Here we have yet another new author, Zero. Please welcome!
On the Kamal A2Z series, we have ‘G’ this fortnight. If anyone wants to reminisce about Guru or Geraftaar, e-mail your entries! The next fortnight, we’ll move onto ‘H’ for Hey Ram; but let’s not forget Hare Radha Hare Krishna too.
A 2-minute long tracking shot takes us through a lower-end brothel in Hyderabad and ends showing Guna on the terrace (shot from below with ‘godly’ respect), standing on one leg. It is a Pournami (full moon day) and Guna is awaiting the arrival of Abhirami. He sees a bride going through the Jaanavaasa ceremony and mistakes her for Abhirami.
So starts Guna, one of the best films to have come out of Tamil Cinema in the last decade. This was the first of the twin efforts (the other being the great Mahanadhi) of Kamal Haasan with his friend Santhana Bharathi wielding the megaphone. Kamal packs in a superb team (Venu for cinematography, Balakumaran for dialogues, and of course Raaja). Yes, it is not a flawless film. But, it is the kind of film that stays on in your mind.
The film looks at this man Guna, with unconditional sympathy; how he is doomed in this big bad world; and in that sense, it is a cynical film. Guna is a madman (an obsessional psychoneurotic) who is told, by a fellow asylum-inmate (Ananthu), that Abhirami (the Goddess) will marry him on a full moon day and will take him out of all his miseries. There is this sense of godliness attributed to him in the movie — he can unlock anything like cars, safes etc. and help his uncle in his thefts. He wants to be cleansed (in the famous scene Guna explaining to the doctor about how Abhirami would ‘cleanse’ him). He unconditionally believes that he is God, and that only Abhirami can cleanse him. He believes in uniting with Abhirami, the Goddess (an imaginatory sequence shows the formation of the Lingam). So he kidnaps her; takes her along with him to a deserted church on top of a hill and explains his love for her, and their destiny.
The screenplay of the film – written by Saab John, a Kamal Haasan associate who also wrote Chanakyan and played the role of Narasimhan is Kuruthippunal) is of the highest standards as far as Tamil Cinema goes. It’s expertly woven, richly textured, and is subtle and doesn’t scream for our attention. Not to forget the insightful and yet realistic dialogues by Balakumaran. Ilaiyaraaja gives a great background score (most of the BGM pieces during chase sequences are liberally borrowed from Kamal Haasan’s two earlier flicks Aboorva Sagodharargal and MMKR). Kamal Haasan comes up with a truly wonderful performance, with the rest of the cast chipping in accordingly.
What is striking is that the film doesn’t melodramatize the state of Guna. It doesn’t put him in fake glory. It looks at him with a detached sympathy. Guna is after all, a madman and it never bats an eyelid to put forth the fact to us. He says he is in love with Abhirami and that she can never go leaving him behind. But, he still ties her giving a new reason each time.
Apart from this, the movie also works as a traditional thriller with an (albeit heavily stereo-typed) villain, CBI in chase, and lots of money at stake. As in every other KH film, the subtle humour is unmissable.
Looking at the mythological connections of the story, the key point in the film is how the usual assumed gender roles are reversed here. The mythology has this story of Parvathi, the Goddess, who takes human form because of a curse and eventually re-unites with Lord Shiva. We also have other examples like Meera and Aandaal. In Guna, the roles are reversed. It’s Guna who has taken an earthly form and yearning to unite with Abhirami. This is apparent in many scenes like the following:
- Guna tying the thaali around his neck.
- Guna looking reverently at ‘his’ thaali after Abhirami walks out of the car hanging at the edge of a mountain.
- Guna waiting for Abhirami to complete her meal.
- Or when Abhirami kisses Guna.
The story also owes the main thread of obsession towards the Goddess to the story of Abhirama Bhattar, who wrote Abhirami Anthathi. In a beautiful sequence, Rohini and Guna playfully pretend to be bees and buzz around in air (ending with the bees ‘kissing’ each other), and Abhirami asks Guna to tie the thaali (mangalsutra), Guna says they have to wait till Pournami. But, she says, “Nila aagasuthalaiya irukku? Manasula irukku. Manasu thaan nila. Neranja naal” (”Is the moon in the sky? It’s in the heart. The heart is the moon. Filled (?) day”)! Apart from serving as the point of culmination of their love, it also directly refers to the mythology itself. In the story of Abhirama Bhattar, Abhirami turns an Amavasai (new moon day) into a Pournami by throwing her ear-ring into the sky. Guna recollects the mythological incident, and says, “Aamaam! Abhirami sonna Pournami thaan” (”Yes! If Abhiram says, it is a full moon day”)!
And when the movie ends (with that divine and strangely soothing theme playing in the background), we see the deserted church in the bird’s eye view and the glowing moon behind it. It is the next Pournami (thus completing the cycle) and Guna has joined hands with his Abhirami. Or has he?