After posting “Theerthaadanam”, I had been toying with the idea of writing about another celluloid creaion by M.T- directed by Harikumar.- “Parinayam” (may be loosely translated as “Wedding/marriage”…but somehow the vernacular word has more depth which cannot be effectively brought out in the translation.)…but it seemed a daunting task and I kept postponing it. The storyline was gripping and the visualization brilliant- it was an expeience to watch the movie unfold.( I remember that day at the theater, we met another famous Malayalam writer- C.Radhakrishnan)… Besides, the story needed a kind of prologue/introduction to the milieu- a peep into the traditions and time period in which the story was set and I was not sure how to go about it.
Serendipitiously, two days ago, my uncle gave me the English translation of another Malayalam novel- “Agnisakshi” by Lalithambika Antharjanam. The story is different but set in the same milieu. I had already seen the movie version of this story but had not read the novel (Rajat Kapoor- of Making of the Mahatma- , Shobhana, Praveena,Srividya). Once I finished reading this book, once again I was inspired to write about the movie “Parinayam”. It has been a long time since I saw the movie and it is possible that my memory fails me at times, however I hope I don’t distort the actual storyline…also, I am not confident that I will be able to do justice to the actual work…still would like to try- If there are any discrepancies from facts, please excuse me, and feel free to correct me…
Many, many years ago- during the pre- independence era, the social structure of Kerala was steeped in orthodox traditions and superstitions which were not exactly very beneficial to society in general, and women in particular. In today’s context, these beliefs may sound incredulous, but that was how it was those days.
Since this story is about the community of Namputhiris- Brahmins- let me stick to the traditions followed by them . In a Namputhiri family, usually only the eldest son got married to a girl from the same community, the rest of the brothers took wives from other communities but did not necessarily bring them to the family home- “Tharawaad”. The old gentlemen of the house were permitted to marry many times, and often very young girls from poor families were given in marriage to doddering old men who had one foot in the grave- to skip the dowry issue. The womenfolk were expected to live cloistered lives- within the dark interiors of the huge Tharawaad- and were referred to as “Antharjanam”- meaning people of the inner rooms- The men often had concubines belonging to different castes, and ironically the offsprings were not permitted to touch their immaculate fathers! As for the harem of wives, there would often be rivalry, “ragging” of junior wives by the senior wives , but the importance often veered towards the most favoured wife. Most of them accepted their destiny as they did not know of any other way of life, but once in a way, there would be a renegade among either gender, and would create chaos in the community- there would be men who felt that it was unfair to subjugate and deprive the women of basic human rights, and would rebel, and there would be the rare woman who had the courage to oppose and fight the existing traditions and break away…
The senile gentleman would often kick the bucket sooner than later leaving a harem of wives of all ages doomed to a life of darkness and obscurity…the life was harsh, inhuman- Parinayam is the story of one such widow- let me refer to her by her real name- Mohini, because I cannot recollect the name of the character she played. She is just a girl barely out of her teens, and the gravity of her predicament is yet to sink in…she had been a wife only in name and did not grieve for her dead husband who was old enough to be her grandfather. She was still discovering the wonders of Nature around her, she had been educated in Sanskrit and the Fine Arts by her father and she loved Mythology, Kathakali, Poetry, Literature, Music.
Now during those days, it often came to pass that once in a way, a woman deprived of every sort of happiness in life may be lured by wily men who took advantage of their situation stealthily, and when the trespass came to light, a scandal followed, but inevitably it was only the woman who had to pay for her “crime”, while the transgressor often escaped scot free. The male members of the family then invite other eminent members of the community to conduct a “trial” called “Smaartha Vichaarana” – The “fallen woman” is banished to the barn, made to starve, she is addressed as “saadhanam”, meaning “object”- The grilling is callous, ruthless, obscene- the convict is tortured emotionally, mentally and at times even physically and it is perfectly justified. The host family is expected to provide every facility and luxury to the “jury members” who will stay at the “tharawaad” for as long as it takes the trial to be over. The jury members extort maximum advantage of the situation- every meal is to be a feast, and they have great fun and entertainment at the expense of the host…it is said that many a family went bankrupt due to such “smaartha vichaarana”. The trial may extend for as long as the jury members deign it to…and finally when the “convict” is proved guilty, she is excommunicated from the community- “Bhrasht kalpikkuka”- funeral rites are performed and she is thrown out into the society- and outside the House- are waiting, men folk of lower communities leering, waiting to swoop upon her like predators!