Readers Write In #119: Ramayana in modern times: Gautham Menon and Separation

Posted on December 5, 2019


(by Adhithya K R)

I’m not going to talk about the voice-overs in ENPT. There’s already been enough of that. Amidst all the chatter about whether there was too much mind-voice, there’s an aspect of the movie which seems to have gone unnoticed. It resonates with an epic that inspired much of Indian storytelling – The Ramayana. By analogy alone, there’s a lot that connects ENPT to the Ramayana. A brother who leaves the family as if in exile, a heroine kidnapped by a villainous man who carts her away to a distant city but doesn’t manhandle her and a hero named “Raghu” who sets out to rescue her. But analogies apart there’s a common theme to both stories: Separation.

Separation is an idea that GVM deals with in many of his movies. Sometimes it’s death, sometimes it’s distance, but there’s an undercurrent of longing for a person or times long gone and often this is what motivates the characters to take action. A guy goes in search of his girl (once, twice, thrice, …) or thinks about the times he used to spend with his dad, makes a film about the girl who left him or laments the loss of somebody whom he put in danger’s way. It’s this time spent away from someone else that puts a spotlight on what they mean to the character, an emphasis by absence. It leaves a vacuum that desperately needs to be filled – with people or with purpose.

So where does the Ramayana fit in here? Unlike the Mahabharata, where all the leads stick together for the most part, the Ramayana is a saga of separations. Imagine a royal prince far away from society, miles away from his brethren, separated from his wife by an expanse of water, braving every element to surpass the odds. It’s not just the physical separation though. The mental isolation that follows after the return to the kingdom and the resulting broken family conclude this tragic tale. It’s a beautiful example of the story circle where the protagonist ends up where he started, changing profoundly in the process. The journey that Ram undertakes parallels that of Raghu.

ENPT more than any other Gautham Menon movie seemed to focus on separation. The opening act of the movie is a silhouetted tale of a brother who leaves home after being subjected to a tragedy himself. It’s an event that shakes Raghu as he develops an aloof demeanour. His thoughts don’t match his words, his gestures are hesitant and he smiles only half-way. You think he’s beginning to open up when his girl leaves him, and he begins to drift further. Leaving a palatial house, he goes to the “stinking city” of Mumbai, trading a life of comfort for one of danger and uncertainty. And then… the bullet is shot at him. This is the point at which he is on the verge of the ultimate separation: From himself.

This changes him. He begins to analyse his emotions at every juncture. There’s no panic when he sees Lekha with a knife on her neck, only a train of thought. In the elevator, he sees a knife enter his body and he is still able to view it as if it is happening to somebody else. His mental monologue is not “Ayyo!” at this point, it’s “I knew there would be pain but not like this. Have to make sure the knife doesn’t go any deeper.”

The entire voice-over and the account of events we hear is because of this event that changes how the hero looks at things. Maybe this awakening that a brush with death brings about is what Gautham Menon was going for all along. Maybe the uncensored exclamations of “Beast mode” and “Auto-pilot mode” were precisely that, a meta-aware state that’s looking at you from above and noticing that you are functioning differently?

Raghu comes home as a man changed by separation. He has scars and he has things to be happy about. He’s gone full circle from protected to self-aware after being threatened to lose everything he holds dear, including his life. The concluding line “Ini thotta avangala nokki paayum” were the words of a man who can look death in the eye and joke about it.

Have I read too much into a simple story though? Maybe. I’ll need to distance myself and take a look.