation.
Hear her comments.
"Ihathinukollathavar parathinum kollukayilla"
(those who are worthless in this world will be the same
in the other too); "Pathujanmam pattiyayi piranallum
Namboodiri illathil pennavarathu" (even ten births
as a dog may not be able equal to living as a woman
in a Namboodiri family)