Annie Isabel Jaison
Contemporary Critical Theory
Psychoanalysis Theory Applied in Manichitrathazhu
One score years have passed since the release the Malayalam movie ‘Manichitrathazhu, (The Ornate Lock), and it still remains an evergreen classic. Though at the initial gaze it gives the aura of a ghost movie, the film is actually based on the rationale of a mental disorder – Dissociative Identity Disorder/ Multiple Personality Disorder. Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that continually have power over the person's behaviour. With dissociative identity disorder, there's also an inability to recall key personal information that is too far-reaching to be explained as mere forgetfulness. With dissociative identity disorder, there are also highly distinct memory variations, which fluctuate with the person's split personality. The "alters" or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. As each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals' behaviour and thoughts, it's called "switching." Switching can take seconds to minutes to days. When under hypnosis, the person's different "alters" or identities may be very responsive to the therapist's requests. Disorders such as DID are looked upon as spiritual possession by a major chunk of the Indian population even today. Manichitrathazhu is a psycho thriller that is adeptly woven into grandma’s tale with the threads of legends and superstitions. I plan to use Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory to analyse the storyline of the movie.
Manichitrathazhu was released in 1993, and is set in an unnamed, picturesque village in Kerala. The story revolves around an old mansion- Madamballi, which is believed to be haunted. It belongs to Nakulan (Suresh Gopi), who is an engineer settled in Calcutta. He and his wife Ganga (Shobhna) are newly married. The couple comes down to Kerala to visit Nakulan’s relatives and that is when the story begins. Nakulan chooses to live in the Mansion with Ganga despite his uncle’s warnings about the house not being accommodative of girls coming from outside the family. Thus all his relatives decide to move in with the couple to ensure their safety until they return to Calcutta. Ganga is fascinated by the mansion brimming with stories and superstitions. Legend has it that about a century-and-a-half ago, a patriarch named Sankaran Thampi headed the Madamballi mansion. He brought down a beautiful dancer named Nagavalli from Tanjore and put her up at the Thekkini (south block) of the mansion. Her lover, Ramanathan, another dancer came to rescue her and Thampi came to know about this. Enraged he murdered Nagavalli in her room. Eight days later Nagavalli turned into a vampire and came to avenge her death. Thampi managed to imprison Nagavalli’s spirit in the Thekkini with the help of powerful sorcerers. Eventually he too committed suicide and his sprit too was locked up along with Nagavalli in the Thekkini. Ganga brushes off these stories as mere legends and manages to open the ornate lock with which the two troubled spirits were locked in. She is spellbound by Nagavalli’s life like portrait in the room and also finds her dance costumes and jewellery. As the plot thickens, we slowly realise that Ganga unconsciously takes up an alter ego- that of Nagavalli, and is losing her own identity. The protagonist, Dr. Sunny Joseph (Mohan Lal) a renowned psychiatrist from USA uses Psychoanalysis to cure Ganga of her mental disorder.
Psychoanalytic theory refers to the definition of personality organization and the dynamics of personality development that underlie and guide the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy, called psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychotherapy. First laid out by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century, psychoanalytic theory has undergone many refinements since his work. His study emphasized the recognition of childhood events that could potentially influence the mental functioning of adults. His examination of the genetic and then the developmental aspects gave the psychoanalytic theory its characteristics.Starting with his publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, his theories began to gain prominence. Psychoanalytic theory believes that human behaviour is deterministic. It is driven by the unconscious as well as biological drives. Freud’s initial cases of psychopathology led him to conclude that the abnormal behaviour could be associated to traumatic childhood experiences that were long forgotten. The influence of these lost memories shaped the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of patients. These studies contributed to the development of the psychoanalytic theory. Freud theorised that the personality consists of three different elements- the id, the ego and the superego. The id is the aspect of personality that is driven by internal and basic drives and needs. These are typically instinctual, such as hunger, thirst, and the drive for sex, or libido. The id acts in accordance with the pleasure principle, in that it avoids pain and seeks pleasure. Due to the instinctual quality of the id, it is impulsive and often unaware of implications of actions. The ego is driven by reality principle. The ego works to balance both the id and superego. In order to balance these, it works to achieve the id's drive in the most realistic ways. It seeks to rationalize the id's instinct and please the drives that will benefit the individual in the long term. It helps separate what is real, and realistic of our drives as well as being realistic about the standards that the superego sets for the individual. The superego is driven by morality principle. It acts in connection with the morality of higher thought and action. Instead of instinctively acting like the id, the superego works to act in socially acceptable ways. It employs morality, judging our sense of wrong and right and using guilt to encourage socially acceptable behaviour. The ego balances the id, the superego and reality in order to maintain a healthy state of consciousness. It thus reacts to protect the individual from any stressors and anxiety by distorting reality. This prevents threatening unconscious thoughts and material from entering the consciousness.
In the movie, when Dr. Sunny realises that Ganga has Multiple Personality Disorder, he goes in search of her roots in her native village named Evoor. He learns that Ganga was brought up by her grandmother who filled her life with song, stories and fables. However, she longed to be with her parents who were busy building up their careers in Calcutta. One fine day, she is informed that her parents are taking her to Calcutta. The prospect of a sudden shift and the idea of leaving her grandmother troubled her deeply, thus leading to an early mental breakdown- her first psychic disorder. Though she is cured temporarily, the possibility of another psychic breakdown still remained strong in her. Later she got married and ended up in the midst of a mansion brimming with legends and fables. Ganga is so taken up by the tragic figure of Nagavalli that she gradually loses her identity in the process. When she embraces her alter ego, her husband Nakulan turned into Sankaran Thampi, the one she wanted to slaughter. There are instances in the movie that hint that Nakulan is a neglectful husband. He is always caught up with his work that Ganga is left alone with her imagination and obsession with Nagavalli. Certain interpretations even point out that Nakulan was impotent. Thus Ganga is neglected and sexually dissatisfied. Thus when she dons her alter ego, in her unconscious, she wants to kill her husband. There are also other events that strengthen this factor. Ganga shows great interest and excitement when Nakulan’s cousin tells her about her fiancé Mahadevan, who now lived in the house where Nagavalli’s lover Ramanathan used to live. This subtly points out the fact that she is unhappy with her marital life. The music of the movie too plays a very important role. The alter ego sings in Tamil and dances in the Thekkini at night. The is clearly the doctor trying to soothe the alternate persona by singing a song in the same as that of the one that the dancer dances to at night. The Dr. Sunny also instructs Nakulan to enrage Ganga for a simple reason to make him realise her transition from his wife to her alter ego and then call out to her by her name so as to check if that would make her come back to her senses. Sunny does this so that Ganga’s unconscious comes in contact with her conscious thus making her realise that she is losing control of her identity. Freud said that it is the unconscious that exposes the true feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the individual. There are numerous psychoanalytic techniques used to access and understand the unconscious, ranging from methods like hypnosis, free association and dream analysis. Dr. Sunny uses hypnosis in the end of the movie to cure Ganga completely from her mental disorder. Though not completely a scientific movie, Manichitrathazhu is a movie that has experimented with the norms of the self, the conscious and the unconscious, and continues to remain one of the best psycho thrillers in the South Indian film industry.