Kuttanad is not just an alluring tapestry of rich greens and aquamarine. It’s also a land of myths and mystics where one encounters infinite portals of divinity. Ayaal, a period saga that travels half a century back, has the mysterious stillness of serpent groves and rioting palette of ritual arts as its backdrop. “The film is set in the late 50s, immediately after the state of Kerala was formed by the merger of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar,” says director Suresh Unnithan who is back after a long hiatus of 14 years.
Going by the legend, Gandharvas, the celestial singers, have a disarming charisma when it comes to womenfolk. As the master musicians start singing in their honeyed baritone, the sparks start floating in the air. “Ayaal is the story of Gurudasan, a pulluvan by profession. As per astrologers, the star combinations in his birth chart are ethereal, something similar to Gandharvas, which make him irresistible to women. And the local folklore has it that the strains of his music drag serpents out of their pits,” says the director.
Though Gurudasan has an aura of divinity around him, he is also a man who indulges in blissful vagrancy. “Gurudasan has the traits of Zorba the Greek. He compares himself to a sheet of algae floating across the vast backwaters, willing to drift anywhere destiny takes him. He moves with the flow without trying to brave the tides,” says Dr K Ampady, managing director, Kerala State Coastal Area Development Corporation, who has penned the story and screenplay of the film.
Gurudasan’s wife Janaki is a pious and devoted partner who shares a platonic bond with her husband. When her man marries her younger sister Chakkara, she accepts his bigamy with an impassive silence. “Chakkara on the other hand is a possessive lover who believes in relishing every moment of life,” says the director. Into this already intricate labyrinth enters Devaki, another woman who is married to the village ‘adhikari’. “Gurudasan’s relation with Devaki transcends the notions of conventional courtship and reaches a realm that is beyond body and possession. And at some point his life reaches a stage where everything goes topsy-turvy,” says Dr Ampady. While Lal appears on screen as Gurudasan, Lena, Iniya and Lakshmi Sharma play Devaki, Chakkara and Janaki respectively. Sukumari, KPAC Lalitha, Dr V Venu, Chembil Ashokan, Indrans, Karakulam Chandran, Kalasala Babu and Master Dhananjayan are also part of the cast. Dr Ambadi says the film is not a spiced-up slice of myth as it outlines the emotional journey of an individual during the course of which some unnerving questions about love and loyalty spring up. “The film rips apart the moral fabric of our society while questioning its rules and sanctity,” he says.
Ayaal has stills oozing sensuality and the director says because of its subject, the film involves some explicit scenes. “There are intimate sequences, but they are canned aesthetically, the way Bharathan and Padmarajan used to etch them on screen,” says Suresh who has been an associate of the late Padmarajan. He also adds that recreating the visual terrain for the film, which involves rare rituals like sarppam thullal, was an exhausting process. “Just to ensure them authenticity we spend almost three years researching the subject.”
Since music is something finely threaded into the storyline, the film features a string of songs including two pieces of traditional ‘sarppam pattu’. The film produced by Madhusoodanan Mavelikkara and M T Dileep Kumar under the banner of Seashell Movies and Elements Vision will hit the theatres this weekend.