Thoughts on a Malayalam documentary (and the movie it inspired) about star-crossed lovers who rival Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Ambikapathy-Amaravathi…
Why do we love love stories so much? I’m talking about the genre, which we never seem to tire of. When Ram Gopal Varma made Satya and Company, we raved about them, but when his follow-ups were more stories about gangster life, we began to complain. The same thing, we said. But with love stories, there’s no complaint. We may dismiss individual films, based on how they turn out to be, but – again – I’m talking about the genre. We don’t say, Oh, I saw a love story last week, so I won’t see one this week. “Keep love in your heart,” Oscar Wilde said. “A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” He also said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Wherever on the spectrum we fall – coupled, single, “it’s complicated” – love stories get us. They get us good.
Ennu Ninte Moideen – a smash hit in Kerala now – is the love story of Kanchanamala (known as Kanchana) and Moideen, who belonged to aristocratic families in the village of Mukkom, near Kozhikode. As children, they studied together, they were just friends. The story of how the relationship drifted to a different plane is best told by Kanchana herself. “After one vacation, my brother was taking me back to [boarding] school. We were an orthodox family. And girls were not allowed to travel by bus. So usually we travelled by car to Kozhikode. But that day, my father’s car was under repair. And so we travelled by bus. During that journey in that green bus, I suddenly noticed in the mirror a pair of brownish eyes watching me. Beautiful brownish eyes. Then I saw a smile. And those little white teeth. When I looked closely, I realised it was Moideen. I think it was at that moment that my feelings towards Moideen changed.”
Ennu Ninte Moideen is a fictionalisation of this real-life romance, but these words aren’t from the movie. They’re from Kanchana herself, who looks back on her life (and her love) in the 2007 documentary Jalam Kondu Murivetaval (One Who Was Wounded By Water), directed by RS Vimal, who also made the film. I saw the documentary after the film, and it’s spooky – there’s no other word for it. Two lovers from different religions being kept apart by their families – there’s nothing new about that. But when these two continue to “meet” even after she’s under house arrest for almost 25 years – through random sightings, through letters written in a script that only they could understand, through marriage proposals she kept rejecting – and when you hear that for 10 years in the middle, they did not see each other at all… You have to wonder about the madness that kept them going.
That’s what a friend called it, madness. “The human brain doesn’t pine like that,” she said. “You just meet other people and you move on.” I said you cannot generalise these things. And you really cannot. The mysterious processes of attraction are beyond reason, which is why we root for Florentino Ariza as he pines for Fermina Daza across decades. What Márquez wrote about in fiction, Moideen and Kanchana seem to have lived through in reality, with fevered episodes that aren’t all that far from the ones in Love in the Time of Cholera. Kanchana says, “It was November 23, the day our silence came to an end [after 10 years]. I still remember the date. We got into the boat. Suddenly, Moideen took something from below my feet. Later, I asked him about it in a letter. He said it was the soil from under my feet. He had kept it.”
This episode is in the film, but we don’t feel it the way we do when Kanchana talks about it in the documentary. Ennu Ninte Moideen is not very well-directed – it’s too straight, too bloodless, too timid, too sober. You keep wishing for a filmmaker mad enough to lead us into this mad love, which kept going even after Moideen’s death in an accident. (To this day, Kanchana calls herself his “widow.”) But even with its limitations, even with flatly written characters and plodding narration, the film strikes a chord. Several chords, in fact. Because this is really the most ideal kind of love, one that’s not tainted by realisations that the young man who floored you with red roses now has bad breath and a snoring problem, or that the girl you thought was God’s angel put on earth doesn’t do a thing without long discussions with her mother. This kind of love keeps love in the refrigerator, prevents it from curdling in the face of scorching reality.
We respond to the film because few among us have experienced a love so mythic – it’s the amative equivalent of cheering for Erik Weihenmayer, the blind man who conquered Everest. The most startling moment in the documentary comes when Kanchana speaks of Moideen’s death. “We say sati (self-immolation) should be banned. I believe that a woman wouldn’t really mind jumping into the pyre of her beloved. Because I believe that if there was a pyre that day, I would have jumped into it. The pain I suffered was such.” Who can resist the thought of loving so much, being loved so much? The documentary keeps cutting to a picture of a man and woman – Moideen and Kanchana, I presume, though how they managed to sneak out and pose for a photograph is a mystery neither the documentary nor the film addresses. He’s behind her, his face pressed close to hers, and they’re looking at the camera. Call it corny, but the outline of their faces forms the heart-shaped ideograph that universally denotes love. Coincidence, surely. But some spooky corner of the mind keeps whispering that it’s… destiny.
An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2015 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.