I have often been jealous of the carefree nature of the Indian people: there is no point in worrying, as you can’t control life anyway. Like life is but a movie. And all you do is play a part in it…
– from the documentary ‘From Bihar to Bangalore’ –
Well, with all those beautiful, old palaces around I would have no problem playing a princess. And it is not difficult to imagine you are actually in a movie!
When visiting the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Tamil Nadu, I was told that the palace had featured in one of the best Malayalam movies ever: Manichitrathazhu – The Ornate Lock – centred around a tragedy that happened within one of the Travancore families.
As we slowly made our way through the palace, the story unfolded itself.
The young couple Ganga and Nakulan arrives at their ancestral home, once occupied by a cruel ancestor, whom had imprisoned a famous Bharatnatyam dancer called Nagavalli.
As Nagavalli did not love her capturer, but another dancer, and had planned to elope with him, she was brutally murdered. Seeking for revenge, her spirit remained to haunt the palace one day a year, intent to kill the man that took her life. Finally, her spirit was detained and locked up in a section of the palace, sealed off by an enchanted lock – to which the title of the movie refers.
As always happens when people move into a new house with a locked off section, their curiosity gets the better of them and the couple manages to open the room, freeing the spirit of Nagavalli.
In an attempt to detain the spirit again, the family of the couple moves in, which includes a cousin originally intended to marry Nakulan.
Though at first it is suspected that the sad love history of this cousin has attracted the attention of Nagavalli’s spirit, it turns out that Ganga’s troubled past has a stronger pull on her.
As a result of this possession, Ganga starts to pick up more and more traits of Nagavalli, including her dance skills, often displayed in the Nakasala – the Hall of Performance.
In an intense concluding scene, Ganga, possessed by Nagavalli, tries to kill Nakulan, whom she believes is her nemesis. Due to a smart trick, at the crucial moment Nakulan is replaced with a dummy. As such, Nagavalli is fooled into believing that she has taken her revenge, and Ganga is freed from her possession.
And they lived happily ever after…
While walking through the palace. Being walked through the different scenes. Imagining what it must have looked like in those forgotten days… I wished I could have seen an actual dance performance in this dance and music hall. Unfortunately, there were only two ladies sweeping the floor.
But with a bit of imagination, it looks like she is dancing… no? 😉